The coastal village of Carmel-by-the-Sea, California, looks like it jumped from the pages of a storybook — and the best restaurants in Carmel CA are culinary treasures that look like they jumped from the pages of the world’s best cookbook!
This charming area is home to restaurants and chefs who pride themselves on preparing fresh, local, and sustainable foods. One term you’ll hear frequently is California fusion — it indicates that a restaurant consciously sources fresh and local ingredients, often farm-to-table. The menus change frequently to utilize the best of what is in season.
While there are plenty of fine-dining restaurants, there are also a variety of quirky bistros located along the secret passageways and courtyards of Carmel-by-the-Sea.
I visited the area on a Pacific Coast road trip with my sister, Lynn, to explore the rich, diverse, and oh-so-tasty chef-inspired menus. Here are some of the best restaurants in Carmel-by-the-Sea we discovered.
9 Best Restaurants In Carmel-by-the-Sea You Must Visit
Tucked away inside one of Carmel-by-the-Sea courtyards, Stationaery is the brainchild of owners Anthony and Alissa Carnazzo. The couple chose the cottage for their restaurant because of the family-sized apartment on the second floor. The intimate 34-seat space with a small area for patio dining offers breakfast, lunch, and specialty coffees.
Stationaery is one of the best restaurants in Carmel when it comes to elegant comfort food. During our breakfast, Lynn raved about the enormous skillet-baked pancake topped with fruit, creme fraiche, and granola. My potato pancake — a huge pile of fried hash browns topped with bacon, frisee lettuce, a poached egg, and a tarragon vinaigrette — was unlike anything I’ve ever tasted, and it was as visually appealing as it was tasty. The ingredients are sourced primarily from Monterey and Santa Cruz County farms to ensure a fresh and seasonal menu.
And since Carmel-by-the-Sea is wine country, you can enjoy a glass with dinner. Stationaery is the only place in Carmel to serve natural wines, or wines made with organically farmed grapes with minimal (if any) added sulfites.
2. Brophy’s Tavern
For the best pub fare in Carmel-by-the-Sea, Brophy’s Tavern is the place to go. This spot serves up handcrafted cocktails, cold draft beer, and plenty of quality bar food.
One of its specialties is the grilled cheese sandwich — but this isn’t your ordinary grilled cheese sandwich. It features a delicious mix of fontina, Cheddar, Swiss, and Provolone cheese and is served with Brophy’s house-made tomato bisque.
Brophy’s is also known for its authentic fish and chips, which are about as good as you can get outside of London.
3. Rise + Roam
Carmel-by-the-Sea’s newest restaurant, Rise + Roam, is a Roman-style bakery and pizzeria, the first of its kind in the village. It’s run by renowned local chef Todd Fisher. On one side of the light-filled restaurant is the bakery, with croissants as large as footballs (perhaps I exaggerate, but they are enormous), cheesecakes, and other pastries. On the other side is the pizzeria in an open kitchen.
For a starter, we enjoyed a unique concoction featuring puffed forbidden rice, citrus, an over-easy egg, and hot sauce. That might sound like a strange combination, but the savory yolk mixed with the hot sauce to create a dish we couldn’t stop eating until it was gone.
At Rise + Roam, the pizza is all about the dough. Approximately 72 hours of cold fermentation produces a light and flavorful crust that may be easier to digest for those with gluten intolerances. The pizza crust is hand-formed into long planks and baked until the bottom is crisp and the interior is airy. We sampled a pizza with prosciutto, mushrooms, sage, Marsala, and Provolone and were not disappointed — full, but not disappointed.
We took the leftover pizza back to our hotel for breakfast the next morning, and it was just as tasty cold.
4. Seventh & Dolores Steakhouse
Seventh & Dolores is a reference to the restaurant’s address. You won’t find street numbers in Carmel-by-the-Sea; instead, places are identified by the nearest intersection. So at the corner of 7th Avenue and Dolores Street, you’ll find Seventh & Dolores.
The space is vibrant and energetic, and Chef Todd Fisher leads a team of veritable magicians from its glass-encased, open kitchen. The fine-dining steakhouse serves elevated steakhouse fare plus sustainable seafood in a classy setting.
While the marble raw bar and fresh seafood are awe-inspiring, the real showstoppers are the all-natural meats from Niman Ranch. The 28-day dry-aged steak I ordered melted in my mouth. The Red, White, and Bleu salad was fresh and beautifully plated with endives, Comice pears, crispy bacon, and Rogue bleu cheese crema.
Carmel’s dining scene typically revolves around seafood and European fare. Cultura, however, brings the vibrant flavors of Mexico to the table, drawing inspiration from the culinary traditions of Oaxaca.
You’ll find traditional street tacos, but also unexpected treasures like tres leches French toast topped with fresh berries, anise whipped cream, and maple syrup.
Fan favorites include the fresh guacamole and chips; the vegetarian chile relleno stuffed with zucchini, red bell peppers, goat cheese, rice, and Monterey Jack; and the mole with pork that comes with a side of fresh tortillas, cabbage, and cauliflower.
As for drinks, Cultura is proud of its extensive collections of mezcal in California. Where does its smoky flavor come from? After the agave is harvested, it undergoes a roasting process underground using hot coals. This results in agave absorbing the smoke directly. The process is the key behind the distinct smoky or roasted flavor characteristic of mezcal which is loved by many patrons who enjoy this Mexican spirit.
The restaurant’s upscale yet lively ambiance makes it an ideal setting for either a romantic evening or a lively gathering with friends. For a truly exclusive experience, consider renting out their intimate mezcal room for your own private Carmel weekend getaway party.
6. Treehouse Cafe
The owners of Treehouse Cafe, Fadi and Pam Alnimiri, wanted to create a beautiful space for guests to enjoy great food and wine. They’ve certainly succeeded! At Treehouse, they serve up Mediterranean, Thai and Greek menu items that they personally select.
The mix of flavors is evident in the starters, such as the sliced gyros, Thai pork sausage, and steamed mussels. The green Thai curry is a delicious blend of bell peppers, bamboo shoots, coconut milk, basil, and green beans in a green curry sauce. Choose crab cakes, salmon, or prawns to go with it.
Customers appreciate the relaxed vibe and delicious food, especially when they can enjoy outdoor dining in nice weather. The wine-tasting selection is impressive as well.
7. Carmel Belle
My sister and I stumbled upon Carmel Belle one day while shopping. Located inside a mall, this unassuming bistro was a pleasant surprise. The menu features locally sourced meats and produce from farmers who practice sustainability. The meats are hormone-free, grass-fed/free-range, and humanely raised in California. The produce is mostly organic and acquired from farmers and farmers markets.
The Green Eggs and Ham breakfast dish was as colorful as it was flavorful, with two poached eggs, prosciutto, and arugula with a green herb puree atop the eggs, all served on country toast. Delicious and hearty!
The farm-to-table flavors carried over into the lunch and dinner menus, with soups, salads, and sandwiches plus hearty entrees like quinoa macaroni topped with Beemster goat gouda. My favorite was the meatloaf with mashed potatoes and a side of grilled asparagus.
8. From Scratch Restaurant
The name says it all at From Scratch Restaurant. This spot offers American favorites prepared from scratch, including vegan and vegetarian options. The dining room has a casual vibe, and there’s an outdoor seating patio, too. Fun fact: Guy Fieri made a trip to the restaurant, and it was featured in Season 21 of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.
For a hearty breakfast or lunch, try the huevos rancheros; they’re comforting and delicious. The veggie eggs Benedict are a vegetarian favorite. For a sweet treat you won’t forget anytime soon, order the banana-walnut pancakes featuring plenty of sliced bananas, large walnut pieces, and real maple syrup.
9. Flying Fish Grill
Flying Fish Grill is another popular restaurant, especially for seafood gourmets. This is why reservations are highly recommended to secure a table.
Entering the Flying Fish Grill is akin to stepping into a Tokyo restaurant, minus the hassle of a long flight. The inviting, softly lit wooden interior provides an ideal backdrop for the blend of traditional Japanese dishes and contemporary, California-inspired fare.
“We focus on an Asian/Fusion influence, with an emphasis on fish,” explains Jan Prikryl, the owner. “Most of the fish we serve is wild-caught, but we also offer locally farmed abalone.”
Unsurprisingly, one of the restaurant’s most beloved dishes is the pan-fried Almond Crusted Sea Bass, delicately placed atop whipped potatoes and accompanied by a Chinese cabbage and rock shrimp stir-fry.
Though Jan is the second owner, his dedication to maintaining the renowned standard of cuisine and service at the Flying Fish Grill is unwavering. “I spent a decade here as a server before the previous owners entrusted me with continuing the legacy they established,” Jan shares. “Our patrons often commend us on our consistency over the 26 years we’ve been operating. They appreciate our warm, attentive service and the inviting, cozy atmosphere.”
What Food Is Carmel-by-the-Sea Known For?
Being a coastal town, Carmel-by-the-Sea is most popular for its fresh fish and seafood, including seafood pasta. Some of the best restaurants in Carmel also serve a variety of international dishes from Mexican to Japanese as well as traditional American meals.
Why Is Carmel Popular When It Comes to Dining?
Carmel is a hugely popular town due to its long catering tradition and the number of eateries that feature a wide range of international, regional, and local cuisines. It has the most restaurants per capita than any other small town in the USA.
Did Clint Eastwood Own a Restaurant in Carmel?
Yes, Clint Eastwood had a share in Hog’s Breath Inn but he sold it to a friend, the successful restaurateur Kaiser Morcus, who reopened the town’s favorite inn at the same location in 2000. Morcus passed away in July 2023, but his restaurant group still runs the restaurant to this day.