There’s more to dining in Santa Monica than expensive roast chickens and last-resort corndogs on the pier. But between the restaurants that cater to tourists and the restaurants that cater to people with ocean-view apartments, finding a place for an affordable, sit-down dinner in Santa Monica can be tough. So we did it for you. At these spots, you can get dinner for around the $30 mark, assuming you’re ordering an entree and either a drink or an appetizer. And some of them even have ocean views.
Cha Cha Chicken might be across the street from overpriced tourist traps filled with $50 steaks and kids coming down from sensory overload at the pier, but you won’t find any of that here. Instead, this entirely outdoor spot has jerk chicken plates for $16.50 and a very generous BYOB policy. (The rest of your budget can go towards ordering every side on the menu that doesn’t come with your meal.) Come here after a day at the beach and drink all the leftover beers swimming around in your cooler, or if you just need to pretend you’re on a Caribbean island for an hour.
Whether or not you think blue cheese belongs on your burger (and whether or not you smuggle in contraband ketchup packets), Father’s Office remains a Santa Monica classic. The original location on Montana is tiny, so you might have to wait a little while, but you’ll be rewarded with an excellent $17 burger, and a beer list with a bunch of unusual options.
There are two sides to this Mexican spot on Broadway - a taqueria and a sit-down restaurant - but you’re going to want to sit at the bar in the middle. There, you can order a few $4.50 fish tacos off the taqueria menu, plus a draft paloma off the restaurant’s cocktail menu. You’ll still have some money to spare, so you should probably get the chorizo fundido for dessert.
It’s 6pm, you just got out of work, and the thought of spending your next hour on the 10 for the fourth day in a row is enough to make you want to quit your job. Go to Esters for a quiet solo dinner instead. Sit at the bar or on the patio, order one of the bigger plates (maybe the crispy confit chicken or the grilled cheese) and get a bread pudding for dessert so that you can be sure you’ve killed enough time for traffic to die down.
Going to the Promenade just to eat a burger seems like a rookie move, but driving in circles for parking pays off when the light at the end of the parking structure is a burger from HiHo. These are fantastic, traditional cheeseburgers made with quality ingredients, and they’re somehow less greasy than you’d think. A triple cheeseburger, a beer, and a slice of their incredible key lime pie still won’t tip you over the $30 mark.
There are some obvious affordable sushi options in Santa Monica (rhymes with sugar dish), but if you prefer not to be rushed through a set menu in a room that could be anywhere in the city, go to Noma instead. This strip mall spot has a big list of inexpensive rolls, a much-cheaper-than-Nobu miso cod, and a party atmosphere. We’d say it was perfect for dinner before a night out at The Gaslite, except there’s a good chance you’ll have a bunch of Garlic Lover’s Albacore and one too many sakes and never make it across the street.
According to the USPS (or whoever makes the zipcode rules), Chez Tex is in Venice. But it’s only one block away from Santa Monica, and we make the rules around here, so we’re counting it. This is a neighborhood-y spot with a relaxed feel where you can sit at the bar and chat with the owners who will make you feel like this is your living room. If you come before 7pm, you can get the burger for $12 and a cocktail or wine for $8, but even if you can’t convince your friends to join you for the early-bird special, the regular dinner menu isn’t too pricey either.
The burger at Plan Check is a happy medium between the fancy version at Father’s Office and the traditional one at HiHo. While it looks pretty familiar, the cheese is actually “Americanized dashi”, the onions are schmaltzy (in the fatty way, not the Valentine’s Day way), and it’s served with ketchup leather instead of sauce. But you probably won’t notice any of that, because you’ll eat the thing in under two minutes.
Pico is a weird street with lots of dentists and many buildings that could be offices, but could also be grow houses. One thing is certain: Pico has Gilbert’s El Indio. This is where you come when you and your friends want a fun night, but you’re all pretty broke, so it would be nice to be able to order an Extra Super Mule burrito for under $12, spend the rest of your money on margaritas, and take the other half of the burrito home for breakfast the next morning.
Samosa House is the complete opposite of Gilbert’s El Indio. You’re not here to party, you’re here on your own when the inside of your fridge looks like you just came back from vacation (except your last vacation was nine months ago). At this point you will want something quick, easy, and extremely quiet. Head to the counter, order the three-item combo (which should include the smoky cauliflower curry if it’s on the menu), get a Kingfisher to go with it, and you’ll be home in under half an hour.
The Sunnin in Santa Monica looks like yet another build-your-own-something fast casual spot. Sure, it’s a mini-chain (there are two other locations in Westwood), but the food here is fantastic and still tastes like an actual human cooked it. You could order anything on the menu and be happy, but we like the chicken shawarma plus a side of the incredible fried cauliflower.
Mostly, Lincoln is a street to avoid, unless you want to get sucked into a traffic vortex or need to shop for auto parts. Solidarity, though is a nice old-school Polish restaurant with a great patio out back. Get some pierogies and the chicken paprikash, or if you make it in time for the 5 - 7pm Happy Hour, go for the $12 sausage platter that you can wash down with a $5 beer.