Main Street Salinas has many of the town's better local (non-chain) restaurants in a quaint old-fashioned downtown. I have eaten only at Yangtse Taste of Thai, which has good Asian fare, Monterey Coast Brewing, and the Penny Farthing, but there are many other great options.
First Awakenings is well-known as the best breakfast in the county, and they are open for lunch until 2pm. In the same area is Hullaballoo Restaurant, maybe more of a dinner place, but open for lunch, and in 2005 it was named the best restaurant in Salinas. Portobello's gets great reviews, as does Salinas Valley Fish House. Ikebana and Shoguns are known as good Japanese places.
Rollick's has excellent coffee drinks of all sorts, a selection of desserts, fresh fruit, and free Wifi. This is the best place to hang out and get caught up on your travel correspondence. This place is popular but rarely over-crowded. There's indoor and outdoor seating.
Favorite Dish: This place easily matches the best New York or San Francisco have to offer, at a cheaper price, and friendly unhurried attitude.
The attraction of Sang's is that it is downtown Salinas near the new Steinbeck Museum and next to the Monterey Bay Visitors Center.
It features a menu similar to that served 40 years ago when author John Steinbeck used to eat here.
It has the flavor of an old 1050's diner-cafe.
The menu has only a couple Chinese dishes and is mostly Americana, just like the second generation now running the 55-year-old institution. Located a stone's thrown from the Steinbeck Center, a sign outside says "Steinbeck ate here."
Favorite Dish: Prime rib sandwich from the specials board.
Made with USDA choice, a prime rib lunch costs $11.95 and is a complete meal
Salinas' Monterey Coast Brewing is my favorite microbrewery I've found in Monterey County (the others being Peter B's Brewpub in the Portola Plaza Hotel in Monterey and English Ales in Marina). Monterey Coast is located nowhere near the Monterey Coast, but it is comfortably established in one of the historic buildings on Main Street in Salinas. From the front you'll see the big tarnished copper awning over the street and a few large windows with a brass colored sign announcing the name of the establishment. Inside you'll enjoy the flood of light from the windows, the 25 foot high ceiling, and the original red brick wall on the restaurant side of the interior, painted with the simple, yet colorful logos of their signature beers.
Though we didn't eat here, we did enjoy a few of the beers. I tried a sample of the Nut Brown Ale, but I decided on the Pale Ale, then a Pilsner, while Laura let me take a sip or two of her giant Hefeweissen. The Pale Ale was definitely the best of the four beers, smoother and less hoppy/bitter than a regular India Pale Ale, and the Hefeweissen was a close second. The Pilsner was tasty, but still pretty much an American Pilsner. I used to be a big fan of Nut Brown Ales, but for some reason the West Coast version of this fine beer just doesn't measure up to those on the East Coast. The food we saw delivered to the neighboring tables and others at the bar looked good and they had a pretty extensive menu.
Compared to the other microbreweries in the county, this one definitely has the better atmosphere, a better variety of food, and in my opinion the best beer.
I never, ever put fast food tips on VT, but I'll make an exception for In-N-Out Burger. Their claim is freshness... the beef is never frozen and the stores have no microwaves or freezers. I began to believe it when I watched them making french fries from whole potatoes.
Freshness and speed do not go well together. I couldn't believe when I placed my order that there were about 15 people ahead of me still waiting. It probably took 10 minutes to get my meal...and this was at 2pm on a weekday during school! I can't image what weekends in the summer are like at a place like this. But I have to admit, the burger was very good...not sure it was the best I ever had, but it was tasty. The fries were outstanding. Nothing beats fresh fries, lightly salted, with some of Pittsburgh, PA's finest Heinz ketchup.
The menu at In-N-Out is very simple, just your regular hamburger, cheeseburger, "double-double," fries, and drinks. But they also have a secret menu that is not posted, containing a few different items such as the 3x3 and 4x4 burgers, grilled cheese, and "Animal Style" which just adds pickles and extra sauce.
I had heard that In-N-Out Burger occasionally prints tiny bible verses on their food wrappers. I spent my entire meal looking for it, until I finished my burger and saw it at the bottom the the burger wrapper..."Revelations 3:20." I had to look it up; it reads "Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me." Fitting. If you knock at the door of In-N-Out Burger (and bring money) they will give you food...even animal style.
Two single hamburgers with fries and cokes will run you less then $10. Not too bad!
I didn't expect much from a Thai place with a Chinese name in a predominantly Hispanic town, but Yangtse Taste of Thai surprised me with a very nice restaurant, a great menu, and large portions of very tasty food. Their location is ideal, right downtown Salinas, with big windows overlooking Main Street.
For lunch I started with the slightly spicy egg drop soup, then I had the House Fried Rice with a combination of chicken, beef, and shrimp. It came in a huge bowl lined with a pineapple husk. The dish was excellent, combining great flavors with fresh fruits and vegetables. I also had a diet Pepsi which comes in a giant 20 ounce glass for about $1.50. Laura started with the Thai Iced Tea, a combination of traditional iced tea, coconut milk and lots of sugar, then had the house salad, which was livened up with some spicy peppers. Her meal of Phad Thai was also very tasty, though a little too oily... they also put the peanut sauce on the side as I prefer. Together our meals were about $20.
The menu here is a unique mix of various Asian cuisines, not just Thai, and even the Thai food has a touch a local California flair. Overall I thought it was excellent and a nice, yet subtle, change from your normal Thai food.
Yangtse Taste of Thai earned Monterey County Weekly's best Thai food in Monterey County award for 2007. Every other year from 2001 to 2008, the title has gone to Thai Bistro II in Pacific Grove.
The Penny Farthing is what a British Pub in America should be. Elegant yet fun, with deep red carpeted floors and plaid walls in the dining room, private rooms for groups and a few pool tables for something a little more lively. The bar is small and very cozy with a low ceiling, and is centered between the dining room and the pool and darts area. It has just one TV, which unfortunately was showing figure skating despite NHL playoffs, a NASCAR race, and probably even NBA playoffs all showing simultaneously. Food includes traditional British fare such as fish and chips and bangers and mash, as well as a few local items such as beef ribs.
We sat at the bar for just a couple of beers but no food. The staff was friendly, but kept their distance from the customers, not really hanging around to chat. Overall, I love the atmosphere and the traditional British feel, but I can't believe they were watching ice skating and the staff could be a little more enjoyable.
As a rule, restaurants in museums are pretty horrible. This one is actually right next door to the National Steinbeck Center, so maybe I just had low expectations... but the food was outstanding!
I had a fish sandwich that was absolutely delicious - fried nice and crispy with cole slaw piled on it with spicy mayo and a side of fries. Mmmmmmm. The lemonade was also quite yummy. I think it was something like $6.50 - maybe a lot for Salinas, but not much for an excellent meal right next door to a museum.
As you can see on the pic I took of the menu, you can get something called "The Grapes Of Wrath Salad." I passed this time; I generally don't like to order things with the word 'wrath' in the title. But I'm sure it would be delicious.