The Best Restaurants In Santa Monica

25 restaurants worth braving the tourists.
The Best Restaurants In Santa Monica image

photo credit: Jessie Clapp

Two types of people live in LA: Westsiders and everyone else. The unofficial capital of the Westside is Santa Monica, a part of town that’s happy to lean into every insult you can throw at it. Sure, there are tourists everywhere, and it’s populated almost entirely by people who have time to brunch on weekdays, but there’s no denying that it’s also home to some very good restaurants. Even in the shadows of The Third Street Promenade and The Pier, exciting and innovative spots continue to open and thrive. Here are the best of the best in LA’s city by the sea.



Santa Monica

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If all you know about French food is that it's buttery and expensive, then you already know something true about Pasjoli. But this Santa Monica restaurant stands out from other indulgent places in town because it encapsulates the Classic French Restaurant thing without feeling tired. From the $198 pressed duck for two and the tiny gnocchi in beurre blanc that tastes like lemon rinds, to the spongy brioche toast with chicken liver mousse in the middle—every dish is polished. Plus, friendly servers treat you like Mariah Carey. But don’t start thinking you can hit a whistle tone.


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Melisse is a Santa Monica mainstay, a truly fancy restaurant that’s been around in some form or another for over 20 years. A meal here is spectacular, but let’s get one thing out of the way: dinner here will cost $800 for two people. Minimum. So, if you’re eating here, or planning to eat here, you’re probably operating under some very specific circumstances (engagement, lottery win, final day on the job with access to the company card). Melisse lives up to them all. Once you sit down in the intimate but not stuffy dining room, expect around ten courses (although many have multiple plates or bites involved), attentive servers who fully appreciate how special the night is, and, best of all, absolutely delicious food.

photo credit: Jessie Clapp

$$$$Perfect For:Impressing Out of TownersKeeping It Kind Of HealthyFirst/Early in the Game Dates


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The name Le Great Outdoor sounds like an REI surplus store rather than a beautiful Santa Monica restaurant where you order your food at a grill in the Bergamot Station parking lot. But that’s exactly what’s happening here. All the meat, fish, and vegetables are cooked right next to you in the entirely outdoor kitchen. Everybody hangs out at picnic tables and drinks chilled wine while they pick at goat cheese-topped tartines and blistered lamb chops. It’s as if you stumbled onto a neighborhood block party—but with people who know what they’re doing at the grill.

Shirube can be the first stop of the night for a pre-dinner drink and a snack or you can enjoy an incredible dinner for under $100 per person. Both are excellent paths. This izakaya serves grilled, fried, and noodle-y dishes, all of which are prepared in front of you at the bar. Most plates fall under $20, including fried corn ribs coated in shoyu butter, grilled duck breast with a beautiful pink center, and a silky egg custard topped with a pile of roe. And if you want to keep things light, there’s a great sashimi platter for two that costs $40.

There’s nothing that screams “I’m a young, fun, cosmopolitan person living in a major city” than tossing back oysters on the half shell on a Santa Monica patio. And the place to do it in West LA is Crudo e Nudo. The former pop-up has found a permanent home on Main St., where you’ll be treated to thoughtful wine selections and entirely sustainable seafood like daily crudos served with herbs and house-made sauces, a full raw bar, and tuna tartare paired with seeded loaves from Gjusta.

Tell anyone in the LA area that you’re eating in Santa Monica and they’ll be like, “Oh sh*t, can you bring me a Godmother?” And unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that they’re not asking you for a new family member—they’re asking you for Bay Cities’ most famous sandwich. The Godmother stacks meats (prosciutto, ham, salami, mortadella, and capocollo), cheeses, and peppers on crunchy bread. If you're looking for another sandwich to tack onto your order, there's a very good chicken parm sub.

Birdie G’s, an airy, industrial-looking restaurant in Bergamot Station, is what you might call a fancy person’s idea of a comfort food restaurant. The chef of Rustic Canyon is behind the menu, so you know there's a farmers market produce bent. But you can also expect a Midwestern, vaguely Eastern European feel to many dishes. We love the seasonal pickle plate with a dollop of onion dip in the center, and the “everything” marinated beets with smoked trout roe. They also do amazing steak frites for the crowd valeting their Teslas outside. Just don’t leave without a slice of the rose petal pie—a jiggly, strawberry Jell-O concoction that looks like a stained glass window in dessert form.

Steps from Third Street Promenade, Interstellar is an overachieving all-day restaurant serving dishes that are as creative as they are delicious. This Korean American restaurant serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner, so expect to find everything from chilaquiles to chicken katsu curry on the daytime menu, and entrees like creamy mentaiko linguine and black truffle kimchi fried rice at night. Their tiny little nook of a dining room only has a handful of tables, but the food and shochu cocktails are worth squeezing in for, even if it’s by yourself.

Layla is a welcome addition to LA’s bagel boom (thanks for starting it, Gjusta and Courage). But this Ocean Park bagel shop isn’t just part of a trend, it’s a lovely counter-service spot with great coffee and outrageously good bagels piled with the freshest produce available. And while you can order crusty-on-the-outside, cushiony-on-the-inside loosies, you’d be missing out if you didn’t try their open-face bagel offerings. Toppings range from classics (cream cheese, tomatoes, smoked salmon) to less typical stuff (lemon zest, chili flakes, PB&J, avocado, hummus). The bagel with seasonal fruit plus cream cheese and honey gives us goosebumps just thinking about it.

Sleepy Santa Monica needed Cobi’s. The interior and patio are alive with floral everything, from lamps to dishware, and the speakers pump out infectious reggae and soul. But you're not just coming here to sit in a colorful room that always seems to be in a good mood. The menu here is full of bold spins on Indonesian curries, juicy pork dumplings, and a kanpachi crudo with coconut milk and finger line so good it'll haunt you for a week. Head to Cobi’s for date nights, group dinners, or fun weekend brunches that don’t require a reservation.

The Brothers Sushi’s dining room looks ripped from a sci-fi movie set: perfectly symmetrical wooden panels, black ring lights, and oh, watch your step—there’s an antique knife collection beneath your feet, inlaid in the floor. It’s a more subdued (and smaller) operation than The Brothers’ flagship location in Woodland Hills, but the quality remains just as high. Order a la carte items like salmon caviar and Okinawan jellyfish or the omakase served solely at the bar. We prefer the premium chirashi loaded with 15 types of seafood, seasoned sushi rice, plus a side of miso soup.

Unlike almost every other restaurant ever, Tar & Roses has gotten better with age. It’s the sort of place that can be as casual or formal as you need it to be, with a menu that’s perfect for sharing. But in an alternate universe, we'd come here once a week with one other person and only order the whole fried snapper. It arrives with cold, springy soba noodles and a fishy dipping sauce. When you carve off a hunk of fried fish, dunk it in the sauce, and incorporate the noodles, and you'll have the singular best bite in Santa Monica.

Xuntos is the best Spanish restaurant on the Westside and the kind of place where dinner can turn into a three-hour party without really noticing. That’s because everyone in this homey, two-story spot in Downtown Santa Monica lets loose over vermouth cocktails, Basque cider, and however many rounds of garlicky gambas they can get in before their parking meter runs out. The menu is specifically northern Spanish—that’s right, LA has hyper-regional Spanish food now—and features things that belong on a José Andres travel special, including grilled baby squid balloons full of minced shallots, fatty seabass collars we eat like chicken wings, and scallops on the half-shell bathed in golden saffron butter.

Tre Mani is a sandwich shop in Ocean Park that serves two of our favorite things: Jyan Isaac’s fluffy schiacciata bread and Ghisallo’s deli meats. The result is a perfect union of crunch and cured meat that holds its own in the neighborhood. These massive Roman-style sandwiches are more expensive than what you’ll find elsewhere (they range from $18-$23), but you could easily share one. Drop by the shop inside Ghisallo from 12-4pm to try the mortadella version on your lunch break. There are plenty of seats on the patio around back.

You’ll find more Italian restaurants in Santa Monica than in some parts of Italy, so Cassia’s Cantonese-Malaysian menu is a welcome change: tender beef rendang, crunchy crawfish toast, and giant platters of wok-fried lobster with rice noodles. The concrete-and-Edison-blub dining room swells nightly with nicely dressed dinner dates, friend catch-ups at the bar, and splurgy family meals in the circular booths. People trickle back and forth from Esters, the attached wine bar. A decade after opening, it remains one of the buzziest dining rooms in the neighborhood and the perfect antidote for when you can't look at another bowl of cacio e pepe.

Milo and Olive is king when it comes to pizza in Santa Monica and everyone knows it. People line up for their perfectly wood-fired dough and wine list that’s loaded with Italian reds. Their garlic knot (basically pizza dough stuffed with a ton of oil and garlic, and fired in the same oven as the pizza) is a Westside legend. Come by for lunch, dinner, or brunch on the weekends.

Do not trust anyone who says Father’s Office is overrated. Or that the “No Substitutions” rule makes it terrible. Those people are liars. With a solid list of craft beers and fantastic drinking food, the original location of Father's Office is a true gastropub—before that word was overused into oblivion. The tiny, dimly-lit bar on Montana Ave. operates out of a space that’s been around since the 1950s and churns out what is easily one of the best burgers in town. First dates and out-of-town friends will always like it here, we promise.

In Rome, you might take a tour of the Vatican City, climb the steps of the Sistine Chapel, and look out on the Piazza San Pietro. In Santa Monica, you take the elevator up to the roof of the Proper Hotel and look out at 7-11, CVS, and the Pacific Ocean. Calabra is no Rome, but the crowd is happy to have a reason to be dressed in this part of town surrounded by rattan furniture, palm fronds, and a swimming pool. Though these design elements are evocative of Tulum, it doesn’t feel gimmicky. Plus, the cocktails and Mediterranean food here are really, really good, from the kebabs and dips to hefty burgers and gyros.

The Golden Bull has been around since 1949, but it’s now operated by new management and got a facelift a couple of years back. The old-school chophouse transformed their former parking lot into a multi-level patio with awnings, turf, heat lamps, and one of the best Happy Hours in the city. Come with just about anyone, sit outside, order a burger and a drink or two, and let the ocean breeze mess up your hair.

A midday stroll down Montana Ave. in Santa Monica is a Westside pastime. Characteristics include charming shops, teenagers who think they own the place, and alternative ice cream shops for every dietary restriction. What's missing is memorable lunch options—except for Bun & Mi, a serene, tiny Vietnamese counter spot that’s easy to miss. But please don’t miss their bánh mì sandwiches, loaded with a choice of pork belly, chicken, shaken beef, tofu-mushroom, or garlic shrimp. The beef is divinely marinated filet mignon that oozes into the mayo against the soft baguette innards. Pick one up for a lunch to remember.

La Purépecha makes the best tacos in Santa Monica. The handmade corn tortillas are deep yellow, rough around the edges, and sturdy enough to support generous scoops of meat, guacamole, cilantro, and onions. Everything about this counter-service spot is thoughtful, from the free chips and pickled carrots to the daily agua frescas. Step up your taco by making it a taconazo, which adds griddled cheese beneath your adobado or asada. For something even more substantial, Purépecha serves an excellent chilaquiles plate and a solid machaca breakfast burrito.

This pizzeria is ideal for a quick lunch or even an intimate dinner with that friend you’ve been meaning to see for months now. Here you’ll find a rotating menu of seasonal salads, as well as both Neapolitan and New York-style pizza by the slice, plus some thick sandwiches on their crispy house ciabatta. At dinner, pies are served whole rather than by the slice, with chewy, nicely charred crusts. But the big selling point here is the perfect topping combinations, like spicy nduja sausage and squash blossom pizza boosted with funky-sweet fermented honey and salty green olives.

In a part of town where a full BYOB policy is basically a myth, Cha Cha Chicken stands out. At this Caribbean restaurant, you can bring a six-pack (or a whole handle of tequila) to enjoy after the beach. You shouldn’t really need a reason to eat spicy jerk chicken in a tropical setting, but Cha Cha is especially great for big group dinners, early-in-the-game dates, or lunch near The Promenade that won't make you want to die inside.

Rustic Canyon has been doing farm-to-table dining (without the pretension or white tablecloths) since before it was cliche. Like every other seasonal spot, their menu changes all the time, so go ahead and embrace eating those vegetables you can only find for one week of the year. Your parents, out-of-towners, and early-in-the-game dates will all love it here.

Noma is a Santa Monica staple because of its large list of inexpensive specialty rolls, meal combinations, and atmosphere that makes the most of its strip mall location. It’s a great sushi lunch spot or dinner option if you’re planning an extreme night of karaoke at The Gaslite across the street. Everything, from the tempura rolls to the yakiniku and sukiyaki, we've had is good. But don’t miss the Garlic Lover’s Albacore, which is simultaneously crispy, fresh, and pungent. The garlic breath will always be worth it.

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