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Monterey Bay's Top 11 New Restaurants of 2022

May 11, 2023May 11, 2023

December 20, 2022 – You might say resurgence led the Monterey Bay menu in 2022.

That comes as particularly delicious because it's been such a long time coming, with so many highly awaited restaurants taking months and years to open their doors.

After an extended period of tenuous recovery in the industry here and everywhere, a stirring number of local spots got their start this year, uplifting historic districts (Old Monterey), iconic properties (Rio del Mar) and new destinations (lower Broadway in Seaside) alike.

Some of the most welcome debuts weren't so much top shelf as taco shell (El Charrito Express, Mission 19, Barba Azul) and pizza crust (Tricycle, Venus Pie Trap, Bookie's).

Those will not appear here.

Instead this list is reserved for more archetypal places, spots that are definitively restaurant restaurants.

For those in need of more concrete qualifications, we’re talking places that have 1) full table service; 2) clear chef leadership; 3) intended ambiance; and 4) adult beverages with adult sophistication (in short: a good wine list).

So while you won't see El Charrito Express here, you will see its sibling Alejandro's. No Venus Fly Trap, but, yes, neighboring sister spot Venus Beachside.

Think of them as the top new standout sit-down spots around Monterey, Santa Cruz and San Benito counties, places that merit a special occasion, ranked with help from my Edible colleagues, linked to coverage of their openings.

A final note before we get into those: Four new businesses bear mentioning—and technically qualify to appear here—but also won't because they don't quite feel like full-on dinner spots, or top new non-restaurant restaurants either.

La Cantina Brewing now gives Main Street in Oldtown Salinas a personality-driven craft beer spot built around Latino-leaning flavor profiles with a limited taco-centric food menu.

Last Call Bar and Grill sits a few blocks away in the former Penny Farthing Tavern in Salinas, where it stars a game room, full bar and surprisingly ambitious, creative and caloric menu from chef Ruben Hurtado. Items like loaded fries, stylished chicken strips and smoked rib tips lead the way.

O’Callaghan's reinvigorates a linchpin Barnyard Carmel corner haunt with robust burgers and other sturdy pub fare, plus polished-wood charm and a sizeable second story patio.

Winston's for Brunch in Pacific Grove immediately staked its claim to some of the best—yes—brunch offerings in the entire area. Versatile and crave-inducing, from the blueberry ricotta pancakes to the fried chicken sandwiches.

Now back to the standout sit-down restaurants, in descending order:

11. The Baler Restaurant – 500 San Benito St. Hollister

The former Hollister Bar and Grill enjoys vintage artwork, furnishings and gilt-framed mirrors—and a lot of red meat. Chef Lucio Lozano features hearty steaks like tomahawk, ribeye and New York with various Cajun and blackened preps, plus half chickens, pork chops and seafood risotto with prawns, mussels, clams and calamari.

10. Aabha Monterey – 220 Olivier St. Monterey

A rare combination rules the day here: smart Indian-California fare meets hookah lounge meets full bar with ambitions for intriguing drinks meets ample brick-and-vintage-umbrella-appointed patio. Chef Bhupender Singh knows what he's doing—namely, plates where the featured item is his creativity—which means a historic property has new life.

9. Roam Restaurant – Mission & 7th Ave. Carmel

Of course it's the Folktale Group behind the winery-concert venue of the same name, and 7th and Dolores Steakhouse up the street, who dares a marriage of Mexican and Asian cuisine in fun ways. A sleek setting pairs with intriguing items like birria ramen and carnitas steamed buns. The adjacent bakery chugs along, which allows super fresh breads on the Roam burger and charred toast on the lemongrass-steamed clams.

8. Foray – San Carlos & 5th Ave. Carmel

The most charismatic member of the team here has to be Falco, the self-trained truffle-hunting Italian water dog. His finds help fuel the mushroom risotto (with Oregon truffles) and foraging serves as the primary inspiration for the husband-wife team of chef Michael Chang and GM Caroline Singer. Other plates that pop (when seasons allow): abalone Milanese, spiny lobster bisque, Del Monte Forest porcini, and local black cod with sea urchin sauce.

7. Promesa Tapas – Mission btw 5th & 6th Ave. Carmel

Executive chef Anthony Quintana builds his menu around traditional Spanish tapas—patatas bravos, charcuterie, padrón peppers, seared Iberico secreto—against a backdrop of hand-painted tiles and Old World chandeliers. Owners/sommeliers Stephen Wilson and Kristen Rideout-Wilson also opened popular sushi spot Toro in 2020, and the drink list is similarly smart here as there, with strong Spanish wine options and even port- and vermouth-based cocktails.

6. Venus Spirits Cocktails & Kitchen Beachside – 131 Esplanade, Aptos

Last year, the original Venus Kitchen earned a top restaurant slot for its blend of farm-fresh fare, craft cocktails and buzzy ambiance. Now the same formula works similar wonders in an adored Aptos spot (the former Rio Cafe). Clever takes on classics like baby back ribs, fried chicken, steamed clams and ricotta gnocchi go with a layout that will only improve with renovations underway as this publishes (reopening early 2023). Beachside's starting chef is out, but complementary neighbor Venus Pie Trap is in.

5. Alejandro's – 474 Alvarado St. Monterey

The breathlessly anticipated—and magnetically-appointed—place in the heart of downtown Monterey realizes a dream for Alan Moncada, second-generation leader of the El Charrito dynasty. Tasty and contemporary Mexican dishes like hamachi tostadas, wood-fired branzino, bone-in pork chops brined in citrus habanero and grilled octopus with pineapple and toasted hominy pair with a Yucatan jungle-inspired backdrop. "We really wanted to create a ‘Wow’ moment," Moncada says.

4. Alvarado on Main – 301 Main St. Salinas

The beer pedigree's been proven on the national stage. The food impresses with the likes of double smash burgers, spicy fried chicken, lobster-shrimp rolls and seafood pasta with Spanish sausage and saffron broth. The service is improving after lots of practice at its Monterey, Salinas warehouse and Carmel cousins. And the setting here is outright cinematic. In keeping with the resurgent theme, a huge addition for Oldtown Salinas.


Editor's note, top three edition: There's a great case to be made for any one of these restaurants to take the top slot. They appear in three different cities, but they each took their sweet time to open on their terms, brought a loaded kitchen of talent, know the fine dining world well, emphasize great product above all else, and have gifted front-of-house teams and excellent wine programs. The Edible team and I haven't been able to visit each as frequently as we would like, so maybe for the next iteration of this list, the tiebreaker will be the amount of consistency between visits—partly because it means we need to go back again and again.

Maligne – 600 Broadway, Seaside

With Maligne, yet another long-awaited addition meets the hype. A stylishly unfinished feel carries the open floor plan and kitchen where chef-owner Klaus Georis and a clever team emphasize wood-fired seafood, house ferments and a raw bar. Highlights include caviar service, seafood towers and bone marrow with seasonal mushrooms. I’m fascinated to see how the squad's big city backgrounds translate to a stated desire to be "a neighborhood restaurant."

Chez Noir – 5th Ave btw Dolores & San Carlos, Carmel

Acclaimed chef Jonny Black and wife/floor manager Monique steadily drummed up anticipation for this doozie over months of gradual buildout and memorable pop-ups. The results prove well worth the wait, with a sparkling space made all the more atmospheric with a seafood-first menu built around micro-seasonal local catch and produce, Spanish and French foodstuffs and exacting execution. Its upcoming New Year's Eve menu provides a glimpse of its substance and price point: Five courses of goodies like prawn tartare with caviar, tajarin with sea urchin, and California Squab "foie gras en farci" runs $225 a head. In short, it's the spendiest on the list, and one worth saving up for.

Cella – 525 Polk St. Monterey

Chef-partner Ben Spungin and restaurateur-real estate guru Kirk Probasco deployed a wise strategy on this project: patience. Because brother/neighbor spot Alta Bakery business was booming they went slow and pro on hiring, property buildout and menu development. All three of those represent big wins for a spot in the historic heart of downtown Monterey (Cooper Molera Gardens) and the terrace ranks among one of the best new outdoor spaces itself. Come for the ambiance and top shelf Joshua Perry cocktails; stay for the fresh black cod, crudo and baked oysters to go with Bernabe de Luna curated wine; and do not leave without getting into desserts like the panna cotta and chocolate mousse.

Mark C. Anderson is a writer, photographer, editor and explorer based in Seaside, California. Reach @MontereyMCA by way of Instagram and Twitter.

La Cantina Brewing Last Call Bar and Grill O’Callaghan's Winston's for Brunch 11. The Baler Restaurant 10. Aabha Monterey 9. Roam Restaurant 8. Foray 7. Promesa Tapas 6. Venus Spirits Cocktails & Kitchen Beachside 5. Alejandro's 4. Alvarado on Main Maligne Chez Noir Cella