The 10 Best Restaurants in Salinas, CA: Top Local Eats

Nicknamed the Salad Bowl of the World and located in the central region of California, Salinas is known for its agricultural industry, particularly in the floral, grape vineyard and vegetable sectors. Its prosperity in agriculture is due to its marine climate that is ideal for such fields. As a result, it presents some of the most intriguing and cultural restaurants of varying ethnic origins throughout the area. We look at ten of the best.

Rancho Cielo Drummond Culinary Academy

Mainly established as a non-profit organization that provides a comprehensive center of learning and social services for underserved youth in the Monterey County, the Rancho Cielo offers a program called the Rancho Cielo Drummond Culinary Academy. Through this program, youths learn skills and gain job training as well as professional mentorship tailored towards commercial restaurants. The academy challenges students with real life situations in the culinary academy dining room arena, where they cook and serve customers from the three-course dinner menu that includes a choice of a salad, a dessert and an entrée. Despite being a training ground for nonprofessional chefs, the academy serves delicious and complex dishes that one would expect from a well-established restaurant, such as mustard crusted salmon fillet, chicken picatta and tortellini andreotti,

Rancho Cielo Drummond Culinary Academy, 710 Old Stage Road, Salinas, CA, USA, +1 813 444 3500

First Awakenings

Opened in 1993 by owners Chris Ulrich and Craig Bell, First Awakenings is currently one of the most popular breakfast spots in Monterey County. It has received the title of ‘The Best Place for Breakfast’ in the county since 2006 and continues to be a local favorite. It is known for its old-fashioned, comfort American food including, but not limited to, the classics such as roasted Portobello burger, Eggs Benedict and California crepe. Not only does it specialize in classic dishes, but it also original special combinations such as the Triple Bogey, which consists of two strips of bacon or sausage links, two eggs and two slices of Texas toast, and the restaurant’s homemade Belgian waffle, which is dusted with powdered sugar and topped with creamy whipped butter.

First Awakenings, 171 Main Street, Salinas, CA, USA, +1 831 784 1125

Salinas City BBQ

As its name indicates, Salinas City BBQ is known for its wide selection of barbecue options ranging from the barbecue itself to BBQ sandwiches, steak, and BBQ combination meals. It has been featured in several local magazines and articles such as the Monterey Herald and Chowhound for its high quality of meat as well as popularity. In fact, many reviewers have claimed that the restaurant serves some of the best barbecue in the city as well as throughout the county after tasting some of its signature dishes such as the St. Louis Cut Pork Ribs, Smoke Tri-Tip and its Breast of the West – shredded smoked chicken breasts filled with mayonnaise, tomatoes and onions.

Salinas City BBQ, 700 West Market Street, Salinas, CA, USA, +1 818 758 2227

Elli’s Great American Restaurant

A concentration of the world’s culinary techniques and ingredients, Elli’s Great American Restaurant serves one of the most culturally diverse sets of dishes in Salinas Valley. As a service to the community as well as homage to immigrants, who dangerously and courageously travelled to America to fulfill their American dream, the restaurant provides some of the best culinary mixtures that have originated from family recipes, which have been bestowed upon the new generation from the previous ones. Its menu even consists of a section called the ‘Melting Pot,’ which represents the diner’s offer of fusions that have existed for decades from multiple countries, such as Italy and Mexico. An example that reflects the restaurant’s diversity is its carne asada burrito, which consists of freshly grilled steaks, Monterey Jack cheese, rice, pico de gallo, Mexican crema, and Oaxaca guacamole.

Elli’s Great American Restaurant, 1250 South Main Street, Salinas, CA, USA, +1 831 759 8455

Eagle Restaurant

One of the few popular Asian restaurants in Monterey County, Eagle Restaurant specializes in authentic Chinese cuisine. Though the exterior and interior designs are simple with light solid colors, the food is far from being plain. Each dish exudes different levels of spiciness as well as aroma, and though some dishes may appear to be standard Chinese food such as the Spicy Lemon Grass Chicken or the Walnut Shrimp, they are full of herbal and juicy flavors. Aside from traditional Chinese options, the Eagle Restaurant also offers unique fusions such Szechuan Beef with Green Beans and the Salt and Pepper Chicken Wings.

Eagle Restaurant, 26 West Alisal Street, Salinas, CA, USA, +1 831 751 2312

La Casa Del Sazon

Deriving its name from the Spanish word ‘la casa,’ which means ‘home,’ La Casa Del Sazon encompasses its ideals around the concept of family while introducing the community to authentic Mexican cuisine. The opening of the restaurant blossomed from a series of family cooking events, which began to involve the community and soon the frequent community-wide occasions led to the establishment of the restaurant. Since the creation of the restaurant originated from familial gatherings, the founders desired a family friendly environment in which guests feel as if they are dining comfortably at home. To accomplish their goal, they created a menu full of heart-warming Mexican options like the eatery’s signature Molcajete Michocano, which is a mixture of various fresh meats and homemade salsa.

La Casa Del Sazon, 22 West Romie Lane, Salinas, CA, USA, +1 831 751 2300

Monterey Coast Brewing Company

Located in historic Old Town, the heart of Salinas that is the central and economic core of the city, Monterey Coast Brewing Company is a popular nightspot for local residents and travelers. Most customers visit for the beer, especially its classic Harvest Wheat or India Pale Ale (IPA) and its seasonal brew menu. Though the name indicates a brewery, the venue is also a popular American restaurant where many friends and families dine for lunch and dinner, particularly for its Grilled Angus Burger and its Grilled Black Angus NY Strip. The restaurant even provides a private space for family and special occasions such as birthday parties or holiday parties.

Monterey Coast Brewing Company, 165 Main Street, Salinas, CA, USA, +1 831 758 2337


A relatively new and exciting development that continues to grow, Patria is a European bistro that offers a vast range of contemporary dishes, ranging from the typical European salad, pizzas and pastas to its original farm plates selection, which includes uncommon ingredients such as lamb, scallops and rabbit. Due to the restaurant’s novel and distinctive addition to the city’s pool of international and cultural cuisine, many local news and magazines have featured it. For example, KSBW Channel 8 have made a live presentation of Patria as the new restaurant in Old Town Salinas, and even the local magazines Monterey County Weekly and the Monterey Herald have made special reports about Patria as one of the top and most enlightening restaurants in Salinas that visitors must dine at.

Patria, 228 Main Street, Salinas, CA, USA, +1 831 424 5555

Pajaro Street Grill

Pajaro Street Grill is an active contributor to the community. Not only does it serve succulent comfort food to the masses, but also cooperates with other organizations such as the Salinas Police, the firefighters, the local market, local belly dancers and other individuals in order to coordinate community-wide events such as non-profit fundraisers, business services and appreciation nights. To further assist and intermingle with the community, the restaurant adjusts its operations and menu to provide food at lower prices, since many customers have not been able to afford comfort food due to the recession. It does however, continue to offer some of its premium items such as wild boar, buffalo and elk.

Pajaro Street Grill, 435 Pajaro Street, Salinas, CA, USA, +1 831 783 1235

Steinbeck House

Home and childhood location of the famous Nobel Prize writer John Steinbeck, Steinbeck House currently serves the community both as a historic, preserved space for imminent fans and readers of the author and a Queen Anne style Victorian restaurant that offers delicious, high-class food only during lunch hours. The house remains well-maintained thanks to The Valley Guild of eight women who recently purchased and renovated the house. With their overlapping interests in cooking, they opened a restaurant inside the house in order to display Salinas Valley produce. Due to its categorization as part of the National Register of Historic Place and its reputation to serve small but delicious meals, celebrities across America including Oprah Winfrey have visited the Steinbeck House for dinner.

Steinbeck House, 132 Central Avenue, Salinas, CA, USA, +1 831 424 2735

By Angela Lee

Angela Lee is a lover of travel, food and culture. She loves learning about different cultures and their customs but even more so about their food. She enjoys trying (and tasting) new things and is always seeking for a chance of adventure!