Situated on the northern coastline of California, Carmel-by-the-Sea has an assortment of architectural styles, from English cottages to postmodern minimalism. The prime real-estate overlooking dramatic cliffs, jagged Cypress trees and the verdant Pebble Beach golf-course attracts those who appreciate the finer things in life. An opulent lifestyle naturally necessitates first-rate culinary sophistication. We look at ten restaurants in Carmel offering the best of the best.
Inspired by the huddles of intellectuals conversing over espresso – a common sight within small European cafés – La Bicyclette offers cuisine crafted from local ingredients using old world techniques and fostering the art of good conversation. Serving pizza in a wood-fire Mugnaini oven and altering the menu to take seasonal produce into account, the restaurant offers a variety of options that are consistently flavoursome and fresh. From chocolate croissants and thick French toast for breakfast, to a dinner of Kurobuta pork short rib with peach glaze, La Bicyclette has something to tempt even the most discerning diner. The restaurant also shares a special partnership with MEarth, which develops children’s understanding of the farm to table process through culinary and environmental stewardship.
Just outside of Carmel proper, this two-story adobe dates back to 1833 and is reputedly one of the most haunted buildings on the Monterey Peninsula. Once occupied by a sailor-turned-doctor, 1833 is said to retain his ghost who still wanders the halls. The old-California-meets-New Orleans style interior draws diners from across the district, all delighting in the talented Jason Franey’s menu. The ever-popular martini cart serves playfully brilliant home-pickled onions for the perfect Gibson, olives stuffed with local blue cheese, select vodka profiles for a delectable craft martini and many varieties of hand-picked olives and gins in between. From tucked away fire lit rooms, to luxurious perches over the sprawling bar, 1833 provides room for large groups as well as space for intimate soirées. From the menu, try the yellow fin tuna with cauliflower cous cous and the jidori chicken breast stuffed with ramp boudin for a first-class culinary experience.
Receiving a five-star rating by Forbes Travel Guide, the contemporary Californian Aubergine is hailed by locals as one of the best restaurants in Carmel, supported by the fact that executive Chef Justin Cogley has been recently named as the Best New Chef by Food & Wine magazine. Serving two menus nightly – either ‘the menu’ or ‘tasting menu’ – the cuisine showcases the finest, freshest ingredients, perfectly treading the line between tradition and innovation. Dinner is paired with wine from a 2,500-bottle wine cellar, stocked from famed wine regions around the world including Monterey County and France. The cuisine is enjoyed in the ideal backdrop of the restaurant’s sleek contemporary feel, displaying earth hues and walls adorned with local photographs.
Restaurant, European, Italian, North American, $$$
Cantinetta Luca offers the pure flavors of authentic Italian food in a casual, modern setting. The ingredients are always fresh and seasonal with a simple, rustic presentation. Executive Chef Jason Balestrieri sources the best available ingredients from local farmers, fishmongers and purveyors to ensure consistent quality. Many items on the menu are made in-house including the breads, many cheeses, artisanal salami and fresh pastas. Specialties include wood-oven baked pizza, as well as a wide array of antipasti, whole fire-roasted fish and grilled meats served family-style. The restaurant’s wine list, exclusively Italian, offers an extensive selection of hard to find and reasonably priced wines.
Tucked away in the corner of a shopping center in Center Street, Carmel Valley, Lokal features chalkboard walls and a 28-foot bar built from redwood salvaged from the Monterey Pop Festival stage. Chef Brendan Jones is a veteran of the Michelin-starred Mugaritz in Spain and Cachagua General Store, and opened his innovative Carmel farm-to-table restaurant in May 2012. What he doesn’t grow himself, Jones sources from local purveyors and farmers markets. Opt for the sourdough French toast and build your own Benedict, choosing from local Corralitos ham or sausage and a choice of spinach, chard, wild arugula or fennel from the garden on Lokal’s shaded patio.
An historic 22-acre ranch preserved by Carmel’s former mayor and silver-screen legend, Clint Eastwood, Mission Ranch is known for its All-American cuisine. It offers a piano bar and spectacular views over Point Lobos, Carmel River Beach and the Pacific Ocean. Operating as a 31-room hotel with ten buildings across the estate, the property boasts a sterling restaurant in which guests can enjoy dinner whilst observing the goings on of a fully functional ranch. Must-have menu items from the Mission Ranch restaurant are the grilled and chilled local artichoke with aioli chipotle and the char-broiled salmon, sautéed in lemon butter sauce and served with wild rice and spinach.
Mundaka, the tapas-style restaurant located in downtown Carmel-by-the-Sea, offers guests a taste of Spain in an artistic, creative and cultural environment. Developed with a clear love and reverence for the atmosphere and laidback attitude of Spain, the design is cozy and intimate with floor-to-ceiling windows lined by glowing rows of empty wine bottles. Great for a date night, the suggested menu items are the datiles, which consist of dates stuffed with goat’s cheese and sprinkled with arugula, or lamb hamburguesa with pickled cauliflower and truffle fries – all to be washed down with a refreshing glass of two of the beverage choice, chilled, fruity sangria.
Following its grand opening, La Balena was voted the Best New Restaurant in Carmel in the Monterrey County Weekly newspaper. Operated by Chef Brad Briske – who sources local and organic ingredients before transforming them into delicious, handmade dishes – La Balena offers Italian fare with a constantly evolving daily menu. Briske begins his day in the Monterey Bay area, perusing the farmers’ markets, the wharf and the local livestock farms to buy and source fresh ingredients and exciting new flavors for his menu. Local favorites include the osso bucco, lamb meatballs, polpo grigliato, pollo frito, pesce del giorno and soft, decadent wedges of tiramisu.
Rich Pèpe opened Little Napoli in 1990 and it has since become one of the most iconic Italian restaurant on the Monterey Peninsula. Chianti is served by the glass and olive oil is poured into saucers printed with sage advice such as “non parlare, baciami” (don’t talk, kiss me). Recently featured on The Food Network’s Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives, Little Napoli is full of delicious food and the atmosphere breezy thanks to Pepe’s infectious personality. Relax on the restaurant’s new al fresco patio upstairs and enjoy the gnocchi avellino and chicken parmigiana with pappardelle and smothered in a rich alfredo sauce.