Famous for its iconic pier and walkable Third Street Promenade, Santa Monica has the right kind of restaurant for just about everyone, from the casual to the fine dining end of the spectrum. While there are tourist traps galore (and a fair amount of restaurants that don’t necessarily stand out), there are also hidden gems and noteworthy destinations to be found all over the standalone city — and not just next to the ocean. From some of the city’s best sandwiches to high-end Italian done right, here now are 18 superb Santa Monica restaurants to try.Read More
18 Superb Santa Monica Restaurants
All the best places to eat in the city by the sea
Forma Restaurant & Cheese Bar Santa Monica
Forma is a staple Santa Monica Italian destination, tucked up on Montana Avenue. Locals love the quiet locale for its ambiance and attractive menu, from the fried pizza dough and burrata gnocco fritto starter to pasta finished inside giant cheese wheels. Protein mains skew lighter with plenty of grilled seafood on the menu.
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Margo's Pizza Kitchen
With an entirely plant-based menu, Margo’s in Santa Monica serves some of the best vegan pizzas on the Westside, especially the gluten-free Sicilian-style that still manages to have all the pleasure and comfort of a crispy, cheesy pie laden with vegetables and more. The pasta, like the cacio e pepe, and Impossible meat burgers, are equally impressive for non-meat eaters.
Tartine Santa Monica
Though expanded across the LA area with plenty of locations, SF-based Tartine Bakery takes over a former Tudor revival-designed funeral home in Santa Monica that goes back to the 1930s. The all-day menu serves reliable toasts, salads, and sandwiches, much of which use Tartine’s best-in-class naturally fermented bread. Just don’t get too spooked out by the former operators.
Golden Bull Restaurant
Established in 1949, this historic steakhouse off the PCH reopened in 2018 with a refreshed old-school vibe and fine-tuned chophouse menu. The dinnertime menu covers the classics with Caesar salad, shrimp cocktail, lamb chops, New York strip, and a bone-in ribeye. Remember to order some stiff cocktails, from the Manhattans to the martinis.
Rustic Canyon showcases Southern California's seasonal bounty, with dishes like roasted chicken with carrots, walnut, a carrot-top yogurt and molasses, and pecans. One of Santa Monica’s most storied and reliable places for modern California cuisine.
Rock N Pies
Rock ‘n Pies feels like the kind of place that real Westsiders deserve. While there are ample fancy spots for high-end meals or tourist trap joints selling middling seafood, this is the kind of restaurant and bar where it’s still possible to get a deal on pizza slices and a pint of beer. Sure, the quiet owner is secretly famous, but for families and neighborhood diners, that’s not the draw. People come to feel like they’re a part of the party at Rock ‘n Pies, and they are.
Josiah Citrin’s namesake restaurant inside the former Melisse has reopened with a four-course menu, though a la carte options are available too (and the bar area can accommodate diners right now). Two-Michelin-star Melisse, which now occupies its own space inside the building, runs over $300 per person (plus tax and gratuity) for a gastronomical experience.
Bryant Ng and Kim Luu-Ng's Cassia has been heralded by critics and diners alike for its elevated Vietnamese, Chinese, and Singaporean fare with French bistro accents. Many of Cassia’s greatest hits include the kaya toast, beef rendang, laksa, and chickpea curry.
Michael’s is more than just a Santa Monica institution with a great art collection and a nice patio. It’s a decades-old icon, a precursor to the modern California cuisine movement, the kind of place that has helped to make countless careers over the years. Stop by for a drink, some of the freshest produce around, and to see what all the fuss is still about after all these years.
One of Santa Monica’s most exciting sushi spots, the tiny eight-seat counter and the smattering of tables set at the side entrance to the Fairmont Miramar hotel are where chef Masa Shimakawa prepares stellar nigiri, sashimi, and other raw Japanese fare. Meaning “storeroom” in Japanese, Soko feels like a literal hole in the wall, but with the quality of a destination omakase spot.
Bay Cities Italian Deli & Bakery
This Italian deli offers what is likely the most iconic sandwich in all of Los Angeles: the Godmother. Bay Cities’ signature sub is filled prosciutto, ham, capicola, mortadella, Genoa salami, and provolone cheese, all contained in a crusty Italian-style filone roll.
Visitors to Santa Monica will invariably look for a stylish, easy-going restaurant with a terrific view, and most of the places in this category will veer either too expensive pricewise or unimpressive food-wise. This isn’t the case with Elephante, which certainly boasts clean views of the Pacific Ocean, but also serves tasty salads, wood-fired pizzas, and fresh pastas that are a cut above other tourist traps.
This Ocean Avenue staple is neither cheap nor particularly hip, especially in a standalone city that also has spots like Elephante for the cool crowds to glom onto. That’s neither here nor there for owner Bruce Marder, a longtime LA restaurateur who continues to work this menu of fine wines, robust pastas, and wood-grilled meats to a never-ending stream of Westside customers.
Main Street Santa Monica needed a place like Cobi’s, a Southeast Asian-inspired dinner spot that has all the charm of a grandma’s home (or backyard), along with well-made curries, raw fish preparations, butter chicken, tartare, and grilled branzino that will please a crowd. Be sure to ask the servers for a solid bottle of natural wine to pair with the meal.
Augie's On Main
Josiah Citrin’s casual Main Street restaurant named after his late son serves some affordable, fast-casual versions of classic Melisse/Citrin dishes, from crispy “dirty” chicken, a terrific upscale restaurant-style griddled burger, and fried chicken sandwiches. The dishes might seem a little scattershot but everything is cooked much better than it needs to be, and at inflation-resistant prices.
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Crudo e Nudo
Main Street Santa Monica has seen a dining renaissance in recent years, with Crudo e Nudo striving for simplicity and pristine seafood in its diminutive sidewalk layout. Think fresh oysters, Italian-style crudo, and grilled seafood. The restaurant is now open daily from noon to 10 p.m.
Fine dining vet Dave Beran serves up an elevated French bistro experience on Main Street Santa Monica. Favorites like the chicken liver-stuffed foie de canard brioche, steak au poivre, and whole pressed duck (which is now presented in the dining room again) continue to please longtime regulars, while the rest of the menu offers California-inspired takes on classic French fare. One of the most reliable upscale places to eat on the Westside, with the service and ambience to match the amazing food.
Rocking a colorful energy and sprawling mini parklet-style outdoor dining area, Heavy Handed draws in burger aficionados looking for ground short rib options that ooze with American cheese, crunchy pickles, and special sauce. With crunchy beef tallow fries and a dessert of swoon-worthy soft-serve, it’s hard to think of a more satisfying quick meal in Santa Monica.