Best Dinner on the Monterey Peninsula

Best Dinner on the Monterey Peninsula

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Clean Plate Club

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For an auspicious amount of time, decades all told, Michelin Guide hit the brakes on its restaurant coverage just north of Monterey Bay, arbitrarily excluding the Monterey Peninsula from its range. That changed recently, and a collection of restaurants earned mention, while Aubergine earned a well-deserved Michelin star, which was a nice plot twist.  

Another thing that has changed more recently: A flood of restaurant openings have occurred, more in, say, the first few months of 2022 than entire years previous, as Covid abates and tourism revs back up.

That’s made it hard to keep pace, and inspires inclusion of three downtown Monterey landmarks that are a touch too new to list in depth, but merit mention because they each occupy historic and beautiful spaces and have standout chefs at the helm: Cella in the Cooper Molera Gardens (with Chef Ben Spungin); Montrio in a former firehouse (with Chef Sascha Lyon); and Stokes Adobe in a huge house built in 1833 (with Chef Bryce Hansen). 

With that in mind, here are our top picks for Dinner on the Monterey Peninsula, selected by our editors.

A white and black textured bowl filled with a gourmet seafood dish. The best dinner Monterey Peninsula offers features a variety of seaweed, an open oyster on a bed of ice, garnished with caviar, herbs, and small edible flowers, all presented in an aesthetically pleasing manner.
Photo: Courtesy of Aubergine

Aubergine

7th Avenue Monte Verde Street, Carmel-By-The-Sea
831.624.8578

When Justin Cogley first took over at venerable Aubergine after a career as a pro figure skater and time working under Charlie Trotter in Chicago, he installed a tank in the kitchen to have the freshest of the fresh abalone ready for plates. His creativity, precision, technique and sense-of-place rank tops in the area, but it’s that obsession with local product and freshness — which leads him to forage ingredients personally — that really resonates. Plan ahead for the sublime tasting menu experience: This is the hardest reservation to get in the area. auberginecarmel.com

A plate with a juicy burger topped with melted cheese, lettuce, and a sesame seed bun, accompanied by thick, seasoned potato wedges. To the left, there is a glass of pink lemonade garnished with a lemon slice. The table surface is rustic and wooden—perfect for the best dinner in Monterey Peninsula.
Photo: @bantam1010

Bantam

1010 Fair Ave., Santa Cruz
831.420.0101

Frequently named as the best restaurant in Santa Cruz by locals, Bantam wows guests with its innovative and devoted approach to food. Chefs develop the deeply seasonal menu from scratch every day, showcasing the best of what the region offers. Sample dishes range from burrata with beets, pistachios and pecorino Romano, to fried chicken with butter beans, peas, fava beans, kale and chili butter. There is also an extensive line-up of crispy-crust pizzas with fresh tomato sauce and pockets mozzarella along with spicy honey. bantam1010.com

A table set for the best dinner on the Monterey Peninsula features various dishes including soup, bread, cheese, a plate of meat and vegetables, and a dish topped with greens. There are also two glasses of wine and a glass of water. A small vase of flowers is visible in the corner.
Photo: Courtesy of Bistro Moulin

Bistro Moulin

867 Wave Street, Monterey
831.333.1200

If pressed to present a go-to date spot for the Monterey region, this would be it. That’s the level of welcome from Wine Director Colleen Manni and French chef-owner Didier Dutertre and interplay of wine guidance, bang for your buck, seasonal Parisian-leaning food and picture book bistro backdrop. The best options are often simple and classic — escargot, coq au vin, moules frites, confit de canard — and the house signature dish, spinach gnocchi, is a must-do. bistromoulin.com

A freshly baked pizza with a vegetarian topping, including cauliflower and kale, sits on a wooden paddle near a traditional wood-fired oven. Another slice with red sauce is on a separate paddle, and the oven's flames are burning brightly in the background—truly the best dinner Monterey Peninsula has to offer.
Photo: Courtesy of Casanova

Casanova

5th Ave, Carmel-By-The-Sea
831.216.3811

One of Carmel-by-the-Sea’s biggest destinations of the last two generations — and biggest successes — Casanova does locally sourced French with aplomb, so bring on the potato croquettes, ribeye tartare, duck confit and braised beef cannelloni. The house bread program proves outstanding, the wine cellar is award-winning and the gorgeous setting matches the rustic food. casanovacarmel.com

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Photo: Courtesy of Cella Restaurant & Bar

Cella Restaurant & Bar

525 Polk St., Monterey
831.920.1046

A historic space pairs with two star chefs, a strong wine program and modern mixology slate to give Old Monterey a new favorite. The seasonal items from chef-partner Ben Spungin range from grilled Spanish octopus to market oysters to a cavatelli carbonara to a celebrated burger. Great breads from sister spot Alta next door and smart desserts too. Plus Spungin brought on celebrated exec chef Cal Stamenov to elevate everything further. cellarestaurant.com

A marble table is set with a variety of dishes, including a tall round loaf of bread with butter on a white plate, grilled mussels on bread, oysters on the half shell, and a glass of red wine. The food is arranged elegantly, reminiscent of the best breakfast on the Monterey Peninsula.
Photo: Courtesy of Chez Noir

Chez Noir

5th Avenue between Dolores and San Carlos, Carmel

The most anticipated restaurant in a decade doesn’t disappoint. Executive Chef Jonny Black borrows from stints at Per Se, Quince and Bar Crenn to create a deeply seasonal seafood spot that “can only exist in Carmel.” Tastes like charred abalone and handmade coonstripe shrimp ravioli are mesmerizing, the cozy backdrop is stunning, and the joy of passion is palpable. Like his wife/front of house savant Monique says, “We created the restaurant we want to eat at.” Trust the “Let Us Cook for You” for a most special splurge. cheznoircarmel.com

A seafood platter featuring fresh oysters, shrimp, lobster tails, and a bowl of seafood ceviche, garnished with green herbs and served with lemon wedges and dipping sauces on a bed of greens—truly the best dinner Monterey Peninsula has to offer.
Photo: Courtesy of The C Restaurant + Bar

The C Restaurant + Bar

750 Cannery Row, Monterey
831.375.4800

The soaring windows give way to the adjacent Pacific, and every table and booth has a great sightline. More eye-popping visions appear on the plate. Executive Chef Matt Bolton has been a star chef in the area for a generation, and assembles the thoughtful sustainable seafood dishes to reflect it — from the Dungeness crab pappardelle to the king salmon in mussel-saffron sauce. Located in the Intercontinental Hotel on Cannery Row. thecrestaurant-monterey.com

A vibrant tabletop spread featuring a plate of nachos topped with black beans, guacamole, shredded purple cabbage, cherry tomatoes, sour cream, and red sauce. Surrounding the plate are bowls of chips, sauces, mixed nuts, a lemon-lime drink, and rolled black napkins—truly the best dinner on the Monterey Peninsula.
Photo: @culturacarmel

Cultura Comida y Bebida

Dolores St. between 5th and 6th, Carmel
831.250.7005

For a taste of Oaxaca on the Central Coast, there’s no surer bet than Cultura Comida y Bebida. Superb food, great service and an outstanding setting — including a nice outdoor seating area away from the street — make this a fail-safe. A great date spot, you’ll find an assortment of family-style dishes on the menu as well as a full bar specializing in unique cocktails and traditional mezcal. Order the street tacos or the chicken tinga burrito and wash it down with a rotating mezcal creations born of regular staff retreats to the southern edge of Mexico. For dessert, try the oat milk flan. culturacarmel.com

Four steamed bao buns filled with pork belly, cilantro, cucumber, and pickled vegetables are served on a wooden board. This could be the best dinner on the Monterey Peninsula. A small white cup containing a dark dipping sauce is placed beside the buns. The background is a wooden table.

East End Gastropub

You can’t go wrong with the Ranch Beef double cheeseburger or a perfectly crispy thin-crust pizza at this Capitola gastropub, but why not try the fried chicken bao buns or kabocha squash cannelloni? Everything on the menu pairs well with the restaurant’s selection of brews on tap from local brewers like Humble Sea, California-focused wine list and cocktails, too. Post-dinner bonus: The warm chocolate brownie with salted peanut ice cream and caramel is divine. eastendpub.com

A plated dish featuring a grilled bone-in ribeye steak, garnished with roasted potatoes and greens, sits on a wooden table. Next to the plate, a glass of red wine and a bottle are partially visible, suggesting this could be the best dinner on the Monterey Peninsula.
Photo: Courtesy of Grasing's

Grasing's

NW Corner of Mission and 6th Avenue, Carmel-By-The-Sea
831.624.6562

Grasing’s was already capital-G great. When Chef Cal Stamenov came here from Bernardus, he turned a great restaurant into a superlative one. He jokes that his job is to sell the big bottles from the wine cellar, which enjoys arguably the best wine list in the region, but he’s being self-deprecating. More than a generation of the area’s most celebrated chefs trained under him, and he continues to deploy the sourcing and savvy to create wow-worthy chophouse fare with flair. Great bar menu too. grasings.com

A restaurant table with a plate of spaghetti and meatballs, a glass of white wine, two glasses of water, a white plate of salad with bacon pieces, and a rectangular plate with garlic breadsticks and marinara sauce, all set on a dark wood surface with red napkins—truly the best dinner you’ll find on the Monterey Peninsula.
Photo: Courtesy of Gusto Handcrafted Pizza and Pasta

Gusto Handcrafted Pizza and Pasta

1901 Fremont Blvd, Seaside
831.899.5825

When I named Gusto best new restaurant of the year back in 2015, it was a bit of a coup. People travel from Seaside to eat in Carmel, not vice versa. But the bedroom community known better for taquerias and noodle bars got a sit-down star specializing in authentic Northern Italian-style pizzas like the diavola and carnivora, handmade pastas with rustic sauces like the bolognese and porcini-marscapone, and other treats like chicken parmigiana and slow-braised short rib. gusto1901.com

A person holds a freshly made Chicago-style deep-dish pizza on a metal tray. With its thick, golden-brown crust, generous layer of chunky tomato sauce, and visible pieces of sausage and olives, it’s undoubtedly set to be the best dinner on the Monterey Peninsula.
Photo: Courtesy of Monterey County Weekly

Heirloom Pizza Co.

700 Cass Street #102, Monterey
831.717.4363

Some might be surprised to see a pizza place on a list with so many upscale spots, but such is the power of HPC’s deep dish pies. Pizzas like the namesake “Heirloom” with garlic, mushrooms, bacon and spinach can be done with Chicago depth — or thin crust — and without gluten. Combined with elements like a good wine list, local and exotic draft beers, fresh and hearty salads, it was enough to make it one of 10 best new Monterey County restaurants of the last decade. heirloompizzapie.com

A white plate filled with paccheri pasta topped with a rich, meaty bolognese sauce, garnished with fresh basil and a sprinkle of grated cheese. The background is softly blurred, highlighting the dish's hearty and appetizing appearance—truly the best dinner on the Monterey Peninsula.
Photo: Courtesy of destinationwineries.com

Il Tegamino

Ocean Avenue between Lincoln and Monte Verde, Carmel-By-The-Sea
831.677.6750

Carmel comes packed with quality Italian spots, including Aubergine sister restaurant Cantinetta Luca. Il Tegamino, named for the giant traditional pan hanging on the wall, qualifies as Local Getaways’ favorite. That’s for a range of things that include the adorable (and tiny) dining room, romantic patio, rustic Italian comfort food — Carbonara! Lasagna di Carnevale! Meatball trios! Bucatini! — great wines and masterful hospitality from hands-on owner-operators. iltegaminocarmel.com

A dish featuring three grilled prawns garnished with chopped herbs, served atop a bed of arugula and white beans. Lemon wedges are placed on the side for garnish on a light-colored plate. It's the best dinner Monterey Peninsula has to offer.
Photo: Courtesy of La Balena

La Balena

Junipero between 5th and 6th, Carmel
831.250.6295

La Balena — “whale” in Italian — shows that fried chicken can be elegant. Just take a look at their pollo fritto. It’s half of a Fogline Farm chicken that’s crusted with arborio (an Italian short-grain rice) and served with a small side salad. Crispy on the outside, tender and juicy on the inside, it doesn’t get much better. Other standouts at this unassuming and exceedingly hospitable spot include the bruschetta topped with Seka Hills olive oil, and a robust wine list. labalenacarmel.com

A plate with a sandwich and a side salad is on a red table with three colorful drinks in clear glasses. The backdrop features the scenic view of a mountain range, lush greenery, and clear blue sky extending over water—a typical setting at one of the best restaurants in Big Sur.

Nepenthe

48510 CA-1, Big Sur
831.667.2345

Open since 1949, Nepenthe is renowned for the panoramic views of the coast it offers from the sprawling wrap-around deck. The restaurant features a menu of Californian, Greek and Mediterranean cuisine, all highlighting locally grown food. Appropriately named, the famous Ambrosia Burger is Nepenthe’s version of heaven, served on a French roll with their famous ambrosia sauce. If time permits, have a drink before or after dinner out on the deck. If it’s chilly there is a vast selection of warm drinks like the Keoki coffee, made with Kahlua, Crème de Cacao and Korbel Brandy, topped with whipped cream. nepenthe.com

Two plates of food are shown, showcasing the best dinner on the Monterey Peninsula. The left plate has a hearty stew topped with a dollop of creamy sauce and garnished with herbs. The right plate features a whole grilled fish with crispy skin, accompanied by sautéed vegetables, including green beans, peppers, and potatoes.
Photo: Courtesy of Passionfish

Passionfish

701 Lighthouse Avenue, Pacific Grove
831.655.3311

Local Getaways’ favorite seafood restaurant by the bay, Passionfish earned an international following for its leadership around sustainable sourcing. But it’s Chef Ted Walter’s creative treatments, and a wine list notable for its rare finds and rare affordability, that make it a local legend. Some tastes to consider: sea scallops in tomato-truffle butter, Saltspring Island mussels in bacon-fennel broth, and an otherworldly Dungeness crab salad-avocado tower with spicy ginger vinaigrette. passionfish.net

A gourmet dish featuring a seared piece of fish topped with a tomato and pine nut relish, served on a bed of sautéed greens. Crispy fried strips are placed on the side, and cherry tomatoes with capers garnish the plate. Elegantly plated on white china, it's among the best dinners on the Monterey Peninsula.
Photo: Courtesy of the Sardine Factory

The Sardine Factory​

701 Wave Street, Monterey
831.373.3775

The icon that really made Cannery Row a culinary destination continues to be run by the families who founded it, and remains required viewing. The bar lounge area, dining rooms and cellar are as memorable as they come aesthetically, and the Factory has been around so long the food (like the abalone bisque, Pacific sand dabs, filet and lobster tail) are perhaps taken for granted by now. The Wine Spectator-celebrated wine list and double happy hour certainly are not. sardinefactory.com  

A nighttime scene of one of the best restaurants in Big Sur, featuring a cliffside location with large glass windows giving diners an expansive view of the ocean and sky. The interior is warmly lit with patrons seated at tables, enjoying their meals and conversation. The modern structure blends with the natural surroundings.
Photo: Courtesy of Kodiak Greenwood

Sierra Mar

47900 CA-1, Big Sur
831.667.2800

If I had one spot to go out to eat on the planet, period, it might be here. Such is the alchemy of setting (on the edge of a cliff), sourcing (relentless and often from the on-property garden) and execution (immaculate). Just getting to Post Ranch Inn is an experience, then the sensorial fireworks start arriving from Chef Reylon Augustin’s kitchen, paired with wines that have earned the Wine Spectator Grand Award since 2012. postranchinn.com

A close-up image of a fresh salad dish featuring thinly sliced cucumbers, green tomatoes, and garnished with herbs. Seasoned with black pepper and a drizzle of olive oil, it has a vibrant and appetizing appearance on a white plate—certainly one of the best breakfast options on the Monterey Peninsula.
Photo: Courtesy of Stokes Abode

Stokes Adobe

500 Hartnell St., Monterey
831.264.8775

One of the most storied properties in the region — and home to generations of famous restaurants, from Gallatin’s to Restaurant 1833 — has found fresh expression, and Michelin mention. The welcoming spaces of the historic home and spacious fire-pitted patio set the mood; truffle chicken, kampachi crude and Australian Wagyu bavette steak provide the caloric comfort. facebook.com/stokesadoberestaurant 

Two rectangular pizzas on baking trays, perfect for the best lunch Carmel Valley has to offer. The left pizza features mushrooms, zucchini, onion, and cheese. The right pizza has ground meat, onions, and green herbs on a tomato sauce base. Both have a golden-brown crust.
Photo: Courtesy of @westendtap

West End Tap & Kitchen

Putting a California spin on traditional pub food in an industrial, family-friendly setting, West End Tap & Kitchen serves up favorites like flatbread pizzas with an assortment of toppings, from slow-roasted tomato to Italian sausage, as well as a variety of starters, sandwiches and farmers’ market-inspired salads. You can’t go wrong with the house-ground burger though, topped with the restaurant’s signature sauce and your choice of fixings. Pair your meal with a drink from the extensive menu of craft brews, many from local breweries, or glass of wine from the California-centric wine list (many are on tap). westendtap.com 

More Please!
For more suggestions on the best restaurants on the Monterey Peninsula, the best things to do on the Monterey Peninsula and the best places to stay on the Monterey Peninsula, click here.

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