Everywhere You Need to Eat in Santa Monica Right Now
Santa Monica used to be the redheaded stepchild of the Los Angeles culinary scene -- sure, there were some good eats in the neighborhood, but restaurateurs focused their efforts on Downtown, Hollywood, and elsewhere, probably figuring our proximity to the beach was a decent enough deal. But no longer! Now we get fancy tasting menus, imported Bolognese pastas, and a sweet ocean breeze: these 36 restaurants -- some old, some brand-new, all very delicious -- are proof that Santa Monica has something for everyone.
Santa Monica’s historic, artsy Bergamot Station is one of the neighborhood’s most underrated areas, but that’s changing -- partially accelerated by the arrival of Jeremy Fox’s highly anticipated Birdie G’s. Named after both his daughter and grandma, it’s one of Fox’s most personal restaurants, so the menu is full of nostalgic American comfort food inspired by what he ate growing up. There’s a different blue-plate special for every day of the week, like Friday’s pot roast accompanied by fried buckwheat cakes; a decadent version of a beef-tongue dish that Fox’s grandmother Gladys used to make. Outside of the specials, you’ll find open-face Texas toasts (some with steak and uni tartare, others with chicken liver mousse), soul-warming matzo ball soup, and hangtown brei -- a take on a universal Jewish breakfast called matzo brei -- that combines soft, scrambled eggs, matzo, fried oysters, and pork belly. The menu is extensive and the portions are large, so bring a group to share... or just keep coming back on your own again and again.
Although Wilshire Restaurant was a beloved SM institution, its recent rebrand as Fia (with a pleasant, plant-filled patio strung with lights) is a much-needed and welcome addition to the neighborhood. Chef Brendan Collins, who oversaw Wilshire’s gastropub-esque burgers and salads and had stints at Melisse and Waterloo & City, now whips up a more global menu of Calabrian chili tuna on crisp risotto, lobster capellini with squid ink pasta, shrimp tikka masala, and his $115 pièce de résistance: a seven-day beef shank that’s cured, confited in tallow, and glazed with colatura (an aged anchovy sauce) before it’s served with pickled cucumbers, yogurt, and Italian piadina flatbread. On the drinks front, you’re in good hands too; Vincenzo Marianella, who oversaw another SM treasure (the now-closed downtown bar Copa d’Oro), has whipped up an intoxicating beverage program, mixing gin with chamomile-ginger syrup and bourbon with peach bitters and maple-cardamom flavors.
This space on Santa Monica Blvd. has seen frequent turnover through the years, but the neighborhood’s excitedly endorsed this project from co-owners Jeffrey Merrihue and Barbara Pollastrini (who’s also the executive chef). On the deli side, you’ll find sandwiches that -- dare we say it? -- rival nearby Bay Cities, including a talked-about OMG sandwich packed with high-quality prosciutto, salami, capocollo, mortadella, porchetta, artichokes, and the works inside a crispy, airy, homemade ciabatta. Over on the wine bar side, Rome-born Pollastrini’s skills shine through in a tomato bread soup served with fresh pesto, brown butter-drenched gnudi dumplings swelling with ricotta, and her signature pasta dish: a seafood trio of live uni, live crab, and caviar sourced from Santa Barbara. And since it’s a wine bar, there are tons of wine options from both California and Italy -- meant to be enjoyed at a cozy, communal table that seats up to 16 people.
Despite the promise of ocean views, Santa Monica doesn’t have very many outstanding rooftop bars. Thankfully, Proper Hotel recently opened the lushly landscaped, 7,700-square-foot Calabra, which is named for a road on the Balearic island of Mallorca and, accordingly, serves up a Mediterranean-leaning menu just seven blocks from the beach. Homemade laffa -- an Israeli flatbread -- is delivered piping hot off the grill and paired with olive-dusted creamy labneh and barrel-aged feta; beets and walnuts are pureed and served with paper-thin slices of radish; and tender bay scallops are fashioned into ceviche with pickled onion and tomatillo. Afterward, settle into one of the inviting nooks or cabanas around the pool for a Sandia Punch -- a refreshing, sunset-colored glass of Angelisco Blanco tequila, Domingo mezcal, and Aperol watermelon thrown together with fennel and cracked pepper.
This classic American restaurant, which the H.Wood Group quietly opened earlier this year, does its best not to channel Santa Monica’s breezy, sunny, beachy vibe -- making its dark, antique-y, supper-club ambiance (think black-and-white photographs on the wall, white tablecloths, shiny leather booths) a welcome departure. The dimly lit space is the perfect backdrop for a menu of rich, heavy starters like asparagus with smoked paprika vinaigrette and crab cakes crowned with crunchy sweet potato crisps; perfectly executed, 30-day, dry-aged steaks; and timeless sides, like creamed spinach and twice-baked potatoes.
Because of its proximity to the beach (the Pacific’s basically right across the street), this Japanese spot attracts its fair share of tourists in the summer -- but don’t let that deter you! While certainly not a purist’s sushi restaurant, Sushi Roku openly embraces its non-traditional approach with fatty, melt-in-your-mouth wagyu on crispy rice; warm lobster rolls baked with miso hollandaise; salmon grilled and served with wasabi yuzu creme fraiche; and jumbo shrimp wrapped in sweet, sticky bacon. Then there’s the sushi and sashimi -- a broad, appetizing, fresh selection of the usual suspects (succulent uni, toro, eel) and some great surprises (monkfish liver, sweet shrimp, and fluke) that you shouldn’t leave without ordering.
If you’ve ever driven by Second St. on a Saturday evening, the line of tanned, toned, twenty-somethings milling around on the sidewalk are likely trying to get into Élephante, one of the neighborhood’s buzziest rooftop lounges. Pro tip: The easiest way to get past the doorman on a weekend is to make a reservation for dinner -- which, to the credit of restaurateur Nick Mathers, Culinary Director Thomas Lim, and Chef Phil Rubino, is actually great. Not just great-for-a-bar, but great-great. Simple, light, wood-fired pizzas are the stars of the menu (get the gloriously cheesy cacio e pepe or honey-drizzled soppressata, a delicious vessel for salty cured pork and tomato), and taste even better washed down with the bar’s Aperol spritzes and negronis.
Downtown Santa Monica isn’t exactly lacking in Italian options, which is why we like Massilia’s menu. Yes, there’s meaty pappardelle Bolognese and chicken Milanese, but there’s also fluffy couscous with merguez sausage and lamb, fat Spanish meatballs in spicy tomato sauce you’ll want to sop up with grilled sourdough, and a lamb shank braised for eight hours until its soft, marinated meat basically collapses off the bone. The leafy outdoor patio, where you can sip on peach sangrias and Campari spritzes, is designed to echo Europe’s alfresco dining vibes. If you’re around from 3-6:30pm, Massilia’s daily happy hour is your best bet, where not-your-average tapas (like chickpea chips with pea hummus and an out-of-this-world flatbread made with nutty, earthy Comté cheese) are only $3 with a drink.
SocialEats is a newish food hall located within a food hall. Stay with us here: It’s part of Third Street Promenade’s The Gallery, which is itself a food hall that includes spots like the Voltaggio Brothers’ STRFSH and a great taco joint called Azule Taqueria. But SocialEats is its own complex of exciting culinary concepts -- including the first West Coast location of David Chang’s Fuku by Momofuku (a tribute to fried chicken), Supertoro (build-your-own bentos!), Adelaide (an Aussie-inspired coffee/cookie bar that turns into a wine bar come nightfall), Street Noods (exactly what it sounds like), Cada Vez (a Spanish tapas and pintxos counter), and Petit Harvest (a salad/sammies spot). It’s a lot to take in -- but it’s also perfect if you’re not sure what you’re in the mood for, and you need a slew of reliably delicious options.
Where Copa d’Oro was dark and shadowy, Lanea -- which opened in the space of the aforementioned cocktail haunt -- is bright and beachy. And where the long-standing bar was known for its role in many a Westsider’s fuzzy, alcohol-fueled bender, this new restaurant is famous for its tacos by Barba Kush, the East LA food truck sensation (but don’t worry, there’s also a massive list of tequilas and mezcals here, as well as expertly crafted craft cocktail menu). Owner Petra Zavaleta has perfected a unique style of barbacoa -- made from lamb that’s been wrapped in charred agave leaves, roasted underground in a pit for 36 hours, and piled onto a corn tortilla with guacamole, salsas rojas and verdes, and pico de gallo. The even better news is, you no longer need to head east of the 405 to enjoy one. On weekends, brunch tacos filled with scrambled eggs and spicy chorizo (or scrambled eggs and sausage… the list goes on) are available too.
Shutters on the Beach is basically every celebrity’s favorite undercover hideaway in Santa Monica -- but the best-kept secret of all is that this cottage-style, boutique hotel also has some excellent dining options for locals. Situated as close to the sand as humanly possible, the laid-back and elegant Coast has different special every night: burgers (including a mouthwatering wagyu option) and beers on Mondays, ceviche on Wednesdays, and tacos on Thursdays. For pre- or post-dinner drinks, the hotel lobby bar (dubbed the Living Room) is a great choice -- especially on MIXX Wednesdays from 6-9pm, where a master mixologist prepares stunning cocktails from a custom, themed drink menu that changes weekly.
West Hollywood has Animal, but the Westside has Belcampo, where you go to binge on meat-centric dishes like grilled beef heart, goat tartare, and tallow chips. It’s an ethical carnivore’s dream, too, since Belcampo prides itself on humane practices and high-quality, 100% organic cuts.
Craft cocktails and farm-to-table food in an elegant setting
Estate’s good-looking downstairs bar and lounge has SaMo’s best non-basic happy hour, which takes place seven days a week from 5-7pm. While other places are content to ply us with greasy sliders, fried mozzarella sticks, and spinach artichoke dips, Estate supplies an eclectic selection of crisp, panko-breaded shrimp, filet mignon skewers, and grilled salmon salad. And then there are the well-priced (and stiff) drinks -- like $6 draft beer, $8 glasses of wine, and $9 mixologist-approved cocktails.
It’s easy to forget that this OG Italian deli makes over 20 different kinds of sandwiches, because most people only talk about its famed Godmother -- and we can’t blame ‘em. That salty, satisfying stack of Genoa salami, mortadella, capicola, ham, and prosciutto tucked into a chewy Italian sub is hard to beat, and well worth the trek west.
Many an inebriated Westsider has stumbled through the doors of Swingers, which stays open until 3am Thursday through Saturday. This ‘60s-style diner serves alcohol, too, but it’s better-known for classic late-night fare to help sop up all those tequila shots.
Warm, welcoming pizzeria/bakery with wood-burning ovens
Milo & Olive serves as the bread-making epicenter for Josh Loeb and Zoe Nathan’s Rustic Canyon group of standout SM restaurants -- which include Rustic Canyon, Huckleberry Cafe, Cassia, Esters, and more. The bread baked in its wood-burning ovens may sneak onto other menus, but the crust is the focal point here at this perpetually busy pizzeria. And if you judge your pizza by its crust (who doesn’t?), you’ll appreciate M&O’s crispy, thin-crust artisan pies made from Nathan’s 48-hour dough, and topped with seasonal Californian ingredients. And if you don’t feel like sitting down to a formal dinner, just mosey on over to little sister Milo SRO: a standing-room-only pizza parlor that’s 2.5 miles away serving New York-style 18-inchers.
If you’re looking for an authentic taqueria on the Westside, this cheap, no-frills joint is it. Go for the street-style tacos -- made with corn tortillas, fresh toppings, and salsa that’s legitimately spicy -- and massive burritos.
Seafood-focused menu in a stunning atmosphere
Every restaurant should take a cue from Herringbone’s oyster happy hour -- which has run daily from 4-7pm for a very long time. For just a buck each, load up on as many juicy, fresh-shucked West Coast or East Coast oysters as you can handle, dipping them into your choice of kimchee mignonette, apple cider, or spicy cocktail sauce. And if you’re in the mood for more substantial fare, take advantage of the other specials, like crab cakes smeared in hot aioli or tasty tuna poke tossed with toasted macadamia nuts.
Charming, Hawaiian-inspired burger joint with craft beers and wines
Pono has perfected the art of the creative burger. After locking down the base -- patties made from organic, grass-fed, locally sourced beef and cooked over an oak-fire grill -- chef Makani focused on dressing each one up with Hawaiian-fusion-inspired extras. The popular Kuawa Crunch oozes spicy guava rum sauce, the Paniolo (which is also stacked with onion rings and smoked cheddar) is decked out with Kona coffee bourbon BBQ sauce, and the Papale (a seasonal special) comes outfitted with beer-battered, queso fresco-stuffed jalapenos.
This Southeast Asian fusion spot -- which has been lauded a dozen times over by critics from all over the country -- has much more to offer than seafood, but Angelenos know that Cassia boasts the city’s most stunning seafood tower. The other chilled seafood options are equally delectable, like Vietnamese prawns, raw scallops in chili oil, and snow crab claws accompanied by grilled country bread. As for the mains, you can’t go wrong with either a delicate black cod bathed in clear, light broth or the perfectly seasoned whole grilled sea bass. Pro tip: If the weather’s nice, dine alfresco; with exposed lights strung up overhead and plenty of heat lamps, the patio’s a looker.
Family-owned restaurant with consistently good eats
From its owner (a third-generation SM resident) to the surf-inspired décor and hearty breakfast dishes featuring fresh farmers market ingredients, this Ocean Park café is a neighborhood institution. Even better, the prices are budget-friendly with all entrees under $17.
Perpetually buzzy, New American date night favorite
When Tar & Roses took an extended hiatus in 2015 due to a kitchen fire, the neighborhood was -- quite literally -- starved for its phenomenal food (which, because of its kinda-New American, sorta-Asian-slash-Mediterranean-leaning feel, is sometimes hard to categorize). Luckily, the restaurant made a wildly successful comeback and quickly returned to becoming a date night favorite thanks to shareable small plates (including bacon-and-brown-sugar popped corn, melt-in-your-mouth oxtail dumplings, and Sriracha-and-honey-glazed pig tails) and close-quarters candlelit dining. If you want something heavier, the star entree -- a crunchy whole snapper fried to a delicate, golden crisp -- serves two... and then some.
Ingo’s does food that others have done before, but with more farm-to-table finesse (a lot of its produce is sourced from the Santa Monica Farmers Market). Brussels sprouts get an upgrade with tangy goat cheese sauce; juicy Jidori chicken is marinated in lemon, herbs, and roasted garlic; and the prime rib French dip boasts fatty, marbled beef just begging for a dunk in the flavorful au jus. Plus, there’s always a platter of complimentary French sea salt chocolate chip cookies by the door. And if you’re a fan of Misfit, you’ll love the similar vibe and solid eats at Ingo’s -- which is owned by the same people but doesn’t quite attract the same decibel level.
High-quality, 100% grass-fed wagyu beef makes all the difference at HiHo, a burger joint that uprooted its Ojai operation and relocated to Santa Monica earlier this year. The lean menu has only three burger options, but take our word for it and order the HiHo -- two tender, beefy patties nestled inside a squishy bun with sweet onion jam and melty cheese. It’s an uncomplicated but irresistibly tasty combination that goes well with crispy, hand-cut, perfectly salted fries and, if you still have room, a slice of made-from-scratch banana cream pie.
Dozens of poke places have sprung up around the Westside to service our seemingly never-ending obsession with raw, cubed fish over rice. But, if you judge your bowls by the freshness of its seafood, no one does it better than Sweetfin. This California chain also one-ups the rest by offering unique toppings, such as wasabi-toasted coconut flakes and blistered shishito peppers, and quality sauces like citrusy yuzu kosho, or a Sriracha ponzu that packs some heat.
Shutters on the Beach -- a hotel with a West Coast-meets-Nantucket vibe -- is a Santa Monica institution. Out-of-towners book rooms for its proximity to the water, and even locals come here for staycations, or to dine at 1 Pico, a restaurant that’s pretty much right on the beach and offers window tables with million-dollar sunset and ocean views. Naturally, the dinner menu’s heavy on seafood -- fresh-tasting kumamoto oysters, delicate fluke crudo dressed in olive oil and lime, beautifully seared scallops, and the like -- but there are a few pastas and decent steaks, too. On weekends, there’s also a lobster brunch: a $60-per-person affair that lets you OD on lobster-enhanced Benedicts, bucatinis, or BLTs.
Esters started off as a great wine bar that offered a few bites like gourmet nuts and charcuterie, but over time, its menu expanded to include killer “real” food. Weekend brunch means cornmeal waffles topped with Bavarian cream, or heirloom tomatoes and burrata, while lunch brings a selection of sandwiches made with fresh bread from Milo & Olive (both belong to the Rustic Canyon restaurant group). Dinner offers heftier fare, a highly addictive grilled cheese or sausage served with housemade pickles and beer mustard: the kind of stick-to-your-bones food that pairs well with a robust red or artisanal beer.
Intimate tasting menu restaurant in an unexpected location
Helmed by a James Beard Award-winning chef, Dialogue (which was just awarded a coveted Michelin star in the new Los Angeles guide) is secreted away in a food hall on Third Street Promenade -- a curious location for an 18-seat fine dining experience in LA. But foodies near and far will brave the tourist hordes for Dave Beran’s 18-to-22-course tasting menu, which changes seasonally and features farmers market produce, petals, leaves, and other natural elements, all arranged in an exquisite feast for the eyes. Dishes even come with names and stories, like “Springtime for Sean” (a previous menu dish that was a composite of caviar, white peanut butter, and charred scallions designed to look like a tree) or the wild mint salad (a current menu item soaked in leche de tigre, the citrusy, kicky marinade used to cure fish in Peruvian ceviche, and garnished with lilac). And while Dialogue delivers amazing wine pairings with all of this, the recent hire of Hansuk Cho, whose role is to create a non-alcoholic pairing menu, is ideal for those who want a break from the booze.
You can’t walk a few blocks on the Westside without stumbling on a make-your-own-salad bar, but bright, zippy Flower Child is a cut above the rest. It’s a full-service restaurant masquerading as a fast-casual joint, where soups are made in-house and avocado toast, grain bowls, and yes, plenty of wholesome salads, are all on the menu. But hearty portions and the use of interesting spices and sauces, like garam masala or red pepper miso vinaigrette, keep you surprisingly satisfied -- not starving -- hours later.
Spacious, stylish steakhouse for both locals and tourists
Unless your visitors are vegetarians, this sleek, massive chophouse on Ocean Avenue will properly impress. It’s got ocean views (a prerequisite for tourists), striking red leather booths and warm wood decor, and lots and lots of quality meat to live up to its name. The best is an order from the on-site aging room, where steaks are aged for at least 30 days, but sugar-cured pork ribs, racks of lamb, house-made terrines, a smattering of seafood, and typical steakhouse sides round out the rest of the vast menu.
Before Uovo came along, there was nothing quite like it in the area: a decently good, fast-casual pasta bar where you could enjoy a plate of traditional tonnarelli all’Arrabiata by yourself in under 30 minutes. Uovo rightly prides itself on its pasta, which gets made in Bologna using special eggs that aren’t available stateside and shipped overnight to be prepped in Uovo’s kitchen. If you’re dining alone and want something a little fancier (and more Italian) than Chipotle or Lemonade, this easy-in, easy-out spot is your best bet.
Classic Jewish deli eats including house-smoked fish and bagels
Since opening its beach-adjacent location last year, this Jewish deli quickly became a neighborhood favorite, so co-owners Chef Micah Wexler and Mike Kassar launched an expanded, exclusive-to-SM menu a couple years ago. In addition to being the only Wexler’s that serves matzo ball soup, this outpost now slings brunch-centric dishes, including kippered salmon on toast, an ultra-rich gooey French toast made with chocolate babka, and Cheddar-cheesy scrambled eggs.
Sophisticated neighborhood favorite with SoCal flavors
Santa Monica’s got its fair share of fancy-pants hotels, but classy FIG -- tucked inside The Fairmont -- is a consistent favorite even among locals. Under the purview of newish Executive Chef Jason Prendergast, Bungalow-bound day drinkers get solid brunch food, like light-as-air lemon ricotta pancakes and kimchi fried rice scattered with crisp shallots, while the upbeat lunchtime crowd enjoys elevated burgers, salads, and pizzas. Dinner is a slightly more sophisticated affair, with the kitchen turning out seasonal, locally sourced dishes -- such as corn agnolotti with sweet pine nuts and hearty rigatoni with chunks of Maine lobster -- inspired by Chef Prendergast’s childhood Sunday suppers with his Italian grandmothers.
This always-bustling eatery is famous for serving pastas tossed in giant cheese wheels, like butternut squash risotto in grana padano or a perfectly peppery cacio e pepe in pecorino romano. But you’d be remiss not to explore the rest of the menu from chef Piero Topputo, who grew up in a small town in Puglia and now whips up fried artichokes, branzino, and panzerotto Pugliese -- a mozzarella-stuffed fried pastry that’s a specialty from his region -- for the Montana Avenue crowd.
Santa Monica classic with an updated creative menu
Michelin-rated Michael’s has been a Santa Monica pillar for over 30 years, but the recent hire of new Executive Chef Brian Bornemann is about to reinvigorate the place. While the sunken, leafy outdoor patio is still there, Bornemann will launch a new menu in mid-September, featuring an array of raw and cooked sustainable seafood (highlights are fish and shellfish), creative combinations of ripe fruits and veggies at their peak of deliciousness (sourced from nearby Santa Monica Farmers Market, naturally), fresh pastas, and whole animal butchery. Plus, it helps that even though Michael’s is situated on the Promenade, it’s a ways away from the tourist scene -- which, over the course of the restaurant’s decades-long lifespan, has grown more scene-y than ever.
Customizable fish sandwiches for the hungry lunch crowd
If you live or work in Santa Monica, this build-your-own-fish-sandwich spot -- housed on the second floor of Third Street Promenade’s The Gallery food hall -- is a compelling option. The Maryland-born Voltaggio brothers know a little something about well-made fish sandwiches, so they’ve produced a tightly edited menu with room for personalization. Choose between freshly grilled swordfish or salmon, a few house-made seasonings and tasty smears (including yuzu kosho mayo and jerk rub), and a toasted potato roll or tostada.
Santa Monica has tourist traps, venues vying to appear trendy, and divey joints, but there aren’t many places here as quiet, elegant, and refined as Casa del Mar -- which, like the aforementioned Shutters, is super nice and super close to the ocean. The hotel’s best-kept secret has to be its European-inspired lounge Terrazza, where there are floor-to-ceiling windows with a view of the Pacific and SM Pier, scheduled live entertainment or cool electro beats on weekends, an ocean breeze, and a menu that includes barrel-aged cocktails and tons of sashimi and shareable plates (the Dungeness crab crostini on country bread and deep-fried artichokes are standouts).
Cava is yet another build-it-yourself concept in SM -- but it’s very well-executed… and may very well be one of the first of its kind to offer customized Mediterranean eats. Choose between bowls or pita sandwiches, spicy lamb meatballs or falafel, handcrafted dips and spreads like harissa or roasted red pepper hummus, saffron rice or black lentils... and the list goes on.
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