25 Best Restaurants in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California

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The best restaurants for a casual lunch with friends, afternoon drinks with your dog, or a romantic dinner with your significant other in beautiful Carmel-by-the-Sea.

Carmel’s warm climate and gorgeous scenery have long been a magnet for artists and dreamers on California’s Central Coast. 

Add incredible food sourced from nearby farms, and these best restaurants in Carmel are also among the best in the region.

The seaside town’s fondness for Old World tradition is reflected in its English cottage-style architecture and plethora of European-influenced cuisine. 

However, Carmel is not fixed in the past. Many restaurants in town have won awards for their creative menus and eco-conscious kitchens.

There’s also no trace of the snobbishness associated with upscale dining. 

All of Carmel’s restaurants pride themselves on their hospitality and inclusivity, from the Michelin-starred Aubergine to the casual diners.

So, whether you’re looking for a destination restaurant for the best food in Carmel, a boozy outdoor lunch with friends, or just a quick bite to eat on your way to the beach, this is your guide to the best restaurants in Carmel-by-the-Sea.

Note: this post contains affiliate links, which help run this site at no extra cost to you so I can keep providing free travel advice and tips.

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My Experience with Carmel-by-the-Sea

On my first visit to Carmel, our navigation app was as confused as I was with the lack of street addresses. 

But once I stopped driving round in circles, I fell in love with Carmel’s storybook cottages, vibrant downtown, and gorgeous white-sand beach.

It’s actually pretty hard to pick which restaurant to eat at in Carmel–there are so many high-quality establishments in the town. 

Fortunately, I’ve never been disappointed with any of the bakeries, cafes, or fine dining restaurants that I’ve eaten at in Carmel.

This guide to the best restaurants in Carmel-by-the-Sea highlights some of my favorite restaurants in Carmel, beloved by locals and tourists alike. 

As a Bay Area local, I can tell you that Carmel is the perfect relaxing weekend getaway to eat to your heart’s content. 

Looking for more recommendations besides where to eat? Read our complete guide to the best things to do in Carmel

La Bicyclette

A Carmel institution with the best pizza in town.

Address: Dolores and 7th St., Carmel-by-the-Sea, CA 93921
Contact info: (831) 622-9899 
Cuisine: French
Best for: Lunch and dinner
Don’t miss: Wood fired pizza
Reservations: Call for a reservation
Menu

La Bicyclette is a neighborhood bistro serving classic French cuisine in a rustic setting. 

The simply decorated dining space makes you feel right at home, and friendly service adds to the welcoming vibe.

Although the French plats du jour are delicious, don’t sleep on the pizza from the wood-fired oven. 

The fresh goat cheese and roasted beet salad is another great dish, showcasing Central Coast ingredients.

The owners, who draw inspiration from a childhood in Belgium, have been successfully running some of the best restaurants in Carmel since the 1970s. 

Their blend of California ingredients and classic French techniques has been delighting locals for almost 50 years. 

Mission Ranch Restaurant

Spectacular views over fields and the ocean.

Address: 26270 Dolores St., Carmel-By-The-Sea, CA 93923
Contact info: (831) 624-6436
Cuisine: American
Best for: Brunch, lunch, and dinner
Don’t miss: Calamari
Reservations: They don’t take reservations, walk-ins only.
Menu 

Clint Eastwood owns Mission Ranch Restaurant, the dairy-turned-hotel and restaurant, but this relaxed establishment is a world away from a flashy celebrity-owned joint.

Mission Ranch is the best restaurant in Carmel with a view, offering an expansive vista over fields of grazing sheep with the crashing ocean beyond. 

The restaurant has a large patio to make the most of this view. If it gets too chilly, there’s plenty of indoor seating with a roaring fire to keep diners toasty.

Mission Ranch is perfect for a Sunday brunch, but if you’re hoping to catch a glimpse of the man himself, try a Saturday night. 

As for the food, the calamari steak is a popular dish, but save room for the bread pudding alongside a decadent dessert cocktail.

The Stationæry

Carmel’s hippest brunch spot.

Address: San Carlos St., between 5th and 6th Avenues, Carmel-By-The-Sea, CA 93921
Contact info: (831) 250-7183
Cuisine: American
Best for: Brunch and Lunch
Don’t miss: Caviar and Chips
Reserve a table here
Menu

The Stationæry is a new, hip restaurant in Carmel for lunch and brunch, serving American classics with a modern twist. 

The millennial favorite avocado toast makes an appearance, and it’s delicious. If you’re feeling splurge-y, order the caviar, which comes with kettle chips and crème fraiche.

The space, tucked away behind the main strip, is modern and understated. And in addition to food, there’s a great selection of natural wines for an afternoon drink. 

I’m a fan of natural wines, which are produced with fewer additives, because they seem to give me less of a hangover. So, head here if you’re out for a boozy, yet sophisticated lunch with friends. 

Cantinetta Lucca

An authentic taste of Italy on California’s Central Coast.

Address: Dolores St., between Ocean and 7th, Carmel-by-the-Sea, CA 93921
Contact info: (831) 625-6500; [email protected]
Cuisine: Italian
Best for: Dinner
Don’t miss: Bistecca Alla Fiorentina
Reserve a table here
Menu

Cantinetta Lucca serves traditional Italian dishes, including fabulous house-made salume and pasta. 

Their specialty is a porterhouse steak served Tuscan-style with a simple but high-end olive oil and balsamic vinegar dressing.

If you’re looking for an authentic Italian restaurant in Carmel, Cantinetta Lucca is perfect. 

The menu has plenty of choices and, as you would expect, the wine list is epic, stretching across several pages.

Brophy’s Tavern

Fun Irish pub for a burger and a beer. 

Address: 4th Ave. and San Carlos St, Carmel-by-the-Sea, CA 93921
Contact info: (831) 586-5566
Cuisine: American
Best for: Lunch and Dinner
Don’t miss: Truffle fries
Reservations: They don’t take reservations, walk-ins only.
Menu

Brophy’s Tavern is an upscale sports bar serving craveable pub food like burgers, fries, and fish and chips. 

It’s one of the best affordable restaurants in Carmel, with friendly service and an outdoor seating area in addition to the indoor tables. 

Inside, you’ll find several big screen TVs showing sports, plus the bar with a selection of creative cocktails in addition to craft beers and wine. The bar has a fun and lively atmosphere all year round.

Aubergine 

Carmel’s elegant Michelin-starred restaurant.

Address: Monte Verde at 7th Ave., Carmel-by-the-Sea, 93921
Contact info: (831) 624-8578
Cuisine: Fine dining
Best for: Dinner
Don’t miss: Their tasting menu
Reserve a table here
Menu

Aubergine is the go-to restaurant for a special occasion, offering exceptional food in intimate surroundings, and can easily claim to be among the best restaurants in Carmel. 

The restaurant, located within luxury hotel L’Auberge, offers a tasting menu of delicate, flavorful courses inspired by the seasons and California’s bountiful produce.

This is the only Michelin star restaurant in Carmel, one of several accolades garnered by the team over the years. For an extra-special occasion, stay in the Chateaux and Relais Hotel attached to Aubergine.

L’Escargot

Classic French countryside flavors.

Address: Mission St., two doors southwest of 4th Ave., Carmel-by-the-Sea, CA 93921
Contact info: (831) 620-1942
Cuisine: French
Best for: Lunch and dinner
Don’t miss: Whatever’s on special
Reserve a table here
Menu

L’Escargot celebrates countryside French cooking, using locally sourced produce and traditional culinary techniques. 

The menu has a few classic favorites like steak frites, but chef Loutas keeps things fresh with whatever is in season at the farmers’ markets. 

From the food to the traditional cottage location, this is old town Carmel-by-the-Sea at its best.

La Balena

Rustic Italian fare on a romantic back patio.

Address: Junipero between 5th & 6th Ave., Carmel-by-the-Sea, 93921
Contact info: (831) 250-6295
Cuisine: Italian
Best for: Dinner
Don’t miss: Crispy fried chicken
Reservations: They don’t take reservations, walk-ins only.
Menu

La Balena is a locals’ favorite. It’s hidden away from the main strip but frequented by those in the know.

When you walk in, you’ll receive a warm welcome to the small space, which is perfect for a romantic dinner. 

The seasonal menu on the specials board always has something good, but the fried chicken is hard to resist.

Seventh and Dolores

Carmel’s best steakhouse.

Address: SE corner of 7th Ave. and Dolores St., Carmel-by-the-Sea, CA 
Contact info: (831) 293-7600
Cuisine: Steakhouse
Best for: Dinner
Don’t miss: Hand-cut rib-eye steak
Reserve a table
Menu

Seventh and Dolores, known to regulars as 7D, serves up the best steak in town. 

Partnering exclusively with Niman Ranch, their humanely-raised beef guarantees high quality and the chefs make the most of their top-notch ingredients.

Fresh seafood is also a good choice in this sophisticated restaurant, and the refreshing cocktails served at a marble bar are always a hit with diners. 

All in all, this is a fun spot for a romantic night or a celebration with friends and one of the best restaurants in downtown Carmel.

Flying Fish Grill

Best seafood restaurant in Carmel.

Address: Mission St. between Ocean & 7th Ave., Carmel, CA 
Contact info: (831) 625-1962
Cuisine: Seafood
Best for: Dinner
Don’t miss: Clay pot dishes
Reservations: Call for a reservation
Menu

Flying Fish Grill is Carmel’s best seafood restaurant, serving Asian-influenced sustainable seafood from abalone to tempura prawns in a cozy, wood-paneled space. 

Clay pots, cooked to piping-hot perfection at your table, are the specialty of the house.

Try to leave room for dessert–you won’t want to miss out on one of the decadent sundaes slathered in whipped cream and hot fudge.

Il Tegamino

Italian comfort food in one of Carmel’s best hidden courtyards

Address: South Side of Ocean Ave. between Lincoln and Monte Verde, Carmel-by-the Sea, CA
Contact info: (831) 677-6750; [email protected] 
Cuisine: Italian
Best for: Dinner
Don’t miss: Ragú Napoletano 
Reservations: Call for a reservation
Menu

Check off two Carmel bucket list activities at Il Tegamino: eat at a beloved neighborhood bistro and visit one of the town’s secret courtyards. 

Il Tegamino is a small restaurant serving big flavors inspired by the chef’s hometown of Napoli in Southern Italy. It’s ideal for anyone craving fresh pasta in a relaxed setting.

The restaurant occupies a beautiful location in the Court of the Golden Bough, Carmel’s oldest courtyard that’s surrounded by lemon trees. 

Anton and Michel Restaurant

Fine dining in a Mediterranean courtyard.

Address: The Court of the Fountains, Carmel-by-the-Sea, CA 93921
Contact info: (831) 624-2406
Cuisine: European and Californian 
Best for: Lunch and dinner
Don’t miss: Rack of lamb for two
Reserve a table 
Menu

Anton and Michel is one of the top-rated restaurants in Carmel, serving classic French cooking in a casual Californian setting. It’s upscale but relaxed. 

If the weather is warm enough, snag a table outside on the patio beside the beautiful fountain.

The restaurant is elegant enough for a date but casual enough to take the kids. If you’re going for dinner, try the famous rack of lamb, which is carved right at your table.

Treehouse Cafe 

Rooftop dining in downtown Carmel.

Address: San Carlos St. (at 7th and 8th), Carmel-by-the-Sea, CA 93921
Contact info: (831) 626-1111
Cuisine: Thai and Mediterranean
Best for: Lunch and dinner
Don’t miss: Chicken satay skewers
Reservations: Call for a reservation
Menu

Treehouse Cafe serves Thai and international food on a charming rooftop terrace in the center of town. If you’re hoping to eat al fresco, this is one of the nicest Carmel restaurants with outdoor seating.

The menu has Greek, Italian, and Thai influences along with the ubiquitous clam chowder. 

There’s a good variety of dishes on the menu, from a simple goat’s cheese and honey appetizer to a classic, flavorful Thai red curry. 

If it’s too cold on the shaded patio, the cozy indoor space is a good alternative.

Pangaea Grill

A unique twist on Asian classics.

Address: 5 NE Lincoln Street on Ocean Avenue, Carmel-by-the-Sea, CA 93923
Contact info: (831) 624-2569
Cuisine: Asian fusion
Best for: Breakfast, lunch, and dinner
Don’t miss: Korean short ribs
Reserve a table (you can only reserve a table for breakfast or lunch if you have more than six people, otherwise it’s first-come, first-served. Dinner reservations are allowed for any group size.)
Menu

East meets west at this popular Ocean Avenue eatery. Pangaea Grill describes itself as Asian fusion, but entrees are separated into American favorites. 

On the American menu, the rack of lamb is a popular choice. For the Korean-inspired side dishes, kimchee fried rice or the dumplings are tasty choices.

If you’re looking for some unique melting-pot culinary creations, explore the appetizer section, which includes the delicious spam kim bay roll and Asian tacos. 

Inside, the restaurant is large and airy with high ceilings and modern decor. Great service helps round out the overall enjoyable experience. 

Dametra Cafe

Friendly ambiance and delicious Mediterranean fare.

Address: Corner of Lincoln St., Carmel-by-the-Sea, CA 93921
Contact info: (831) 622-7766
Cuisine: Greek and Middle Eastern
Best for: Lunch and dinner
Don’t miss: Save room for the baklava
Reservations: Call for a reservation
Menu

Dametra Cafe is high on the list of favorite local places to eat in Carmel for its tasty and affordable plates. 

Inspired by Greek, Italian, and Middle Eastern cuisine, you’ll find rice pilaf, kebabs, and falafel on the menu alongside classic pasta dishes like lasagne. So there’s something for everyone.

And if you’re looking for a vegetarian restaurant in Carmel, there are plenty of tempting non-meat options available, from hearty salads to spanakopita.

Cultura Comida Y Bebida

Casual dining with modern Mexican flair and creative cocktails.

Address: Dolores St., between 5th and 6th, Carmel-by-the-Sea, CA 93923
Contact info: (831) 250-7005
Cuisine: Mexican 
Best for: Lunch or dinner
Don’t miss: More-ish street tacos and a Mezcal cocktail
Reserve a table
Menu

Carmel has long looked to the Old World for architectural and culinary inspiration, but Cultura Comida embraces the new. 

This off-the-beaten-path downtown restaurant serves up flavors inspired by the Oaxacan region of Mexico using local and fresh ingredients.

It’s a hip but cozy spot, which has been quietly making a name for itself in town. Go for tasty street tacos served family-style with friends, but stay for a traditional Mezcal from the well-stocked bar.

Casanova

Impress your date with a trip to Van Gogh’s table

Casanova French Italian restaurant Carmel by the sea California

Address: 5th Ave., between Mission and Carlos, Carmel-by-the-Sea, CA 93921
Contact info: (831) 216-3811
Cuisine: French and Italian
Best for: Dinner
Don’t miss: The menu changes seasonally
Reserve a table
Menu

If you’re looking for a romantic restaurant in Carmel, Casanova ticks all the boxes: delicious food, a great wine list, an intimate setting, and Van Gogh’s table. 

The Starry Night painter’s wooden table from the Auberge Ravoux Inn, where he stayed and painted in 1890, has made its way to this restaurant in Carmel as a kind of cultural exchange between France and the US.

The table sits in its own private room, which is simply decorated in the style of the French countryside cafe where Van Gogh and other painters of the time lived and worked. 

If you want to eat on this artistic artifact, call the restaurant to book the space.

Furniture aside, the family who owns this intimate restaurant in downtown Carmel pride themselves in creating fine European cuisine using local, organic produce. 

With an ever-changing seasonal menu, it’s hard to recommend anything specific, but the team always finds fresh ways to showcase Carmel’s delicious local produce.

Yafa

Authentic Greek dishes with friendly service.

Address: Junipero St. and 5th Ave, Carmel-by-the-Sea, CA 93923
Contact info: (831) 624-9232
Cuisine: Greek
Best for: Lunch
Don’t miss: The mezze plate, which is perfect for sharing
Reserve a table
Menu

Serving Mediterranean comfort food like kebabs, fluffy pita bread, and crunchy salads, this restaurant draws in passers-by with the delicious smell of charred meat. 

But don’t be put off if you‘re avoiding meat. Yafa caters to vegans and vegetarians too, with colorful salads and pasta.

Not only is the food authentically Greek, but so is the hospitality. The owners pride themselves on offering a warm welcome to all who step through the door, and an equally warm farewell.

Akaoni

Super-fresh sushi by the sea.

Address: Mission and Sixth, Carmel-by-the-Sea, CA 93923
Contact info: (831) 620-1516
Cuisine: Japanese
Best for: Dinner
Don’t miss: Whatever’s on the board
Reserve a table here

If you love high-quality sushi, head to Akaoni, one of the best sushi joints in the region. This is the real deal, boasting clean flavors and traditional preparation. 

Regulars know to order whatever’s scribbled on the whiteboard for the day, but the homemade tofu and the crunchy tempura are also pretty delightful.

Akaoni has plenty of fans who rave about this tiny restaurant’s authenticity, but it also has a few detractors who are mostly fed up with how hard it is to actually get in.

High quality means high demand, so cross your fingers and call up for a reservation first.

Grasing’s Restaurant

Elevated comfort food.

Address: 6th St. and Mission, Carmel-by-the-Sea, CA 93921
Contact info: (831) 624-6562
Cuisine: American
Best for: Lunch and dinner
Don’t miss: A steak and a side
Reservations: Call for a reservation
Menu

Grasing’s Restaurant serves up classic French dishes and elevated Californian comfort food with a menu that includes duck liver parfait as well as onion rings. 

Steak and seafood take center stage for the main course, but the chef’s favorite offering is the simple but tasty four onion tart.

The vegetarian options are good here too, with a flavorful western black bean burger and hearty vegetable “carbonara” on the menu.

Basil Restaurant

Italian restaurant with a pet-friendly outdoor patio

Address: San Carlos Street between Ocean & 7th., Carmel-by-the Sea, CA 93921
Contact info: (831) 626-8226; [email protected]
Cuisine: Italian
Best for: Lunch and dinner
Don’t miss: Monterey Bay calamari
Reserve a table
Menu

Basil Restaurant’s chef draws on his Italian roots for delicious pastas and his Californian upbringing for the restaurant’s inside-outside aesthetic. 

The covered patio offers shade on a sunny day and the outdoor heaters keep diners cozy in the winter so you can eat outdoors year-round.

Basil Restaurant is also a dog-friendly restaurant and the first Carmel restaurant to be certified green. 

Basil sources most of its ingredients locally, serving sustainable seafood and humanely raised meats.

Cafe Rustica

Dine amid the lush hills above downtown.

Address: 10 Del Fino Place, Carmel Valley, CA 93924
Contact info: (831) 659-4444
Cuisine: Mediterranean 
Best for: Lunch and dinner
Don’t miss: Wood fired pizza
Reservations: Call for a reservation
Menu

Head to the beautiful Carmel Valley for lunch or dinner in the peaceful hills above downtown. 

Cafe Rustica is one of the most popular restaurants in Carmel Valley, offering Italian and French-inspired cuisine in a cozy farmhouse setting.

Enjoy one of the wood-fired pizzas while sitting out on the sunny patio, surrounded by forest-covered hills.

Forge in the Forest

Dine in the heart of historic Carmel

Address: SW corner of 5th Ave., and Junipero, Carmel-by-the-Sea, CA 
Contact info: (831) 624-2233
Cuisine: American
Best for: Lunch and dinner
Don’t miss: French onion soup
Reservations: Call for a reservation
Menu

Forge in the Forest has the largest outdoor patio in Carmel-by-the-Sea, with a huge outdoor fire taking center stage. Warm yourself up with a bowl of their tasty French onion soup or creamy clam chowder. 

It’s also the most dog-friendly restaurant in Carmel with a dedicated pooch patio where you can order treats from a dog menu.

Inside, the owners have carefully restored the building using reclaimed wood and copper walls in the bohemian spirit of Carmel’s founders. 

Inside or outside, there are plenty of spots to relax with a bite to eat and a drink while enjoying the festive atmosphere.

Village Corner California Bistro

Popular breakfast spot with updated classics.

Address: Dolores St. and 6th Ave., Carmel-by-the-Sea, CA 93923
Contact info: (831) 624-3588
Cuisine: American
Best for: Breakfast and lunch
Don’t miss: Grand Marnier French toast
Reserve a table
Menu

Village Corner California Bistro is a friendly, casual lunch and breakfast spot with outdoor seating. 

Breakfast specialties include the hearty flat-iron steak and eggs, plus twists on classics like the Grand Marnier French toast.

This is a welcoming family restaurant in the heart of downtown Carmel, and although it can get busy on weekends, servers will find you a table after a short wait. 

Outdoor dining is available, with a fire pit keeping the chill at bay.

Carmel’s Bistro Giovanni

Delicious Italian food with gluten-free choices.

Address: San Carlos Street between 5th & 6th Ave., Carmel-by-the-Sea, CA 93921
Contact info: (831) 626-6003
Cuisine: Italian
Best for: Lunch and dinner
Don’t miss: Slow-roasted short ribs
Reserve a table
Menu

Carmel’s Bistro Giovanni is another of Carmel’s long-running neighborhood restaurants, serving flavorful Mediterranean fare in unpretentious surroundings. 

Inside, colorful murals cover the walls, while wooden tables create a warm and welcoming atmosphere. Outside, enjoy the fresh air on the pine tree-shaded patio. 

Aside from the great food, Carmel’s Bistro Giovanni is known as a good gluten-free restaurant. 

They can serve many of their dishes gluten-free, including the breads and pastas. It’s the perfect restaurant if you have dietary restrictions to consider.


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Sarah McDonald

Sarah McDonald is a travel writer based in the Bay Area. She writes for the national parenting website Red Tricycle and on her own family travel blog, Tiny Trailblazers. She loves exploring California’s outdoors and has a weakness for a national park gift shop.


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25 Best Restaurants in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California

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