My family and I went to Monterey over the holidays. On the way we partook of a guilty pleasure- the deep fat fried artichoke hearts at the Giant Artichoke in Castroville. They were about as good as when I last tried them 10 years ago. They combine the childhood recollection of fried stuff with the more adult taste of artichoke.
We ate brekfast one morning at the Old Monterey Cafe in downtown Monterey. They serve huge breakfasts and lunches all through their business hours which is nice for my son who likes a French dip sandwich for breakfast. Food is fairly average, service good and prices reasonable. We were able to last until dinner with a 10:30 meal due to size of servings.
My favorite morning place is Parker-Lusseau Pastries which is in a hard to find strip mall location at 731 Munras in Monterey. They have a great chocolate croissant and fruit pastries as well as very good coffee. I haven't tried the individual tarts or cake yet. This place is the public face of a couple who mainly do catering esp weddings and wholesale sales of products to other restaurants. It's a good find.
We had a lunch in Carmel at Tutto Mondo which is a slightly above average version of standard US style red sauce Italian food. It was acceptable but a little expensive and had good service.
One dinner at Rio Grill was very good. I had a wood oven cooked half chicken with a buttery light chili spicey sauce with new potatoes and "baby" artichokes that was outstanding and is one of the very few chicken dishes I would order out. As my wife says, "Their food never fails to satisfy." I have heard a lot of disagreement about this place such as the menu is outdated, etc. but I would argue that a number of their dishes moved right from cutting edge to classics. My only complaints are noise level when crowded and prices that seem to keep going up. Their service is outstanding and desserts very good to great.
The best meal was a dinner in Pacific Grove at Passionfish. They use all in season, local food sources with a seafood emphasis but chicken, beef,etc are available. They have a very large wine list priced just above retail that features many of California's hardest to get wines such as a Brogan RRV pinot noir for about $45 and Seven Lions zin and pinot, a Siduri pinot, etc. The service including wine service is excellent. I had a fried squid appetizer with a rice wine viegar and cilantro dipping sauce with a touch of habenero that was wonderful. Other appetizers were a very good crab cake and a seared tuna that my son scarfed and wouldn't share. For main courses two of us had perfectly prepared sand dabs with a lemongrass aioli which were pronounced best ever by our friend who eats almost exclusively sea food when dining out and which I thoought were great, too. My wife had a tempura style half of a lobster. Prices for most appetizers are under $10 and entrees are $14 to about $21 and as with the wine are exceptional values. It was the best meal I have had in the last year- I almost stayed a second night to eat there again. I would recommend reservations.