The Vibe: Nepenthe is the legendary Big Sur dining spot with a vast view, family-owned since 1949. There’s a large outdoor patio in front, a smaller patio in back that faces the ocean (through many tall trees), and indoor seating with tall wooden beams above, a semi-circular bar to the right, and an old fireplace to the left. It’s a neat little place that exemplifies the Big Sur energy, homey and pioneering and funky and cool.
What most people don’t know is that Nepenthe’s got an incredible wine list, so it’s a great place to go for a salad or burger or sandwich paired with a really top-flight bottle of wine. You’re on vacation; why not?
The DIsh: “The Famous Ambrosiaburger” (with Cheddar Cheese)
Despite the fact that Nepenthe undercooks their burgers on purpose—and you may be too hungry to care to send it back—the flavor and juiciness of this burger makes it really a delight. If you visit, be kind and mindful and remind your waiter you really do want it medium or medium-well instead of waiting for it coming back a bit bloody, no matter what level of grill time you request. The meat’s great and it comes on a great bun with great sauce (the ambrosia, which is like a home-style thousand island dressing). But there’s something more: a charcoal or dirty grill flavor to the burger that reminds you of being a kid, having a home-cooked burger, that makes their burger really flavorful and enjoyable. The immense, relaxing, and romantic environment probably have an affect on the senses as well, turning a hungry memory into something larger than it should be. But good meals are like that.
The beef is actually chopped steak, and the slightly sweet French roll is fantastic, with gooey cheddar pulling it all together. It’s one of the best burgers I ate in 2008.
The homemade slaw was somewhat bland and disappointing, so I recommend you opt for another side selection. The service can be slow, but if you’re down in Big Sur, you should start slowing down, too. Be sure to review the wine list! You’ll be as gaga as Wine Spectator was over it.
The Grade: Excellent / Exceptional (4 out of 5)
The Damage: $13.50 (yikes…oh yeah, chopped steak), plus $1.50 for cheese (a must)
The Skinny: Nepenthe Restaurant
Highway 1, Big Sur CA 94920
Phone: (831) 667-2345
Serving lunch and dinner, 11:30 am to 10:00 pm daily