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From weekend road trips to jaunts up California Highway 1, Californians find themselves on the Monterey Peninsula on a pretty regular basis. And, as soon as a trip is booked, the question becomes what are the top places to eat in Monterey.
Where Is Monterey?
Set along the California Coast just north of Big Sur and south of Santa Cruz, the Monterey Peninsula 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 Does Monterey Produce?
If, like us, you like to try local produce wherever you travel, when you’ll want to read up on what is grown in Monterey.
Once you have that down, here are some places to eat in Monterey get a taste of the local agriculture and the local creative food scene.
Monterey Food FAQs
Monterey County is home to a wide variety of farms, from the salad farms in Salinas to the organic farms in Carmel Valley. This local and sustainable approach extends from the ocean to the land, with many restaurants serving dishes made from locally sourced ingredients. Some must-try local ingredients are artichokes, berries, leaf lettuce, rock cod, lingcod, albacore, and Dungeness Crab.
Some of the best restaurants across the Monterey Bay, California area include Passionfish, Wild Fish, Chez Noir, Cultura y Comida, Carmel Belle, Yafa, and Maligne restaurant.
The local coffee scene in Monterey Bay, California, has grown significantly in recent years, with local shops roasters like Alta, Captain + Stoker, and Tidal Coffee offer single-origin coffee and delicious pastries.
8 Best Places To Eat In Monterey
Spend some time on the Monterey Peninsula and sooner or later you’ll start talking about seafood. And when you start talking fish most locals will want to talk about sustainability.
Thanks to the education efforts of the Monterey Bay Aquarium a lot of local restaurants work to serve sustainable fish and a couple we’re particularly smitten with are Passionfish and Wild Fish both of which are technically in Pacific Grove.
Passionfish is always on the list of best places to eat in Monterey as they set the standard for top-notch service, incredibly fresh seafood, and a lovely locally-focused wine list.
Up the hill a few blocks you’ll find Wild Fish which originally started up north in Little River, California From house-fermented shrubs (old-school vinegary 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.
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 it’s on our places to eat in Monterey 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.
Of the places to eat in Monterey it might be surprising to you that we’re listing Italian food. But the local fishing history means there is a significant population of Italian fishermen most of whom hail from Sicily.
To get a peek into that subculture in the local food 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.
Regional Mexican Food
There is a lot of quality Mexican food in Monterey, but one of the chicest Mexican places to eat in Monterey is the Oaxacan-influenced Cultura y Comida 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, our pick of the top places to eat in Monterey is actually over in the town of Carmel-By-The-Sea, 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.
A 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.
Hyper-Local Fine Dining
All in all, Monterey is a rather laidback part of California. However, between the top-notch wineries and elegant resorts in Pebble Beach, Carmel, and Big Sur, it’s clear that there is an appreciation for the finer things. Some of the best loved fine dining spots are classics like Aubergine as well as newcomers like Chez Noir and Maligne.
To see how that translates to the plate, head to the recently-opened Maligne restaurant. Helmed by Klaus Georis, whose family has restaurant and wine roots in the region, the concept is a wood-fired seafood spot. It balances a raw bar element with elevating local ingredients in the handcrafted hearth. On a recent visit, we were fans of the hamachi crudo, the dairy beef ribeye, and the slow-roasted beets with salted yogurt.
Local Coffee Roaster
The local food in Monterey very much has a coffee scene and it has stepped up its game the last few years thanks in part to the cycling-themed local roaster Captain + Stoker.
With their in-house roasting of single-origin coffee, you can be sure to get a quality cup when you’re in downtown Monterey. But it’s also on our list of places to eat in Monterey because they always have fabulous pastries too.
That’s it for our picks for where to eat in Monterey Bay California – if you want even more ideas for where to eat when you visit Carmel-By-The-Sea, head here.
Visit Local Farmers Markets
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 farmers’ markets when you visit Monterey like the small but mighty Carmel-By-The-Sea Farmers Market.
Monterey Wine Tasting
If you’re researching places to eat in Monterey, you’ll probably also what to read up on how to do wine tasting in Monterey to get a full picture of the region.
California Road Trip Planner
Did you know we’re also a boutique travel agency that specializes in California vacation planning? If you’re looking to plan a trip to California, our California trip planner services are here to help you plan your perfect itinerary.
Photo Credit: Aida Mollenkamp