From weekend road trips to jaunts up Highway 1, we find ourselves on California’s Monterey peninsula on a pretty regular basis. And as soon as we know we’re going, we ponder what to eat in Monterey.
Just north of Big Sur and south of Santa Cruz, the area is known for its rich fishing history, a world-class aquarium, and as ground zero for many a Steinbeck story.
With everything from the ocean vibes of Monterey to the family-oriented Pacific Grove and the rustic artsy village of Carmel-By-The Sea to the golfing haven that is Pebble Beach, there is a lot to explore in a relatively small area. And top on our list is the food of course!
What To Eat On The Monterey Penisula
Sustainable Fish And More
Spend some time in Monterey and sooner or later you’ll start talking about fish. And when you start talking fish most locals will want to talk about sustainability.
Thanks to the education efforts of the Monterey Aquarium a lot of Monterey restaurants work to serve local and sustainable fish and one we’re particularly smitten with is Wild Fish in Pacific Grove.
This recently opened restaurant is the sister restaurant to the original Wild Fish in Little River, California, and is run by a husband and wife team who are as kind as they are creative.
From house-fermented shrubs (old-school vinegar-y drinks) to homemade ricotta and vegetable sides that stand out in their own right, there’s a lot to eat here. But, of course, you can’t leave without trying one of their fish dishes.
Italian Food Dockside
The history of fishing on the peninsula means there is a significant population of Italian fishermen most of whom hail from Sicily. To get a peek into that subculture in Monterey, head to the family-owned Paluca Trattoria where Sicilian-American owner and chef Sal learned everything from how to catch to filet a fish from the previous generation.
Go for expertly-prepared Italian-influenced fish dishes but stay for the company and the view.
Raw Bar With A View
Truth is the patio with the outdoor fireplace and the location oceanside would be reason enough to visit Salt Wood Kitchen And Oysterette. But we’re telling you about it because the food is excellent too.
From their raw seafood bar to their wood-fired foods, this restaurant at The Sanctuary resort in Marina was a place we got recommended time and again by locals. It’s just a few minutes drive north of downtown Monterey but possibly the most perfect spot for a quick bite at sunset.
Chic Regional Mexican Food
There is a lot of quality Mexican food in Monterey but one that stands out to us is the Oaxacan-influenced Cultura in Carmel. Started by Sarah Kabat-Marcy, Michael Marcy, John Cox, and Michelle Estigoy who all worked together at Sierra Mar —The signature restaurant of Post Ranch Inn, Big Sur, California.
We first met some of their team while researching our group trips in Oaxaca and then visited on a recent trip.
For a healthy locally-sourced breakfast in Carmel, our pick is Carmel Belle. This gourmet store and casual cafe are tucked into a shopping center in downtown Carmel-By-The-Sea and it’s a perfect spot for a casual breakfast.
Try the almond milk latte and green eggs and ham for a healthy start to the day or shop their gourmet food section to stock up for a hike or beach picnic.
Monterey County has a ton of farms from the salad farms in Salinas to the organic farms in Carmel Valley. As such local and sustainable very much extends from the ocean to the land around these parts. To get a peek into the farm-to-table scene, we highly recommend you check out one of the certified farmers’ markets when you visit Monterey.
And a darling of the local farmers market scene is Happy Girl Kitchen which got its start by selling artisanal jams and pickles at the local markets. While they’re still at the farmers’ markets, they also have a cafe in downtown Pacific Grove serving everything from coffee to baked goods.
Single-Origin Coffee Roaster
The coffee scene in Monterey has stepped up its game the last few years and the cycling-themed local roaster Captain + Stoker has had a big part in it. With their in-house roasting of single-origin coffee, you can be sure to get a quality cup when you’re in downtown Monterey.
Where To Eat In Carmel-By-The-Sea
That’s it for our picks for where to eat when you visit the Monterey Peninsula. If you want even more ideas for when you visit Carmel-By-The-Sea, head here.
Any other recommendations we missed? Let us know in the comments below.
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Photo Credit: Aida Mollenkamp