Along Highway 1, potentially the finest slice of American roadway, there’s plenty of food and drink that counts more as a destination than a pitstop. The Carmel and Monterey area is its own west of Eden, a coastal trove of fine dining restaurants, breweries, and taco shops. Given how hard-hit the coast was in early 2023 by ruinous rain and wind, it’s never been a better time to show some love for the area. Here are 13 restaurants, cafes, and breweries between Seaside and Carmel-By-The-Sea worth checking out.Read More
Where to Eat and Drink Around Monterey and Carmel
Innovative pastries, tasty tacos, and fresh sustainable seafood on the California coast
A pioneer in Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch and Restaurant Partner program, family-owned Passionfish has served sustainable seafood for nearly two decades. The seasonal menu offers small plates and entrees that are balanced, thoughtful, and fresh. Dishes such as smoked trout ceviche and Dungeness crab salad are offered alongside a considerable 400-item list of local and imported wines offered at close to retail prices.
Liliana Rodas de Araujo grew up making and selling empanadas in Paraguay, and after a long career in the pastry arts, she opened Cafe Guaraní during her retirement, hoping to introduce the Monterey Peninsula to traditional Paraguayan foods. This cute cafe, full of cheerful folk art and offering a welcoming atmosphere, serves a wide selection of empanadas including typical versions, like chicken and ham-and-cheese, but also specials, like a pulled pork variety. They all come with house chimichurri sauce, which alone is worth the trip. Sandwiches are served on homemade brioche along with mandioca fries, and the pastry case is full of fancy-looking cakes, guava-filled croissants, and dulce de leche alfajores. Everything tastes great with any of the yerba mate drinks.
With all of the buzzy new food businesses opening up shop in Seaside recently, it would be remiss to not mention some of the diverse spots that have been serving locals this whole time. One such restaurant is Noodle Bar, an aptly named skinny hall with sparse seating and affordable Vietnamese-leaning takeout: flavorful pho, as well as soupless rice vermicelli bowls topped with cilantro, mint, house dressing, and chopped peanuts. Vegetarians have a full menu page of options to choose from.
El Cantaro defies any resistance customers might have toward the idea of vegan Mexican food by offering fresh, traditional flavors nobody can deny. And it happens to be non-GMO, mostly organic, and completely devoid of animal products. The menu is large, broken into appetizers, soups, salads, traditional plates, combination plates, enchiladas, tacos, burritos, and tostadas. Those looking to try something new might opt for the kipes (fried bulgur and potato croquettes) or the empanaditas made with red beet flour. There are also traditional dishes like mole, pozole, and enmoladas, all made with Chickin’ instead of chicken.
Aside from a handful of dive bars, hotel bars, and Fisherman’s Wharf restaurants, the cocktail scene in Monterey isn’t necessarily buzz-worthy. But, thankfully, there is Pearl Hour, an eye-catching turquoise storefront on Lighthouse Avenue, aptly named by proprietress Katie Blandin (of Good Food Award-winning Golden Bear Bitters) after Steinbeck’s poignant quote: “It is the hour of pearl — the interval between day and night when time stops and examines itself...” Here, Blandin mixes inventive cocktails like the Pearlescent with mezcal, gin, bergamot liqueur, dry vermouth, and yarrow. During daylight hours, the bar transforms into a Euro-inspired coffeehouse.
Other Brother Beer Co.
The often ignored strip-mall town of Seaside, in North Monterey County, is having a food and drink revival, and Other Brother Beer Co. is one of the main attractions. This breezy craft beer spot, founded by two brothers who helm a California olive oil company with the same name, offers a diverse variety of fresh brews (not just IPAs) for local pickup and delivery. They also manage an outdoor parklet called “Heermann’s Landing” — the perfect spot to enjoy the remarkable onsite baked goods of chef Ron Mendoza’s Ad Astra Bread Co.
Alta Bakery and Cafe
The Old Town District of Monterey is chock-full of history and lore, and one of the richest places to absorb some of it is the rehabilitated Cooper-Molera Adobe and the surrounding grounds. The project to revitalize this property was no small feat, and one of the principal players was Ben Spungin, formerly of Post Ranch Inn and now culinary director of Alta Bakery & Cafe, housed in this historic corner on Munras Avenue. The tucked-away garden courtyard is a lovely spot to sip a pine and huckleberry latte or rosemary vanilla mimosa while nibbling on one of Alta’s daily doughnuts like the yuzu-filled and matcha-crème.
This tiny sushi spot in Carmel took its chances by opening during a pandemic. Luckily, Toro’s ethos of only serving extremely fresh fish and simple, high-caliber ingredients has ensured return customers. It’s a traditional menu, with a few appetizers, salads, and simple rolls. Nigiri is the star, and the omakase is a great way to try 16 pieces of the chef’s choice. The sommelier has selected the sake list, and offers flights and interesting sake-based cocktails like the Natsu Spritzer (sparkling sake, strawberry, basil, and lemon).
Stumbling upon Stationaery, hidden within the quaint San Carlos Square, is like discovering a secret note written just for you. Except it is no secret, as everyone now knows about the delicious food to be found here. The tiny 34-seat space has outdoor seating too, which helps accommodate the long wait for the popular brunch featuring items like the potato pancake with duck egg, culatello, roasted asparagus, and parmigiano or a lobster roll on an Ad Astra brioche bun.
Edwin's Kaona Carmel
Edwin’s takes the place of Affina, a longtime Mediterranean restaurant from chef Dexter Salazar. During the pandemic, Salazar was on the brink of retirement, with plans to sell the restaurant, when his brothers and nephew stepped in. Now they’ve reopened as Edwin’s, a tribute to the family’s Filipino roots, and Salazar’s father, Edwin. Expect “Shanghai” lumpia rolls, Balinese chicken, and more Filipino flavors sprinkled throughout, with an extensive wine list, to boot.
In an intimate garden courtyard space within the tiny L’Auberge hotel, award-winning chef Justin Cogley and pastry chef Yulanda Santos serve artful dishes for a whimsical nightly tasting menu focused on seasonal coastal cuisine. Expect eight to 10 courses that range from a single turnip baked in salted dough and served with nori in a hollowed-out ciabatta bun, to Monterey Bay abalone finished with caviar and fine strands of hand-foraged seaweed and potato. Wine pairings will complement your Michelin-starred meal (and more than double the price of your ticket if you opt for the “Reserve Tasting”). Reservations required.
Husband-and-wife co-owners chef Jonny Black and Monique Black bring years of cooking at Michelin-starred destinations to their hotly anticipated debut restaurant. Opening in October 2022, the restaurant showcases Jonny’s cooking chops in dishes that showcase the abundance of local ingredients including uni-topped spaghetti alla chiatarra and an abalone sausage stuffed chicken wing.
Chef Fabian Di Paolo took over as executive chef at this downtown Carmel restaurant after a stint in Miami, and he new chef brings new dinner, breakfast, and happy hour menus with him. A few new dishes include yucca fries served with coconut salsa to start, followed by the hardy bone-in pork Milanese with pecorino-parsley crumbs, and concluded on a sweet note with macerated berries and mascarpone-topped grilled polenta cake.