Dining dollars add up quickly in the bayside cities of Monterey, Pacific Grove and Carmel, where visiting couples can easily drop $50 on lunch and $100 on dinner, and that’s without wine.
There’s a more economical way to go. For lunch, think in terms of sharing a dish, which suddenly cuts the bill in half (be sure to ask for bread), or ordering two moderately priced appetizers or lower-cost entrees.
These tried-and-true dishes won’t send your budget to urgent care:
47 Fisherman’s Wharf, Monterey; (831) 372-5200, cafefina.com
Fried Monterey Bay calamari ($13), steamed cherrystone clams or mussels ($16), meatballs with pasta ($16), fish ’n’ chips ($17), vegetable paella ($17) and pasta primavera ($19). Take a stroll on Old Fisherman’s Wharf or walk past the marina to Wharf No. 2, home to wholesale fish companies.
1193 Forest Ave., Pacific Grove (831) 655-1704; (cash only)
Whole wood-fired rotisseried chicken ($13, $7.50 for a half), sliced barbecued pork with two sides ($10.50), and a half-rack of smoked spareribs ($14). Grab a stool at the counter and watch the pitmaster expertly wield a cleaver.
Sixth and Mission, Carmel; (831) 624-6562, grasings.com
House-made beer-battered onion rings ($8.50 and $13), grilled cheese on focaccia bread ($11.75), grilled eggplant sandwich ($13.50), wild-mushroom frittata ($15.50), and a half-pound Black Angus bistro burger (with bacon, avocado and cheddar, $17.75). Sit on the shaded patio and easily imagine you’re in Europe.
San Carlos near Ocean, Carmel; (831) 624-6545, nicorestaurant.com
Grilled zucchini-avocado-mozzarella sandwich ($12), margherita pizza ($12), cheese board with artichoke and olives ($13), and Italian sausage sandwich ($14). The front patio is for people-watching, the back patio underneath the bougainvillaea is for romance.
Mission between Ocean and Seventh, Carmel; (831) 624-2406, antonandmichel.com
Herb-potato gnocchi ($9.75), artichoke and seafood salad ($12.50), grilled lamb sliders ($13), shrimp-bacon-spinach club sandwich ($14.50), and grilled prawns over angel hair pasta ($18.50) Ask for sides of cashew-cilantro pesto and garlic-mint aioli. The dining room is gorgeous.
Dolores and Sixth, Carmel; (831) 624-3588, carmelsbest.com
Calamari steak sandwich ($12.75), sand dab sandwich ($12.75), pulled-pork quesadilla ($14), crab ravioli ($15), and linguine with clams ($17). Excellent views of the passing crowd.
Carmel Plaza, Junipero and Mission, Carmel; (831) 624-5600, threecarmelrestaurants.com
Linguine in creamy pesto sauce ($11), roasted turkey panini ($12), vegetarian quiche ($14), and fish tacos ($15). After lunch, explore the upscale shops in the plaza.