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 don’t seem to have jobs, but there’s no denying that it’s also home to some incredible restaruants. 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.
Looking to eat outdoors? Check out Where To Eat Outside In Santa Monica, our guide to 20 great spots with patios in the neighborhood.
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 while looking like a snack 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.
Birdie G’s is one of the most exciting restaurants to open on the Westside in a long time. Located at Bergamot Station, the large, industrial space looks more like something you’d find in the Arts District, not Santa Monica. And while the exposed air ducts, cement floors, and open kitchen are all pretty standard design flourishes these days, it’s the food that’s objectively different. Whether it’s sweet and savory noodle kugel, matzo ball soup, or koji steak, eating at Birdie G’s feels simultaneously nostalgic and completely new.
Steps from the Third Street Promenade, Interstellar is the best sit-down breakfast and lunch option in Downtown Santa Monica. The small cafe’s Korean-American co-owners nail lots of dishes from lots of cuisines - like bulgogi burgers, katsu curry, pasta, chilaquiles, breakfast burritos, club sandwiches, and more. It’s practically meditative slicing through the crunchy katsu with your knife, and scooping it up with a bit of rice and curry to craft the perfect bite. And you’ll have similar perfect-bite experiences with the breakfast burrito, turkey club, and bulgogi burger. We’ve never tried anything here that we wouldn’t fully endorse, including venting with the staff and the iced coffee.
We stumbled upon Edobox on Main St. because its patio extends into the street with little hanging lanterns up above that apparently double as people magnets. And now that we’ve had a couple meals here, it’s where we’d eat every Friday night if we were allowed to be lazy and predictable. The thing to order here is bento boxes - there are a few options, but all of them come with spicy cucumber salad, edamame, fried rice, delicious beef dumplings, and some sort of protein like baked cod or chicken karaage. Each partition is excellent, but you don’t need to order one box per person. Instead, order one for every two or three people, and supplement with sushi and sashimi (we like the chu-toro nigiri and the hamachi appetizer). Sip beer and sake, and enjoy the people-watching just steps from the beach.
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. We love grabbing on-the-go 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 Caffe. But that’s why we love Alfalfa, a new-ish transplant from Hoboken, New Jersey (we didn’t see that coming) that really pulls off the salad-wrap-coffee thing. Their back patio is a sunny little nook that’s ideal for catching up with a friend over matcha and lunch or an excellent breakfast burrito with silky eggs and charred shredded potatoes. Work this order-at-the-counter spot into your Santa Monica brunch/lunch rotation.
Tumbi is a restaurant you wouldn’t expect to find in such close proximity to the Third Street Promenade, but you should play a game of dodge-the-tourist for some excellent modern Indian street food. To start, order some pani puri, and then move onto the dosa (there are six different options at dinner) and the Patagonian toothfish masala to share. It’s beer and wine only, and the list isn’t long, so you might want to pick up a bottle on your way in if you’re willing to pay corkage. This is a perfect low-key dinner spot.
The Golden Bull has been around since 1949, but it’s now operated by new management and got a facelift a couple 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.
If the two things you know about French food are that it’s rich, and it’s expensive, then you already know a lot about Pasjoli. Both of those are true at this Santa Monica spot, but that doesn’t stop us from going when we want incredible French food prepared with traditional techniques. That includes a lot of things happening tableside, like canard à la presse - a pressed duck, prepared on a little cart that’s wheeled to your table, then juiced in an antique contraption that could be a 15th-century torture device. Witnessing this preparation is something that everyone should experience at least once, and not just because it results in an excellent-tasting duck. The chicken liver, prepared to taste like foie gras, with brioche is also great. And don’t leave without getting the caramelized onion tart if it’s on the menu. It tastes like the best French onion soup you’ve ever had.
Another great casual sushi option, Osen Izakaya is the place we find ourselves gravitating towards when we can’t decide what to eat for dinner. That’s because the sushi here is the most exciting in the neighborhood, but the menu goes way beyond raw fish. They also have long lists of rice bowls, hot pots, nabes, and charcoal-grilled skewers. Which is to say, we’ve never ordered the same thing here twice, but some standouts include the tofu agedashi, jidori tsukune, udon nabe, and sushi omakase. The outdoor set-up here is nice with its corner location and fancy heat lamps, but we like to come with a group, order big, and sit in an indoor booth secluded by a billowing curtain for dramatic effect.
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.
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, make sure you order the kaya toast at both ends of the meal.
We’ve always been fans of Salt’s Cure in Hollywood, especially for breakfast. That’s because they make the best pancakes we’ve ever had in our lives. (Sorry to any parent, grandparent, or lover who has ever made us pancakes.) Salt’s Cure is clearly confident in this skill, because they opened a tiny outpost that specializes specifically in pancakes on Montana Avenue. All of the griddle cakes are made with oatmeal, and you can taste that coarse, almost nutty texture in every bite. We like the OG griddle cakes, but wouldn’t blame you if you added bananas or blueberries into the mix.
You might think Main St. in Santa Monica is too obvious a location for the best cantina on the Westside, but it’s not. Lula is a great Mexican restaurant that serves lunch, dinner, and a lot of other purposes - like having the ideal patio to bring all of your friends and their significant others (who you didn’t even invite but showed up anyway) together for your birthday dinner. We also like to come here after a day at the beach for Happy Hour, sit in a booth, and order a full fajita set-up plus a few rounds of very fresh margaritas. And like at any great cantina, the chips are both your worst and best friend.
Santa Monica Polish spot Solidarity has a secret back patio that’s a great place to eat pierogi and drink a few too many Warsaw Mules (made with Żubrówka). If you’re looking for something a bit bigger, the golabki, made by stuffing cabbage with beef and jasmine rice, is one of our go-tos. But with comfort classics like schnitzel, stroganoff, and handmade gnocchi in mushroom cream sauce on the menu, you can’t go wrong.
The only problem with the original Wexler’s in Grand Central Market was that we had to deal with Grand Central Market in order to eat there. But since this second location opened - far enough away from The Promenade to make it not hell on earth - we’ve found ourselves eating a lot more egg and lox bagels and pastrami than we used to.
If Sunny Blue were to open up a drive-thru and franchise nationwide, we’d be the first investors. This tiny omusubi shop on Main St. is open every day, and these stuffed rice balls make for one of our favorite quick lunches in the city. We usually go for the tender miso beef with caramelized onion, the curried chicken, or the spicy cured salmon, and since everything’s under $5, why not get all three? Plus, they have free barley water, which helps us reach peak hydration.
Do not trust anyone who says the Father’s Office burger is overrated. Or that the “No Substitutions” rule makes it terrible. Those people are liars. This tiny 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.
Since it opened in late 2020, every other Italian restaurant in Santa Monica pales in comparison to La Puglia, which sources many of its ingredients from Italy or local farmers. We can taste the difference and the effort that goes into the Southern Italian food at this all-day spot on Wilshire. While you’ll find pizza, pasta, pastries and more on the menu, the specialty here are panzerroti - fried dough pockets stuffed with high-quality cheese and other ingredients, like tomato sauce, ground beef, or spinach. We have yet to find these anywhere else in LA, and we don’t know why, because they make for a delicious solo-meal with a glass of wine and a salad.
If the blue cheese and lack of ketchup at Father’s Office strikes fear into your heart, HiHo is probably more your style. But really, HiHo is pretty much everyone’s style. The burgers are simple and plain delicious - the crispy patties come sandwiched between toasted buns with lettuce, pickles, cheese, and onion jam. Expect a bit of a wait, especially around office lunch hour, but you’ve waited longer in an In-N-Out line, and these burgers are better.
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.
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 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.
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. The oxtail dumplings are non-negotiable.
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.
Huckleberry will always be one of our favorite places to catch up with a friend over breakfast or lunch. The order-at-the-counter menu reads like a greatest hits of comfort food, with fried egg sandwiches, cinnamon rolls, huevos rancheros, and salads that hit the spot. You will probably encounter a line, but it will be worth it. And don’t forget about their baked goods. If you ever accidentally tell your neighbor that his dog is ugly, bring him some sweet treats from Huckleberry, and an equilibrium will be restored.
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.
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.
If you know one thing about Tartine, it’s that they make incredible sourdough bread. And the Santa Monica location is no exception. You’ll never be let down by a sandwich, pastry, or loose loaf here, and for that reason it should always be top of mind for breakfast and lunch. What you might not know, is that this location resides in a former funeral home, which really doesn’t have to do with anything, but makes for some good small talk in case you show up here with a friend or date and need a quick icebreaker. Sandwich-wise, we can’t stay away from the turkey club with crispy chicken skin, avocado, pickle mayo. It’s crunchy, creamy lunchtime bliss.
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 Kitchen + Wine. 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.
Forma is the coolest dinner option on Montana Ave. and good for everything from a group dinner to a meal with parents. Pasta and cheese are what you should be ordering at Forma. Keep an eye out for the “cheese scraper,” who dunks all the pastas into a giant block of cheese for mixing before they’re delivered to the table.
Via Veneto is like an old, distinguished gentleman on Santa Monica’s Main St., 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 atmosphere, and truly authentic Italian menu make it a Santa Monica mainstay.