shrimp seafood vendor at Pike Place Market in Seattle picture

Monterey Peninsula: Great seafood, even where you don't expect it

Road Journals Blog—My favorite restaurant in Monterey is by no means elegant. While plenty of restaurants in town offer sweeping views of Monterey Bay, my favorite has no views at all beyond glimpses of the parking lot. It’s not even conveniently located. I wouldn’t call the service impeccable. To be honest, I can’t even claim that they offer the best seafood in town.

No matter. It’s the place to which I always return when I’m in Monterey.

As a food writer, I’ve interviewed some of the country’s top chefs. I’ve sat down to eight-course, price-fixed meals at some of the most acclaimed restaurants in the world, from the French Laundry in Yountville, Calif., to L’Auberge de L’Onde in Saint-Saphorin, Switzerland. I’ve dipped my fork into white truffle-infused custard froth and teased my palate with cardamom spiced nasturtium buds.

But the truth is, my most memorable meals have been simple affairs at hole-in-the-wall restaurants or local joints, where good food is only part of the experience. These are places where the owner pulls up a chair and sits down to explain what’s on the menu and where it came from. Where boisterous families gather around big tables. Where you feel comfortable striking up a conversation with the couple at the next table.

Places like the little restaurant in Rome where, where when I raved about the wood-fired pizza crust I was invited into the kitchen to meet the pizza-maker, who happened to be Egyptian. Or the Swiss chalet where, after a long morning’s hike, I dipped bread into fondue while watching skiers shoot past.

That’s why I love Monterey’s Fish House. It’s the place to go to mix with locals, who gather not just for a good meal but a good time. Almost every time I’ve been there I’ve met an out-of-towner who had come because a friend—or a friend of a friend—had raved about the place.

Even if you have a reservation (definitely recommended), you might end up having to wait. No matter. There’s usually a game on the TV and a garrulous crowd around the bar.

The servers are in constant motion, swinging out of the kitchen with plates filled with generous portions, pouring glasses of wine to the brim, joking with each other and the guests. The seafood—sea bass, swordfish, salmon, halibut, calamari—is fresh and perfectly prepared. The prices are reasonable. There’s a welcoming cheer to the place that makes it feel like home the very first time you go.

Who could ask for more?

Peter Jaret wrote about Monterey, Carmel, and Pebble Beach for in February, 2011.

Photography by Rootology/Creative Commons

This blog post was first published in March 2011. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.