Best Of Mty--best Restaurants
Thursday, April 15, 1999
Best New Restaurant of 1998
622 Lighthouse Ave., New Monterey, 655-4852
Earthquakes. Plagues. Floods. Apocalypse. Too much doom and gloom for Junior''s taste! When he got his crack at the crystal ball, he divined groovy new eating possibilities to bring up the end of the millennium. "What about an island grill, with fish flown in fresh from Hawaii? Like ono, ahi and line-caught Hawaiian swordfish pan-fried, blackened or crusted with coconut or macadamia nuts?" he soothsaid. "What about some Aloha spirit in New Monterey? Hey, Nostradamus, you schmuck! Why didn''t you see a good thing like this coming?"
Runner-up: Turtle Bay Taqueria, Seaside and Monterey
Best Restaurant in Monterey County/ Best French Restaurant/ Best Restaurant to Splurge
99 Pacific St., Monterey, 375-9798
"When hum-drum, ho-hum dining is cast out, and fast food is ignored in favor of pate de foie gras, cassoulet d''escargots, rack of lamb Dijonnaise and homard et coquilles St. Jacques, so will the fairest restaurant in all the county be known as Fresh Cream," spaketh Junior. Fine French food both Classical and updated, charming and romantic, backlit by harbor views. After all these years, Fresh Cream still works its magic on a generation of diners in search of gracious, elegant dining.
Runner-up Monterey County: Rio Grill, Carmel
Runner-up French: Fifi''s, Pacific Grove
Runner-up To Splurge: Roy''s, Pebble Beach
Best Restaurant--Big Sur
Highway 1, Big Sur, 667-2331
Delicious quiet, soaring vistas, the window opens onto heaven and you may enter. At last, Ventana the resort has bestowed Ventana, the restaurant with a name that fits. The public, as always, is invited to enjoy a dining experience at the paradise now known as Cielo, on par with the comforts lavished on guests of the resort. Do a daytrip lunch on the terrace with views of forever, or make it a long leisurely dinner, stay overnight--and never want to leave!
Best Restaurant--Carmel/ Most Romantic Restaurant
5th between Mission and San Carlos, Carmel, 625-0501
Warm and intimate ambiance as lush and colorful as the steaming platters of paella issuing forth from the kitchen, no detail has been overlooked in creating the original style that is Casanova. Since 1977, Casanova''s special license with charm has defined the mtier that has become Carmel''s dining trademark. Rustic beams, lambent fireplaces, splashes of color that recall warm days in Provence, and equally voluptuous food makes this Carmel''s best, most romantic restaurant.
Runner-up Carmel: Rio Grill Runner-up Romantic: Old Bath House, Pacific Grove
Best Restaurant--Carmel Valley
7166 Carmel Valley Rd., Carmel Valley, 625-2252
"When salt-crusted goldfish bowls overflow with mescal and lime-fruit, when salsa flows like the ancient Nile, anointing baskets of chips, when flamenco dancers dervishly twirl, delighting diners with the kick of their heels, and when all of this converges on...no, wait...okay, well...yep, looks like a gas station of sorts," Junior reveals. "Then, and only then, will Carmel Valley know Weekly readers'' favorite restaurant of 1999." Baja Cantina delivers fun, updated Mexican food, lively entertainment and nostalgic motorhead motor-bilia.
Runner-up: Wills Fargo
Best Restaurant--Castroville/ Best Barbecue
Central Texan Barbecue
10500 Merritt St., Castroville, 633-2285
At first, it was the image of a cowboy hat that floated into view. And then, Pat Boone--no, wait--Roy Rogers--NO! Willie Nelson, emerging out of the ethers. All Junior knew for sure was that when he contemplated Castroville, he started gettin'' a powerful hankerin'' for some dry-rubbed, oak-kissed Texas-style barbecue. Since becoming the focus of a TV documentary and more than a few news broadcasts--and regularly bringing home the Gold at barbecue cook-offs statewide--Don Elkins'' Central Texan Barbecue is known darn near the world over and is a household name, in these parts.
Runner-up Castroville: La Scuola Runner-up Barbecue: Curly''s Barbecue, Seaside
265 Reservation Rd., Marina, 883-2265
Crab and cream cheese wontons, rice soup that sizzles with chicken or shrimp, crispy fried string beans with spicy pork, and Hunan beef that will have you dancing the hot foot are just a few of the ways that Bamboo Pavilion woos their faithful, keeping them coming back for more.
Best Restaurant--Monterey/Best Restaurant To Strike A Business Deal/ Best Selection of Wines By the Glass
414 Calle Principal, Monterey, 648-8880
Montrio hits another home run in ''99, and the bases are loaded with signature dishes like Dungeness crab cakes with spicy remoulade, rotisserie roasted turkey and free range chicken, veal cheeks with braised red cabbage, and portabella mushrooms that are elevated to an art, either grilled along with onions as a sandwich with melted Tilamook cheddar, or oven-roasted and served over crispy polenta and a vegetable ragout. Creative dining matched with uptown swank, Montrio stays on a winning streak.
Runner-up Monterey: Fresh Cream Runner-up Strike a Deal: Tarpy''s, Monterey Runner-up Wines by Glass: Rio Grill, Carmel
Best Restaurant--Moss Landing
The Whole Enchilada
Highway 1 and Moss Landing Road, Moss Landing, 633-5398
The Whole Enchilada''s huge menu delights in seafood specialties, like chile rellenos and chimichangas, stuffed with fish, crab, shrimp and cheese. Tamales are spread with fresh masa, packed into banana leaves and stuffed with a filling that varies daily or made with hand-grated green corn, as a seasonal special. Traditional, family recipes observe time-honored technique and are finished with upscale flourish.
Runner-up: Phil''s Fish Market and Eatery
Best Restaurant--North County
10700 Merritt St., Castroville, 633-3200
Junior couldn''t figure what all the future fuss over those strange little green pineapples with prickly leaves. But then, Junior had never tasted artichokes, Castroville''s claim to fame, and a specialty of the house at La Scuola. Fried, steamed or stuffed with mushrooms, prawns, roasted garlic or bay shrimp, they''ve been a favored menu feature for almost 10 years. Veal, lamb, chicken, beef and lotsa pastas are more reasons to head north for adventuresome dining.
Runner-up: The Whole Enchilada, Moss Landing
66 W. Alisal St., 424-4139
Spado''s hit the ground running when they opened their doors in Salinas a few years ago, and the clamor for this kind of hearty Italian bistro cuisine hasn''t died down since. Lemon, garlic and rosemary roasted chicken (totally boneless and a pleasure to eat), baked calamari and eggplant Parmesan, walnut crusted sand dabs, Parmesan-crusted lamb shanks over soft polenta, and daily fish specials keep the place hopping.
Runner-up: Salinas Valley Fish House
Best Restaurant--Pacific Grove
223 17th St., Pacific Grove, 372-3456
Escargot, foie gras, caviar? Paella, cassoulet, osso bucco? All of this in Butterfly Town? Junior had to check himself when these toothsome orisons appeared on his crystal screen, squarely in the seat of America''s Last Hometown. If you''re looking for chicken-fried steak at Fandango, you may be disappointed. But if you''re looking for inspired Mediterranean cuisine in an atmosphere to match, make the reservation.
Best Restaurant--Pebble Beach/ Best Restaurant for Creative Cuisine
Roy''s at Pebble Beach
2700 17 Mile Drive, Pebble Beach, 647-7423
It''s one thing to be a 16th-century clairvoyant, and something else again when it comes to imagining the incredible flavor explosion that happens when crispy coconut-tiger shrimp meets up with Indonesian lilikoi-black bean sauce. Likewise the Chinatown duck under the influence of Asian plum brandy sauce, or lemongrass-crusted Pacific swordfish in Thai-basil peanut sauce. Weekly readers say Roy''s rocks the Pacific Rim.
Runner-up-Pebble Beach: Club XIX
Runner-up Creative Cuisine: Taste Bistro, Pacific Grove
Best Restaurant--Seaside/ Best Restaurant for Seafood/Best Soups
789 Trinity Ave., Seaside, 394-2027 1996 Sunset Dr., Pacific Grove, 375-7107
Perennially popular and known for fresh-as-it-comes seafood, it''s dishes like the sea garden salad with blackened snapper or calamari, prawns Belize and the seafood linguine Alfredo that win loyal fans. Lots of daily fish specials and the signature key lime pie assure their continued success as a local''s kind of place.
Runner-up Seaside: Turtle Bay Runner-up Seafood: Monterey''s/Salinas Valley Fish House, Monterey/Salinas
Best Breakfast/Best Salsa
Old Monterey Caf
489 Alvarado St., Monterey, 646-1021
It was hard for Junior to foresee whether it would be the huevos rancheros or the plate-size banana pancakes that created the magnetic pull that draws diners in droves to this homey, downtown Monterey eatery. All he could tell for sure was that the salsa tastes good on everything, mildly spicy and made with all fresh ingredients. Old Monterey Caf makes early mornings way better than bearable.
Runner-up: First Awakenings, Pacific Grove Runner-up Salsa: Turtle Bay Taqueria, Seaside and Monterey
Best Cheap Eats/Best Burrito
462 Alvarado St., Monterey, 646-9587 Edgewater Shopping Center, Sand City, 393-9133
Taqueria food continues to win friends and influence appetites when it comes to simultaneously smacking your lips and stretching a dollar. Their fist-sized burritos filled with pinto beans, rice, and chicken, beef or veggies makes a meal. Or, come to Papa for one of the special platillos--sizzling fajitas, carne asada, or green chile pork and more.
Runner-up Cheap Eats: Taco Bell, various locations Runner-up Burrito: Turtle Bay Taqueria, Seaside and Monterey
Best Chinese Restaurant
485 Tyler St., Monterey, 373-5153
Seven kinds of egg foo yung, a dozen varieties of chow mein, low mein, chop suey, kung po, mu shu, sweet and sour--in short, Szechuan says it best. With a variety of four-course combination plates for one, or a full-scale banquet for two, Junior says this is his kind of chow fun.
Runner-up: Chef Lee''s, Monterey
Best Family Restaurant/Best Desserts
434 Alvarado St., Monterey, 375-1400
Junior''s vision was of a goddess, rising up out of a sack of sugar, waving a magic wand--no, wait, that''s a rolling pin--and wearing a crown that was also handy for sifting flour. Yes, there really is a Rosine, and those are her mile-high cakes and Oh!-my-stars pies that greet you at the door of this busy downtown family eatery. Do not go into the next life before you experience the wonder that is Rosine''s carrot cake.
Runner-up Family: Denny''s, various locations Runner-up Desserts: Fifi''s, Pacific Grove
Best Indian Restaurant
India''s Clay Oven
150 Del Monte Ave., 373-2529
"Korma, masala, sagwala, vindaloo. Jal frezi, sagwala, so much here for you!" intones Junior. If you don''t know Indian food, this is the place to go to be captured in its spell. Way more than just curries, Clay Oven may become an addictive adventure. And be sure not to miss the stuffed naan "burrito" breads at Old Monterey Marketplace, reminds Junior.
Best Italian Restaurant/Best Pasta
481 Lighthouse Ave., Pacific Grove, 375-7709
Just how does Pasta Mia rack up this long-term winning streak in a place where pasta is spoken in its own dialect? Proprietor Maureen Signorella says it''s the loyal, long-term kitchen staff that keeps their winning ways with Northern and Southern Italian specialties. Hand-rolled pasta, pizza, veal and fresh fish turns this cozy Pacific Grove Victorian into a lively Italian trattoria.
Runner-up Italian: Tie: Cibo Ristorante/ Vito''s, Monterey/Pacific Grove Runner-up Pasta: Loose Noodle, Monterey
Best Japanese Restaurant
1603 Del Monte Blvd., Seaside, 394-7733
Sukiyaki, tempura, lobster butter yaki, prime rib teriyaki--just a few of the deluxe choices on Ichi Ricki''s colossal menu. Or, popular at both lunch and dinner, get your yaki in a box, as one of several scintillating combinations like barbecued pork spare ribs with egg rolls and chicken wings. Udon, sushi, sashimi, and even a separate list of Chinese specialties make this MontereyCounty''s fave Japanese pick.
Runner-up: Robata, Carmel
Best Restaurant For Late Night Food
Beyond Junior''s wildest imaginings was the dawning of an age when a Grand Slam breakfast could be had around the clock, and the moons were always rising over my-hammy. Classic American eats that never go to sleep are found here, twenty-four/seven, three-hundred-sixty-five nights a year.
Runner-up: Bulldog Pub, Monterey
Best Restaurant for Outdoor Dining
Forge in the Forest/ General Store
5th Avenue and Junipero Street, Carmel, 624-2233
Stargazing is a specialty of the house at this favored alfresco scene, with enough fireplaces and heat lamps to keep things cozy on cool Carmel evenings. Lotsa noshing options on the menu in the appetizer, pizza, soups and salads departments, as well as tequila-marinated roasted chicken, interesting pastas, and large grill menu.
Runner-up: Tarpy''s Roadhouse, Monterey
Best Mexican Restaurant
Pepper''s Mexicali Cafe
170 Forest Ave., Pacific Grove, 373-6892
Specializing in south-of-the-border coastal cuisine, you can bet your capsicums that Pepper''s knows the stuff. As authentically grounded as they are lightened-up-scale, this is a comfortable, easygoing neighborhood place, specializing in fresh fish, served up spicy, and around long enough now to claim the status of ''landmark'' casual dining.
Runner-up: Papa Chano, Monterey and Sand City
Best Vegetarian Restaurant
111 Central Ave., Pacific Grove, 373-0335
Junior''s prediction for the invention of meat loaf created without meat was spot-on in 1969, and the place, Tillie Gort''s, has served it every day since. Along with the no-meat loaf, veggie burgers are big here, too. And vegans won''t leave hungry with the all-in-one, made with steamed veggies, black beans, brown rice and lemon tahini sauce.
Runner-up: Fresh Choice, Monterey
Best Mediterranean Restaurant
422 Tyler St., Monterey, 655-8108
"Ooohhpaaa!" effuses Junior. Lamb dishes, moussaka, spanokopita and many more traditional style Greek dishes are served at Epsilon, in a comfortable, friendly atmosphere. Chair dancing and plate hurling are optional.
Runner-up: Fandango, Pacific Grove
Best Restaurant Off the Beaten Path
Highway 68 and Canyon Del Rey, Monterey, 647-1444
If you consulted Junior, he would tell you that the atmosphere feels off the beaten path--stone patios, a bucolic pond, vegetable and flower gardens--but Highway 68 makes Tarpy''s pretty easy to find. Innovative menus (yummy meatloaf with Marsala mushroom gravy, sweet corn succotash, gruyere scalloped potatoes) and a lively see-and-be-seen atmosphere are other good reasons to seek out this scene--a touch of Europe at the old Tarpy''s Flats.
Runner-up: Monterey''s Fish House, Monterey
Best Thai Restaurant
159 Central Ave., Pacific Grove, 372-8700 55 W. Carmel Valley Rd., Carmel Valley, 659-5900
Acolytes of this pungent, aromatic cuisine keep coming back to Thai Bistro, for more of their favorite dishes. Like laab gai with chicken, tossed with lime juice and mint, and stir-fried with cabbage and onions, or roast duck in green curry sauce. Plenty of vegetarian options, too, like the popular lettuce rolls.
Runner-up: Siamese Bay, Monterey
Best Wine List
701 Wave St., Monterey, 373-3775
It takes a lot of breadth and depth to hold on to the Wine Spectator''s Grand Award since 1982--20,000 bottles worth, collected from every major wine producing region in the world. The Sardine Factory''s cellar is the place to be when the big one comes!
Runner-up: Casanova, Carmel
Restaurant with the Best View
Highway 1, 12 miles south of Carmel, 624-2933
Few vistas can compare to the feast for the eyes that endlessly stretches off the coastline at Rocky Point. Winding past the gate and down the driveway, the restaurant spreads out along a craggy knoll that juts out over the sea, an invitation to relax, dine and ponder the endless blue Pacific.
Runner-up: Pacific''s Edge, Carmel Highlands