Carmel-by-the-Sea is not only a beautiful seaside town, but a little culinary treasure that now ranges from French bistros to Oaxacan mezcal bars to local and seasonal California cuisine.
I’ve done the tough work at eating at the majority of Carmel’s top restaurants to bring you this seasoned advice. Please enjoy! xx
Best Carmel Restaurants
Where to Eat in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California
This is many people’s favorite of the downtown Carmel restaurants for a reason! Not only does the interior (and exterior, frankly) bring major Francophile vibes to life, but their food — including salads, wood-fired oven pizzas, and mains like steak and swordfish — brings together the best of California fresh cuisine and European bistro style. Can’t complain!
When I first began going regularly to Carmel, this delightful cafe was under construction. Fast forward to now, and not only is it one of my favorite spaces to hang out in town, but I recently found out a friend from college actually owns it with her husband. The thoughtfulness and design really shines here. Highlights from their menu include any coffee beverage, the baked eggs, French toast bread pudding, and the scrumptious patty melt. One of the best spots for breakfast in Carmel.
Would you believe me if I told you that this small gastropub (attached to Hotel Carmel) serves up some of the best fish and chips I’ve had outside of England?
Brophy’s is a small but stylish pub serving some of the most delicious food in the area, including their fresh local halibut fish and chips. Their cocktails, burger, Cobb salad, and short rib fries are also all outstanding. A must-eat for me!
The second I heard that Cultura was a passion project bringing Oaxacan food and mezcal to Carmel, I knew I had to go. (Mezcal ftw.)
Turns out not only is Cultura Comida y Bebida bringing some much-needed well, culture, or rather diversity to the area in terms of dining, it’s one of the most fun places to eat dinner in town. And it has quickly become one of the best Carmel restaurants. Everything is served with heart, but the chile relleno, calabacitas, and mole are what I’ve liked most. You can even order grasshoppers here…if you’re feeling daring!
A Tuscan spot tucked back from a beautiful patio, and a Carmel dining favorite, the stars of the menu for me are the grilled octopus and pesce del giorno (fresh fish of the day, grilled.) Though the pasta is all delicious, too! I have a respected foodie friend who claims it is some of the best she’s had outside of Italy.
What I loved most about this classic Carmel cafe — aside from it’s wonderful outdoor patio space — is how local and welcoming it feels. Village Corner is a Carmel institution that serves fresh and local products, including artichokes and calamari from a few mere miles away (so delicious!) If you’re vegetarian, gluten-free, or committed to sustainability, they’re incredibly accommodating for all three. Fantastic lunch spot (to best enjoy the patio.)
I first fell in love with the design in this space, and then the food kept me coming back. Their Mexican food is delicious and authentic (I’ve seen tortillas being made handmade behind-the-scenes,) and made with a lot of love for both Mexico and Carmel. I recommend their whole menu, but the enchiladas and queso have become musts for me!
For coffee, check out Carmel Coffee Roasters (they have several locations in the area, including right in downtown Carmel.)
Beer lovers: Yeast of Eden is a new beer spot from nearby Alvarado Street Brewery in Monterey that is focused on using wild and natural yeasts to produce their beers.
A few more recommended spots in nearby areas:
- Folktale Winery, a beautiful vineyard and one of the best restaurants in Carmel Valley.
- Captain + Stoker, a lovely coffee shop and great workspace in nearby Monterey.
- Hula’s Island Grill and Tiki Room, a humble dinner spot I’d never have considered that I now consider to be one of the best restaurants in Monterey.
- Beach House Restaurant at Lovers Point, an oceanfront restaurant in nearby Pacific Grove that’s great for views (especially at sunset.) Worth visiting as there aren’t really any Carmel restaurants on the water.
- The Restaurant at Mission Ranch, another beautiful spot for a meal (as made famous by Clint Eastwood,) and one of few Carmel-by-the-Sea restaurants with a view.
- Etats-Unis, a new French restaurant in town that has great reviews so far.
- Akaoni, a sushi spot that locals love (that I have yet to try!)