The artichoke. Looks menacing, tastes mouthwatering…if you know what to do with it. While a freshly steamed artichoke with a heaping side of drawn butter is a treat in and of itself, the vegetable almost seems to get tastier the more creative you are with it. Which is why we’re so excited the artichoke is the crop of the month for February, and will be at its peak through the next few months. Frankly, we’re excited about any and all opportunities to get down in there, pull at those leaves and slice away at the hearts. Yep, menacing and mouthwatering.

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The truth is, if you’re looking for a great artichoke dish, you’re in the right place. “Virtually 100 percent of all artichokes grown in the U.S. come from California,” according to the California Artichoke Advisory Board, and chefs love getting creative with what is actually the bud of the thistle flower. If that doesn’t sound terribly appetizing, these artichoke dishes from great restaurants up and down the coast definitely will.

Locanda
San Francisco

Voted one of the best Italian restaurants in San Francisco, Locanda has a menu filled with luscious pastas and grilled specials. But, as a starter, or shared plate, you can’t beat the antipasti of shaved artichokes with grilled ricotta, wild arugula, and avocado.

Duarte’s Tavern
Pescadero

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Visit this James Beard Award-winning restaurant and they’ll regale you with true stories about how they’ve had to order hundreds of artichokes from local farms twice a week because their own garden behind the restaurant couldn’t produce enough artichokes to satisfy diners coming in for the cream of artichoke soup.

Giant Artichoke Restaurant
Castroville

Castroville is called “The Artichoke Capitol of the World” and is home to both the annual Castroville Artichoke Festival and the California Artichoke Advisory Board, so it’s not surprising you’ll find several restaurants that play with artichokes in a variety of dishes, like Giant Artichoke Restaurant. Here, you’ll be rewarded with deep fried artichoke hearts or a giant steamed artichoke or artichoke nachos or a a number of other artichoke dishes. Don’t leave without taking a mandatory photo with the 20-foot-tall faux artichoke outside the restaurant.

The Choke Coach
Castroville

Castroville locals (and those who Google “best artichokes in Castro Valley”) also know to stop at this popular local food truck for an order of their famous French fried artichokes.

The Fish Hopper Seafood & Steaks
Monterey

Situated along Monterey’s Cannery Row, The Fish Hopper Seafood & Steaks attracts its share of tourists, but locals also come out for the artichoke ravioli. Among a menu heavy with surf & turf, this dish with spinach, mushrooms and asiago cheese cream sauce stands out as a tasty vegetarian option that makes great use of the local crop.

The Hitching Post II
Buellton

This BBQ joint was made famous by the movie Sideways and stays famous because of its food, not to mention the location that’s perfectly sited for post-wine-tasting dining. Order the grilled artichoke, the restaurant’s most popular appetizer, which they describe as, “steamed then grilled for a unique smoke flavor, seasoned with our own Magic Stuff and served with a spicy smoked tomato mayonnaise.”

Crossroads
Los Angeles

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This L.A. eatery is: In an ideal location at Melrose and Sweetzer; a favorite spot of L.A. diners; and completely vegan. Many come for the much-talked-about meat-free Impossible Burger, but don’t miss the artichoke oysters, a concoction of artichoke purée, crispy oyster mushroom, yellow tomato béarnaise, and kelp caviar, on the small plates menu.

Ivy at the Shore
Santa Monica

The only thing better than dining with a view of the ocean? Dining with a view of the ocean with a plate of cold poached artichoke. This favorite dish from the Ivy’s menu is served with fresh tomatoes, basil, and homemade croutons.

The Wild Artichoke
Yorba Linda

This Orange County restaurant has loaded its menu with artichoke dishes, including Wild Artichoke Napoleon, artichoke beignets, and chicken olivo e limone. But we’ll return again and again for the bagna cauda of shrimp and artichokes, a clay pot dish prepared tableside with shrimp, olive oil, minced anchovies, red chili flakes, garlic, herbs and slivered artichokes, that you sop up with pita bread.

Bottega Americano
San Diego

Artichokes for brunch? That’s how they do it in this acclaimed San Diego spot, mixed into the artichoke benedict with poached eggs, prosciutto, polenta, and basil hollandaise.