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The best restaurants in Santa Monica

Hanging out on the Westside and getting hangry? These Santa Monica restaurants should do the trick.

Fried cauliflower, laksa and kaya toast at Cassia
Photograph: Rick Poon Fried cauliflower, laksa and kaya toast at Cassia
By Erin Kuschner and Stephanie Breijo |
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For those who don’t live in Santa Monica, making the trek there can be daunting. Will there be traffic? Probably. Will it be hard to find parking? Oh, most definitely. But will it be worth it? Yup. Fantastic happy hour deals and beautiful beaches abound in this city, and if you’re lucky enough to live in the area, you know that there are some killer restaurants, too. Check out our list of Santa Monica restaurants you shouldn’t miss—then get back to that beach life. 

Santa Monica restaurants you should try

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<p>Hamachi in M<span style="font-weight: 400;">onochrome</span></p>
Restaurants

Dialogue

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There’s a hefty fee to attend one of Dave Beran’s 20-odd–course tasting menus, but the price (around $220 per person, sans wine pairings) and the hunt for the front door (through a food court) are more than worth it. The James Beard Award-winning chef crafts extraordinary, monthly-rotating meals centered around California produce and attention to detail, and it’ll leave you full (of both food and whimsy). This is a special-occasion restaurant, where each dish arrives a presentation sure to wow any dining companion, so book your table accordingly.

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Burger at Father's Office
Photograph: Jakob N. Layman
Restaurants, Californian

Father’s Office

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This neighborhood staple from renowned chef Sang Yoon is always loud and jam-packed—and it probably has something to do with the famed Office burger (we’ll get to that later). Don’t let the crowd discourage you; just grab a beer from the list that’s almost three times the length of the food menu, and mingle with friends while you wait for a table. The name of the game here is upscale bar food, including garlicky mushrooms and some excellent fries. But the star is the messy, delicious, cult-favorite Office burger, made with applewood bacon, arugula, gruyère and maytag blue cheese, and a heap of caramelized onions. No substituitions, and trust us, that’s OK.

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Persimmon, burrata and ricotta gnocchi at Rustic Canyon
Restaurants, Californian

Rustic Canyon

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Is there anything Jeremy Fox can’t do? Rustic Canyon, his unpretentious spot that’s been a favorite for more than a decade, was one of the first to milk the most out of vegetables at the start of the “farm-to-table” movement—but the chef offers much more than that. House-made corned beef tongue drapes delicately over rye bread, a sprinkling of greens up top. There’s creamy polenta with grass-fed short rib, and Baja sea bass in an eight-month–aged miso. Dishes are fresh, comforting and comfortable—there’s not a lot of pomp and circumstance in these plates, though the flavor’s always there (vegetable or no).

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Little Prince in Santa Monica
Photograph: Courtesy Little Prince/Andrew Noel and Tegan Butler
Restaurants, American

Little Prince

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Alma chef Ari Taymor’s Santa Monica spot began as a brunch-only pop-up, but fast became a brick-and-mortar with a wood-fired menu, all-natural wine list and some of the most decadent sticky buns in the city. It’s also one of the city’s trendiest restaurants, day or night, which means there might be a crowd. No matter. Hang out at the flower-adorned bar while you wait for a table—preferably one in front of that gorgeous oven while you feast on pasta with merguez or the dry-aged steak with hibiscus-and-chili jam.

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Michael's Santa Monica
Photograph: Courtesy Michael's Santa Monica
Restaurants, Californian

Michael’s

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Who really invented “California cuisine”? Turn your attention to Michael McCarty and his charming bungalow restaurant, which has been a SaMo staple since 1979. Much of the food is sourced from the neighboring farmers’ market, and there’s a high importance placed on colorful combinations and locally-sourced ingredients—resulting in some of L.A.’s most, well L.A. dishes. There’s persimmon gazpacho, and sunchoke gnocchi, and rib eye served with Japanese cauliflower. There’s also a stunning, verdant back patio draped in lights, for a bit of romance just blocks from the beach.

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Photograph: Jakob N. Layman
Restaurants, Delis

Bay Cities

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The Godmother at Bay Cities is one of those dishes that you have to try before you can really call yourself an Angeleno. Piled high with salami, mortadella, prosciutto, coppa, ham, provolone cheese, mild or spicy peppers and served on freshly baked, housemade bread, it’s a sandwich that draws lines almost every hour of the day. There is a shortcut, though, and you can take it by ordering from Bay Cities’ website and picking up your colossal sandwich instead. Inside, a gourmet market offers Italian specialty foods, like fresh pasta, olive oil and cheeses. But really, you’re going to come here and not get a sandwich? Fuggeddaboudit.

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Clay oven bread with young soybean puree, Koda Farms chickpea cu
Photograph: Rick Poon
Restaurants, South Asian

Cassia

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When Bryant and Kim Ng closed their popular restaurant Spice Table in 2013, fans mourned the loss of Little Tokyo’s Southeast Asian star. The only consolation: a promise that a similar project, in conjunction with fellow husband-and-wife duo Zoe Nathan and Josh Loeb (Rustic Canyon), would be opening in Santa Monica. That project was Cassia, and man, was it worth the wait. A beautiful mash-up between French and Vietnamese cuisine, Cassia’s menu embodies the best of both worlds: Vietnamese Pot au Feu with walnut mustard and bone marrow; chopped escargots with lemongrass butter; charcuterie boards that feature Singaporean candied pork and more.

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Spaghetti at Uovo
Photograph: Courtesy Uovo
Restaurants, Italian

Uovo

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“We’ve come a long way, baby,” is probably what a plate of Uovo’s handmade pasta might say to you if, of course, it could talk. From the minds of Sugarfish comes Uovo, a quick-and-casual Italian restaurant that only serves fresh pasta that’s been overnighted from Uovo’s own kitchen in Bologna, Italy. Sure, they could have just made the pasta here, but why do that when they can bring us all fresh noodles made in the world’s pasta epicenter? Look for classic pasta dishes from Rome and Bologna, among other locales, each topping out at around $15. With vegetable sides at $6 and wines by the glass around $10, this is one of the most affordable ways to dine Italiano—and it’s definitely cheaper than a flight to Bologna.

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Élephante rooftop restaurant and bar in Santa Monica
Photograph: Courtesy Yelp/Élephante
Restaurants, American creative

Élephante

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This breezy, all-day rooftop restaurant and bar serves light, bright food with seasonal ingredients on the plate and in the cocktails, but the real star is the view. The indoor-outdoor space feels like a dream living room, with modern, comfortable-but-chic furniture and a stunning view of the ocean off the patio. Meet friends during the day for brunch and lunch, then at night, bring a date for low-lit romance. Our go-to is the pizza (namely the Cacio e Pepe, add anchovies), but there’s also house-made pasta, wood-fired vegetables and, on weekends, a sunny brunch with the likes of soft polenta with eggs, crab and sweet corn.

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Photograph: Courtesy Punta Cabras/Jakob N. Layman
Restaurants, Mexican

Punta Cabras

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Chef Daniel Snukal’s beloved taco shack lives again, now with a full bar and full-service operation. This is the bright, colorful and all-out fun taco joint for us, whether we’re dining solo or bringing a whole crew (you know, to better make use of that Lazy Susan of salsas at the center of the table). Find all-day tacos and aguas frescas on the taqueria side, then in the sit-down restaurant, a menu that includes shareables such as beet-and-uni tartare, even more tacos and large-format plates like massive stuffed crab. Pay close attention to the beverage menu, where you’ll find bright cocktails and a well-curated list of Mexican spirits and liqueurs.

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