For New Year's, the Down-Low Diner vowed that she would follow a healthy eating plan throughout 2012. Goodbye, glorious globs of deep-fried deliciousness! Au revoir, amazing high-fat-and-sugar milkshakes! 2012's menu would include just three things: salads, salads and more salads.
Alas, the Down-Low Diner cannot live by salad alone. Visions of guacamole danced in my head, leading in to wild fantasies of crisp tacos loaded with cheesy goodness and beans refried to within an inch of their little starchy lives. Where could I go to appease my tastebuds and stomach while eating food that was health-conscious enough to allay my conscience?
My tastebuds and conscience negotiated and came to an agreement: Peppers MexiCali Cafe! My usual dining pals, who had abandoned me to solo salad soirees, decided this sounded delicious enough to come along for the ride.
The bar at Peppers is almost always packed, and not just because tables are in such high demand. It's one of the few venues in Pacific Grove with late-night hours – the kitchen is open until 10pm on weekends – and a full bar. Peppers has a deep bench of tequila-based offerings, from taste-bud-stimulating tequila flights to mmmmm-worthy margaritas. The bar also features local, domestic and Mexican cerveza, as well as both Monterey County and national vino options.
As soon as we were seated, we scooped up delicious fresh-made guacamole with crisp, perfectly salted tortilla chips while we perused the menu. Peppers takes traditional Mexican food and gives it a uniquely Monterey spin (mushroom and artichoke enchiladas, anyone?). A page full of unique specials gives plenty to chose from. All dishes are cooked with healthy rice oil, and the menu is loaded up with fresh seafood dishes. Vegetarians, don't worry, you're solidly covered, too.
Despite the throngs of diners filling the restaurant, our delicious meals came quickly.
I stuck to the healthy side of life with vegetarian fajitas. Under a tasty layer of melting cheese, a delicious sauté of onions, jicama, peppers, tomatoes and olives packed a salty, delicious punch. Wrapped up in a delicious flour tortilla with vegetarian black beans and some tasty fresh guacamole (source of those healthy fats!), this had enough crunch to keep my conscience happy, enough delicious richness to satisfy my soul, and enough food for leftovers.
My BNF (Best Noshing Friend), also on a healthy dining kick, opted for the Chicken La Paz. The BNF said every bite popped with fresh flavors, raved over the avocado salsa and pronounced it "quite tasty." I wish I could tell you for myself, dear reader, but every time I tried to steal a bite, my normally generous BNF warded me off with his fork, saying, "MINE!"
Our dining companions, who had not made the same New Year's vows that we had, ordered off the decadent side of the menu.
One of our dining pals fueled up after a long, tough day of desk-sitting with a chicken taco and beef enchilada. This meal dripped with deliciousness. The spicy red sauce of the enchilada danced a torrid tango with the rich cheese, while the crisp taco shell, lettuce and onions were perfect backup dancers for the delectably spiced chicken.
When my friend's cheese enchilada rolled out of the kitchen, it was all I could do not to swap plates. How could anyone resist that delectable red sauce, those decadent refried beans? It was enough to make a girl swoon. "Cheesy, gooey deliciousness!" she declared as she dug in. I stuck to my fajitas, but it doesn't mean I didn't admire the sexy dish across the table (hey, when it comes to diets it's not cheating if you're just looking!) My dear friend was understanding, and tried to muffle the many, many, many "yum" sounds she made as she cleared her plate so thoroughly it would make even the strictest mom proud.
We'd been so good during our meal! How could we resist dessert?
We didn't think we'd have any room, but this delightful, delicious, decadent flan somehow managed to fit into whatever teeny space was left in our stomachs. The caramel sauce was sweet, but with a smoky complexity. No mealy custard here - it was perfectly creamy and firm, rich enough to smother any guilt I might have about indulging in such a silky dessert.
Peppers MexiCali Cafe
170 Forest Avenue
Pacific Grove, California 93950