Where to Eat Well in Monterey County

Pizza Monterey County

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11. Phil’s Fish Market

Phil DiGirolamo opened his fish market in the tiny harbor town of Moss Landing in 1982. The market’s since become a dining destination. To enter, walk by a fisherman statuette and small boat, then grab a menu and decide from dozens of options on the way to the counter. Oysters on the Half Shell may include Pacifics or Blue Points, both dress-able with lemon juice and horseradish-spiked cocktail sauce. The restaurant’s right near artichoke epicenter Watsonville, so by all means partake in fire-roasted chokes, which don’t even need the tangy aioli dipping sauce. Grilled Sardines are bony, naturally oily and damn near addictive when dressed with shallots, capers, olive oil, and a squeeze of lemon. Phil’s Fish Market is best known for Grandma Nina Catalano’s cioppino, a zesty tomato broth seasoned with oregano, onion and garlic and filled with whatever seafood is in season. During my visit, that meant crab claws, shrimp, bay scallops, Manila clams, black mussels, calamari, and fish fillet.

MUST ORDER DISHES: Cioppino, Fire Roasted Artichokes, Grilled Sardines, Oysters on the Half Shell

12. Red’s Donuts

Donuts Monterey County

Red’s has been open since 1950 in downtown Monterey. Herman and Helen O’Donnell left the business to their two daughters and son, who now fry in nearby Seaside, delivering donuts to the original location daily. The Monterey space has canary yellow walls, a yellow linoleum counter, paintings of clowns and old signs for Coca-cola and Monterey Savings & Loan. Donuts are classic. I’d suggest pleasantly chewy old fashioned and a supple glazed chocolate.

MUST ORDER DISHES: Old Fashioned Donut, Chocolate Glazed Donut

13. The Restaurant at Ventana

California Cuisine Monterey County

Ventana Inn is one of two marquee properties in Big Sur. The resort’s hilltop restaurant features wall to wall wood, views of the Pacific Ocean during the day, sea blue murals of the sea and coast, and an open kitchen. Chef Paul Corsentino, who arrived in 2014 after spending 10 years in New York, offers a four-course tasting menu for $75, along with compelling a la carte options. The menu changes beyond seasonally. In fall, you might find sweet potato soup with rainbow chard, a drizzle of olive oil, and punchy pickled celery and carrot. Roasted cauliflower salad is another vegetarian standout dressed with pomegranate seeds, tangy curry yogurt and spicy peppercress. The Restaurant at Ventana offers many tastes of the sea, including juicy grilled sturgeon from Oregon’s Columbia River, which comes with a hash of smoked sturgeon and braised Savoy cabbage, vivid purple cabbage puree, roasted sunchokes, lemon marmalade, and bursting orange trout roe. For dessert, the creative pumpkin financier comes with Concord grape sorbet, almond and pumpkin seed Florentine, and cream cheese.

MUST ORDER DISHES: Grilled Sturgeon, Roasted Cauliflower Salad, Sweet Potato Soup, Pumpkin Financier

14. Salumeria Luca [CLOSED]

Italian Food Monterey County

Salumeria Luca is an Italian deli and bakery in Carmel-by-the-Sea from chef Jason Balestrieri and his partners from The Mirabel Hotel & Restaurant Group, which includes adjacent Cantinetta Luca. This grab-and-go spot debuted in August, 2011, with a marble counter, multiple deli cases, panini press with copper pig hood, gelato case with flavors like salted caramel, roasted banana & milk jam, and Mandarin sorbet, and an area to buy dried and fresh pasta. Your best bets are to buy the Luca salume I mentioned earlier, or to pile meats and cheeses onto sandwiches. I’d suggest the Calabrese sandwich with spicy Calabrese salami, Calabrian pepper spread, greens, tomato, and fresh mozzarella. Friday, Saturday, and Tuesday, they sell fresh-baked pizza by the slice, either Margherita or pepperoni.

MUST ORDER DISHES: Calabrese Sandwich, Pizza by the Slice

15. Sierra Mar

California Cuisine Monterey County

For people who have seen the “Mad Men” finale, where Don Draper finds enlightenment in Big Sur, Sierra Mar may feel familiar. This breathtaking restaurant at famed Post Ranch Inn features infinity views of the shimmering Pacific Ocean from the deck and curved glass and wood dining room. Chef John Cox is a champion of sustainability, whether it comes to his methods for sourcing ingredients or the way he cleans dishes with blasts of air instead of buckets of water. A seasonal amuse bouche and acorn bread with pine nuts and snow-white pats of butter give way to an of-the-moment tasting menu or a la carte experience, depending on which you prefer. Preparations with the strongest sense of place include Hammersley Oysters dressed with shiso, pickled sea grapes and togarashi. Seaweed salad also touts pickled sea grapes, along with trout roe, fried fennel fronds, finger lime, borage, avocado, thin-shaved abalone and more on an abalone shell. House Made Charcuterie is highly original, including cecina, hunter’s sausage, chorizo, thistle cheese, baby artichoke, and peppers. They also serve a burger at lunch, but Skywalker Ranch Wagyu Burger is far from ordinary. Coarse, beautifully seared leg and shoulder meat comes from George Lucas’ property in Marin County and joins sharp Schoch Family Farmstead Monterey Jack cheese, smoked bacon, tomato jam, heirloom tomato, and lettuce on a house acorn bun studded with sesame, sunflower and fennel seeds. For dessert Milk Chocolate Pumpkin Bar with tiny candied pumpkin, roasted pumpkin ice cream, nougatine and pepita streusel was full of fall.

MUST ORDER DISHES: Hammersley Oysters, House Made Charcuterie, Seaweed Salad, Skywalker Ranch Wagyu Burger, Milk Chocolate Pumpkin Bar

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Joshua Lurie

Joshua Lurie founded FoodGPS in 2005. Read about him here.

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