LAReview

photo credit: Jessie Clapp

A spread of food at Cassia.
8.0

Cassia

Southeast Asian

Santa Monica

$$$$Perfect For:Big GroupsSpecial OccasionsOutdoor/Patio Situation

Included In

When Cassia opened in 2015, it was a game-changer for Santa Monica. Before then, it seemed like the only reason to eat so close to Third Street Promenade was if your Macbook appointment ran long or a visiting cousin tricked you into BBQ chicken pizza at CPK. This upscale Southeast Asian spot from the same group behind Rustic Canyon and Milo + Olive offered something different for the west of the 405 set: bold, jump-off-the-plate dishes like tender beef rendang, coconut-rich laksa, and peel-and-eat prawns doused in garlic-chili sauce, all served in an industrial-chic space that, in the mid-aughts, was reserved exclusively for an up-and-coming neighborhood east of Downtown called the Arts District.

Booths at Cassia.

photo credit: Jessie Clapp

The exterior of Cassia.

photo credit: Jessie Clapp

Interior dining room at Cassia.

photo credit: Jessie Clapp

Booths at Cassia.
The exterior of Cassia.
Interior dining room at Cassia.

Fast forward to now and Cassia is every bit as exciting as it was then. Sure, the concrete flooring and Edison bulbs hit differently than they did in the 2010s, but Cassia remains among the buzziest dining rooms in the neighborhood. The place swells nightly with sharply 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. It’s packed—for the same reason it’s been packed since the Obama administration: the food is great and still unlike anything you’ll find in downtown Santa Monica.

Cassia’s menu has grown over the years. Along with the original slate of Southeast Asian dishes that pull influence from Malaysia and Vietnam, you’ll also find a newer handful of fusion-y items that lean Cantonese. Our advice: pick one or two things from each section (appetizers, spreads, noodles, and mains) and plan for leftovers. Cassia is not cheap—even most appetizers are over $20—but portions are large and dishes are designed to be passed around the table, like wok-fried lobster with rice noodles or grilled lamb steak with a big pile of Sichuan-spiced fries. So don’t be bashful. Fill up every inch of your table with food, order some obscure German riesling, and bask in one of the Westside’s most dependably great restaurants.

Food Rundown

The crawfish toast at Cassia.

photo credit: Jessie Clapp

Crawfish Toast

A proper shrimp toast should crackle so loudly when you take a bite, the next table turns their heads. Cassia’s checks that box and more, with a unique, sweet-briney filling of crawfish and lime leaf. If you arrive famished, order these—they come out fast.
The mushroom satay at Cassia.

photo credit: Jessie Clapp

Mushroom Satay

There are three satays on Cassia’s menu and this is the best. $26 might seem like a lot for vegetables on a stick, but each mushroom on the skewer is roughly the size of a fist and covered in a spicy red chili sauce that they could probably sell on Shark Tank.
The beef rendang at Cassia.

photo credit: Jessie Clapp

Beef Rendang

This is a fairly straightforward version of the traditional Malaysian/Indonesian curry, and we’ve got no complaints. It’s slightly sweet, very hearty, and ideal for a chilly Santa Monica night. We’ll never come to Cassia without ordering this dish—even if it’s just to box up and take home for later.
Crab chili dip at Cassia.

photo credit: Jessie Clapp

Singaporean Chili Crab

We wish this dip had a touch more heat to it, but the crab meat is sweet, plentiful, and tastes even better smeared across the soft clay-oven flatbread that comes with it.
The Hainan chicken confit at Cassia.

photo credit: Jessie Clapp

Hainanese Chicken Confit

Not your average Hainan chicken. The rice has been fried in duck fat and the meat on the chicken leg is so tender it pulls off the bone with one fork scrape. We’d be happy if that was the entire dish, but the ginger-scallion and chile-lime dipping sauces make us even happier.
The house special lobster at Cassia.

photo credit: Jessie Clapp

House Special Lobster

Get this if you’re with a big group. Chunks of salty lobster are piled on a five-inch mountain of sauteed mushrooms and thick, rolled rice noodles. Even the half portion will feed four adults.

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FOOD RUNDOWN

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