The sleepy and Historic town surrounded by natural beauty, Monterey. What I called home for 5 years and hopefully own property there down the road. Monterey actually has a good amount of well recognized restaurants due to its position in the hospitality industry and the availability of fresh food grown in the nearby Salinas Valley and fish from the protected bay. I have put a short list for your trip of places I would recommend along with some tips. Hopefully you have the time to explore some of them and like them. Maybe one day I can show you around.
Best Clam Chowder: Old Fisherman’s Grotto/Kokomo’s
Clam chowder is a no joke, competitive sport in Monterey’s Fisherman’s Wharf. Restaurants hire people just to give out free samples and during college it is how I survived at times. Despite everyone touting that they have the “best” clam chowder, it comes down to Old Fisherman’s Grotto. It’s creamy, hearty, clean and just warms me up on days I really needed a hug of comfort. Skip the fanciness, price and wait time of Old Fisherman’s Grotto and go right across to Kokomo’s as they are owned by the same people (they also own Passion Fish) and it’s the exact same recipe. I also down oysters while I’m there as I am a lover of fresh and raw seafood.
Sandwiches: Campagno’s Market & Deli
Whenever I was going on a long hike or was going to spend time out and about at the beach, I would head to Campagno’s. Fuck Subway, this is a deli done right. Most tourists skip this spot as it is mostly known by locals who are military. This place offers monster sandwiches, no regard for portion control, and other deli items such as cold salads. Cool thing is that it has isles of different kind of chips and unique sodas. If you meet the owner, Bennet, he has a weird but really funny sense of humor.
My usual order is the Turkey Bacon Avocado on Dutch crunch and a bottle of Bawls Energy Drink (the only Deli that I have ever seen carry that). Usually I’ll eat half and save the rest for later.
Late Night Tacos: Papa Chevo’s
The Monterey neighborhoods rarely have any spots open late at night after drinking except maybe if you are right downtown with the bars or have to resort to fast food drive through. There is Papa Chevo’s in Marina. This spot was the spot when you had the drunchies and the tacos are legit. A shack that sits on what I remember was a car dealer lot, yes a taco shack in the middle of a car dealer lot, you know they held their own and probably have outlived the auto dealer business by now. Usual order is 2 asada, 2 lengua and 2 al pastor.
Real Mexican Food: Mi Tierra Carneceria and Supermercado
During the day, when going to the Sand City Target in Seaside, I like to pop-in to the legit Mexican market, Mi Tierra. The produce for Latin food is as fresh as possible from the local Salinas fields. Whatever obscure ingredient you need for your Mexican dish, most likely is there. If I was making my own food and missed home cooking this is where I would start my quest to acquire my components. This is where I buy my avacados for my life changing guac and that’s just the produce.
The real treasure of this spot is the little kitchen in the back of the market. Take the produce and fresh meat from the carneceria and use it in a kitchen tucked in the back, can’t get any more vertically integrated and fresh than that. People in the know go there for the super burrito and tacos. I’m more of a taco guy so I go for the asada with grilled onions on the side and a Mexican Coke, but would not knock down the burrito. When even white people start showing up and trying to order in Spanish…you know they have crossed that line of thinking Chipotle is Mexican.
At the Mall: Lalla Grill
If you ever find yourself at the Del Monte Mall, Lalla Grill would be a nice spot if you are trying to avoid the mass consumeristic food court slop. Outdoor seating is available and I know it’s good because I had friends that worked there; I’m sure they would have said anything if something wasn’t right. I think most items on the menu are great and salads are always fresh. Good meeting spot for groups and they know how to make mixed cocktails.
Breakfast/Brunch: First Awakenings
Besides being featured on Food Network and being an old factory turned breakfast joint, I love going here in the morning after a night out or just to chill in the patio for the crisp morning air and people watching for owners and their dogs. It’s conveniently located at the start of Cannery Row and across the famous Monterey Bay Aquarium.
This isn’t Dennie’s or IHOP, but a familiar yet thought out and elevated breakfast spot. I usually order some sort of egg dish like a Benedict. Diced potatoes, yes please and a side of coffee and juice. If you can’t make it to breakfast, Archie’s next door is a solid burger joint that serves beer and the garlic fires. The garlic fries 🙂 love pickles so they give you a pickle.
Sit Down Non-American Restaurant: Pacific Thai Cuisine
By chance I stumbled into this restaurant because the wait time at my other favorite spot was too long one day. It’s on Lighthouse Ave and that street has a good selection of restaurants, my favorite coffee shop is also on that street and I am a snob up to a point, let’s just say Starbucks is at the bottom for me. It’s in Pacific Grove (known as PG locally) and that is the charming neighborhood I would buy a little home next to the sea if I could.
Pacific Thai had some good memories for me and a lot of sentimentality because I would take my friends there and just have a good honest Thai dish. It is family run, honest and clean. Menu is not bloated and they serve Chang Beer and proper Thai Tea. There is good value for what you get, so the pricing is not bad at all.
Of course they serve the usual Pad Thai and Pad See Ew, safe choices for anyone trying to break into Thai food. The curries and rice are always good. I usually order Gina’s Calamari as an appetizer as it is breaded calamari sticks with a nice blend of spice. I then go for my favorite dish there when at dinner, Thai Duckling. I order it with a side of small white rice and yellow curry. This is a sweet and savory dish done right. It does not taste like swamp water but a rich duck with a hint of spice and sweetness. I enjoy the crispy skin with a layer of duck fat before it gets to the meat. When escaping the City and visiting Monterey, that is a dish I try to visit like an old freind trying to catchup on old memories.
Excited to Hear Your Opinion
This is a quick and dirty list of some spots that I like to go to when in the area. Of course there are many more places to check out and hopefully we can do that together at some point, gotta leave some for later. Would like to hear what you have to say about your trip!
Sending you the best of vibes,