WHERE TO EAT
Red House Café 662 Lighthouse Ave., Pacific Grove; 831/643-1060; dinner for two $40. A longtime favorite for breakfast and lunch, the café recently added a dinner menu (served Thursday through Saturday) that revolves around what's fresh and whatever chef-owner Christopher D'Amelio feels inspired to cook. A typical night's offerings: Dijon-thymeÐencrusted prime rib with sweet-potato purée and sautéed zucchini, and baked Monterey salmon with braised leeks.
Tillie Gort's Café 111 Central Ave., Pacific Grove; 831/373-0335; lunch for two $20. Before an afternoon visit to the tourist-packed aquarium, grab a wholesome snack at this granola-crowd luncheonette. Veggie burgers, big salads, fresh juices, and flavorful vegan desserts (try the vanilla cake with mocha frosting) share menu space alongside such mainstream carnivorous fare as the "turkado" (a turkey sandwich with avocado).
Taste Café & Bistro 1199 Forest Ave., Pacific Grove; 831/655-0324; dinner for two $45. A great spot for bistro dishes with a California touch. The standouts are chicken-apple sausages with braised red cabbage, au gratin potatoes, and onion marmalade; and grilled entrecte.
Duck Club Monterey Plaza Hotel & Spa, 400 Cannery Row, Monterey; 831/646-1706; dinner for two $80. After a lengthy day of sightseeing, the hotel's formal grill and attentive staff are just the thing. Plus you get a bay view to accompany your savory butternut squash soup and perfectly grilled salmon.
Tarpy's Roadhouse 2999 Hwy. 68, Monterey; 831/647-1444; dinner for two $50. The renovated stone farmhouse was built in the early 1900's and has a lively courtyard. Try one of the wood-grilled steaks.
Montrio 414 Calle Principal, Monterey; 831/648-8880; dinner for two $60. This buzzing bistro is set in a 1910 converted firehouse—the pole is sadly gone, but the exposed brick and high ceilings remain. Sip a good local wine at the bar while waiting for rotisserie chicken with garlic mashed potatoes.
Stokes Adobe Restaurant 500 Hartnell St., Monterey; 831/373-1110; dinner for two $70. This may be the prettiest restaurant in town—it's in a pink adobe, circa 1833—but the real draw is chef Brandon Miller's seared ahi tuna with lentil-tomato salad and mustard aioli.
Hog's Breath Inn San Carlos and Fifth Sts., Carmel; 831/625-1044; lunch for two $20. Though Clint Eastwood is no longer the owner (only the landlord), this nouveau-rustic English pub and grill still pays homage to Carmel's former mayor and most famous resident—both in décor (lots of movie stills) and on the menu ("Dirty Harry burger," anyone?). Recently opened after a renovation, it's ideal for a drink and a nosh by one of the five outdoor fireplaces.
Nepenthe Hwy. 1, Big Sur; 831/667-2345; dinner for two $50. Orson Welles and Rita Hayworth used to rent the private cabin here, built in 1944 by a Frank Lloyd Wright apprentice, to steal away from their fans. Sitting on an 800-foot bluff, full of paths and steps that lead to stunning treetop coastal views, Nepenthe (Greek for "no sorrow") has been a restaurant/café and Big Sur landmark for more than 50 years. The food is a bit overpriced and pedestrian—but it's an agreeable place for lunch or a snack (the ambrosia burger is a good choice).
Deetjen's Big Sur Inn 48865 Hwy. 1, Big Sur; 831/667-2378; dinner for two $60. After the twisty drive down the Pacific Coast Highway, stop at Deetjen's for a glass of wine. Order the poached pear-and-blue cheese salad with candied walnuts, then the crisp roast free-range chicken with portobello mashed potatoes. On a brisk night, the crackling fireplace and doting service will warm the chill right out of you.