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Summer House Santa Monica

Restaurants, American Lincoln Park
2 out of 5 stars
3 out of 5 stars
(6user reviews)
 (Photograph: Martha Williams)
Photograph: Martha WilliamsSummer House
 (Photograph: Martha Williams)
Photograph: Martha WilliamsSummer House
 (Photograph: Martha Williams)
Photograph: Martha WilliamsSummer House
 (Photograph: Martha Williams)
Photograph: Martha WilliamsGold beets, goat cheese at Summer House
 (Photograph: Martha Williams)
Photograph: Martha WilliamsSummer House
 (Photograph: Martha Williams)
Photograph: Martha WilliamsSummer House
 (Photograph: Martha Williams)
Photograph: Martha WilliamsSummer House
 (Photograph: Martha Williams)
Photograph: Martha WilliamsWood-grilled swordfish at Summer House
 (Photograph: Martha Williams)
Photograph: Martha WilliamsSummer House
 (Photograph: Martha Williams)
Photograph: Martha WilliamsSummer House
 (Photograph: Martha Williams)
Photograph: Martha WilliamsSummer House
 (Photograph: Martha Williams)
Photograph: Martha WilliamsSummer House

Waiting for a table at a restaurant isn’t usually much fun, but at Summer House Santa Monica, the wait is the best part. On a recent Friday night, a night so cold my date and I took a cab instead of taking the train and then walking 10 minutes, we headed into the Lincoln Park restaurant, which immediately whisks you away to summery Southern California.

A bakery case greets you as soon as you walk inside, and it’s filled with cookies, Rice Krispie treats, granola bars and other baked treats. To the left of the bakery case is Summer House, a bright, welcoming space, with greenery suspended from high ceilings, a countdown of how many days it is until summer on the wall, and a buzzing energy. To the right is Stella Barra, a sister pizzeria that’s dark and looks like a tacked-on sports bar. Both are Lettuce Entertain You spots operated by chef-partner Jeff Mahin, who helms Do-Rite Donuts and has two Stella Barra locations in California.

When the quoted time for a table was 45 minutes, we decided to head over to Stella Barra for a drink and wait it out. While Summer House was packed, we easily grabbed a pair of comfortable bar seats and ordered a round of drinks—a Negroni sbagliato, fizzy from prosecco, and the Heart of Another, a draft cocktail made with rum, lime, pineapple and maraschino—both perfectly fine, but not terribly exciting.

As the wait ticked upwards of 45 minutes, we checked on our table (they told us they were really busy and overwhelmed) and then things started to turn around. We hit the bakery case for an excellent chewy oatmeal cookie studded with dried apples. We reopened our tab and ordered the Sicilian Highball, made with Cynar, Averna, ginger beer and lemon—basically a deeper, bitter, more delicious Moscow Mule. Then the bartender appeared with an orphaned sausage pizza, and asked if we wanted it. With help from the friendly group next to us, we demolished the pizza, which turned out to be the best thing we ate all night (the cookie took second place). The sausage was loaded with fennel and the nicely salty crust was crispy and chewy. When our table was ready next door, after nearly an hour and a half wait, we both wished we’d just said no and ordered another pizza and round of Sicilian Highballs.

That’s because the beauty of Summer House is only skin deep. Sure, the space is stunning and unlike anywhere else in Chicago, and sure, the servers look really cool with their colorful checked shirts, but dish after dish is merely okay. A salad of market greens and herbs was barely dressed, while a Hamachi tartare with avocado and green apple was appealing texturally, but didn’t have any zip. Grilled salmon, served with roasted fennel and arugula pesto, was overcooked. The pasta, made in house, featured garganelli tossed with broccoli rabe and the same fennel sausage used on the pizza next door. It was well-executed, but I’d much rather eat that sausage on Stella Barra’s crust. For desserts, you can pluck something from the bakery case and have it topped with ice cream, but we loved the light-as-air pineapple sorbet.

The cocktail list is also less appealing than next door, and the Sonoma Coast, a pisco and pineapple concoction, proved to be one note and dull. But the wine list is solid and stocked with mostly California wines worth ordering, like the rich and fruity Frog’s Leap cabernet.

The Summer House menu includes one odd item—listed under the “stuff” section is a beach ball for $4.95. I envisioned some sort of insane regional California dish and got excited, but our server rolled her eyes. 

“No, that’s actually a beach ball,” she said and pointed behind us. “They’re all sitting over there. I wish they’d take these off the menu.”

Summer House is trying to be fun and quirky, but the real fun is next door at Stella Barra.

By: Amy Cavanaugh


Venue name: Summer House Santa Monica
Address: 1954 N Halsted Street
Cross street: btwn Armitage Ave and Willow St
Opening hours: Dinner
Transport: El stop: Brown, Purple (rush hrs) to Armitage, Red to North/Clybourn. Bus: 8, 73.
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Static map showing venue location

Average User Rating

3 / 5

Rating Breakdown

  • 5 star:0
  • 4 star:2
  • 3 star:2
  • 2 star:2
  • 1 star:0
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The atmosphere is so SO gorgeous. It's like eating lunch in a lifestyle blogger's Instagram photo. The food is pretty good, albeit a little pricey for the size of the dishes. That being said, I probably wouldn't go again on my own accord but wouldn't miss a boozy brunch with friends if they booked the ressy. 

Want to escape to Southern California - this is the place to go.  Great atmosphere, food, and service.  I had the spicy tuna poke - delicious.  Cocktails looked fantastic.  I love that you can grab bakery items to go as you leave from the counter in the lobby.  A wonderful spot to take in the California vibe in Chicago.

At Summer House the vibe is what it's all about. This is a great place to grab drinks and catch up with a friend-- if you can even get a seat. This place is always packed. While I haven't been too impressed with the food menu, their cocktails never disappoint me.


The ambiance and comfortable feeling is on point at Summer House. Can be expensive so be picky with what you get. Their menu changes with the season but the orecchiette & fennel sausage pasta and Brussels sprouts are delicious! If you're looking to try a few things, sharing is a great idea to get a taste of the different menu items. The sushi hand rolls are small and not worth it but were still tasty. If you're hungry, try to get reservations before you go otherwise it could be quite a long wait. The bar is bright and inviting if you do need to find a home before your table is ready. 

The hype wasn't real. Don't get me wrong, it was good. I love the space, it really makes you feel like your in Cali, but the food was just okay. I love the idea of it but for the price, I can think of a lot of place that amazing. I just expected to much I guess

Really dissapointed and I don't consider myself a foodie. There's instant charm as you walk in, but the decor is as far as it goes. The food is bland and way overpriced. Drinks were good, but again, overpriced for what it is. Would not recommend, definitely not going back.