Carmel-by-the-Sea is stuffed with so many options when it comes to dining venues. I often ask both visitors and locals alike what their favorite restaurant is in the small area and I kept getting the same response, Cantinetta Luca. I have been dying to see what the hype is all about so when my friend asked where we should go to lunch my answer was easy, Cantinetta Luca. Cantinetta Luca in Carmel-by-the-Sea, CA We maneuvered around quaint Carmel-by-the-Sea and found parking right outside of the eatery on Ocean and 7th. The outside definitely sets the tone as old school Italian meets modern Mediterranean. Interior of Cantinetta Luca in Carmel-by-the-Sea, CA Bar area at Cantinetta Luca As you enter the restaurant, the marble flooring, vintage Italian posters and rustic wood beam ceilings makes one feel as though you are in a small bistro somewhere in Italy. If you are seated in the front part of the restaurant, you can look through the big glass windows and enjoy the Carmel atmosphere with the passers constantly walking by. The tidy and casual restaurant also comes complete with an open-aired kitchen with its own wood oven. Wood-Oven at  Cantinetta Luca While waiting to be seated I took a look at some of the awards mounted on the walls. I was impressed to see that Cantinetta Luca was voted as the “Best Restaurant in Carmel “four years in a row by Monterey County Weekly; I figured I was in for a treat! Once we sat down we were greeted by our friendly waiter and handed the lunch menu. The lunch menu offered lighter fare compared to the dinner choices which was fine by me. I was having an inner battle between an Insalate or a Panini but the hazelnuts on the wild arugula salad had me sold. Warm bread and olive spread While we waited for our main courses the waiter brought out a warm loaf of Italian bread (breadsticks are also offered) accompanied by a green and Kalamata olive dip. The spongy carbs soaked up the olive oil for a winning burst of juicy deliciousness. Arugula Salad with beets at Cantinetta Luca Now, onto the main event! My mountain of fresh greens arrived stacked with a healthy amount chicken, aged goat cheese, roasted beets and hazelnuts, of course. The lovely presentation was almost too pretty to devour but I had no problem taking it down with the tasty pomegranate vinaigrette that I lightly dressed upon my salad. I was especially thrilled to see that the kitchen somehow knew about my obsession with hazelnuts, this dish was loaded with them! Margherita Pizza with fresh Parmesan cheese Freshly grated Parmesan My dining partner opted for the Margherita pizza, which I secretly wanted to order myself. The fragrant pizza had a light tomato spread, mozzarella cheese and shredded basil. The best part was the freshly grated Parmesan cheese that the waitress grated right in front of us.luckily I was able to snag a bite of his pizza. The wood oven, aka the secret weapon, cooked the thin crust to perfect crisp and the Parmesan cheese was the scrumptious clincher to the meal. Overall their pizza is phenomenal; the dough is crispy and flavorful with just the perfect balance of cheese and toppings. The restaurant’s executive chef even teaches a special pizza cooking class giving away some of his other secrets and tips. Salumeria Luca in Carmel-by-the-Sea, CA Salumeria Luca in Carmel-by-the-Sea, CA We both saved a bit of room for dessert at Cantinetta Luca’s sister property and neighbor Salumeria Luca. They are known for homemade gelato among their fresh pastas, Italian deli meats and artisan cheeses. Salumeria Luca in Carmel-by-the-Sea, CA The interior décor really makes you feel as though you stepped into a deli off of the streets of Rome. Meats hang from the ceiling and the fresh smell of toasted paninis almost made me forget what I was there for, gelato. Gelato at Salumeria Luca I ended up tasting not one, not two but three samples. I had a hard time deciding between banana, coconut and hazelnut. Since I had my fair share of hazelnuts at lunch I chose the banana gelato. The icy and fruity goodness was just what I needed to end my Italian feast. I will definitely be back to pick up items for a picnic on Carmel Beach. Cantinetta Luca is open for daily for dinner and Saturday and Sunday for lunch. For reservations call (831) 625-6500.