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 30 restaurants -- some old, some brand-new, all very delicious -- are proof that Santa Monica has something for everyone.
Organic, grass-fed meats for the conscious carnivore 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 $5 draft beer, $7 glasses of wine, and $8 mixologist-approved cocktails.
Gourmet Italian deli beloved for its substantial sandwiches 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.
Michelin-starred restaurant serving fancy French food This contemporary French spot does things the old-school way; after all, it boasts two Michelin stars, 10-course tasting menus, and the kind of service that includes folding your napkin every time you leave the table. Bring mom and dad here for the egg caviar and foie gras.
Late-night diner with a ‘60s vibe and massive menu 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 crisp, thin-crust artisanal pies made from Nathan’s 48-hour, whole-wheat dough and topped with seasonal Californian ingredients.
Tasty, quick, street-style tacos for cheap 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 To be fair, there aren’t enough oyster happy hours anywhere (a discussion for another day) -- but Herringbone’s, which runs daily from 4-7pm, is still exceptional. For just a buck each, load up on as many juicy, fresh-shucked West Coast oysters as you can handle, in addition to $6 wines, $5 beers, and more substantial fare like shrimp louie toast and three-cheese arancini balls.
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 Sassy Wahine includes wasabi mayo and sesame ponzu dressing.
Reservations-needed Asian fusion spot with al fresco seating 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 $15.
Contemporary Greek eatery for modern palates The name's a mouthful, which is fitting since the modern Hellenic food here is meant to be ordered en masse. There's no Greek mother to ensure you leave with a full stomach, but between the scallops saganaki, moussaka, and spanakopita, you'll do a fine job by yourself.
Experimental, beautifully plated French-inspired fare This four-month-old gem is the brainchild of two Parisians with a love of good food and sweet sneakers. The latter might seem irrelevant, but this duo’s passion for design is all over the food, from edible egg-white filigrees decorating your mashed potatoes to artfully arranged rows of pickled veggies. There’s an unmistakable French stamp on everything, but the menu culls influences from Japan (tempura escargot), the US (fatty foie gras-topped burger), and other countries. Every ingredient -- even dressings and mayo -- are made in-house, but the 55 various still and sparkling waters are imported from all over the world. And while the fancy H2O offerings are actually shockingly good, we’re guessing this spot will get more popular when its liquor license is approved.
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 last year and 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.
Elevated diner food with an emphasis on local produce 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.
Ojai transplant specializing in quality wagyu burgers 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.
Build-your-own poke bowls with inventive toppings and fresh fish 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.
Upscale hotel restaurant with seafood-heavy menu and ocean views 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.
Art deco-inspired spot offering tasty small plates and over 200 wines 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 grab-and-go sandwiches made with fresh bread from Milo & Olive (both belong to the Rustic Canyon restaurant group). Dinner offers heftier fare, like crispy chicken confit or sausage served with truffle aioli and pepper relish: the kind of stick-to-your-bones food that pairs well with a robust red or artisanal beer. On select Tuesdays through January, inventive burgers created by guest chefs (like Felix’s Evan Funke or Huckleberry Bakery & Cafe’s Erin Eastland) are also on the menu.
Intimate tasting menu restaurant in an unexpected location Helmed by a James Beard Award-winning chef, Dialogue is housed in a former food court 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 composite of caviar, white peanut butter, and charred scallions designed to look like a tree) or a made-ya-look-twice mash-up of pork belly, strawberry sambal, and trout roe.
Fast-casual salads, grain bowls, and kombucha on tap 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), the shiny patina of a still-newish restaurant, 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.
Traditional, popular pasta bar perfect for a quick bite 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 over the summer. 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 Mediterranean 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. Bungalow-bound day drinkers get solid brunch food, like lemon ricotta pancakes and corned beef hash, while the upbeat lunchtime crowd enjoys elevated burgers, salads, and pizzas. Dinner is a slightly more sophisticated affair, with the kitchen turning out seasonal, Mediterranean-slanting items like harissa-spiced fries, grilled halloumi, a puffed-up bread balloon, and a slow-cooked lamb pasta flavored with fennel, mint, and black garlic yogurt.
Lively Italian spot known for its cheese wheel pastas 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 Michael’s has been a Santa Monica pillar for over 30 years, but last year’s brilliant hire of chef Miles Thompson (who’s worked in the kitchens of Animal and Son of a Gun) has reinvigorated the place. While the sunken, leafy outdoor patio is still there, Thompson’s seasonally changing menu features interesting ingredients and inventive flavor combinations, like potatoes dusted with bonito flakes and furikake aioli, or hamachi collar accompanied by baba ganoush. 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. Look out for a new lounge menu, featuring bar snacks and wine specials, coming later this year.
Customizable fish sandwiches for the hungry lunch crowd If you live or work in Santa Monica, this build-your-own-fish-sandwich spot -- a recent addition to 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 sammies -- a staple on the East Coast -- 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.
Italian-leaning restaurant with 180-degree Pacific Ocean views 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).
Build-it-yourself Mediterranean menu with hearty portions 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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Tiffany Tse is a freelance contributor to Thrillist and is now waiting for that date to Cadet to materialize. See what she's up to on Twitter @twinksy.