Local Food: What To Eat On The Monterey Peninsula

From weekend road trips to jaunts up Highway 1, we find ourselves on California's Monterey peninsula on a pretty regular basis. Just north of Big Sur and south of Santa Cruz, the area is known for its rich fishing history, 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!

Whether you visit during California restaurant month, as part of a visit to the Monterey acquarium, or as part of a road trip to Big Sur, here are the places to eat when you visit Monterey.

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 Acquarium 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 fisherman 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 minute 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-inflluenced 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. They're opening a more casual restaurant in Monterey in spring 2019 so be on the lookout for that too!

Farm To Table Breakfast

For a healthy locally-sourced breakfast in Carmel, our pick is Carmel Belle. This gourmet store and casual cafe is 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.

Locally Made Everything

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 wchich 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 Pacfic 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. 

Seasonal Salads + Sandwiches

Another recent addition in the Monterey cafe category is Café Lumiere which serves delicious breakfast and gourmet sandwiches. A few of our favoirtes are the homegrown hash bowl with sweet potato and poached eggs and the korean kimchi crunch bowl with slow roasted pork. Like Carmel Belle, Cafe Lumiere is a top option for gourmet takeout if you plan to picnic, hike, or just stock up your vacation rental. 

That's it for our picks for where to eat when you visit the Monterey Peninsula. Any other recommendations we missed? Let us know in the comments below.

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