From Big Sur to Monterey Bay, the scenery of the Central Coast is world-renowned. The local culinary scene also happens to be second to none. Put the two together and you get a melting pot of world-class dining experiences — restaurants that serve up dramatic, sweeping panoramas of land and sea along with incredible food, service and ambience.
Here are seven of the best Central Coast restaurants for spectacular eats and gasp-worthy views.
Boasting cliff-top vistas of the Big Sur coast from its perch in the Santa Lucia Mountains, Nepenthe restaurant is an iconic California experience. With outdoor seating on a wooden deck or around a fire pit, the vibe is cool and informal. Indoors is just as relaxed, with tables sitting in an airy building designed by architect Rowan Maiden, a disciple of Frank Lloyd Wright. A favorite with visitors and locals, Nepenthe has been around for more than 60 years and is still owned by the original family. Among the house specialties are the famous Ambrosia Burger and homemade desserts, but the menu also includes salads, sandwiches, and naturally raised beef, poultry and seafood.
If you’re looking to dine a little closer to the water, Cafe Beach is the place to go. Overlooking Del Monte Beach and Monterey Bay, the eatery is located in the oceanfront Monterey Tides Hotel. Executive chef Jose Velasquez creates exciting, wholesome options inspired by the seaside surroundings. Tapas dishes such as tuna tacos and chili aioli lobster timbale are favorites for lunch, but the menu also lists some fresh and inspiring entrees in three categories: salads, sand and sea. In the evening, the “sea” options expand to include charbroiled swordfish and blackened halibut, and the “land” menu adds steak, chicken and pasta dishes.
Chef Chad Minton creates seasonally focused, innovative California coastal cuisine to complement the amazing views through the glass walls of the Pacific’s Edge restaurant at the Hyatt Carmel Highlands. Minton’s menu is built around fresh, organically grown and raised meats and produce, as well as sustainable maritime ingredients compliant with the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch guidelines. Dishes run a broad (and mouth-watering) gamut: zucchini carpaccio with wild arugula, shaved parmesan reggiano and pickled mushrooms; handmade pasta with seasonal market vegetables; Sonoma duck with a house-made mole, pickled peaches and walnut powder; or Pacific wild king salmon with lentil salad and crispy leeks.
A perfect stop on your way to or from Big Sur along famed Highway 1, Rocky Point restaurant also takes full advantage of its seaside location and access to fresh local ingredients. Sipping a Big Sur Lemon Drop cocktail while having lunch on the open-air deck is literally a breath of fresh air. The incredible scenery continues after dark as floodlights illuminate the rocky shoreline below. Favorite starters include the wild-harvested, garlic-drenched escargot a l’Alsacienne and yummy Rocky Point cheese bread. The menu also boasts salads, sandwiches and an extensive entree list that includes a delectable prime rib special. Vegan and gluten-free dishes are also available.
Contemporary California cuisine is also the forte of the casually elegant Sierra Mar restaurant at the posh Post Ranch Inn. Perched on a bluff overlooking the epic Big Sur coast, this award-winning eatery revolves around pre-fixe and tasting menus that change daily based on available organic and seasonal ingredients. Expect dishes like black mussels cooked in embers with kelp and sea vegetables or venison with wild Big Sur berries and buckwheat. With one of the county’s most extensive wine cellars, Sierra Mar also offers optional wine pairings with all meals.
Beach House at Lovers Point
The Beach House at Lovers Point in Pacific Grove offers another stunning location for lunch or dinner. There are plenty of window seats overlooking the Monterey Bay, plus a heated outdoor patio. New executive chef Matthew Farmer brings fresh focus to a menu that includes traditional favorites like the bacon cheeseburger, meatloaf and roast chicken, while also offering more daring dishes like clams and organic linguine with roasted garlic and crab-stuffed Petrale sole. The Beach House sunset menu (offered daily 4 p.m. to 5:30) is an especially good value.
Mission Ranch restaurant, located in the hotel of the same name, overlooks a lush meadow where sheep graze against a backdrop of the Pacific Ocean and Santa Lucia Mountains. The property has a long and storied past, a one-time ranch on the southern edge of Carmel that’s passed through 17 owners and was most recently restored by Clint Eastwood. The restaurant, with its 1840s vibe, is housed in the old creamery building. The menu is built around American comfort food, with perennial favorites like surf and turf, prime rib, and pan-seared sea scallops. Tables are located inside or on a heated patio. There’s also a buffet brunch with live jazz on Sundays.
Stay tuned …
Just over the horizon is the long-awaited reopening of the restaurant at Sanctuary Beach Resort up the coast in Marina. Slated for re-launch in early 2017, the revamped eatery promises a new culinary concept and elevated dining experience on the edge of the Marina Dunes Preserve.
—Joe Yogerst for See Monterey