There are two types of people who live in LA: Westsiders and everyone else. And the capital of the Westside? That would be Santa Monica. The most polarizing place in all of LA, Santa Monica is very much its own city, with a vibe and culture all to itself and a population that’s wildly defendant of it. Everyone assumes these people are either yuppie losers, tech nerds, or wannabe hipsters who only shop at Steven Alan and you’re absolutely right. But they all have one thing in common – they eat extremely well.
Whatever your opinion may be of this beach town, there’s no denying Santa Monica’s food game is ridiculously strong. Even in the unruly shadows of the tourist death-trap that is 3rd Street Promenade and The Pier, some of the best restaurants in all of Los Angeles continue to grow and thrive. Check out what we’ve rounded up as the best of the best in LA’s glittering city by the sea.
Farm-to-table dining without the cheesiness. Rustic Canyon is an upscale dining experience without the white table clothes or pretension. Like every other farm-to-table spot, their menu changes all the time, so go and embrace that vegetable you can’t pronounce. Your parents, out of towners you’re trying to impress, and early in the game dates will all love it here.
Tar & Roses is officially back open and the world is a better place because of it. The once-golden boy of the Santa Monica restaurant scene endured a devastating fire over the summer that took the downtown spot out of commission for the better part of a year. But the new-age American restaurant is once again open for business and exactly as good as you remember it being.
We guarantee that if you tell anyone in the LA area that you’re eating in Santa Monica they’ll be like “Oh sh*t, have you tried the Godmother?” Unless you’ve been living under a rock you know about Bay Cities’ famous Godmother Italian meat sandwich. And you know it’s one of the best sandwiches in the city. This family-run Italian deli does have an unbelievable sandwich, but you should also know that their meatballs are no joke.
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 crusts and wine list that’s loaded with Italian red. Their garlic knot (basically pizza dough stuffed with a ton of oil and garlic and fired on the same oven as the pizza) is legendary on this side.
Cassia got a lot of hype when it first opened. Our verdict? Worth it. The space is like nothing else that exists in this neighborhood and the crowd is as attractive as that at Craig’s in Beverly Hills, but not in an obnoxious way. If you don’t have a rez but are willing to wait for a spot on their patio, put your name on the list and walk across the hall to Esther’s, a wine bar (and sister establishment) while you wait.
Santa Monica Yacht Club is where you go for a birthday. Or when your boss is paying with a corporate card. Or when you just really want a great dinner and don’t care about the cost. The nautical-themed décor will remind you of that sailboat you never purchased or the one your friend did who you always take advantage of. The menu is packed with tons of seafood (you won’t regret the lobster & burrata) so definitely don’t take your crustacean-hating friends here.
FIG is, hands down, Santa Monica’s best happy hour. Located in the Fairmont Hotel, FIG offers 50% off its entire menu from 5-6pm Monday-Saturday. We love it so much more than the frat boy/creepy banker-laden Bungalow just next door. The spicy fries are a must.
Because it’s so much better than Sushi Roku and every neighborhood needs a Sugarfish. It’s basically like every other Sugarfish you’ve been to but tries to pretend like it’s not on the Promenade. Tourists hitting up Kitson’s 70% off sale need their Trust Mes, too.
Looking for sushi that isn’t Sugarfish? Noma is her name. Noma’s got everything from extreme tempura rolls to a miso cod that rivals Nobu. (Well, maybe not rivals but it’s the best Nobu knock-off miso cod we’ve had.) Apart from being an inexpensive option to Sugarfish, Noma is a great sushi lunch spot or place for dinner if you’re planning on an extreme night of karaoke at The Gaslite across the street.
Sweetfin is the best of what the Santa Monica poke scene has to offer. If you’re a first-timer, we suggest you go with one of their eight suggested signature bowls or if you’re feeling confident in your poke mixing skills, go with the build-your-own option. (We suggest adding heavy fried garlic.) One visit to Sweetfin and it will quickly become a staple in your lunchtime (and possibly even dinner) rotation.
Bar Pinxto is the perfect date spot. It doesn’t matter that it’s basically on the promenade, every single thing about this place screams romantic. Even though we sort of hate the word “cozy,” it accurately describes Bar Pinxto. The interior reminds us of a place they’d film an Uma Thurman rom-com. Their tapas menu makes it easy to share plates and not have to feel self-conscious about ordering the most expensive thing on the menu.
Do not trust anyone who says the Father’s Office burger isn’t as good as people claim. Or that the no substitutions make it terrible. Those people are liars. This tiny bar on Montana Ave has been around since the 1940’s and is almost always mentioned as one of the best burgers in town. First dates and out-of-town friends will always be impressed here.
Grey Block is the best New York-style delivery pizza in Santa Monica. While we love Milo and Olive, sometimes you just need a delivery pizza with the perfect amount of grease. And Grey Block is just that. We also love the fact that they sell pizza by slice. It’s located in close proximity to some of the crappy bars on Pico (most of which allow food delivery) making Grey Block the perfect post happy hour food binge.
If you’re not 90 years old or looking to pick up a 90 year-old rich old dude, Forma is your spot. It’s the youngest (and dare we say coolest) option on Montana Ave and good for those nights when you’re meeting a group for dinner, early in the game dates, or even dinner with your parents. (If your parents are anything like ours and solely exist on Italian food.) Pasta and cheese are what you should be ordering at Forma. They even have a dedicated “cheese scraper” who dunks all pastas into a giant block of cheese for mixing before being delivered to the table. Amen.
Gilbert’s is where you go when you are severely hungover and want to experience the kind of Mexican food that makes you feel euphoric joy, shame, and regret in a matter of minutes. We are huge fans of their Super Mule burrito and pretty much everything else on their menu. It’s also important to know they serve breakfast 7 days a week. (See: good for a hangover.) Out-of-towners looking to experience “good” Mexican food will return home talking about Gilbert’s.
Mélisse is the OG of the Santa Monica white tablecloth fine dining establishments and serves appropriately fancy french food. This is the type of place that you bring your parents to meet your future in-laws and they argue over who pays the bill.
Ask almost any non-Westsider where to eat at the Promenade and they’ll be like “Oh, Border Grill.” It’s the only place they’ve ever heard of and we guarantee you they went once with some out-of-town friend like 5 years ago. Why do we love Border Grill? Their late-night happy hour on Friday and Saturday nights. Starting at 9pm every night, Border Grill offers tacos for $3.50 each (which is a serious discount) as well as other drink and food specials in their bar section. Our favorite Friday night involves drinks at West 4th and Jane (directly across the street) and then late night happy hour tacos and margaritas at Border Grill.
Lares is the epitome of West Coast authentic Mexican food. Their waitstaff dresses in traditional Mexican attire, they have an in-house mariachi band that performs on occasion, and their carne asada is unlike anything else we’ve ever had.
We love this casual Caribbean spot for its BYO policy and spicy jerk chicken. Anyone who’s familiar with this stretch of Ocean Blvd in Santa Monica knows that not only are 99% of the restaurants overpriced, but a BYO policy is basically a myth. You should hit up Cha Cha Chicken for big group dinners, first/early in the game dates, lunch near the promenade, or pretty much anytime you’re in the mood for spicy jerk chicken and tropical vibes.
We’ve heard that people prefer the food at Via Veneto to what they’ve eaten in Italy. Via Veneto is like an old, distinguished gentleman on Santa Monica’s Main street, but one that not necessarily everyone knows. It’s one of those places that people say “I’ve never been but I hear it’s incredible.” It is. But it’s also quite expensive, so plan accordingly. The old school charm, romantic vibes, and truly authentic Italian menu make it a Santa Monica mainstay.