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As you’re traveling north on 101 to Salinas…
‘Jocko’s Steak House’ in Nipomo, just north of Santa Maria has great steaks, chops, BBQ. A meat eaters paradise.
There’s a great little Mom & Pop burger joint in Gonzales (15mi S of Salinas). It’s called ‘Burger Queen’ – it’s right off the main (5th street) exit. Excellent burgers + other stuff. Everyone I’ve ever told about the place stops every chance they get.
If you like liver & onions (with bacon) there’s a place in downtown Salinas called ‘The Pub’. Best liver & onions I’ve ever had. They also have other ‘big’ meat entrees – steaks, etc. – which I’m told are very good. But, I always have the liver & onions.
Surprisingly, the Monterey Peninsula Airport restaurant (on Hwy 68 between Salinas & Pacific Grove) has good food which is relatively inexpensive – at least for this area. Noted for their Sand Dabs.