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Going on a foodie tour of carmel, monterey, and san francisco

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My husband and I are spending two days in carmel and three in san fran, with a day trip to monterey. we're grad students (read: cannot afford expensive meals) but want the true flavor of the area - taco stands, amazing dim sum, cheap seafood if we can find it.
where would you recommend?
one day will be spent exploring carmel. we'd like lunch and dinner options.
the next day we're heading to big sur - any places to stop along the way?
on our way to san fran, we'll go to monterey and the aquarium - any good places to try in monterey for dinner or lunch?
finally, in san fran, we're very psyched to go to chinatown. we love dim sum - carts or menu - and want to try the truest, best dim sum places in the area. we are also going to gilroy and the garlic capital (forget the name - castroville?) - so if there are any good garlicky stop-offs, please tell me!
finally, we're taking our hosts out for a nice-ish dinner the last night of our stay (in san fran), so a good group spot in san fran would be nice.
thank you in advance!

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  1. Gilroy is the garlic capitol, Castroville is the artichoke capitol and Watsonville is known for its strawberries. There's some great produce at the road-side stands when in-season - be sure to stop if they're open.

    5 Replies
    1. re: millvillemurphs

      If you like Thai food and you like small, cute family-run establishments, you might try a place called Tawan's in the inner Richmond district of San Francisco. It might be my favorite restaurant in the city and it packs a lot of character for a very small price.

      They have an appetizer there called Tong Tung that I have never seen at another restaurant. It consists of potatoes, chicken, curry, and vegetables---all diced--and wrapped into a little dough sack, which is tied with a green onion, and deep fried.

      The restaurant only has six or so tables, but there isn't usually a wait, and parking out there is do-able, if you have a car.

      1. re: megmosa

        Thai House Express has a picture of thung thong (the wrapper's actually rice paper) on the menu page of their Web site, but I've never seen them on the menu or specials board there.

        1. re: megmosa

          megmosa (and anyone else who can comment) can you provide any more details on whey you love Tawan so much? I've been searching like a mad thing but can only find tantalizing, scattered references, not much specific. TIA.

          1. re: megmosa

            We have a Thai place down here in the central valley that calls them Gold Bags.

            1. re: PolarBear

              I believe they were made in my daughter's Thai cooking class as Garee Puffs.

        2. I've got some great tips for you, your budget, and your taste buds. Carmel, Monterey (where I live), and Big Sur are beautiful tourist traps so deals are hard to come by.
          Big Sur: you must try Nepenthe. It overlooks the Pacific on a cliff's edge and the $13.50 Ambrosia burger is to die for. Also, the Big Sur Inn is a chill roadside attraction with average and expensive food but right on the Big Sur River.
          Carmel: If you are lucky enough to be there Thursday-Sunday, from 1130 am - 1:30 pm AkaOni (on Mission St. between 5th and 6th) is a tiny, authentic, hole-in-the-wall Japanese restaurant with an amazing $10 bento nox lunch. They also have fresh, local ngiri/sashimi fish choices.
          Monterey: Not much cheap, authentic stuff here. Tuesday night is street market night and that's your best bet for good, cheap eats. Otherwise, the Monterey Fish House is the best bang for your buck. The menu is only a guide as they have 5-8 FRESH, LOCAL fish specials every night. You need a reservation, the line is out the door even on Monday nights. Gilroy = Garlic, Castroville = Artichokes: right off HWY. 1 is Pezzini Farmstand, they have great, fresh fruit/veg and the best deep fried artichoke this side of Rome.

          1 Reply
          1. re: LocalFreshOrganic

            I love Won Ju on Lighthouse for great Korean food - this place really is such a local secret. Also Bahn Thai in Seaside honestly rivals any Thai I've had anywhere. I agree with the above post - mostly tourist traps abound...also, there is a Chinese place with the cheesy name of Tommy Woks that has very good food in Carmel. Get take out and head to the beach! Nepenthe for sure...

          2. Just a quick note that Carmel and Monterey are discussed on the California board. Swankalicious, you should start a second thread there to get the best responses, and we hope everyone will wait and contribute their Carmel and Monterey tips for that thread, as they're off topic for the SF Bay board.

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