Driving down the coast and into Manhattan Beach, it’s hard not to feel an odd sense of utopia wash over you. This is after all the land of multi-million dollar homes, never-ending televised beach volleyball tournaments, and USC grads having lots and lots of babies. For however clean-cut and generally uninteresting the whole place is, you can’t deny one thing - it’s beautiful. And active. And even though downtown is overcrowded, it sure can be fun.
And now, it’s a dining destination to be reckoned with as well. No longer just a place to get sunburned and eat some deep-fried fish tacos, Manhattan Beach has a new crop of restaurants (and some enduring old ones) that’ve officially put the rest of LA on notice. Here are the best of the best.
When we say that the restaurant scene in Manhattan Beach is legitimate, FWD is proof we aren’t just piecing together important sounding words. This tiny seafood restaurant on a downtown side street isn’t just one of the best restaurants in MB, it’s one of the best in all of LA. Prices might seem a tad high, but remember, you’re eating top-notch seafood. That’s just part of the territory. The all-day space is cool, low-key, and extremely accessible. And how many seafood restaurants can say that?
Little Sister is one of those restaurants in Manhattan Beach that’s worth getting in the car and driving to from wherever you are in the city. The Asian-fusion trend is pretty watered down these days, but this cool, modern spot proves it can still be done extremely well. It’s Vietnamese/Balinese/Sichuanese and everything in between. And it’s fantastic. The space isn’t huge, but it’s still big enough to roll in with a couple of friends and have a great meal you can’t get anywhere else.
There’s an odd dearth of even mediocre Italian restaurants around Manhattan Beach, so when Love and Salt opened a few years ago in the heart of downtown, it was welcomed with open arms. The modern trattoria frankly only needed to be good to be popular, but instead it decided to be excellent. From the pizza to the pasta to a rabbit porchetta we think about in bed late at night, Love and Salt is one of MB’s best. And as good of a date spot as there is.
When this modern, farm-to-table-whatever opened in 2011, Manhattan Beach food was basically known for pancakes and a well-placed Sharkeez. MB Post changed all that. And while it might not be quite as amazing as it once was, it’s still one of Manhattan Beach’s best. The vibe is upscale, but relaxed, and everything from the brussels sprouts to the skirt steak is worth ordering. But it’s the weekend brunch situation that really wins our heart. And the plates upon plates of cheddar bacon biscuits.
If you’re over the downtown crowds (and the dire parking situation that comes with it), FishBar is the answer to your prayers. This casual, beach-y seafood shack on the north side of town is where the actual locals (or at least the smart ones) go for day drinking, brunch, catching a game, or even a first date. The food here is fantastic, and we recommend anything with lobster. In particular, that mac and cheese. Pick us up some when you’re there please.
When it comes to true Manhattan Beach classics, it doesn’t get more real than at Uncle Bill’s. The 55 year old staple has been an MB breakfast go-to for years, and has the weekend lines to prove it. If you can get in, you’ll be rewarded with what’s easily the best pancake and waffle situation in town. And now with the newly expanded side patio, you’ll get insane ocean views as well. Caution: They close everyday at 3pm. So get your hungover ass up and make it happen.
We’ll get right down to it - The Arthur J is swanky as f*ck. It’s a steakhouse and expensive and Don Draper is definitely getting a handy from a clerk in the bathroom. But this retro spot is also one of Manhattan Beach’s finest. And why wouldn’t it be? It’s the same dude behind FWD and MB Post, and that’s a resume of astounding success. This isn’t your once-a-week drop-by spot, but if you’re looking to go big and stick your face in a 16oz. rib eye, Arthur J is where you do it.
Despite the party-hard reputation the South Bay enjoys, a large swath of MB is actually pretty sleepy and family-oriented. Which makes The Kettle’s role in your night out very important. Sure, there’s a few other late-night options scattered around downtown, but none match this 24-hour classic. The Kettle’s menu is truly massive, but no one in their right mind would pass up that bananas foster french toast after a hard night of Fireball shots.
Though Simmzy’s can be found all the way from Long Beach to Burbank these days, something about this original MB location endures. Situated in the heart of the main drag, the somewhat cramped brunch spot is almost the essence of Manhattan Beach. Beautiful people, good food, and everybody getting day-hammered on mimosas because it’s Saturday and that’s what you do.
Welcome to craft beer heaven. This local alehouse right on the strip might look like a regular sports bar from the outside, but it most certainly is not. Because inside they have one of the best craft beer stocks around, with a rotational draught list of local California breweries, and excellent bar food to soak it all up with. Seriously, those nachos. The vibe inside is always laid-back with great bartenders who know exactly what they’re doing.
Located in an upscale outdoor mall straight out of a Williams Sonoma hot flash, Nick’s has all the ingredients to be yet another corporate lunch/brunch wasteland. But it’s not. And it’s because the crowd-pleasing American comfort food menu is actually delicious with great service and an even better patio. It’s not a complicated formula, but one that’s easier said than done. This all-day downtown restaurant figured it out.
People tend to think of MB only as a strip of sand and a crowded downtown, when it actuality, that’s only a tiny part of it. The vast majority of MB is suburban inland neighborhoods, where the hot restaurant scene has been slow to materialize. Enter Manhattan House. Located in a random corner parking lot far from the beach, the casual eatery has brought great food, good drinks, and a fun atmosphere to a part of town that needed it. Warning: The parking situation is kind of mess. Look for street parking if you can.
While there’s always been a decent crop of casual Mexican joints in MB, nothing comes close to El Sombrero. The 40 year old staple has dirt cheap prices, a nice little dining room, and the kind of old-school Cali/Mexican food you want after a long day at the beach. We’re talking all the enchiladas, chile rellenos, and wet burritos your soul can handle.
The thing about The Strand House is the food is fine. Some of it might even border on being quite good. But it doesn’t matter, because that’s not why you’re here. You’re here for that view. And residing in a giant three-story building with unobstructed ocean views, you’re not going to find a better one than at The Strand House. Sitting in that main dining room and watching the sunset with a margarita in one hand and hamachi crudo in the other is something we could do every day for the rest of our lives.
Back out in inland MB, Tin Roof Bistro has developed a large following for basically one thing: bocce ball. Oh and good food, of course. But seriously, you never see bocce ball in LA and it’s here at Tin Roof ready for the taking. But if you’re not in the mood to be rolling balls around, Tin Roof has one of the best wine stocks in the South Bay, an amazing patio, and a solid American menu that has something for everybody.
From the outside, Rock N’Fish looks more like a Ruby Tuesday’s than a place you actually want to be eating at, but looks can be deceiving. And this family-friendly restaurant steps from the beach is serving good food and perhaps the most famous cocktail in the neighborhood - The Navy Grog. We don’t want to know the sugar intake in this rum-based cocktail, but we do want another one. Oh, and those crab cakes are quietly some of the best you’ll ever have.