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Best Carmel Restaurants

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Carmel’s best restaurants have a reputation for excellence. It’s an area known for fine dining. Here, the emphasis is on European and Californian cuisine, with an additional focus on locally sourced ingredients. Most of Carmel’s restaurants are casual and laid-back—roll in wearing your daytime shopping duds, and very few people will give you a funny look. But people who want a special night out will be pleased to find establishments that take it up a notch. In Carmel-by-the-Sea, it’s easy to find a sidewalk café, or a restaurant with a courtyard—in keeping with the Old-World village atmosphere (and to accommodate the family canine). Breakfast establishments are plentiful, and some serve all day, allowing visitors to get a leisurely morning start. Dinner in the Carmel region can be on the early side; there are few late-night establishments, so plan accordingly.

Marinus

Neighborhood: Carmel Valley Price: Expensive

For an unforgettable evening and a view of dreamy Carmel Valley, put Marinus at the Bernardus Lodge on your list. Chef Cal Stamenov’s California cuisine focuses on local organic produce, seafood and artisan-farmed meats, including white sea bass served with Mangalitsa bacon and chive beurre blanc, an alder-smoked Sonoma duck with black trumpet mushrooms, or a cheese plate featuring Schoch Farms Gouda. The presentations are so pretty, you almost don’t want to dig in. Almost. More than 1,800 selections are available from the restaurant’s wine list. Want to dine like Julia Child and Eric Ripert? Get a seat at The Chef’s Table in the kitchen, where the chef will prepare something just for you. Dinner is available Wednesday through Sunday only, and reservations are essential.

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Grasing's Coastal Cuisine

Neighborhood: Carmel-by-the-Sea Price: Expensive

This light-filled, comfortable restaurant is right in the center of Carmel-by-the-Sea and perfect for a break any time of day. Chef Kurt Grasing’s contemporary menu features coastal cuisine and locally sourced fare, such as Monterey Bay red abalone, seared diver scallops with three-cheese ravioli, roast rack of California lamb, or lasagna stacked with artichoke hearts and roasted garlic. A prix-fixe menu is also offered. Don’t skip out on the Wine Spectator award-winning wine list, rich with the best of California, Europe and South America. While it can be possible to walk in for lunch, reservations are essential for dinner and weekend meals.

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Mission Ranch Restaurant

Neighborhood: Carmel Price: Expensive
The views at Mission Ranch Restaurant can’t be beat: green meadows full of grazing sheep, crashing waves at Point Lobos, and the Santa Lucia Mountains. Fortunately, the fare is just as pleasing. Chef Owen Appelt came to Mission Ranch after nearly 20 years at the Lodge at Pebble Beach and the Beach and Tennis Club at Pebble Beach. The dinner menu includes casual dishes (such as the grilled chicken breast sandwich on a ciabatta roll), as well as main dishes like the pan-seared scallops with lemon-butter caper sauce and cheese polenta. Reservations for brunch and dinner are highly recommended.

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PortaBella

Neighborhood: Carmel-by-the-Sea Price: Moderate

You may be tempted to dine inside at PortaBella, but if the weather is good, make a point of getting an outdoor table on the patio, where you’ll be surrounded by greenery and flowers while you dine. The restaurant’s menu is influenced by cuisine from Spain, France and Italy, as well as by local specialties. Choose from a menu rich in fresh salads, Monterey sand dabs, foccacia sandwiches (for lunch) and pastas, especially the duck and feta ravioli. A seat at PortaBella offers a perfect people-watching perch on Ocean Avenue. Bring your dog pal along, and his water will be presented in a silver dish.

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Casanova Restaurant

Neighborhood: Carmel-by-the-Sea Price: Moderate

If you’re looking for a restaurant to celebrate a special occasion with an artsy romantic, Casanova tops the list. The cottage, like many of Carmel’s homes, looks like it jumped out of a painting in an Impressionist exhibition. But go beyond the visual and dive into the tasty menu, featuring rustic French and Italian cuisine, like steamed black mussels with frites; linguine with lobster, shrimp and shellfish simmered in a white wine cream sauce; or the salade Niçoise with seared Ahi tuna and the best of the garden. Save room for some wine from the restaurant’s celebrated wine cellar. Canine pals can dine along in the outdoor courtyard—they’re treated like royalty.

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Café Rustica

Neighborhood: Carmel Valley Price: Moderate

Carmel locals flock here for the thin-crusted wood-fired pizzas, such as the Lorraine, with caramelized sweet yellow onions, maple-smoked bacon, Gruyere cheese and Italian parsley. Put in an order for your favorite pizza, but don’t skip out on the starters (especially the crispy calamari with chili aioli) or the other rustic-done-right menu offerings, like the wood-oven baked rigatoni with mushrooms. In good weather, get a table outside on the sunny patio. Even though Café Rustica is in quiet Carmel Valley, its popularity means that reservations are recommended.

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Café Rustica  

Forge in the Forest

Neighborhood: Carmel-by-the-Sea Price: Moderate
Set on a corner in Carmel-by-the-Sea, this is the perfect place for people-watching. Find an outdoor table on the garden patio next to one of the cozy brick and stone fire pits, or head indoors to the old forge saloon with its copper walls. The menu is varied: from hearty grilled steaks to barbecue roast pork sandwiches to crispy gourmet pizzas topped with roasted duck and caramelized onion. In the best Carmel tradition, the dog menu has yummy canine treats, but biscuits and water are always free.

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Mundaka

Neighborhood: Carmel-by-the-Sea Price: Budget

Named for a famed surfing town on the Bay of Biscay in the Basque region of Spain, Mundaka’s menu is full of an ever-changing selection of tasty tapas. Some regular highlights include Serrano ham, Marcona almonds, white anchovies, figs and piquillo peppers. Fresh local ingredients, like grilled Monterey sardines, only add to the Spanish-influenced dishes. Mundaka’s chef, Brandon Miller, is one of the area’s top chefs. Decorated in a palette of muted colors, the restaurant has used sustainable products from floor to ceiling. Reservations are recommended, especially on weekends.

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Mundaka  

Little Swiss Café

Neighborhood: Carmel-by-the-Sea Price: Budget

Join the locals at the Little Swiss Café, and you’ll discover why this has been a favorite breakfast and lunch joint over the years. Breakfast is served all day in the comfortable Swiss cottage, and the menu features pancakes, blintzes, eggs Benedict and homemade breads. The Little Swiss is indeed little and the restaurant doesn’t take reservations, so if it figures in your meal plans, be patient. Folks with their names on the wait list congregate out front on the sidewalk. Make sure you have cash on hand, because credit cards are not accepted.

Wagon Wheel Coffee Shop

Neighborhood: Carmel Valley Price: Budget

Get a little feel of the country out in Carmel Valley with a visit to this country-style coffee shop, which serves up breakfast and lunch items ranging from stacks of oatmeal banana pancakes to biscuits and gravy, or big burgers and salads. This rustic spot is popular with families and cowboys, so be prepared to wait if you don’t get here early. No dinners here—it’s strictly a breakfast and lunch place. The Wagon Wheel doesn’t take credit cards, so make sure you bring cash. Before you leave, take some time to look at the photos and memorabilia on the walls—there’s a lot of history here from its more than 30 years of business.

Carmel Valley Coffee Roasting Company

Neighborhood: Carmel-by-the-Sea Price: Budget

Duck into this sweet spot on Ocean Avenue and get your morning or afternoon fix of java from a list of house-roasted Arabica beans. The environmentally friendly roasting system employs emission-control equipment, so you can sip and enjoy without worrying about the planet. Hungry visitors can choose from a variety of baked goods and sandwiches—from macaroons to panini. While there’s room to enjoy your beverage in the brightly colored interior, pick a spot outside in the pretty courtyard (especially if Fido is with you).

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