Jack's: Good Hotel Dining
Named after the famous cheese, Jack's is the upscale dining option at the Portola Plaza Hotel.
Favorite Dish: I have had the Cobb Salad twice and it is very large a yummy. The warm turkey sandwich served with cranberry relish on sourdough bread is also very good.Related to:
- Business Travel
India's Clay Oven - CLOSED/MOVED (?)
In early 2008 India's Clay Oven closed it doors; they didn't blame the closing on the new competition, rather the $100,000 cost to upgrade the restaurant to modern standards with a sprinkler system. Good news is they still serve food at the local farmers markets throughout the area. Rumor also says they may reopen in a nearby town, possibly Watsonville. Stand by.
India's Clay Oven has been repeatedly named Monterey's best Indian restaurant, but with the opening of Ambrosia's Indian Restaurant a few blocks away, the Clay Oven will certainly drop down on the list next year. Though highly acclaimed, India's Clay Oven can't come close to Ambrosia's for food quality and ambiance, though the service at both was equally poor on recent visits.
India's Clay Oven has a very large location above Del Monte Ave on the front of one of the city's big parking garages. We arrived around 5 or 6 and were the first people there for dinner, so they had the air conditioning off...and the place was about 85 degrees. The waitress/hostess was busy chatting on the phone so she barely paid any attention to us for the first 5 or 10 minutes. Luckily were both quickly decided on the $18 buffet, so we were able to take care of ourselves. The buffet included about 5 meat dishes and perhaps 15 vegetable dishes plus a few desserts. They also bring out a basket of fresh naan bread, and we had some huge Indian lager beers to complete our meal.
I have also had a few of India Clay Oven's fresh naan and curry sandwiches at the Monterey Farmers Market and they are fantastic, much better and cheaper then eating in their restaurant.
Epsilon Greek Restaurant (Tyler St) - Old Monterey
Epsilon is the nicest Greek restaurant I've ever visited in the US. Where many might be quick little lunch spots, this is the perfect location for a romantic dinner. The dim interior has just enough Greek decorations to set the mood without being distracting, and the wait staff was extremely attentive to our needs.
I had the taskebob--pieces of pork sauteed in a spicy tomato sauce and served with rice for about $15. My companion had the dolomdes--grape leaves stuffed with ground beef, rice, and onions for $15. Both meals came with a salad, bread, and vegetables. We also had a few Greek Mythos beers ($4 each) to go with our Greek entrees.
On our return visit in summer 2008, I had the combo dinner with dolomades, Greek pasta, and gyros meat ($18), and Laura had the pastitsio dinner ($15); we also had two Mythos beers that have now skyrocketed in price to $4.75 in a little over a year. The meals began with bread and came with rice and peas. The food was good as I remember it, but too rich to eat too often.
This is an excellent choice for something just a little bit different in Monterey.
Gianni's Pizza (Lighthouse) - New Monterey
Gianni's has a reputation to uphold. It's the oldest, best-loved, and most often bragged about pizza place in Monterey.
From the outside, it is certainly nothing special. In fact, you could almost call the exterior a little bit old fashioned and cheesy. The first few times I saw the place, I said to myself...not my kind of restaurant, even though I love pizza. After living here in Monterey for awhile, and hearing all the great reviews, I finally decided to give it a try. (Once I found out this is where the John Denver fan club meets during their annual pilgrimage to the site of his fatal crash in Pacific Grove, I was hooked).
I ordered your basic large pepperoni pizza. This is the pizza you get when you first try a new place, even though you love meat and supreme...just because it is so standard, you'll quickly be able to judge the quality and taste. I was quoted a 15-20 minute wait...when I arrived after about 25 minutes, the pizza was ready and still hot.
My bill was $18 for the single large one-topping pizza, but it was big...probably 16 inches across. The pizza was very good with a thin, chewy crust. The sauce is a little too tangy for my taste, but certainly not bad, and there was a ton of cheese and pepperoni covering the pizza, making it a pretty good value for the money.
And the inside of the restaurant was much nicer than it appeared from the outside. Brightly lit was 30-40 tables it looks like a popular family restaurant, though there is also a small bar along one edge of the back dining area.
I finally returned in July 2007 to have a sit down dinner at Gianni's. We had the medium four-meat pizza which was outstanding. My only complaint was the drink ordering system... soft drinks are ordered at the front counter while beer are ordered at the bar in the back. Don't even think about asking the bartender for a Coke.
They also have sausage and meatball sandwiches, along with a variety of simple Calzones.
Peter B's Brewpub (Fisherman's Wharf Area)
I'm never overly optimistic when I go to a bar that's part of a hotel (see my reviews of Monterey's hotel sports bars, Knuckles and Characters, for examples). They are often stale, boring, lacking locals, and decorated with a tacky attempt to feel like its been here forever, even though it was probably just renovated last year. I had to try Peter B's, since it is the only microbrewery in town, and I love a good, fresh beer. I stopped by in late December to celebrate the end of my Christmas shopping for another year.
The entrance is kind of hidden as its located around the back of the Portola Plaza Hotel just 75 yards off of Custom House Plaza, maybe 200 yards from Fishermans Wharf. As you approach you are greeted with a neat little green sign announcing the brewery, a small waterfall with a stream, and a bridge leading to the outdoor seating area and the main entrance. Inside the dining area is spacious, modern, and bright. The bar is to the left of the entrance and has seating for perhaps 10 people.
During my visit they had maybe 6 beers on taps (but they were getting ready to close for a week), mainly your standard amber, hefeweizen, porter, stout, and a winter beer....but no pilsner, lager, IPA, brown ale or other favorites of mine. I decided to try the winter beer, hoping it would be something like Sam Adams Winter Lager (my favorite beer of all time!), but it really wasn't that great. But for just $4 you can't complain too much, as this is one of the cheapest beers I ever had in Monterey. I only had one beer then I had to head home.
The bar area was very full on a Monday afternoon around 3:30 pm about two hours before Monday Night Football. Most of the guys there were locals and knew each other and the bar staff by first name. They obviously like it here, though since some of them were drinking Miller Lite, they like must like the company more than the microbrewskis.
Tabouli Cafe (Lighthouse) - New Monterey
Tabouli Cafe, is a tiny Lebanese restaurant and baklava house along Lighthouse Street in New Monterey. Located just two blocks from San Carlos Beach and Cannery Row, it is a great little spot to grab a quick lunch of shwarmas, baba ghanouge, and much more.
I had a simple schwarma pita wrap that came with very good, tender meat and fresh vegetables for about $7. The light lunch also included a piece of sweet baklava for desert.
Tabouli's is run by a man named Christophe Hamadé, who operates the restaurant entirely by himself and speaks numerous languages, making this a popular spot for language students at nearby Defense Language Institute to come practice their new skills. He seems to do it all from waiter to cook to busboy. When I asked him what was good at Tabouli, he proudly said "everything!"
The Monterey Herald named Tabouli Cafe as the #2 sandwich place in the county for vegetarians in 2006.
Lighthouse Bar & Girl *** CLOSED as of Sept 07***
The Lighthouse Bar and Grill is a mid-sized bar near Cannery Row. I went there one evening because I saw they had Monday Night Football advertised outside. As soon as I stepped in the door, I knew something was unusual...the bartender gave me a funny look, everybody stopped and stared, and I think I even heard a record skip. You know, the rainbow flag should've given it away, but I barely noticed it until I was inside and saw the Heineken rainbow sign.
Yes, it turns out this is a gay bar...not just any gay bar, but a predominately lesbian bar. I wasn't the only guy there, but I'd guess there might have been just one other straight guy (I chose not to ask him). Once inside, what do you do? I sat down at the bar and ordered a beer and a burger, and tried not to make eye contact. The bartender was friendly and took good care of me...I wonder what she was thinking? The burger was good, the fries terrible, and the beer cold and cheap at about $2.50 for a Corona. I did get to see some football and two lesbians making out, so it was a good first California gay bar experience for me. But I won't be going back. Oops, I went back. Cool friends of mine. Still sucks.
The Lighthouse Bar and Grill is on the corner of Lighthouse and Dickman.
Gilbert's on the Wharf - Fishermans Wharf
We went to Fishermans Wharf looking for bread-bowl chowder to go to eat with our swordfish steaks we picked up at Royal Seafoods on Commercial Wharf. Just walking up the wharf, we tried the chowder at Gilbert's and saw they also offered it to go next to their restaurant at Gilbert's Bistro. The bread bowl chowder is $9 at the restaurant, but only $7 if you get it to go. It was great, and the servings were so big, we didn't have room for our swordfish!
The guy at the counter there was also friendly and talkative making for a nice experience.
Nell's A Touch of New Orleans - Fremont Street
Nell's is a Cajun restaurant about 2,000 miles from New Orleans. From the front, the right side of the building is a small dining area while the left side is the bar and small stage. Parking is to the back of the building. Inside the place has a French Quarter flair with colorful walls and tables, along with beads above the bar.
Certainly a unique style of food for the area, the menu features Nell's Famous Gumbo along with other Cajun dishes including po' boys, red beans and rice, black-eyed peas and rice, hush puppies, fried catfish & chicken, and many other New Orleans' favorites. I had the gumbo entree ($13) which comes with any two sides... I chose the red beans and rice along with black-eyed peas and rice; all meals come with corn bread. The gumbo was very tasty, especially the spicy andouille sausage; the chicken pieces were kind of bland. The read beans were also excellent, but I wasn't a huge fan of the black-eyed peas. The meal was huge...the giant bowl of gumbo in itself enough for a meal, and the large sides must've weighed a pound.
The service was something else. When I sat down at the bar, I noticed a huge bucket of Durex condoms in front me... as I was planning to eat dinner, I pushed the bucket o' safety to the back of the bar. When the bartender saw this she grew huffy, slammed the bucket down behind the bar, and said "they're for the customers!" I never expected they were all for her, especially at her age... As I ordered dinner, she was annoyed at my small questions like whether corn bread came with the meal, so finally I moved to a table away from the bar. She was still my server, but after that she settled down a little and provided pretty good service. Though against my better judgment I still gave her a 15% tip for the nice recovery.
The kitchen is open until 11pm.
The Mucky Duck British Pub (Alvarado St) - Old Mry
The Mucky Duck is a quiet English-style pub with stone tile floors, dark wood bar and booths, and an interesting white-painted brick on the walls. Outside is a popular patio area, often featuring live music or DJs and is a favorite place among the younger crowd later in the night. I stopped here for dinner one evening and was a little surprised at how expensive the food is....just under $10 for most sandwiches and entrees approaching $20-$25...certainly not over the top, but more expensive than neighboring pubs like The Brit.
When the food came, I realized why the prices were a little higher--the portions are gigantic! I decided to go kind of light and ordered the Black Forest ham melt, and the sandwich was probably 6 inches in diameter and 3 inches tall with a pile of curly fries even larger. It was very tasty, but to be picky, there really was too much meat on the sandwich--almost an inch of ham--that overwhelmed the other flavors. I probably should've taken about half of the ham off, and I would've like it better.
On another visit we sat outside listening to the live (and free) local band and we had burgers. They were pretty good, but very expensive at $11 each! I almost forgot how great the crispy fries are here, and they were the highlight of my meal! The best part of the pub burger was the tasty smoked bacon and thick layer of cheese on top!
They have about 25 or 30 beers on tap from local favorites to Irish specialties like Guinness. Happy Hour includes $2 pints, $2 well drinks, and 1/2 price appetizers.
What seems to distinguish the Mucky Duck form the neighboring British pubs is the better food and younger crowd.
The Monterey County Weekly "Best Of 2006 Readers' Picks" named the Mucky Duck as the best Happy Hour, best Singles Bar, and best Beers on Tap in Monterey County!
Goomba's Italian - CLOSED AS OF FEB 2007
A nice, clean Italian restaurant in downtown Monterey with a simple, but tasty Italian menu. Though we were tempted to try their buffet lunch for just $8.99, we opted to split a large combination pizza with sausage, peppers, mushrooms, olives and pepperoni for $14. The pizza was not the biggest I have ever seen, but it was tasty and plenty for two big eaters like my dad and I. Goomba's has a full bar and a friendly but inexperienced staff.
Goomba's, along with 20 other businesses, was destroyed in a fire on 7 February 2007. No telling if, when or where they'll reopen. Quizno's and Starbuck's were also destroyed. In April/May 2007 the building along Alvarado is being demolished.
Britannia Arms British Pub (Alvarado St) - Old Mry
The Britannia Arms, or just "The Brit" if you prefer, is one of Monterey's half dozen or so British pubs. I stopped in one day at lunch time after hearing sports on the "tele", only to find out it was a live "footy match" between Manchester United and Celtic, where ever that is (I think I heard they are from Scotland). About two thirds of the crowd were soccer fans, most disappointed at the 3-2 Celtic loss. The rest of us were bewildered, trying to figure out when you should cheer during a soccer match...it grew old so we soon turned our attention to SportsCenter's discussion of the NFL games still 5 days away!
This is a nice, open bar on Alvarado in the heart of Monterey. They have a wide variety of beers on tap, most British (surprise, surprise!). The menu includes the least expensive sandwiches I have found in Monterey other than McDonald's dollar menu. I had a big 1/2 pound burger for about $6, but my imported Hoegaarden beers were $5 each to drive up the price of my bill. Even cheapo beers like Bud Light were $4 for a 16-ounce pint. They also have one or two special beers for $3 each and some happy hour beers are just $2.
Most important, The Brit has a large projection screen TV perfect for watching sports. This is not just a soccer pub, they also show all types of real sports. They also have live bands (Fri and Sat), karaoke (Wed and Sun), quiz nite (Thurs) and other special events.
What sets the Brit apart form the neighboring British pubs seems to be the lower prices and the superior sports viewing opportunities.
The Monterey County Weekly "Best Of 2006 Readers' Picks" named the Britannia Arms as the best Karaoke Bar in Monterey County!
Favorite Dish: I have been to the Brit many times over the past year--at least 2 or 3 times a month--but my most recent visit might be my last. It started off a a rather typical evening, sports on the big screen, everyone having a good time as usual. When the football game on the big screen was almost over, many of the customers asked if the TV could be changed to a close baseball game that was just about to end. Since there were a few guys still watching the boring, lopsided football game, the bartender rightfully decided not to change the channel. So as soon as the football game ended, we again asked if he could change to the baseball game so we could watch the last 2 outs. Again, the bartender refused this time just being stubborn, and many of the paying customers who had been sitting there all evening, spending a ton of money were a little upset as you can imagine. Some of the customers decided they would not tip because of this, and one guy said, "way to take care of your waitress bartender!" The bartender's response? He gave the middle finger to the customer! Then for the next 10 minutes he kept griping about the customers and even yelling a few things back at them. It was completely rude and unprofessional behavior. This bar does not deserve my business. I'll go where I am welcome from now on.Related to:
- Road Trip
- Beer Tasting
- Food and Dining
El Torito: Easy Parking, great views
I almost never recommend a chain restaurant. But El Toritos is so convenient that I have to mention it. It is right on Cannery Row, and has a huge parking lot, free if you're eating there. I can't think of anywhere else in town you can go that has both a view and easy parking.
There's only indoor seating, but almost every table has a beautiful view of the bay.
They also have great specials (in the Cantina section only). Wednesdays is 99 cent fish tacos! Mmmm. The website lists specials on other nights.
Gilberts Monterey: Gilbert's on Fisherman's Wharf
The seafood entre's in this restaurant are reasonably priced and tailored to the tastes of the average American palate. Don't expect any surprises, which may be a good thing for many people. Fried calamari, Boston cream chowder, and scallops are typical entres that will not offend anyone, but probably won't impress those who prefer slightly underdone broiled fish fillets. The wine list isn't spectacular but it does offer good quality local winery products. The tables have a nice view east of the harbor, so if they are open for breakfast, this might be one of the better places to go. This is a very controlled corporate type restaurant, so it's a safe bet for a late night dinner as we had. It wasn't a wild atmosphere, but it was easy to get into and the service was professional. Check the website, but I doubt that reservations are required except during the busiest part of the season.
Favorite Dish: I had the scallops, which were large and pleasantly fresh, not frozen. And, I'm a fan of Morgan Sauvignon Blanc, so I went for a glass of that. I don't go for the fried calamari, but my niece loved them. My wife had a cup of clam chowder. We were able to get a window seat and enjoy a full moon over the private boats moored in the harbor. For less about $60-, including taxes and tip, we were able to get a good late meal.Related to:
- Road Trip
- Food and Dining
- Romantic Travel and Honeymoons
Hog's Breath Inn: Enjoy eating at Clint Eastwood's Restaurant
We ate lunch at Clint Eastwood's restaurant Hog's Breath Inn while we were in Monterey.
We enjoyed the ambiance of a patio setting with a scenic mural while still being inside the restaurant.
Favorite Dish: Hog's Breath Inn offers a large selection of sandwiches from Dirty Harry Bacon Cheese Burger to Fish Tacos. The service was very good and the food was great. More than we could eat!Related to:
- Family Travel
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