On paper, a night out at Tarpy's Roadhouse sounds like a lousy idea. Set on a fast-moving, inland highway, between Salinas and Monterey, it's a good 15-minute drive from where you likely are staying on the seacoast. The logo for the place is goofy, as is much of the decor, despite its historic bones (a roadhouse of some sort or another has existed on this spot since 1917). Let's just say it: Tarpy's looks like it was conceived in the late 1980's—an unhappy big hair moment for restaurant design if there ever was one (the lighting alone ages patrons by a good 15 years).
But then you get to Tarpy's and the welcome—from your server, from the bartender, from the hostess—is so genuine, you get the first inkling that you've made the right choice. Second confirmation comes via the menu, which is filled with food combinations that sound, well, kinda perfect. Like crab cakes made from dungeness crabs and brussels sprouts cunningly wrapped in bacon. I'm pleased to say that execution of the food is spot on, too. Its harder to get a better starter than the kale chips, a very trendy dish, I know, but here they cost just $4, have the perfect amount of tang, and a creaminess to compliment the crunch, thanks to a dusting of parmesan. Also excellent: the deviled eggs (made with raw tuna, Nduja sausage and whipped egg) and the prime beef carpaccio with tiny potato souffles and a truffle aioli. Most of the main courses come out of the wood burning oven which infuses the Angus steaks and maple-brined pork chops (to name just two) with a luscious smokiness. There's also a huge selection of offerings for vegetarians, including such winners as roasted artichoke fricasse and a hearty quinoa and baby arugula salad.
Bottom line: make the drive. You won't regret it.