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Restaurants BestOf 2006 Readers' Picks

Restaurants

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Posted: Thursday, March 16, 2006 12:00 am | Updated: 3:51 pm, Fri May 17, 2013.

NEW RESTAURANT  Bixby Martini Bistro

3600 The Barnyard, Carmel | 626-1814

It was almost a foregone conclusion that Bill and Teresa Lee’s long-anticipated new collaboration, Bixby Martini Bistro, would win Best New Restaurant. They represent the best of the local restaurant scene, knocking ‘em dead wherever and whenever they create their latest expression of warm, friendly service, inspired comfort food and killer ambiance. Opening night at Bixby was so crowded you’d have thought they were giving away the food. What these two do give away is much more restaurant experience for the dollar. That’s what keeps the happy people coming back for more.

RESTAURANT MORE THAN 10 YEARS OLD  Rio Grill

The Crossroads, Carmel | 625-5436

Appropriately, this veteran Best of Monterey County winner is a locals’ hangout as well as a great place to bring visitors. It’s a purveyor of classic American cuisine as well as an innovator. It’s big and cozy, casual and elegant. Like the food it serves, the Rio Grill has found that balance that defines greatness, or more to the point: bestness.

RESTAURANT—MONTEREY COUNTY  Marinus

Bernardus Lodge, 415 Carmel Valley Rd, Carmel Valley | 659-3131

Bernardus Marinus Pon knew what he was doing when he decided to create Bernardus Lodge as a world-class country-style hotel and dining destination. For the restaurant he brought in Chef Cal Stamenov and Wine Director Mark Jensen, the Rodgers and Hammerstein of the Central California dining scene. Marinus acquired instant credibility, then set out to surpass its own lofty reputation. It now wears the mantle of Best Restaurant in a manner as casually elegant as its cozy dining room and comfortable lounge. This is a restaurant that is easy to visit. Just place yourself completely in the hands of its superb service staff and don’t think about anything or worry about choices, because you can’t choose better than they can.

BIG SUR RESTAURANT  Nepenthe

Highway 1, Big Sur | 667-2345

How much would you pay to eat a cheeseburger in paradise? And it’s not just the spectacular view. Visiting Nepenthe is like stepping out of time and into an opium dream. Like a palace floating in the clouds, this restaurant is potent magic. And the food’s pretty good too.

CARMEL RESTAURANT  Casanova

Fifth between Mission and San Carlos, Carmel | 625-0501

For 29 years diners have been flocking to this quaint Carmel eatery, as hungry for the charming ambiance as for the brilliantly executed cuisine of Provence and northern Italy. The legendary wine cellar—Walter Georis has built a collection of some 30,000 bottles—makes for a star that shines more brightly than most.

CARMEL VALLEY RESTAURANT  Café Rustica

10 Delfino Pl, Carmel Valley | 659-4444

Italy should be so lucky to have a café like this in its countryside. A creative mosaic of Alsatian, Italian and French cooking in a casual, colorful setting makes for such a pleasant escape that people are more than happy to make the drive to the village to experience it. The seafood specials (halibut is often served) and steaks are excellent, but it’s also nice to come here for one of the creative pizzas (try the Lorraine, with gruyere and bacon) and a tender butter leaf salad with champagne vinaigrette. Another nice touch: wines by the glass—mostly French and Californian—are served in a quarter-liter carafe for you to pour out yourself. It’s more generous than the usual restaurant portion and it somehow makes you feel a little more at home.

MARINA RESTAURANT  AJ Spurs

3295 Dunes Dr, Marina | 883-9479

It’s the food, stupid. At the end of the day it comes down to the food. The owners of AJ Spurs know it, and that’s why scores of people rate this establishment-by-the-beach as one of their all-time favorite restaurants.

MONTEREY RESTAURANT  Montrio

414 Calle Principal, Monterey | 648-8880

Location is crucial, and Montrio starts out with a great location—an old brick firehouse in the heart of downtown. Before even sitting down, a diner feels the warm glow of the place. The appetizers (Best of Monterey County winners themselves) are superb; the wine selection is excellent; the service warm and professional. The meals—crafted by chef Tony Baker—never fail to pique and satisfy the appetite. In one of America’s great restaurant cities, Montrio is simply the best.

NORTH COUNTY RESTAURANT  Phil’s Fish Market

7600 Sandholdt Rd, Moss Landing | 633-2152

Legendary. That’s what comes to mind when someone mentions Phil’s. It just doesn’t get any better than this classic harborside joint, with its laudable wine selection, ridiculously fresh and delicious seafood and award-winning cioppino. After dinner, walk out the side patio to watch the sea lions play in the surf. The live band strumming away on the outdoor patio just heightens the whole experience.

PACIFIC GROVE RESTAURANT  Passionfish

701 Lighthouse Ave, Pacific Grove | 655-3311

Stroll through this dining room on any evening and you’ll immediately understand why Passionfish has firmly established itself as the hot spot in Pacific Grove. You will see more wine per capita served here than anywhere else. This leads to a happier, more relaxed clientele that knows how to have a good time, munching on the freshest sustainable seafood anywhere, delicious braised meats and other full-flavored specialties of chef/owner/wineman Ted Walter. With co-owner and wife Cindy spearheading the sustainable seafood movement here and across the country, as well as practicing recycling and other conscious acts of responsible business, Passionfish adheres to its philosophy of leaving as light a footprint as possible on the earth.

PEBBLE BEACH RESTAURANT  Roy’s

2700 17-Mile Dr, Pebble Beach | 647-7423

Tender Szechuan baby back pork ribs, macadamia-crusted mahi mahi, sizzling blackened ahi, the ocean-fresh Hawaiian-style ceviche known as pokethese are Chef Roy Yamaguchi’s gifts to us. He was among the first to bring them to these shores, and to this day he is among the handful of chefs who really make them come alive. There’s a lot of abused mahi mahi out there in foodland, but Roy’s reminds us why Pacific Rim fever caught on.

SALINAS RESTAURANT  Hullaballoo

228 Main St, Salinas | 757-3663

Our readers love this place. They really, really love this place. And for good reason. The hip dining room, eclectic American cuisine, vast wine list and friendly wait staff make Hullaballoo a local favorite for happy hour or a three-course dinner. Don’t miss the salad that built Salinas—a cold, crunchy wedge of iceberg lettuce drizzled with chunky blue cheese dressing.

SAND CITY RESTAURANT  Papa Chano’s

915 Playa Ave, Sand City | 393-9133

For a quick, good-quality meal in the midst of a sustained shopping frenzy, you can’t beat Papa Chano’s. The grilled chicken is tender, the al pastor is chewy and satisfying, and for the adventure-seekers out there, there’s always the lengua. Added benefits: the service here is unfailingly speedy and polite, and the salsa bar allows you to control the temperature of your food.

SEASIDE RESTAURANT  Fishwife

789 Trinity Ave, Seaside | 394-2027

There are reasons the Fishwife is Seaside’s favorite restaurant. The seafood is always fresh, the atmosphere inviting and comfortable, and the service is consistently excellent, even when the line is spilling out the door. The Fishwife is a hidden treasure that might easily go unnoticed, tucked away as it is on a side street in Seaside, but the recent addition of a couple of giant fish to the building’s façade has made it easier find.

SOUTH COUNTY RESTAURANT  Windmill

346 Alta St, Gonzales 675-0118 | 1167 Front St, Soledad 678-1775

Every town should have one—that restaurant where you can always find what you want and you don’t need to take out a second mortgage to get it. Windmill is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, serving up omelets, sandwiches, burgers, steaks and an array of huge, healthy dinner-sized salads at fair prices.

BREAKFAST  Old Monterey Café

489 Alvarado St, Monterey | 646-1021

The competition for best breakfast spot has to be one of the fiercest in our annual readers poll. There are so many great places, but Old Monterey Café takes the prize for huge portions of traditional fare like huevos rancheros and creative numbers like the crab benedict.

CHEAP EATS  Turtle Bay

1301 Fremont Blvd, Seaside 899-1010 | 431 Tyler St, Monterey 333-1500

A bearded man recently moved to Humboldt from Monterey so he could start his own business. He misses a number of things about the area, but it’s impossible to tell, since all he outwardly pines for is T-Bay’s fresh and generous grilled shrimp burrito. When once asked what he would give to have one delivered, he didn’t hesitate. “Five hundred,” he said. “Throw in some habañero sauce.” That’s pricey. Back here they’re just $7.45. That’s cheap. (Plus there’s another 38 tasty dishes that can be had for less.)

PLACE FOR A BUSINESS LUNCH  Tarpy’s Roadhouse

2999 Highway 68, Del Rey Oaks | 647-1444

Another day on the job. Let’s see—start with the five spice ribs—no, scratch that, how about the lobster, shrimp and mango salad cones with crème fraiche and red flying fish caviaryeah. OK. Salad? Oh. Crab cakes on mixed greens, asparagus, sweet corn and mushrooms in a lime-chipotle vinaigrette? No, no: give me the seared rare ahi tuna on young spinach and sesame noodles in a soy-lemon vinaigrette. And the lamb tenderloin. No, the achiote prawns. No, the chili-crusted chicken breast. No, the duck, with the Cabernet-raspberry glaze. Yeah. Whew. This is hard work. But somebody’s gotta do it.  

FAMILY RESTAURANT  Rosine’s

434 Alvarado St, Monterey | 375-1400

Cool enough for the parental set, laid-back enough for the kiddies, Rosine’s is the kind of place where you’re bound to run into an old friend, and the kids will be occupied enough with their comfort food, monstrous desserts and crayons that you can catch up on all the week’s chatter. It’s hip without even a pinch of uptight, and the place is bustling enough for even the most restless toddler. Best of all, the atmosphere lets families just do their thing: connect while someone else does the cooking and the clean-up.

CHINESE RESTAURANT  Chef Lee’s

2031 North Fremont Blvd, Monterey | 375-9551

Authenticity is the key to the success of Chef Lee’s Mandarin House. This quaint restaurant, with interior décor reminiscent of a Chinese palace, features traditional dishes with fresh ingredients. Being an adventurous eater pays off at Chef Lee’s, where the Mongolian beef and walnut shrimp are must-try’s.

FRENCH RESTAURANT  Fifi’s Café & Bistro

1188 Forest Ave, Pacific Grove | 372-5325

Much of the menu is more California Continental than straight French, although stalwarts like boeuf Bourguignonne, l’escargots, steak frites and others carry the Blue, White and Red. One of the owners is a Brit, although his expert touch with French wine and music help to create the mood. The red velvet curtains are all Paris, and the founder, hardworking Madame Michele Wilkes, is straight from the old country. Her singsong sweet voice and decidedly French accent cast their spell over adoring locals and returning out-of-towners.

INDIAN RESTAURANT  India’s Clay Oven

150 Del Monte Ave, Monterey | 373-2529

In addition to providing patrons with excellent service and exquisite food, the folks at India’s Clay Oven also make sure to thoroughly represent the cuisine of India by offering vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes from regional recipes. Their most popular dishes are the chicken tikka masala, lamb curry, saag (a slow-cooked vegetarian dish of spinach, mustard greens and broccoli with cheese and potatoes) and eggplant bhartha (diced eggplant with a superb blend of spices cooked over slow heat until it takes on a thick, dip-like texture).

ITALIAN RESTAURANT  Gino’s Fine Italian Food

1410 S Main St, Salinas | 422-1814

Hailing from the south of Italy, the Bozzo family has been welcoming diners for over 30 years, transforming them from mere guests to zealots with their homemade cream soups, secret sauces and fresh pasta. Gino’s defines Italian, raising the bar for competitors to nearly unreachable standards. Just don’t forget to make a reservation. Or call ahead for take-out.

JAPANESE/SUSHI RESTAURANT  Sapporo

Wharf II, Monterey | 333-1616

There are many ways to judge a sushi restaurant, but the gold standard is its tuna sashimi (not, by the way, a great sustainable seafood choice). Sapporo has the best tuna on the Peninsula, hands down—plus a wide range of other exquisitely prepared Japanese delights, a wharf-front view, and live Taiko drumming. No contest. Sapporo is ichiban!

KOREAN RESTAURANT  Orient Express

1884 Fremont Blvd, Seaside | 394-9494

Sinus-zapping kim chee is just the beginning of the gustatory eye-openers at this authentic gem tucked away in Seaside’s ethnic food alley. Spicy soups, bold broths, tangy sauces and incendiary marinades rule the day here. All the grilled meats are flavorful and satisfying, but the short ribs are not to be missed.

MEDITERRANEAN RESTAURANT  Petra

477 Lighthouse Ave, Pacific Grove | 649-2530

Petra draws on influences from all over the Mediterranean—Lebanese, Egyptian, Greek, Syrian—for a uniquely cosmopolitan take on Middle Eastern food. The result is a spectacularly rich and diverse treat for the palate that is truly fit for a king: As a student at NPS, Jordan’s Abdullah II dined here and later recommended the place to his kid brother.

MEXICAN RESTAURANT  Peppers Mexicali Cafe

170 Forest Ave, Pacific Grove | 373-6892

Ever since the Weekly started its reader’s poll, Peppers has taken the prize for Best Mexican Food. The reason behind the Pacific Grove eatery’s undefeated record is its healthy-tasting Mexican seafood items, including the crowd favorite, the mahi mahi and salmon tacos.

THAI RESTAURANT  Thai Bistro

159 Central Ave, Pacific Grove | 372-8700

”Hurts so good” is the best way to describe the orgasmic pain that comes from eating delicious yet seriously spicy food. But for those who aren’t gastronomically masochistic, the menu at Thai Bistro offers a selection of five different types of chiles so you can order something mild while you watch the people next to you attempt to extinguish the infernos in their mouths.

APPETIZERS  Montrio

414 Calle Principal, Monterey | 648-8880

Small Bites, Montrio’s $4-$5 gourmet mini-glimpses into heaven, have the power to change reality. A taste of one of the painstakingly prepared proscuitto-wrapped prawns or a bit of oatmeal-baked brie makes colors brighter, jokes funnier and company more pleasant. The secret is in the masterful attention chef Tony Baker lavishes on these divine nibbles of nutrition. All honor to his tongs.

OUTDOOR DINING  The Forge in the Forest

Fifth and Junipero, Carmel | 624-2233

For a solid 14 years readers have voted this Hobbit’s glade of a bar and grill the best place for outdoor dining. Lush gardens surround the magical patio, where fires flicker in three brick-and-screen fire pits, inviting diners to draw up their chairs after dinner and linger in conversation. Add to the irresistible ambiance one of the all-time great sandwich menus and a wine list that spans continents and colors, and you’ve just found a place that’s as close to perfection as any restaurant could hope to be. A dog-friendly area (and menu items) seal the deal for many regulars.

VEGETARIAN RESTAURANT  Tillie Gort’s

111 Central Ave, Pacific Grove | 373-0335

Back in 1969, the world was changing. People wanted something besides rib-eye steaks and baked potatoes. They wanted revolution. They wanted sprouts! Enter Tillie Gort’s, which has been serving healthy vegetarian meals ever since, including our favorite, the Mexican Fiesta Salad. It’s all good.

STEAK  Whaling Station

763 Wave St, Monterey | 373-3778

John Pisto’s fun, splashy steak house consistently takes top honors for best steak. The key: prime beef (USDA’s top designation) and a sprinkling of Pisto’s magic. The result: sublime meat-eating pleasure.

SEAFOOD  Monterey Fish House

2114 Del Monte Ave, Monterey | 373-4647

A bit of advice: Go with friends and start the dinner off with a shrimp cocktail, raw oysters on the half-shell and mussels in a marinara sauce, because all the shellfish involved in these savory apps are jumbo and slap-ya-back fresh. Then move on to the crab ravioli topped with a prawn vodka sauce, honey and almond-encrusted sole or the Sicilian holiday pasta. Finally, sit back with that glazed-eyed look and take a deep breath. Can seafood really be this good? Of course it can.

CLAM CHOWDER  Old Fisherman’s Grotto

Fisherman’s Wharf, Monterey | 375-4604

They’re easy to spot if you know what to look for—the hat, the glasses, and the faint creamy mustache. They are the chowder hounds, driven to disguises not so much to horde more free samples (though it helps) but to scare off the stigma of addiction. Accost one and he might tell you the tale of the wise elder given the choice by God between immediate fluency in French and immense riches or the secret recipe to the Best Chowder in Monterey County. “There are plenty of millionaires,” the elder supposedly said, “and millions can speak French, but only one recipe can speak the rich poetry this chowder speaks to my tastebuds.”

PLACE TO SPLURGE  Fresh Cream

99 Pacific St, Monterey | 375-9798

Heritage Harbor in Monterey is home to one of Monterey County’s most elegant French fine-dining destinations. With its stunning second-floor view of Monterey Bay, sinfully delicious dishes and intimate atmosphere, Fresh Cream is just the place to go if you want to feel like royalty.

WINE LIST  Sardine Factory

701 Wave St, Monterey | 373-3775

Sardine Factory co-owner Bert Cutino recalls a time when Robert Mondavi himself used to stop in, trying to sell his namesake wines for inclusion on the young restaurant’s list. Back then, there were no cult California Cabs, and only French, Italian and German wines were considered serious enough for most American wine lists. But the Factory kept buying and built its list wider and deeper. Wine Spectator Magazine, the wino’s handbook, awarded one of its first Grand Awards to Sardine Factory. A quarter century later, the boys on Cannery Row are still receiving it. There’s liquid treasure squirreled away in that dungeon-like cellar, waiting for fortunate patrons to find it.

RESTAURANT FOR ROMANTIC DINING  Casanova

Fifth and Mission, Carmel | 625-0501

Face facts. To qualify as a romantic dining destination, a restaurant must be European. Casanova looks and feels like it could be set in the countryside of any Mediterranean nation. It’s almost surprising to hear the staff speak English. Tiny nooks and hidden tables plus an al fresco component add charm, warmth and romance. If you can’t get the feeling here, you can’t get the feeling.

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