This is one of three Monterey Peninsula restaurants owned and operated by the same group of folks, but Rio Grill is unique in terms of location and food choices. Located just off Rio Road, the last intersection in Carmel proper on California highway 1, the most scenic highway in America according to some, the place is in a shopping center called The Crossroads Shopping Village.
This is a place where you'll often need a dictionary to understand some of the more exotic ingredients, but all are fresh and tasty with a hint of spiciness.
One new addition to the menu that we've enjoyed is the crispy pork shank with red pepper-mashed potatoes, chile verde and apple-jicama slaw. Those words I did not need to look up BTW. Here it is on my table before I devoured it. While it had the vertical-ness that chefs seem to work hard to get, it was easily tumbled to the horizontal for eating.
Happy hour features small plates, which are ample for sharing while consuming their top shelf adult beverages. The dining rooms are reminiscent of the Ponderosa television series interiors, but there are paper table cloths and crayons for budding and established artists to ply their trade.
If you are there for lunch, maybe you can try the smoked Tri-Tip with spinach, sliced tomato, crispy shallot rings and rosemary-chile aioli. For those not from the West Coast, Tri-Tip is a very underrated but excellent cut of beef. It is under $15 and quite good.
If you are heading south on 1 to majestic, wild Big Sur, even down to Hearst Castle, I would recommend that you try this place. To get there, make a left at the light at Rio Road and then take the second right into the Shopping Village. Rio Grill is just inside the Crossroads on the left, has ample parking and a great staff.
I rated this place fairly high for Zagat last year- and I am not that generous with my scores (or popular at some places that know that I have rated for them either).