Everywhere You Need to Eat in Santa Monica Right Now
From African-inspired vegan to an intimate eight-seat sushi parlor and more.
Although the events of last year forced several beloved Santa Monica institutions to close (RIP to Swingers and Pacific Dining Car), the city’s culinary scene is roaring back to life. New places are opening. Restaurants that were on pause are fully up and running again. There’s even a local-led initiative to make Main Street more pedestrian- and cyclist-friendly, inspired by the way restaurants adopted sidewalks and public spaces during the height of COVID-19. The idea is to preserve one of the few silver linings of the pandemic, creating an open plaza where the community can continue to enjoy alfresco dining and local merchants can benefit. After all, there’s no better place to dine outdoors than sunny Santa Monica. The fact that the neighborhood also happens to boast some of LA’s best dining concepts is simply an added bonus—with many restaurants hyper focused on seasonality and highlighting local farmers market bounty. Whether you’re in the mood for French, Italian, Japanese, Indian, or Ethiopian-inspired fare, we’ve curated a list of 24 restaurants ready to welcome you back.
In LA, vegan food is often approached from a Eurocentric point of view, but Tezeta “Tete” Alemayehu’s new brick-and-mortar restaurant is shaking up the scene by introducing the Westside to African-inspired vegan fare. Born and raised in Ethiopia, Alemayehu is intimately familiar with plant-based eating; due to religious reasons, half of Ethiopia’s population abstains from animal products for about 200 days per year, so the chef and nutritionist learned how to leverage her native country’s vibrant spices and sauces to flavor her dishes. Based on her original recipes, Berbere is a refreshing take on veganism and a reflection of what Alemayehu cooks for her family at home. Featuring local farmers markets produce, the menu includes the mouthwatering sliders and tacos that made Alemayehu’s Smorgasburg pop-ups so popular, in addition to new dishes like rosemary root salad and clay plot garbanzo stew. While Berbere isn’t a traditional Ethiopian restaurant, Alemayehu’s heritage influences the menu at every turn; she prepares fresh injera flatbread daily, and spices like korerima, beso bela, and berbere (naturally!) take center stage. What else to expect? Fresh, healthy smoothies and juices, as well as made-from-scratch sauces and dressings (like a truly unique almond berbere spread) that are available to purchase on site.
How to book: Walk-ins only.
Although you can find stellar sushi in almost every LA neighborhood, this new spot is exceptional enough to warrant a trip to the Westside. First of all, it’s an intimate eight-seater—so expect to get up close and personal with your fellow diners (many are locals who’ve already become regulars) and veteran chef Masa Shimakawa, a Hokkaido native who brings his refined techniques and sensibilities to the art of sushi. Secondly, Soko’s location in the stunning Fairmont Miramar Hotel & Bungalows, just steps away from the beach, is pretty special. Last, but not least, the fish is jaw-droppingly fresh—offered via a straightforward yet sophisticated selection of nigiri and classic rolls. The name of this sushi bar pop-up (which, by the way, runs indefinitely) means “storeroom”—a tribute to the way fish was preserved with fermented rice and salt in darkened storerooms during pre-refrigeration times and the fact that Soko was built out of a storeroom in the Fairmont’s lobby. Pro tip: Ask for the off-menu secret roll for a stunning gold-flake-topped creation of toro, avocado, uni, salmon roe, and caviar—which, inevitably, at least one of your nearby fellow diners will want to order too.
Occupying the former Wilshire Restaurant space, Fia feels a little like a secret enchanted garden, with a lush, plant-filled patio and romantic lights strung overhead to create a lovely golden glow. Chef Brendan Collins, who once oversaw Wilshire’s gastropub-esque burgers and salads, now whips up a constantly evolving global menu with an eye on what’s fresh and in season. Appetizers like spicy-tuna-stuffed arancini and grilled Spanish octopus are tried-and-true crowd-pleasers, while more substantial dishes include well-executed Italian pastas and proteins, such as an ultra-tender Beef Wellington that’s served on bacon-wrapped asparagus. On the drinks front, you’re in good hands too; the beverage program sports carefully crafted cocktails and an Old and New World wine list with something to please everyone.
When one door closes, another one opens. So it was with the shuttering of Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken’s beloved Border Grill location in Santa Monica, which was followed a couple years later by the opening of Socalo. This breezy restaurant serves seasonal SoCal Mexican fare focused on conscientious ingredient sourcing, so expect organic rice, beans, and corn tortillas, in addition to hormone-free meats, sustainable seafood, and farmers market produce. Whether you prefer a light bite or a more substantial meal, the menu has got you covered with small plates, salads, ceviche, tacos, and burritos—along with small-batch spirits, Mexican wines, and craft beers on tap. Whatever you do, ask for extra salsa macha on the side—Feniger’s take on the nutty, spicy condiment is a flavor explosion with three types of chiles (guajillo, chipotle, and arbol), olive oil, almonds, pepitas, sesame seeds, garlic, and dried Mexican oregano. Sold by the jar, her house-made salsa tastes just as good at home spooned over roasted veggies, eggs, steak, or anything really.
How to book: Walk-ins are accepted, but reservations are recommended.
Brought to you by the owners behind The Tasting Kitchen in Venice, Ghisallo is a great representation of Ocean Park’s burgeoning dining scene. Often overlooked in favor of more well-known Santa Monica neighborhoods, this area is less touristy and more of a draw for locals, who will surely flock to this brand-new pizza kitchen helmed by executive chef David Rodriguez (his resume includes a key role in the opening of Pizzana Brentwood, where he worked under LA’s pizza guru chef Daniele Uditi). Although the restaurant had a false start, briefly opening last year before closing due to city issues, Rodriguez is now turning out fast-casual, wood-fired pies, featuring a selection of eight seasonal flavors like squash blossom with ‘nduja and fermented honey, and a meaty combo of house-ground fennel sausage and pepperoni. A collection of starters, salads, and shared plates—such as ribs smoked in-house for four hours and arancini with slow-braised oxtail ragu—round out the solid menu. Even better, the restaurant shares a space with Jyan Isaac Bread, which shills excellent loaves in the morning before Ghisallo starts dinner service.
How to book: Walk in or order pickup via Toast.
In a sea of Italian and Mediterranean-influenced restaurants, Tumbi stands out in Santa Monica. Owner RJ Singh and executive chef Ram Krishna Naidu serve up a deliciously modern take on Indian fare, exploring street food from different regions of India through the lens of haute cuisine. The country’s robust flavors are on full display here—whether you’re munching on avocado bhel puri with mint-tamarind-chili sauce (based on a tangy savory snack made with puffed rice) or clay-oven-fired chicken tikka bursting with spices like star anise, fennel, and garlic. A curated list of wines and draft beers are available too, but we suggest going for the $21 bottomless mango, orange, or lychee mimosas.
How to book: Walk-ins only.
Everything about La La Land Kind Cafe screams Instagram photo op—from its sleek, stylish interior to its cheerful yellow cup holders printed with things like “Be The Person Your Dog Thinks You Are.” But this Dallas-based operation’s polished appearance belies its admirable mission of hiring and mentoring foster youth who are aging out of the foster care system and creating a lifelong program that helps them with job placement, housing, schooling, and therapy. Lest you think the coffee, toasts, and pastries here are an afterthought, they’re not. Featuring locally roasted beans and syrups made in-house with organic cane sugar, their collection of flavored lattes is more creative than what most caffeine houses offer—including a campfire-themed cup with toasted marshmallows and a blue butterfly pea flower latte. The team is so intent on spreading its gospel of kindness that employees will often serve up your mashed avocado and burrata toast with a sweet side of compliments.
How to book: Walk in or order pickup.
One of our favorite places for an elevated beachside dining experience, Citrin and Mélisse operate as two distinct concepts (they even have separate entrances!). The former offers both a seasonal prix fixe and approachable à la carte menu in the outdoor garden—allowing you to choose between decadent dishes like caviar egg, abalone and lobster bolognese, or truffle risotto. Meanwhile, the latter is an evolution of the two-Michelin-starred institution by the same name—complete with its own kitchen and team—which was a Santa Monica landmark for years. The eight-course chef’s tasting experience is filled with canapés, amuse-bouches, and much more, starring ingredients like uni, shiso leaf, caviar, and chanterelles. No matter which restaurant you’re dining at, there’s no doubt you’ll appreciate the vision of celebrated restaurateur Josiah Citrin.
How to book: via their website.
Not many restaurants could open at the start of a pandemic and thrive, but Interstellar’s fusion eats have resonated with locals and visitors alike since wife-and-husband team Angie and Daniel Kim launched last year. Although the Korean and American couple have created several Asian-inflected dishes for the restaurant’s deliciously diverse all-day menu, they happily pay homage to other cuisines and cultures too. Standouts include the bulgogi burger, the seared branzino steeped in dashi broth, and the ridiculously creamy garlic shrimp and pesto pasta served with thick pappardelle noodles. As if it couldn’t get better, Interstellar offers a dog menu with the option to get your four-legged friends either wagyu beef or chicken breast accompanied by farmers market veggies and fruit.
How to book: Walk-ins only or order pickup via their website.
After closing his acclaimed fine dining restaurant Dialogue, Michelin-starred chef Dave Beran focused his attention on Pasjoli—where one of the Westside’s most memorable dishes ever is served. The pressed duck, which you must preorder, involves carving an entire roasted bird as its juice is extracted from an antique device and simmered with Cognac and red wine. As part of this tableside presentation, you’re presented with crispy duck skin salad, duck leg bread pudding, and a plate of beautifully prepared breast to be enjoyed with the liquid from the duck. The rest of the menu is a study in classic, upscale French fare: caviar blinis, chicken-liver-mousse-stuffed brioche, and halibut with white wine and yuzu beurre blanc. The restaurant recently kick-started a monthly subscription for its cocktail and wine program, which surprises you with anything from stellar French wines to truffle popcorn from the Pasjoli kitchen.
How to book: Reservations are recommended.
The Rustic Canyon Family of restaurants—which includes a wildly impressive portfolio of Santa Monica stalwarts like Milo & Olive and Huckleberry—all started with this original establishment. Hyper-focused on local purveyors and made-from-scratch everything (even the sea salt!), the menu always reflects seasonal ingredients, so you’ll find succotash and cranberry beans during the summer and twice-cooked honeynut squash with vadouvan sauce in the fall. Plus, a newly appointed pastry chef, Erika Chan, is crafting innovative desserts—like shiso and mint chip ice cream sandwiches—that will make you want to pay this local favorite yet another visit.
How to book: Download the Rustic Canyon Family app for pickup and delivery options.
Santa Monica’s most notable Japanese restaurant lately is this charming izakaya and sushi bar, which has an original sister location in Silver Lake. A ryokan-like interior is designed to give you a bona fide I’m-dining-in-Japan experience, and the comprehensive menu is equally authentic too. Although you can’t go wrong with smokey skewers (especially the harder-to-find proteins like chicken cartilage, gizzard, and beef tongue), rice bowls (heaped with charcoal-grilled eel or soy-marinated pork belly), and hot pot, the sushi and sashimi here are killer: generously sized, outrageously fresh, and absolutely succulent. Pro tip: Get the premium omakase!
How to book: Walk-ins welcome and reservations can also be made on Yelp.
This warm, intimate restaurant is located near Third Street Promenade, but not quite in the middle of the action—making it a neighborhood haunt that’s perfect for date nights or small group dinners. A delectable blend of New American, Asian, and Mediterranean, we can’t quite pin the food down to one category. What we do know, however, is that the various influences benefit the menu instead of making it feel like it’s all over the place—so you’ll find everything from melt-in-your-mouth oxtail dumplings to spaghetti carbonara and golden-fried whole snapper (one of their most famous and photogenic dishes). For a special occasion, get the T&R Supper, which offers three family-style courses focused on a main dish of your choice—wood-fired goat, dry-aged ribs, or shellfish paella—and needs to be booked at least one week in advance.
How to book: Call the restaurant directly at 310-587-0700 to book a T&R Supper.
Santa Monica’s 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 Birdie G’s two years ago. Named after both his daughter and grandma, it’s one of Fox’s most personal restaurants, so the nostalgia-steeped menu is full of American comfort food, inspired by what he ate growing up. In addition to paying homage to soul-warming Jewish fare with matzo ball soup and a Southern take on kugel, Fox channels his Hungarian and Russian roots with several new, Eastern European-inspired dishes, like duck sausage pasta with Tokaji (a wine from Hungary) and duck-and-watermelon radish kebabs with strawberry kvass—all executed via a California lens with an emphasis on seasonality. If you’re hankering after some of Birdie G’s classics, check their Instagram account for announcements about weekly specials.
How to book: Walk in or make a reservation via Resy. Order pickup by calling directly at 310-310-3616 or download the Rustic Canyon Family app for pickup and delivery options.
An Ojai transplant specializing in 100% grass-fed Wagyu beef burgers, HiHo has a lean menu with only four main options. Take our word for it and order the HiHo—two tender, beefy, mustard-grilled patties nestled inside a squishy bun with melty cheese and slow-cooked, slightly sweet onion jam. 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. Feeling adventurous? Add the pastrami, which, just like HiHo’s burger patties, is 100% grass-fed and undoubtedly delicious.
How to book: Walk-ins accepted. Visit their website for pickup and delivery options.
This Southeast Asian fusion spot—which has been lauded a dozen times over by critics from all over the country—represents both local California produce and vibrant Asian flavors exceptionally well. While menu mainstays include classic dishes like Indonesian beef rendang, kaya toast (a favorite in Malaysia and Singapore), and laksa noodle soup, Chef Bryant Ng and team recently rolled out a few new, exciting additions. If you haven’t dined here in a while, get the roasted bone marrow with Bing cherry-bacon chutney (designed to spread on house-made clay oven bread) and the Vietnamese-Cajun crab, crawfish, and corn dip with salted egg yolk crumble (designed to accompany shrimp chips).
How to book: Download the Rustic Canyon Family app or pickup and delivery options.
Esters started off as a stellar wine bar that offered small bites like gourmet nuts and olives, but it’s since expanded to include “real” food. In addition to excellently curated wines, you’ll find dishes like grilled cheese (an ooey-gooey, melty mix of raclette, provolone, and bechamel) and sea bass en croute (served in golden-brown pastry with tomatillo chutney). Oenophiles should definitely sign up for their $25-per-person Sunday Tastings and Monday Cellar Nights, an opportunity to dive into their high-end collection by sipping on rare or fancy wines by the glass (check here for the week’s themes). If you’re looking for a fantastic post-work meet-up hang, look no further than Esters’ daily happy hour, where you can enjoy $9 glasses of wine with oysters, cheeses, and charcuterie on a heated patio.
How to book: Download the Rustic Canyon Family app for pickup and delivery options.
This lively Italian eatery is famous for serving pastas tossed in giant cheese wheels, like black truffle risotto in Grana Padano or 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 Westside. Forma also has a cheese bar and take-home cheese kits, where you can choose from dozens of different types of fromage, including sharp ten-year-aged Wisconsin cheddar, slightly salty Spanish manchego, and silky French triple cream.
How to book: Make reservations online and order pickup via Chownow.
Downtown Santa Monica isn’t exactly lacking in Italian options, which is why we’re fans of Massilia’s mix of French/Italian/Moroccan flavors. Yes, there’s meaty spaghetti Bolognese and bruschetta, 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 perfect Sunday afternoon is spent on Massilia’s leafy outdoor patio, designed to echo Europe’s alfresco dining vibes, while sipping on one of their excellent negronis. Don’t miss a weekday happy hour from 4–6:30 pm, which offers $5 off cocktails, $4 off glasses of wine, and an array of tasty nibbles (like quiche bites and calamari) all under $10.
How to book: Make reservations online or order pickup via one of the options on their website.
This space along Santa Monica Blvd has seen restaurants come and go over the years, but this outstanding project from Jeffrey Merrihue is definitely here to stay—and it’s even expanded to Beverly Hills and San Francisco. The beloved neighborhood spot slings the only sandwiches on the Westside that can—dare we say it?—rival those of nearby Bay Cities. But while the latter uses denser, chewier bread and domestic cold cuts, Heroic layers its freshly toasted ciabatta (a revelation of airy dough and crunchy, crackly crust) with 100% imported premium cold cuts from Italy (hence its more elevated price points). Without a doubt, the OMG is the star of the show—a well-constructed symphony of prosciutto, salami, capocollo, mortadella, porchetta, smoked mozzarella, artichokes, house-made giardinnaire, house-roasted tomatoes, olives, mustard, mayo, and Italian black summer truffles. While you’d be happy ordering the OMG every time, don’t sleep on the rest of Heroic’s quality sandwiches and robust Italian dishes, like antipasto boards, hearty pastas, and pizzas—all of which taste best washed down with one of their excellent Californian or Italian wines.
How to book: Make reservations online or order pickup via Toast.
If you’ve ever driven by Second St. on a Saturday evening, the line of tanned, toned 20-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, when you can nosh on simple, light, wood-fired pizzas (get the gloriously cheesy cacio e pepe or honey-drizzled soppressata, a delicious vessel for salty cured pork and tomato) washed down with the bar’s Aperol spritzes and negronis. If day drinking is more your thing, this light-filled space serves up both unparalleled ocean vistas and tasty brunch options, like prosciutto scrambles and ricotta hotcakes.
It’s easy to forget that this OG gourmet Italian deli (which has been around since 1925!) makes over 20 different kinds of sandwiches, because most people only talk about its famed Godmother—and to be honest, we can’t blame ‘em. That salty, satisfying stack of Genoa salami, mortadella, capicola, ham, and prosciutto tucked into a chewy Italian sub that’s made fresh and baked hourly is hard to beat, and well worth the hype. If you’re open to diversifying your sandwich portfolio here, the menu’s got everything else you could possibly fancy, from eggplant parm to caprese and prosciutto.
How to book: Order online for pickup or delivery.
Before Uovo came along, there was nothing quite like it in the area: a traditional pasta bar where you could enjoy a plate of no-fuss tonnarelli all'Arrabbiata by yourself in under an hour (although small groups can linger for far longer, if supplementing with plates of yellowtail crudo and wagyu beef tartare). Uovo rightly prides itself on its pasta, made in Bologna using special eggs that aren’t available stateside to lend the noodles a rich yellow color and are overnighted to Santa Monica in a temperature-controlled cabin where the flight time is part of the required resting time. The noodles are prepared with a traditional sheeting and cutting technique, which gives them their superior texture and ability to bond with sauces, instead of a modern extrusion method. Although the pasta is the star, the team is equally fanatical about every other ingredient—sourcing tomatoes from Puglia, using sustainably raised beef and pork, and shipping Pecorino Romano from Italy. To taste a little of everything, opt for one of three tasting menus, which range in price from $32 to $37 per person.
How to book: Walk in or join the waiting list before you arrive. Pickup and delivery online.
If you’re looking for an authentic taqueria on the Westside, this quick, no-frills joint is it. Owned and operated by the Sanchez family for years, the restaurant hawks tasty Mexican fare that’s easy on the wallet and heavy on the flavor. The massive to-go menu of street-style tacos, burritos, taquitos, quesadillas, and mulitas (most of which are made with corn tortillas and salsa that’s legit spicy) now includes several catering options—so you can order their juicy carnitas, chorizo, guac, tamales, and so much more by the pound.
How to book: Walk in or order pickup online.