In January, the Golden State celebrates its culinary bounty during California Restaurant Month. Participating regions and cities across the state put their own spin on the celebration, including everything from a Cheeseburger Week to discounted three-course meals and cocktail contests.
1. Enjoy incredible food on the cheap
Discounts vary based on location, but you’re pretty much guaranteed to find high-quality fare at a lower price point throughout the state. SLO County celebrates the entire month with $30–$40 three-course prix fixe menus and, nearby on the Central Coast, both Santa Maria Valley and Santa Ynez Valley are offering $20.18 prix-fixe meals (January 14–20 and 21–27, respectively). California’s largest cities all feature two-course lunches and three-course dinners at discounted rates: Scroll through the dozens of restaurant options in San Diego (January 21–28), Los Angeles (January 12–26), and San Francisco (January 22–31).
2. Drink for less, too
Many regions’ California Restaurant Month celebrations take advantage of the local grapes and brews—like Mendocino, with its 19th Annual Crab, Wine & Beer Festival that features winemaker dinner and wine and crab pairings along with cook-offs and crab boils. Oxnard’s Dine, Wine, and Beer Week incorporates drink deals (January 19–28), and Sonoma County offers deals on wine tasting and meal pairings for Sonoma Valley Delicious! throughout the entire month of January.
3. Take the Cheeseburger Challenge
During its Cheeseburger Week (January 7–15), Pasadena honors Lionel Sternberger, who was reportedly the first person to add cheese to a burger in 1924. Each of the participating restaurants—40 and counting—feature signature or specialty burgers, and eaters are asked to vote for their favorite in the Cheeseburger Challenge. Insider tip: Try last year’s winning burger at Dog Haus Biergarten.
4. Spot a celebrity chef
Food TV geeks, here’s even more of an incentive to track down your favorite star chef’s eatery. You’ll find Chef/Owner Charleen Caabay, past winner of the Food Network’s Chopped, at her restaurant Craft & Spoon during Oakland Restaurant Week (January 11–21). Top Chef contestant and Cut Throat Kitchen winner Chef Michael Midgley showcases his kitchen skills at Midgley’s Public House in Stockton, where your multi-course meals are discounted during the city’s nine-day Restaurant Week (January 19–28). In Orange County, former Top Chef contestant Chef Brian Huskey serves up poke and lobster at Tackle Box for the 14-day Newport Beach Restaurant Week (January 15–28).
5. Sample limited edition menu items
Many restaurants have created only-in-January dishes for the celebratory month. In Temecula, it’s all about flatbreads—“Temeculafied” specialty flatbreads will use local farm-fresh ingredients that also pair well with the region’s wine varietals. If you’re a pomegranate lover, head to Santa Monica from January 8–14. Each participating restaurant will feature a healthy, custom dish that stars the ruby red fruit. For the first-ever Comfort Food Restaurant Week (January 19–28), more than 20 Concord restaurants created a special savory dish.
6. Eat for a cause
Feel good about your dining dollars: Some communities are using California Restaurant Month as an opportunity to give back. If you eat during Dine Out Escondido! (January 28–February 3), participating restaurants will donate $1 to the Food 4 Kids Backpack Program for every special they sell. In Sacramento, $1 from each Dine Downtown meal will be donated to social services and food literacy programs in the Sacramento community.
7. Try more than one Michelin-rated restaurant
You can cross multiple restaurants off your bucket list at more wallet-friendly price points—especially in Napa Valley. At the Michelin-starred Solbar at the Solage Calistoga Resort, you can enjoy a multi-course dinner for $46 on the fireside outdoor terrace during Calistoga Restaurant Week (January 21–28); for a $20 lunch at an 11-time Michelin-starred restaurant, head to the prestigious Auberge du Soleil (special offered Monday–Friday).
8. Savor super local, farm-to-table dishes
You’ll find locavore dishes in whatever California city you visit. But in Santa Ynez Valley, two featured restaurants actually source food from their own farms. To create its “refined ranch cuisine,” The Bear and Star raises its own Wagyu cattle and grows heirloom fruits and vegetables on its winery property, Fess Parker. On the menu at Los Olivos Wine Merchant Café, owners note which vegetables were grown on the restaurant’s organic farm, one mile away.
9. Soak up awesome ocean views
Is it just us, or does seafood taste even better when you’re staring at the ocean? Along the coast, ocean-view restaurants are offering Restaurant Month specials on fresh fish dishes, including a few of our favorites: SeaLevel in Redondo Beach, Coasterra and The Marine Room in San Diego, and Waterman’s Harbor in Dana Point.
10. One word: garlic
Garlic fans, rejoice: Even if you can’t make the annual Gilroy Garlic Festival in July, you can get a (literal) taste of the area’s garlic-laced dishes during Gilroy Restaurant Week (January 14–28). Local restaurants have developed unique dishes featuring the famous pungent herb—including garlic ice cream at Fifth Street Coffee—to serve diners during the event. Insider tip: Pick up a “Taste of Garlic” ticket at the Gilroy Welcome Center. If you taste five dishes, you’ll be entered to win a $500 gift card.
11. Get out of your culinary comfort zone
Fulfill your New Year’s resolution of trying new things by tasting a range of ethnic cuisine options throughout the state. Try the Turkish-Mediterranean dishes at Asena in Alameda, where Turkey-born owners Muhittin Arpaci and Mustafa Yildirim make handmade pasta and bread daily, or head to Vacaville, where Head Chef Andy Poosman puts a modern spin on his grandmother’s Thai recipes at Rice Barn Thai Eatery. You can sample from more than a dozen different cuisines at Taste of Alahambra (January 20–26). And if you’ve got a hankering for pho, Garden Grove’s Little Saigon is considered the Vietnamese heart of Orange County, just a few miles from Disneyland Resort.