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Duarte's Tavern (Pescadero) Report

Thanks all, for the tips on Duarte's.

We ended up there for dinner on Saturday. Following such a nice day, it was a mistake to arrive as late as we did - 8pm, seated at 8:30 - because by then, they were out of almost everything we wanted: steamed artichoke, both salmon preparations, olallieberry pie, blueberry pie, strawberry-rhubarb pie, strawberry shortcake - the waitress mentioned that they had been slammed all day.

We ordered: artichoke/green chile soup combo; baked oysters with butter and garlic; mussels in white wine; and the only available local fish on the menu, the sablefish. At the outset, I was disappointed: I would have liked to see more local fish and more local vegetable offerings.

Highlights were absolutely the soup - great intensity of flavor - and the sourdough bread. Oysters were well-prepared and very fresh, but didn't wow me; the mussels were gargantuan yet low on flavor - I ended up sourcing out only the smallest ones.

The sablefish itself was excellent: pan-fried perfectly with classic tartar sauce and lemon, but it's accompaniments were a let-down: french fries redeemed only by the perfect aioli we requested for dipping, and strangely soggy out-of-season zucchini. I think they may have ran out of other vegetables, because we saw a better mix at other tables.

I'm sure if we had arrived earlier we would have had a more positive experience. I sense we missed out on the better dishes and recieved the ends of what was still available. I'd like to return when pickings aren't so slim.

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  1. Thanks for the update and tip about eating late in the day.

    For me, Duarte's has always been about the best option between Half Moon Bay and Santa Cruz ... not a bad thing. The charming, funky ambiance is a big plus too.

    I like the ollieberry pie at FatApples in Berkely/El Cerrito better, but Duarte's isn't bad.

    Mmm ... sablefish.

    IMO when Duartes is made into a destination place, it does it a disserve. If you go into it expecting a solid meal there is no disappointment.

    It is a destination if you happen to be on Route1 one in that area.

    1. Best crab melt!

      1. Yeah, there's not much night life there on the coast, so all the visitors go for dinner as soon as the sun starts to go down and/or the beaches get too cold or windy, which means most people have been and gone by 8 p.m.

        1. Thanks for the update mbaldauf. What a shame you didn't even get a slice of pie! Thanks for the tip about arriving too late in the day. Seems like pickings were mightly slim.

          1. I had heard so much from some locals about the food especially the cioppino that I made a special trip. What a HUGE disappointment. First, we passed on the cioppino since it was $30!!! for what looked like a fairly modest dish with no apparent sides! Why the price? The place is a non-descript dump that hasn't had a dime spent on it in 30 years, completely lacking in charm or character. So why the price for what would be a REAL restaurant? Instead we got 1 crab melt and one completely tasteless calamari sandwich. Only the calimari sandwich came with fries. Both came with a couple of slices of pickle.....would a whole pickle have been that much? Service was less than Denny's, no music no nothing to justify the $40 that we paid for the above plus 2 house wines. Go to Half Moon Bay, Sam's and get a real cioppino, with sides in a real restaurant for about the same price! Or in SoCal Dizz's in Laguna Beach is top notch as well.

            2 Replies
            1. re: Laguna_b

              Cioppino doesn't get served with sides at most places. It is a rich dish. The standard price for cioppino runs between $20 - $30 average.I've seen one or two places for less. I have not had the cioppino at Duarte's, but it would depend on the quality and availability of the seafood in terms of price.

              People don't go to Duarte's for ambiance. While I don't think the place deserves raves, I would be highly disappointed if they redecorated. The unchanging character of this place is part of its charm. I believe the pie counter is new ... as of about a decade ago.

              It is primarily a place for locals who want to drop by a restaurant for a meal and a brew and don't want to put on their Sunday best and drink in the scene.

              A destination, no. A nice stop when traveling down the coast, yes.

              With Duarte's there are certain dishes people know to order such as the soup with half chile and half artichoke. Lot's of people like the ollieberry pie.

              That being said, I'm curious about Sam's. What do you like there besides the cioppino. It hasn't got much love on this board. There have been complaints primarily for the bad service and food that is way too expensive for what it is. There's a cost to ambiance, I guess.

              So it would be interesting to hear from a fan of the place. I'm especially wondering about that cioppino. I've never been served sides with this dish. Can you tell me more about the cioppino itself and what were the sides.

              1. re: rworange

                Well, I am used to getting pasta and a lot of crusty sourdough bread with my cioppino. But that is secondary. The food we DID GET was decidedly poor and expensive, which is why I was asking what I was paying for. I have eaten in some relatively dumpy places with great food and low prices. Duarte had high price (especially for what we got), lino floor (not exactly original stage coach), negligible service AND a price to match a place WITH ambiance.

                You want reasonable prices like I do AND great food, try Indigo Moon Cafe in Cambria.

                As for Sam's, I went there specifically for the cioppino, been there once, loved it. The prices were very reasonable, cioppino excellent, comparable value to Dizz's in Laguna Beach. I have not tried the rest of the menu. If I have to go that far out of my way, I suspect I will stick to the cioppino.

                BTW, I have been told about many great cioppinos that were not up to the level of Sam's or Dizz's, I try them all just in case.

                Actually I am making it at home tonight....what I wouldn't give for the Dizz's recipe book!

            2. They also make the BEST Bloody Mary anywhere!

              2 Replies
              1. re: roxie

                We went during Easter weekend for Lunch and my wife concurs with roxie that the Bloody Mary's are quite good. We had a nice meal and the pies looked fantastic (saw a couple of folks take out whole ones). There was a wait for the restaurant but we got a seat at the bar right away. The bar was pretty full but the bartender said they weren't slammed as it was only one to two deep. Slammed means three to six deep. Part of the charm of the place is the fact that it hasn't been updated in awhile. A rebuild would probably destroy this charm. If you are looking for some place which is very contemporarily built then don't bother going to Duarte's

                laguna_b, I'm wondering how you know that the ciopinno at Sam's is better if you passed on it at Duartes.

                1. re: skwid

                  Sam's is a few miles further to Half Moon Bay. People in Pescadero had told me Duarte's is famous for it so I wanted to give it a shot. Like I have said, I don't mind decor not being there....I just couldn't figure out why a greasy plate of food cost 2x what Denny's would charge.

                  Years ago a rep I was helping took me to a tiny town in Az. between Goodyear and PHX into a neighborhood to a converted private home serving home made Mexican food. No two plates were alike, incredibly cheap, but man was that wonderful food! So, I have no prejudice against simple ambiance, just bad food!

              2. If you live in the area, let me tell you the best date I've had with 3 different women! You need to check the local paper for the sunset time and pack some cheese, crackers, and some drink of choice...preferably some wine or champagne. Drive down or up the coast and arrive about 10-15 minutes before sunset. Set up a blanket on the bluffs across Highway 1 from the road that leads to Pescadaro. Break out the drink and edibles and start enjoying and watch her face when the sun sets. Pack up and then drive into Duartes for a great dinner.

                1 Reply
                1. re: ToddRH

                  After my last meal at Duarte's it is possible that could be reason you had that date with 3 different women and not the just the same one again and again and again.