The Best Restaurants In Santa Monica guide image


The Best Restaurants In Santa Monica

25 restaurants worth braving the tourists for.

There are two types of people who 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 tourist traps like 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.


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Crudo e Nudo


2724 Main St, Santa Monica
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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.

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 service that fully appreciates how special the night is, and, best of all, absolutely delicious food.

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photo credit: Layla

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Layla Bagels

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 little counter service spot with great coffee and outrageously delicious bagels piled high with the freshest produce available. And while you can absolutely order crusty-on-the-outside, cushiony-on-the-inside loosies, you’d be missing out if you didn’t try some of the open-face bagel offerings. Toppings range from classics (cream cheese, tomatoes, herbs, smoked salmon, pickled onions) to less typical stuff (lemon zest, chili flakes, PB&J, avocado, hummus). The bagel with seasonal fruit—we got mandarin wedges—plus cream cheese and honey gives us goosebumps just thinking about it.

You’ll find more Italian restaurants in Santa Monica than you will in some parts of Italy, so Cassia’s French-Southeast Asian food is a very welcome change. It’s also fantastic, and served in a huge space will instantly make you feel like you’re on vacation. It’s a great place for an impromptu date, too—put your name down, and go next door to Esters for a couple of glasses of wine while you wait. Once you’ve got your spot on the patio, order the kaya toast at both ends of the meal.

Sleepy Santa Monica needed Cobi’s. The maximalist interior and patio are alive with floral everything, from lamps to dishware to sculptures. The speakers pump out reggae and soul. Servers pour natural wine. And the kitchen cranks out curries, dumplings, noodles, and rice dishes packed with Southeast Asian flavors and even a little spice, which is otherwise hard to find in this neighborhood. Make Cobi’s your go-to for date night and fun group dinners.

The Brothers Sushi’s dining room looks ripped from a sci-fi movie set in the not-so-distant future: 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. The menu ranges from a la carte items like salmon caviar and Okinawan jellyfish to an omakase served solely at the bar. We prefer the premium chirashi: a luxury box loaded with 15 types of seafood, seasoned sushi rice, plus a side of miso soup.

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 farmers’ market produce features heavily, but there’s also a Midwestern, vaguely Eastern European feel to many dishes. We love the seasonal pickle plate with a dollop of onion dip in the center, the deeply savory dry-aged beef tartare with fried matzo, and the “everything” marinated beets with smoked trout roe. They also do an amazing steak frites for the local crowd valeting their Teslas outside. 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.

Unlike almost every other restaurant ever, Tar & Roses has gotten better with age, and feels like it’s been around much longer than it actually has. 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 comes 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, you'll have the singular best bite in Santa Monica.

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, a stack of meats (prosciutto, ham, salami, mortadella, and capocollo), cheeses, and peppers on crunchy bread. This family-run Italian deli makes plenty of good sandwiches besides The Godmother, too - like their chicken parm sub - but you should also know that their meatballs are excellent.

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. Now, the old-school chophouse is the place to be, especially since they 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 by with just about anyone, sit outside, order a burger and a drink or two, and let the ocean breeze mess up your hair.

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.

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Steps from Third Street Promenade, Interstellar is an overachieving all-day restaurant serving dishes that are as creative as they are delicious. This fusion-y 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.

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.

La Purépecha is where you’ll find 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.

Ghisallo is an excellent pizzeria that’s ideal for a quick lunch or even an intimate pizza dinner with that friend you’ve been meaning to catch up with. 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, the pizzas are served whole rather than as slices, with crusts coming out chewy and nicely charred. But the big selling point here are the perfect topping combinations, like spicy nduja sausage and squash blossom pizza boosted with funky-sweet fermented honey and salty green olives.

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 be impressed here.

Whenever we have visitors in LA, we urge them to go to the Main Street part of Santa Monica instead of the Promenade part. But there’s one catch—lunch. You can always grab quick omusubi at Sunny Blue, but when we’re in the mood to sit down for a salad or sandwich, we’ve been disappointed by soulless sandwiches and salads at Shoop’s and Urth. That’s why we love Alfalfa, a new-ish transplant from Hoboken, New Jersey (we didn’t see that coming) that pulls off the counter-service salad-wrap-coffee thing. Their back patio is a sunny little nook ideal for catching up with a friend over matcha and lunch or an excellent breakfast burrito with silky eggs and charred, shredded potatoes.

People come to Heavy Handed for crispy-edged smash burgers and shoestring french fries twice-fried in beef fat. So if that’s your style, treat this place like your own personal hamburger heaven. At this former pop-up’s permanent home on Main Street, you can sit at picnic tables and eat burgers with housemade pickles, pink sauce, and up to three short rib patties. Heavy Handed also serves grilled cheese sandwiches, loaded fries smothered in caramelized onions, and creamy soft serve cones from a bright orange takeout window.

Nachos and margaritas are the bread and butter of Vamos Vamos, but it’s the buzzy dining room that really makes this place a destination. A meal here feels like the result of someone telling summer to pack itself inside a narrow, white brick dining room on Main Street. This New Mexican restaurant is a sibling of Everson Royce Bar and Triple Beam Pizza, which means there’s more attention to detail in the glorified bar food than meets the eye. Our favorite dish on the menu isn’t nachos though—it’s the green chile cheeseburger. If you walk in on a Saturday night, a host might quote you a 2-hour wait for a table—so maybe try to make a reservation ahead of time. 

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 you’re trying to impress, and early-in-the-game dates will all love it here.

If you don’t associate Santa Monica with great Ethiopian food, you haven’t tried Berbere yet. Located a few blocks from 3rd Street Promenade, this counter-service vegan spot serves Ethiopian twists that’ll have you returning again and again like a mama bird to its nest. It’s run by the couple who used to operate the T&T Lifestyle pop-up, and since it’s never too busy, Berbere is a good spot for a casual lunch or dinner when you’re in need of greens. Our usual order is the Eat The Rainbow combo, which comes with a few rolls of injera. The red lentil and turmeric garbanzo stews are creamy and rich, while the purple cabbage with potatoes and sautéed greens smells like a well-stocked spice cabinet. The next time you hear someone claim vegan food equals bland, bring them here.

Michael’s is the middle-aged mainstay of Santa Monica. Like plenty of 40-year-olds, it’s gone through a few phases (some of which were a bit boring), but good news: Michael’s is interesting again. The back garden patio is an excellent place to be and the seasonal menu runs the gamut from jamon iberico to rigatoni to fried whole flounder. Turns out getting old(er) isn’t so bad.

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

In a part of town where a full BYOB policy is basically a myth, Cha Cha Chicken is a Caribbean oasis where 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 doesn’t make you want to die inside.

Way off the Santa Monica tourist track is Ocean Park, a little neighborhood that feels like people truly live there. And all those people seem to be having dinner at Local. The menu is full of crowd-pleasers—meatballs, flatbreads, and some tasty thin-crust pizzas all make appearances. It’s the kind of easy neighborhood spot you can drop in on when you forgot it was supposed to be date night but want it to seem like you had a great plan all along.

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