Monterey Peninsula Restaurants (updated 2018)

January 2018

We’re often asked where we like to eat (and we like to eat). Here are our current dinner favorites, in additional to our old favorites:


  • La Balena (Carmel) – Our favorite Italian restaurant, hands-down. Emanuele and Anna do a great job with local ingredients, inspired by Emanuele’s Tuscan tradition.
  • Il Grillo (Carmel). Also owned by Emanuele and Anna, Il Grillo is a bit more casual, a bit less expensive, and a lot easier to get reservations.
  • Il Tegamino (Carmel). Guiseppe serves Italian comfort food, my favorite being his Bucatini alla Carbornara, reminiscent of our time in Rome.
  • L’ Escargot (Carmel). At there for the first time last night, at the recommendation of Dino, one of our favorite local maitre d’s. Superb duck, and pate, and a menu with many dishes I’d like to try.
  • Sushi Heaven (Carmel). Good, casual sushi in Carmel. Anything casual in Carmel is unusual.
  • Aabha Indian Cuisine (mouth of Carmel Valley). The best Indian food on the Peninsula, and maybe on the entire Central Coast. Casual, inexpensive dining.
  • Allegro Trattoria/Pizzeria (mouth of Carmel Valley). For as much time as I’ve spent at Allegro, I should be a stockholder. It has the BEST pizza in the world plus a wonderful array of pastas and other Italian faire. The Caesar salad has won Coast Weekly’s best salad award for the last couple years, and for good reason. Order it and the antipasto misto for a light dinner. Give Jeano my regards.
  • Sur (mouth of Carmel Valley). Bill and Teresa’s “California cuisine” restaurant – casual, affordable, delicious. Also offers a great bar where you can enjoy a meal.
  • Corkscrew Cafe (Carmel Valley). Always good, with fresh local ingredients. The Meyer lemon pizza (Meyer lemons, prosciutto, parmesan, and arugula) is to die for.
  • Passionfish (Pacific Grove). The best fish restaurant on the Peninsula, and the only all-sustainable fish restaurant.
  • Il Vecchio (Pacific Grove). Becky and I have enjoyed many nice meals at their bar. We appreciate their willingness to accommodate walk-ins even on busy nights.
  • Bistro Moulin (Monterey). I won’t soon forget the unbelievably delicious pork cheeks that I enjoyed with my Uncle Frank. He has the mussels, which were also superb.
  • Hula’s Island Grill (Monterey). Our go-to neighborhood restaurant. Extraordinary array of good, healthy, affordable dining options, including lots of fresh fish. Lots of life — sometimes too loud and crowded, but that attests to the quality and value of the food.

Lunch & Breakfast

  • Carmel Belle (Carmel). Warm, cozy, great coffee, and a delicious polenta/poached egg breakfast.
  • Jeffrey’s Grill and Catering (Carmel Valley). Close to home and terrific. Jeffrey is very socially conscious and community-oriented — more good reasons to support him.
  • Taqueria Zarape (Seaside). Very casual, fast, and authentic Mexican.
  • The Press Club (Seaside). The hippest coffee shop around. Groovy juices and veggie sandwiches. McWeekly reporters hang out here, which means colorful inside stories.
  • Tarpy’s Roadhouse (Highway 68). Historic building, lovely food. For those special lunches when someone else is paying.

May 2003

During the year we remodeled our house in New Monterey, Becky and I ate out every night. Needless to say, we gained intimate familiarity with the range of eating options on the Monterey Peninsula. Here are the best of the best as we know them:

Dinner – Casual/Inexpensive

  • Epsilon (Monterey) – Terrific Greek food. Especially fun after hours when they pull all the tables to the side and throw plates on the floor (no kidding).
  • Pablo’s Mexican Restaurant (Pacific Grove) – My kind of place: no frills, good food, cheap prices.
  • Peppers Mexicali Cafe (Pacific Grove) – Always good nuevo-Mexican, but I think they could be a bit more daring.
  • Rosita’s Armory Cafe (Salinas) – The place to go if you want authentic Mexican but in Salinas.

Dinner – Fine Dining/Pricey

  • Post Ranch (Big Sur)- When you want to drop $150 on a meal, this is the place – unbelievable views, terrific food, and good service.Get there early so you can watch the sunset.
  • Flying Fish (Carmel)- Very good Japanese food. Try the peppered Ahi served rare and the artichoke with wasabi sauce.
  • Fandango (Pacifc Grove) – For those special occasions when you finish a remodeling project. Their rack of lamb is unbeatable.
  • Rio Grill (Carmel) – I boycotted this place for a couple years because it was too hip, but, you know what, that was a mistake. Becky, Uncle Frankie and I had one of our best meals ever there. The food is great – try the duck. Affiliated with Montrio and Tarpy’s, which are also very good but Rio is the best of the three, in my opinion.
  • Roy’s (Pebble Beach) – Terrific food, lousy locale (unless your a golf nut). Very interesting Euroasian cuisine. Located at the Inn at Spanish Bay, Roy’s serves a very unique Asian/Hawaiian cuisine.
  • Monterey Fish House (Monterey) – Not all that pricey, really, but probably the best fish in Monterey.
  • Cafe Fina (Monterey) – Dominic Mercurio’s little gem on the wharf. Good local seafood.


  • Abalonetti’s Take-Out (Monterey) – Separate from their full-service restaurant, here you can create a fanciful antipasto or order a healthy dose of fried calamari. Definitely not for weight-watchers.
  • China Garden (Monterey) – When quantity is more important than quality. Where else can you get a heaping plate of Kung Pao chicken for $4.25? Be prepared for a double cappuccino sometime around 3 pm.
  • Fishwife Seaside (Pacific Grove) – It may be my imagination but the food seems to be better and cheaper here than at Asilomar. Possibly the locals factor.
  • Gourmet Pantry (Pacific Grove) – A nice selection of Greek and Lebanese dishes. Very nice people.
  • Michael’s Grill and Taqueria (Pacific Grove) – Lousy location but great blackened burritos.
  • Papa Chano’s (Monterey) – very cheap, consistently good, especially the chile rellenos.
  • Taqueria del Mar (Monterey) – consistently good, healthy, inexpensive food. Friendly service and a low-key atmosphere.Troia’s Market (Monterey) – Good for hearty sandwiches and close to the wharf.


  • The Little Red House – Our current favorite. Something magical about their scrambled eggs. Cute and tasty. Great for lunch as well.
  • Casanova’s (Carmel) – A bit more upscale, still surprisingly affordable for Carmel. Very quaint courtyard. For something new, try the Bohemian breakfast. (Although I hear they only serve breakfast now on the weekends – too back, because it was really special).
  • Toasties (Pacific Grove) – Can’t beat their vegie benedict and huevos rancheros. Fast, friendly and efficient. But lots of people know so.
  • Bay Cafe (Pacific Grove)- For those mornings when the Toasties crowd is too overwhelming. Biggest challenge is to find a seat away from smokers.
  • The Cove (Monterey) – Hard to beat an early morning French toast breakfast while watching the boats come in and out of the harbor.

What’s Needed. And if you’re thinking about opening your own place, here’s what the Monterey Peninsula needs:

  • A vegetarian restaurant – A real one.
  • A really good deli.
  • Italian seafood – Like Cafe Sport in San Francisco.