If there were a competition for the cutest seaside town in California, Carmel-By-The-Sea would very much be a contender.
The architecture is out of an English fairytale, with trailing flowers and quaint cottages lining the streets. It’s the kind of place that locals head for a weekend away, and snowbirds flock to escape dreary winter weather.
What To Do In Carmel-By-The-Sea
The list of things to do in Carmel is plenty: there are local boutiques to shop, tasting rooms to sip the renowned local wine, and waterfront walks to be had. But, of course, as food people, we’re always in search of where to eat. The town’s independent spirit is apparent on every block and especially comes to life with the restaurants.
The thing that makes Carmel-By-The-Sea so special is that it’s smackdab in the middle of California's Monterey County, which happens to be one of the biggest agriculture regions in the state. Add to it that the world-famous Monterey Aquarium is down the road, and it’s no surprise that local is a big theme among Carmel restaurants.
The next time you travel to Carmel-By-The-Sea, here are Salt & Wind-approved restaurants you should check out:
Where To Eat In Carmel-By-The-Sea
Brophy’s Tavern | Serves Lunch & Dinner
If you’re looking for a spot to watch “the game,” you’ll likely end up at Brophy’s Tavern as it’s one of the main sports bars in Carmel-By-The-Sea. But where this English pub will throw you for a curveball is that everything from the decor to the service and the food and drinks is a mix of modern meets cheeky and worthy of a visit in their own right.
Both the Fish and Chips and the Brophy’s Burger are crowd favorites, and we can definitely get behind them, but don’t leave without checking out their craft beers or cocktail list featuring drinks made with locally-distilled liquors.
San Carlos St &, 4th Ave, Carmel-By-The-Sea
Carmel Belle | Serves Breakfast, Lunch, & Dinner
Don’t let the tucked-away location in a shopping center deter you; Carmel Belle is hidden but worth the hunt. We say go for a farm-to-table style breakfast that’s big on local produce and consistently healthy yet filling.
The espresso drinks and smoothies are always solid choices (try the Johnny Cashew or the Sunrise Smoothie!), but we go for the Roasted Mushroom Melt or the Green Eggs & Ham.
San Carlos St, Ocean Ave, Carmel-By-The-Sea
Cultura Comida Y Bebida | Serves Brunch & Dinner
With our big love for Mexico, it’s no surprise that we’re always searching for quality Mexican food wherever we travel. For legit food focused on the Mexican state of Oaxaca (where mole and mezcal reign), head to Cultura Comida Y Bebida.
Dolores Street, between 5th and 6th Ave, Carmel-By-The-Sea
Flaherty's Seafood Grill & Oyster Bar | Serves Lunch & Dinner
With its deep fishing roots–see: Steinbeck’s Cannery Row–the Monterey Peninsula is ground zero for California’s seafood culture. As a nod to that history, we think you should have at least one seafood-focused meal while in the area. Flaherty’s has a massive menu, but, as the name suggests, you'll want to stick with the seafood (much of which comes directly from the docks of nearby Monterey).
You can’t go wrong with their fresh oysters, but we're all about the cioppino. This tomato-based seafood soup is a quintessential Northern California recipe that embodies the fishing culture of the area like no other. There are all sorts of versions of cioppino up and down the Northern California coast, but Flaherty’s – with its balanced tomato-herbed seafood broth and loads of fresh shellfish – sets the standard.
6th Ave, Between Dolores & San Carlos, Carmel-By-The-Sea
Katy’s Place | Serves Breakfast & Lunch
Locals flock to this classic Carmel diner for all the breakfast staples. The minute you walk in, they’ll treat you like old friends, and the cozy atmosphere will have you swearing you’ve been there before. Go for the fully leaded coffee and the perfectly crisp bacon but stay for the decadent local Dungeness Crab Benedict or the berry-clad cinnamon French Toast.
Mission St, Carmel-By-The-Sea
La Balena | Serves Lunch & Dinner
When it comes to cute hidden restaurants, Carmel-By-The-Sea brings it. Among those spots, La Balena stands out. Run by Florence-native Emanuele Bartolini and his wife, Anna, this restaurant is a taste of Italy in the middle of town. You can’t go wrong ordering Tuscan classics like Pappardelle with Boar Ragu or the Bistecca with a side of potatoes.
Junipero St, Carmel-By-The-Sea
La Bicyclette | Serves Lunch & Dinner
The whole downtown of Carmel-By-The-Sea has an adorable European charm with its English architecture. But La Bicyclette brings vibes from across the channel with its decidedly French fare. From the minute it opens, this spot is always busy, so make a reservation or be prepared to wait for a table.
Dolores St &, 7th Ave, Carmel-By-The-Sea
Pescadero | Serves Lunch & Dinner
If you go to Cultura (see above) for a more upscale Mexican dinner chockfull of Oaxacan classics like mezcal and mole, you go to Pescadero for a laidback meal of tacos and margaritas. The old saloon meets modern Mexican design vibes are, and the coastal culture of Baja California inspires the food.
As such, the menu is full of everything you’re craving, from a Mexican meal from Baja-style fish tacos to seafood cocktails. But it’s made that much better because the produce is local, and the tortillas are handmade to order on a comal. Be sure to order the Arrachera Steak or the Chile Verde.
San Carlos St &, 7th Ave, Carmel-By-The-Sea
The Stationaery | Serves Breakfast, Lunch, & Dinner
The relative newcomer on the Carmel-By-The-Sea food scene, Stationaery, hasn’t been around long but is already making a name for itself. Owned by Monterey-raised Anthony Carnazzo and his wife Allisa, the spot is named after Alissa’s other career as an acclaimed stationery design. The spot has a Nordic minimalism design, but the service brings a cozy charm. All of the head staff are from the Monterey region, and they bring their local pride to the menu with seasonally-driven farm-to-table fare with a modern twist.
Oh, and Anthony used to work in the coffee industry in Southern California, so you can be sure the coffee service is, like the rest of the experience, always perfect yet unpretentious.
San Carlos Street, 3 NE of 6th Avenue, San Carlos St, Carmel-By-The-Sea
Vesuvio Restaurant | Serves Dinner
If a restaurant were measured by its owners' passion for the food, Vesuvio Restaurant would win. This Italian restaurant is an institution in downtown Carmel-By-The-Sea not only for the food and warm service but also because this family-owned spot is run by some of the most affable Italian-Americans we’ve come across.
Chef Pepe regularly travels to Southern Italy in the name of research and has even created his own line of products (like legit Limoncello) imported and sold at the restaurant. His son is a lover of all things cocktails and has started a micro-distillery down the road where he’s turning out twists on Italian classics like aged Negroni mix.
6th Ave & Junipero St, Carmel-By-The-Sea
Note: FYI, the buildings in Carmel-By-The-Sea do not have street numbers. That’s why the addresses listed here name intersections; be sure to use your phone’s GPS or ask a local as some spots are tucked away!
Have another favorite food spot in Carmel-By-The-Sea? Let us know in the comments below or share your finds on social with the hashtag #swsociety!
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