With dog or without, this little town has an impressive assortment of restaurants, specialty food shops, and wine tasting rooms highlighting local Monterey County wines. It’s one of our favorite local food excursions. On our last visit we took the opportunity to do a local food tour, visited some new places for the first time, and revisited some of our favorites.
Here are some of our favorite Carmel restaurants and food adventures (Note: Most of the businesses in downtown Carmel-by-the-Sea do not have street addresses, a quirky small town attribute dating back to the town’s founding, so locations are marked by the nearest cross streets):
Carmel Food Tour
Local resident Staci Beck Giovino started leading walking tours back in 2012 to highlight the growing food culture in Carmel. This three-hour guided walk weaves through the alleys and passages of the town with stops at seven of the best Carmel restaurants, gourmet food shops and wine tasting rooms. At each stop we sampled one of the shop’s or restaurant’s specialties. In addition to getting to try lots of new things, Staci shared extensive information about local history, architecture, and many local quirks such as the ordinance banning high-heeled shoes downtown (fashionista residents can get a permit from city hall — see last photo, above.)
As frequent visitors to Carmel, we were at first disappointed to find out we had already visited several of the stops on the route, but at each stop we tried something new that we hadn’t experienced before. So whether you are as seasoned Carmel foodie or first time visitor, this tour would be a great experience. Tickets cost $69 per person, a good deal for all the food and drink. More information (including current coupon codes) are on the website: Carmel Food Tour.
Casanova Restaurant – 5th Avenue between Mission & San Carlos
This restaurant calls themselves “most romantic” restaurant in Carmel, and I’d say I agree. This French farmhouse style restaurant is full of intimate little nooks and crannies, both indoors and outdoors on one of a few porches and patios. This includes the Van Gogh room where you can dine at the actual table Vincent Van Gogh ate at in the final months of his life. It would be a great place to eat for a special occasion. On the food tour, we got to try a dish we hadn’t ordered before: Gnocchi Casanova, a spinach gnocchi made from a dough blend (pate a choux) not potatoes, so it was surprisingly light and fluffy, and of course, delicious.
La Bicyclette – 29 Dolores St.
This restaurant is owned by the same people as Casanova, and while they also serve rustic, Mediterranean inspired food, this place is known for their thin crust, wood-fired pizzas. On the food tour, we learned that La Bicyclette sources a majority of their ingredients (did I hear 90%?) from within just 10 miles of the restaurant. On this last visit, we tried their local wild mushroom pizza and the prosciutto, seasonal squash and arugula pizza, a tasty and colorful combination.
Mundaka Carmel - San Carlos Street between Ocean and 7th Ave
Mundaka was our favorite new discovery in Carmel, we ate there both for dinner and as a stop on the Carmel food tour. Every single thing we had at this Basque tapas restaurant was delicious. Kevin was most excited by the jamon iberico de bellota, a cured ham dish that he fell in love with in Spain, but doesn’t see often in the US. Another thing we enjoyed was getting to try wine from a porrón, a bulbous glass pitcher (used in the north of Spain) that you pour directly in your mouth without letting it touch your lips. The challenge is to pour it from farther away as you get better. Our entertaining young waiter, Iago, joked that with practice you could have someone pour the drink from the top of the stairs. I couldn’t pour it more than a few inches without drenching myself, so if you try this, be sure to opt for a white wine!
Carmel Cheese Shop – Carmel Plaza (Ocean Ave. & Mission St.)
The Carmel Cheese Shop carries a wide selection of both local, domestic and imported cheeses, but they are most remarkable for their cheerful and passionate staff who will let you sample any cheese in their store. We’ve kept them busy for an embarrassing amount of time asking questions and sampling slivers of their favorite cheeses, and I’ve never felt rushed or overly pressured to buy something (though the longer I spent there, the more things I’ve found to bring home!) I’ve learned more about cheese styles here than anywhere else I’ve visited. Additionally they have one of the best wine selections in town and buy bread from a local bakery, so it’s a great place to stop to pick up wine and cheese for a picnic on the beach.
Explore nearby Pacific Grove and Monterey:
On two of the times we’ve visited and stayed in Carmel, we’ve explored nearby Pacific Grove and Monterey, both of which have great food and restaurant scenes of their own. Perhaps I’m cheating by including it here, but Carmel is a really great place to stay as a base for visiting these areas, as the weather is a bit better than their foggy neighbors to the north.
This past trip, we visited Fandango Restaurant (223 17th Street, Pacific Grove), a Mediterranean steak and seafood restaurant right in downtown Pacific Grove. Kevin enjoyed the surf and turf and I had their Tortellini Maison, in a pesto and cream sauce. On other trips, we’ve paired our visit to Carmel with other restaurants in Monterey and visits to the famous Fisherman’s Wharf and the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
I visited Carmel most recently as a guest of The Hofsas House. Opinions and photos are my own.