Carmel-by-the-Sea’s Culinary Renaissance

From freshly foraged seafood to Korean fried chicken to grass-fed, artisan beef burgers, diverse cuisine thrives in enchanting Carmel-by-the-Sea. Several new restaurants made their debut in Carmel Village this past year, joining several established and award-winning eateries, all of which persevered through the COVID-19 pandemic, at a time when, unfortunately, many restaurants across the country were forced to close. Carmel Village’s restaurant tally now stands at 60, all within one-square-mile, and in a town with fewer than 4,000 residents. That is more restaurants per capita than any other small city in the United States.

Renowned worldwide for its storybook charm and natural beauty, Carmel Village has long served as a haven for artists, writers, and intellectuals drawn to the inspiring atmosphere of this unique, oceanfront hamlet. And now, with its small courtyards and cobblestone sidewalks lined with destination dining, it’s a draw for gourmands and epicures as well. The gastronomy is no doubt enhanced by accessible fresh produce grown locally in Salinas Valley, catches from Monterey Bay, and award-winning pours from Monterey County vineyards.

Carmel Village’s El Paseo Courtyard. Photo courtesy of Visit Carmel

You’ll find no chains or franchises here, making Carmel-by-the-Sea truly a one-of-a-kind culinary destination. “Daring, experimental, innovative chefs and tastemakers craft flavors that coincide with, and are born from, Carmel’s natural landscape and environment,” says Amy Herzog, executive director of Visit Carmel. “With independent owners and operators, each Carmel-by-the-Sea restaurant is an intimate and unique experience.”

Discover these new restaurants in Carmel during your next visit:

Foray is regarded for its approachable fine dining; the menu highlights wild products and foraged ingredients from the West Coast, like chanterelles, clams, and truffles. Chef Michael Chang and his wife Caroline Singer leverage their background in culinary hospitality and avid foraging techniques to create dishes that are seasonal and locally sourced. (Main photo, courtesy of the restaurant: Foray’s Binchotan roasted Mano de Leon scallop.)

Chez Noir dessert. Photo courtesy of the restaurant

Chez Noir also focuses on sourcing from the Central Coast, working closely with hyper-local, micro-seasonal ingredients to create French and Spanish-inspired menu items. Chef Jonny Black and his wife Monique bring Michelin pedigree to Chez Noir; both have worked in several of San Francisco’s top Michelin-star restaurants.

Jeju Kitchen’s Coconut Shrimp. Photo by Fran Miller

JeJu Kitchen (formerly known as Carmel Burger Bar) is centrally located in Carmel Plaza and is the region’s first Korean focused restaurant. Seoul-born owner Ashley Wolff, a veteran of the Carmel restaurant scene, serves food she remembers from her childhood, with recipes created by her grandmother, such as a rich Dumpling Egg Soup with succulent pork vegetable dumplings, rice cakes, eggs, and green onions.

Nicolás Cocina de Herencia interior. Photo courtesy of the restaurant

Nicolás Cocina de Herencia is also located in Carmel Plaza and is owned and operated by Chef Susana Alvaraz of the beloved Villa Azteca in Oldtown Salinas. Featuring three generations of Michoacán and Mexican recipes, Chef Alvaraz blends classic and contemporary dishes with a modern twist on technique and presentation.

The Grill on Ocean Avenue’s center cut filet mignon. Photo courtesy of the restaurant

The Grill on Ocean Avenue offers California-fusion favorites (all of which are kid-friendly) such as fresh seafood dishes, classic salads, and small plates to share. The menu boasts an array of options, with dishes such as spicy tandoori shrimp, a surf and turf-style fajita, filet mignon, seafood fettuccine, seasonal soup and salads and more being served daily.

Fran Miller

Fran Endicott Miller is an experienced travel, wine, and general feature writer for a variety of luxury lifestyle publications and websites. Prior to her journalism career she established and managed the Golden State Warriors' first official community relations department and efforts. Principled and genuine, she’s known for thoughtfully eloquent writing. When not traveling, she can be found walking her Northern California neighborhood with her beloved golden retriever Nate.