Lunch is a spectacular time to eat. It’s not “the most important” mealtime. It’s rarely the event that a fancy dinner implies. But done right, it can be the transcendent moment to intake so much flavor and value it precludes the other two. Pro tip: if you’re trying to have a midday sipper and someone slaps you with an eye roll and an “it’s 5 o’clock somewhere,” hit back with this — lunch is actually a derivative of luncheon, which comes from the Anglo-Saxon word “nuncheon” meaning “noon drink.” So there! Here is our selection of the best lunch spots on the Central Coast, many with great drinks.
Feature Photo: Big Sur River Inn & Restaurant
Big Sur River Inn & Restaurant
There aren’t many places in the world, let alone California, that allow you to dine in the water, but this is one of those. At the Big Sur River Inn & Restaurant there are actually four places you can dine: in the historic dining room, on the expansive deck, on the lawn or in an Adirondack chair along the bank of — or with feet soaking in — the Big Sur River. If you want a substantial yet gluten-free meal, get the chimichurri-marinated California gaucho steak. If you’re craving comfort food, it doesn’t get much better than carrot cake French toast. Hours are 12pm to 6pm daily.
This place literally cannot be missed. A historic train caboose alongside Highway 1 in Half Moon, Dad’s Luncheonette serves roadside classics with a Californian twist. Scott Clark started Dad’s after he became one with his partner Alexis Liu. Despite the fact that the restaurant makes un-fussy burgers on white bread with no substitutions, Clark’s fine-dining background is betrayed in the details. All the condiments are made in-house, and the chips come sprinkled with a generous amount of nutritional yeast — an unexpected yet delightful addition. Hours are Thursday through Sunday 11am to 4pm.
Established in 1894, Tavern is “where friends meet” for local fish, vegetables that are grown right behind the restaurant, and the legitimately legendary artichoke soup. Three full-time gardeners grow Duarte’s hand-picked artichokes, lettuce and squash, herbs and countless other kinds of produce, including olallieberries. You’ll find plenty of regional wines on the menu, but the Bloody Mary is one-of-a-kind. Hours are Monday, Wednesday and Thursday 12pm to 3pm; Friday through Sunday 12pm to 6pm. Closed Tuesday.
Half Moon Bay Brewing Co.
The first brewery opened on the San Mateo coast since 1873, Half Moon Bay Brewing Co. is a lot of things, including a green-certified business and an ultra dog-friendly destination that makes treats for pups with spent grains. As for human food, the New England clam chowder will warm your bones on even the most blustery day. Other top picks include the Dungeness crab roll that comes on an Acme torpedo loaf, and the Baja fish tacos, made with grilled or crispy fresh cod. Hours are Sunday through Thursday 11am to 9pm, Friday and Saturday 11am to 10pm.
La Bicyclette Restaurant
The menu here is updated weekly, but guests can always expect a fresh assortment of Belgian-tinged creations — including the constant Duvel beer — from the Georis family. A wood-fired oven is at the heart of this operation and you can’t go wrong with any of the pizza offerings, especially the Champignons which boasts both portobello and oyster mushrooms. Ask the server about the charcuterie selection that’s cut to order with the on-site hand cranked slicer. Breakfast hours daily 8:30am to 10:30am, lunch and dinner 11am to 9pm.
Old Princeton Landing Public House
Re-opened in the fall of 2010 by brothers Brian and Peter Overfelt, OPL puts its own spin on farm-to-table: Enter “dock-to-dish.” The restaurant prides itself in serving fare sourced from local farms and fisheries and features plenty of local and California beers. Guests will find several Hawaiian-inspired items like the loco moco and Hawaiian bucket — teriyaki chicken or Kalua pork with sticky rice and Hawaiian mac. For (slightly) lighter fare, opt for Uncle Nate’s loaded cobb salad: egg, avocado, tomato, chicken, onion, bacon and blue cheese crumbles, all atop locally-grown red leaf romaine lettuce with your choice of dressing. Bar hours are Monday through Thursday 11am to 12am, Friday and Saturday 11am to 2am, Sunday 10am to 12am. The grill is open from 8am to 9pm daily.
West End Tap & Kitchen
This neighborhood spot is known for making traditional pub food with a Californian flair that goes great with the many craft beers and wines on the menu. Full of ethical choices, the burger is made with Niman Ranch beef and the kids offerings are both fun and healthy. The smoked salmon board with tarragon aioli, herb cream cheese and fried capers tempts as a great pick for lox fans. Check out the flatbreads on the menu — the grilled zucchini and mushroom with basil pesto, black truffle brie and urfa biber pepper is a showstopper. Hours are noon to 9pm daily. westendtap.com