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Crudo e Nudo assorted
Photograph: Courtesy Ashley Randall

The best restaurants in Santa Monica

At the Third Street Promenade and hungry for some great food? Check out these Santa Monica restaurants.

Patricia Kelly Yeo
Written by
Patricia Kelly Yeo
Contributor
Stephanie Breijo
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For those who don’t live on the Westside, making the trek to Santa Monica for lunch or dinner can be daunting. Will there be traffic? Probably. Will it be hard to find parking? Unless you’re in one of the public lots around Third Street Promenade, probably. But will the food be worth it? Yep. From destination-worthy sushi to every price point and type of Italian food under the sun, this small, tourist-friendly beachside city is full of amazing restaurants worth the drive across town. Although by no means exhaustive, check out our list of 15 Santa Monica restaurants you shouldn’t miss—then get back to your L.A. dining grind.

The 16 best restaurants in Santa Monica

  • Restaurants
  • Contemporary American
  • Santa Monica
  • price 3 of 4

When chef Josiah Citrin split his (former and current) Michelin starred ultra-fine dining restaurant Mélisse into two different restaurants, the menu wasn’t the only thing that changed. Now divided between an intimate 14-seat hidden alcove for Mélisse and the more casual (but still pricey) fine dining spot Citrin, the combined Santa Monica dining space now provides Citrin’s comforting yet wholly gourmet takes on classics, like pitch-perfect roast chicken coated in garlic and breadcrumbs and refreshing oysters under sorrel and cucumber while leaving ample room for acolytes in search of the chef’s awe-inspiring, now-legendary tasting menu.

  • Restaurants
  • Californian
  • Santa Monica
  • price 3 of 4

Is there anything Jeremy Fox can’t do? Since 2006—long before farm-to-table menus became fine dining de rigueur in L.A.—Rustic Canyon has been serving the best locally sourced meat and produce to tourists and neighborhood regulars alike, now with head chef Andy Doubrava. Grass-fed short rib is served with broccoli and a sprinkling of curried macadamia nuts. On the starter menu, there’s an amberjack crudo brightened with dragonfruit and cilantro, and a time-tested Baja sea bass freshened up with carrot escabeche. No matter what you order, Rustic Canyon’s 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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  • Restaurants
  • South Asian
  • Santa Monica
  • price 3 of 4

Once known for Spice Table in the early 2010s, chef Bryant Ng and managing partner Kim Luu-Ng have firmly established themselves in the upper echelons of Santa Monica dining with their upscale Southeast Asian restaurant, Cassia. Drawing inspiration from across the region, the husband-and-wife duo has managed to keep its dinner menu weekend destination-worthy. Take, for example, Cassia’s kaya toast, one of the only renditions across all of L.A. Served with a soft egg, it’s a sweet beginning to a dinner that might include Indonesian beef rendang bathed in creamy coconut curry, served with a side of clay oven bread, or a charcuterie fried rice combining Louisiana tasso and Chinese sausage. Note: Their Vietnamese coffee pudding topped with whipped cream is worth saving the extra room for dessert.

  • Restaurants
  • French
  • Santa Monica
  • price 4 of 4

Located on Santa Monica’s Main Street, this Michelin starred, traditionally inclined French bistro elevates classics like onion soup and beef tartare to new-to-casual-L.A. heights of fine dining. Chef David Beran even possesses an old-school French duck press for an artery-clogging, show-stopping traditionally prepared duck for two ($185), which includes roasted duck breast, crispy duck skin salad, and duck leg bread pudding doused in drippings combined with cognac and red wine. Prepared tableside, it’s worth ordering at least once, although there is no bad dish on the menu at Pasjoli, where the “stupidly good” foie de poulet à la Strasbourgeoise delights even more experienced restaurant critics.

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  • Restaurants
  • Delis
  • Santa Monica
  • price 2 of 4

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.

  • Restaurants
  • Seafood
  • Santa Monica
  • price 2 of 4

Beautifully plated, locally sourced and utterly delicious seafood are on the menu every night at Crudo e Nudo, a tiny, charming Main Street restaurant that keeps sustainability and ethics in mind. First launched as a pop-up during the pandemic, the restaurant's cozy, built-out parklet hosts the bulk of the restaurant's seating, where servers will dole out gorgeous small plates of seafood that will likely change how you look at crudo. Here, chef Brian Bornemann—formerly of Michael's, also on this list—and partner Leena Culhane add bright, modern tweaks to the typically stalwart oil-and-lemon Italian raw dish, for a casually artisan seafood meal that'll definitely upstage your everyday sushi joint. Vegan dishes and natural wines round out Crudo e Nudo's offerings for a laidback gourmet experience you won't soon forget.

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  • Restaurants
  • American creative
  • Santa Monica
  • price 3 of 4

Since opening in 2019, the newest member of the Rustic Canyon restaurant family has become one of the most interesting eateries on the Westside. Named for the chef’s daughter and grandmother, Birdie G’s serves market-driven New American food with Eastern European flourishes out of a large, industrial space at art gallery hotspot Bergamot Station. A matzo ball soup using carrot miso adds an umami twist on a Jewish classic, while their must-order lamb “a la Saless,” inspired by Raffi’s Place in Glendale, comes to the table on a thin bed of impossibly crispy rice flavored with dill and other Persian spices. For dessert, Birdie G’s strawberry rose petal pie overhauls the oft-ridiculed mid-century American Jello dessert by incorporating hibiscus and rose, flavors more suitable to a 21st-century dining palate.

  • Restaurants
  • Italian
  • Santa Monica
  • price 3 of 4

Vibes: the only word that comes to mind after the elevator ride up to this Tulum-like, all-day rooftop restaurant and bar serving seasonal California Italian cuisine and top-notch cocktails. Located upstairs from the Laemmle Theater, Elephante boasts one Santa Monica’s best indoor-outdoor spaces, with resort-like interior design that feels ripped from the pages of Conde Nast Traveler, including chic modern wood furniture and a stunning view of the ocean from the aptly-named Sunset Room. Meet friends during the day for brunch and lunch, then bring a date at night for low-lit romance. Our go-to is the whipped eggplant dip with puffy house-made flatbread, but there’s also excellent pizza, pasta and a sunny weekend brunch with the likes of soft polenta with eggs, crab and sweet corn.

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  • Restaurants
  • Japanese
  • Santa Monica
  • price 1 of 4

Once the only standalone onigiri spot on the Westside (they’ve since opened a Culver City location), this tiny but mighty Japanese omusubi shop on Main Street is the perfect place for a light lunch or afternoon snack. Sunny Blue’s free barley tea and perfectly shaped triangles of nori, rice, and meat, seafood and vegetarian fillings have made it our favorite Santa Monica lunchtime spot. With each onigiri around $5, they’re also budget-friendly. To upgrade from snack to meal at Sunny Blue, order some of their thoughtfully executed side dishes, like kinpira gobo (burdock roots and carrots) and daikon salad with ponzu dressing. It’s also worthwhile to check their daily chalkboard for seasonal flavors of onigiri and Japanese soups.

  • Restaurants
  • Californian
  • Santa Monica
  • price 2 of 4

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 substitutions, but trust us: that’s A-okay.

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  • Restaurants
  • Japanese
  • Santa Monica
  • price 2 of 4

With a cherry blossom-lined entrance complete with mini faux wooden bridge, Kappo Miyabi’s entrance is grander than it needs to be. Don’t let it deter you from entering this sushi and izakaya spot at the corner of 7th and Arizona, where a meal is hands-down excellent at any price point. Yakitori, donburi lunch specials, immaculate raw fish creations: Kappo Miyabi seemingly does it all, and does it well. Though the restaurant’s odd hard-backed wooden chairs inside are a bit uncomfortable, its patio out back and small outdoor seating area are the perfect place to sit back, relax and enjoy one of its signature toro uni bowls flavored with shiso leaf and sesame oil with a side of chicken thigh and shishito skewers off its kushiyaki menu.

  • Restaurants
  • Italian
  • Santa Monica
  • price 3 of 4

Now with two locations on Montana Avenue and Venice’s Main Street, Forma is a neighborhood Italian dinner spot with two major reasons on the menu to visit: their beautifully plated cheese and charcuterie boards, and their pasta dishes involving cheese, all of which are tossed by a designated scraper in giant wheels of Parmesan, pecorino romano and other types of hard Italian cheese. In the sea of Montana Avenue’s so-so chain restaurants and Santa Monica’s countless Italian eateries, Forma stands out as a go-to dinnertime spot for a date, get-together with friends or somewhat upscale family reunion.

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  • Restaurants
  • Japanese
  • Santa Monica
  • price 2 of 4

Housed in the lobby of the Fairmont Miramar, Soko is an eight seat sushi counter (with a few tables out front) with top-notch food and a relaxed ambience that’s worlds away from the see-and-be-seen crowds at the Bungalow and Fig, the Fairmont’s longtime hotel restaurant. Launched in July 2021, this hidden gem is a new project by veteran hotel sushi chef Masa Shimakawa, previously of the Four Seasons Westlake Village. Soko’s small menu of traditional nigiri and appetizers, ordered á la carte, has already started to attract locals and hotel guests in search of fresh, high-quality sushi—no bells or whistles required. Time Out tip: Order the spicy edamame.

  • Restaurants
  • French
  • Downtown Santa Monica
  • price 3 of 4

With a focus on Marseillaise cuisine, which blends French, Spanish, Italian and Moroccan flavors, Massilia is the kind of all-day neighborhood staple restaurant that still manages to pack in a wow factor at a weekend brunch or date night dinner. Its charming plant-dotted, tile-floored space, complete with wrought iron fence around the patio is the perfect backdrop for a dinner of Moroccan couscous royal with a side of patatas bravas and ratatouille. Their excellent happy hour menu, available 4:30 to 6pm Monday to Friday, includes tapas favorites like $8 pan con tomate and $7 quiche lorraine bites.

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  • Restaurants
  • American
  • Santa Monica
  • price 3 of 4

The smell of Tar & Roses’ wood-fired grill at 6th Street and Santa Monica Boulevard is an irresistible siren call, even after all these years. Chef-owner Andrew Kirschner’s cozy, seasonally-inspired spot is still a favorite not just among Santa Monica locals, but the Westside as a whole. Seats fill up quickly for Singanporean chili crab cakes, corn and mascarpone gnocchi, and the theatrical whole fried snapper, which comes with soba noodles and dipping sauce on the side. Tar & Roses also happens to be one of the best places to dine with a group. (If you skip the signature oxtail dumplings, we should probably talk.)

  • Restaurants
  • Californian
  • Santa Monica
  • price 3 of 4

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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