For all the Central Coast's immensity, many of the finest wine producers, restaurants and accommodations are grouped in small areas, amenable to exploration by the enterprising wine lover. Restaurants' menus pull on all sorts of influences, from Asian to Spanish to local producers. Whatever you may be in the mood for, you'll likely find it somewhere along the Central Coast. Below, Wine Spectator's editors have highlighted some top dining destinations near Monterey, Paso Robles and Santa Barbara.
Please note that owners, chefs, menu items, prices and other details can often change. We recommend that you call ahead before you go.
Mission St. (between Ocean and Seventh)
Carmel-by-the-Sea, CA 93921
Telephone: (831) 626-7880
Open: Lunch, Wed-Sun, 11:30-2; Dinner, daily, 5:30-9:30
Cost: Entrées $23 to $33; tasting menu, price upon request
Chef Andre Lemaire adds a touch of California to his iconic French dishes at his 49-seat restaurant, Andre's Bouchée, in downtown Carmel-by-the-Sea. Popular dishes include the pan-seared white sea bass with a lime and thyme sauce and the veal tenderloin and sea scallops with a sea scallop sauce. The Wine Spectator Best of Award of Excellence-winning wine list features more than 400 selections by the bottle, with an emphasis on France and California. Not up for 750ml? Try one of the 20 wines served by the glass, ranging in price from $5 to $17.
Aubergine's menu skips around the world, with influences from France, Italy, Japan and Mexico.
Monte Verde at Seventh
Carmel-by-the-Sea, CA 93921
Telephone: (831) 624-8578
Open: Dinner, daily, 6-9:30
Cost: Tasting menu, $89 to $110
Chef Christophe Grosjean's Aubergine, in L'Auberge Carmel, draws on seasonal ingredients from the Salinas Valley. Grosjean sources from local farms and gardens for his contemporary California cuisine. A native of France, Grosjean worked at Michelin-rated restaurants, including Le Jardin des Sens, and under Cal Stamenov at Bernardus Lodge. He uses his French heritage to add European touches to the dishes, such as slow-cooked red abalone with smoked potato and quail egg and the free-range chicken with braised white Swiss chard and morels. Guests can have the tasting menu paired with wine (an additional $75 and $95, respectively), a selection of wines from around the world. The underground wine cellar holds 4,500 bottles, with a focus on California and France.
Marinus holds a Grand Award for its 1,600-bottle wine list.
Marinus at Bernardus Lodge
415 Carmel Valley Road
Carmel Valley, CA 93924
Telephone: (831) 659-3131; (888) 688-9463
Open: Dinner, daily
Cost: Entrées $35 to $52; tasting menus $70 to $200
The Wine Spectator Grand Award-winning wine list alone would justify a trip, but so does the brilliant cooking of Cal Stamenov. At a recent dinner, there were no off notes, from the Parmesan gougères that started the meal to the remarkable assortment of chocolates made by pastry chef Ben Spungin that ended it. Highlights included a memorable salad of sweetbreads, served with black trumpet mushrooms, fat wedges of meaty chanterelles and a bacon vinaigrette, and an entrée of pan-roasted scallops, nestled on a spinach puree with buttery lobster cannelloni. A Meyer lemon soufflé was a satisfying dessert, light yet bracing. After seven years at Marinus, wine director Mark Jensen knows his 1,600-bottle cellar well. Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, from both Burgundy and California, are well-represented, as are California Cabernet and German Riesling. More than 100 wines are offered in half-bottle format. Plenty of 750ml bottles cost less than $40, and there are several wines by the glass for less than $10.
Artisan features local producers, such as Saxum and Alban, on its wine list.
1401 Park St.
Paso Robles, CA 93446
Telephone: (805) 237-8084
Open: Lunch, Mon-Sat, 11-2:30, Dinner, Sun-Thu, 5-9, Fri-Sat, 5-10, Brunch, Sun, 10-2:30
Cost: Entrées, $25 to $32
There's energy to spare inside this Art Deco storefront. The open kitchen sets a lively tempo and the dining room is a dynamic space, sleek and minimalist in design with warm color accents. The food itself is California cuisine at its most vigorous, emphasizing intense flavors and local, organic ingredients interpreted by chef Chris Kobayashi (his co-owner brother, Michael, is the restaurant's general manager). The wine list comprises a modest 100 selections, mostly devoted to local producers, including Saxum, Seasmoke and Alban. Plus, values are plentiful, with Denner Grenache 2007 selling for $68 and Jacob Toft "Mary Jane's Cuvée" 2004 for $58.
Courtyard dining is popular at downtown Paso's Bistro Laurent.
1202 Pine St.
Paso Robles, CA 93446
Telephone: (805) 226-8191
Open: Lunch, daily, 11:30-2, Dinner, daily, 5:30-10
Cost: Entrées, $25 to $37
France meets California's Central Coast at this downtown bistro. With exposed brick walls and polished wood floors, it sets a smart yet casual tone, and on warm evenings the small dining room spills into a courtyard. After honing his skills in France, Laurent Grangien opened the restaurant more than a decade ago and draws a devoted crowd with satisfying bistro fare like black peppercorn beef and mussels gratin with fennel and curry. The Wine Spectator Award of Excellence-winning wine list blends France and California, offering about 250 bottles that spotlight Rhône-style wines. Prices are reasonable, with offerings such as Guigal Côte-Rôtie Brune et Blonde 2003 at $100 and Alban Roussanne Edna Valley 2006 at $70.
Guests can sit on the patio at Thomas Hill Organics and dig into locally inspired cuisine.
Thomas Hill Organics
1305 Park St.
Paso Robles, CA 93446
Telephone: (805) 226-5888
Open: Wed-Sat, 11-9, Sun-Mon, 11-8, Brunch, Sun, 10-3
Cost: Entrées, $21 to $25
The phrase "farm to table" is taken seriously at this bistro and wine bar. Debbie and Joe Thomas grow organic vegetables, fruits and nuts in the hills east of Paso Robles and feature their bounty and other sustainable goods daily on the menu. An open kitchen is the focus of the small main room, while the outdoor courtyard is a soothing spot for a sunny lunch or early dinner. During the day, the restaurant features sandwiches on hearty bread, and salads such as hazelnut-crusted salmon with arugula and frisée. By night, thin-crust pizzas and entrées including crisp duck breast with chile relleno are on tap. The wine list has several dozen Central Coast selections, most available by small taste, glass or bottle.
Villa Creek is a local hangout for Paso Robles winemakers.
1144 Pine St.
Paso Robles, CA 93446
Telephone: (805) 238-3000
Open: Dinner, Sun-Thu, 5:30-9, Fri-Sat, 5:30-10
Cost: Entrées, $120 to $30
With its eclectic menu, warm Southwestern atmosphere and dynamic wine list, Villa Creek is a favorite among tourists and local winemakers alike. (Its bar is one of the busiest on the square.) Owner Cris Cherry divides his time between the restaurant and his Villa Creek winery and gives chef Tom Fundaro free rein in the kitchen. The menu features local and organic ingredients presented in rich, rustic and full-flavored dishes such as butternut squash enchiladas and Oaxacan-style braised short ribs. The Award of Excellence-winning wine list holds about 225 selections, largely Rhône grapes and mostly local labels. Prices are typically less than $75, and selections include Alain Graillot Crozes-Hermitage 2006 ($58) and Talley Chardonnay Arroyo Grande Valley Rosemary's Vineyard 2007 ($60).
Miró pays tribute to Joan Miró, featuring sculptures by the artist.
8301 Hollister Ave.
Santa Barbara, CA 93117
Telephone: (805) 571-4204
Open: Dinner, Tue-Sat, 6:30-9:30
Cost: Entrées, $31 to $45, tasting menu, $59
Miró pays tribute to Joan Miró, and like everything at Bacara Resort, the restaurant dresses the part with two original sculptures by the Spanish artist, flamenco red leather chairs and custom-designed china bearing Miró motifs. The menu focuses on upscale interpretations of Basque cuisine, with chef Gerald Hirigoyen of San Francisco's Piperade consulting. Sometimes the nod to things Iberian is subtle, as with the light dusting of smoked paprika on roasted free-range chicken, served over a fricassee of chanterelle, black trumpet and oyster mushrooms. The wine cellar holds more than 900 labels, with all but a few priced above $50. About half are from California, with 23 by-the-glass options. Diners seeking that special bottle won't have to look far: Five vintages of Château Pétrus, for example, are available, going back to the 1979 ($2,300). The restaurant holds a Wine Spectator Best of Award of Excellence.
The Restaurant at Ballard Inn showcases creative fusion cuisine, with a predominately Asian flair.
Restaurant at Ballard Inn
2436 Baseline Ave.
Ballard, CA 93463
Telephone: (800) 638-2466
Open: Dinner, Wed-Sun, 5:30-9
Cost: Entrées, $24 to $29
Outside the urbane confines of Santa Barbara proper, many restaurants tend toward meat and potatoes. Not the Ballard Inn, where chef Budi Kazali has built an enthusiastic following for his creative fusion fare. Many of the dishes have an Asian flair, such as hamachi sashimi with soy-yuzu vinaigrette. Others, such as a soup of velvety pureed peas (sugar snap and English) and chicken stock, highlight local products. There's an eclectic 150-bottle wine list, featuring Santa Barbara Pinot Noir as well as Chardonnay, Syrah and assorted red and white varieties from a range of Central Coast appellations.
For more restaurants worldwide that hold Wine Spectator awards for their wine lists, see our Restaurant Search.