When you hear “Santa Monica” your mind might grab images of standard California iconography. A sunset at the pier. A ride on the Pacific Park ferries wheel. A crowd of tourists on the the 3rd Street Promenade. But food wise? Where do your thoughts take you? I know what I think about.
I think variety, from Caribbean to Japanese. I think fresh seafood, plump pierogis, and wood-fired pizzas. I get hungry anticipating my next trip to the westside, because Santa Monica has it all… if you know where to look. Start looking below.
Lunetta is where the locals eat. The modern American restaurant which earned a Michelin Plate award operates as an all day neighborhood cafe that transitions into a fine dining concept in the evening. Come for dinner where guests can be seen twirling handmade pasta on a fork and sinking their teeth into a juicy pork chop covered in blueberries. Menu items change with the season and specials are always popping up at the restaurant, keeping fans coming back for more.
Cha Cha Chicken
Family owned Cha Cha Chicken has served their signature Caribbean food to the Santa Monica community since the 90’s. The tropical menu features scrumptious eats like Coconut Fried Chicken, Jerk Salmon Tacos and the Cha Cha Chicken (most popular) a roasted chicken plate smothered in the restaurants famous Jerk sauce. Order at the counter and find a spot to sit, the space is entirely outdoors. It’s also BYOB if you want to add some liquor to an aguas frescas or snap open a cold beer.
Chef Mark Okuda’s Woodland Hills sushi restaurant Brothers Sushi expanded to the westside in 2021 bringing his signature modern omakase service to the Montana neighborhood. A wide range of a la carte items include dry aged fish, miso black cod, caviar and delicacies such as snow crab and fire fly squid make an appearance when in season.
Bay Cities Italian Deli & Bakery
Open since 1925, Bay Cities remains one of the the busiest places to grab a sandwich in greater L.A. reason, and that’s for good reason. On the menu is a mix of Italian and classic American sandwiches, including the famous Godmother, made with prosciutto, ham, capi cola, mortadella, genoa salami and provolone cheese on an Italian roll. And it’s that roll–freshly baked with just enough crunch–that really puts the sandwiches here a cut above the rest. I advise order online in advance to avoid the lines when possible. While inside the market pick up a couple other things to complete the meal like deli sides, sodas and sweets. Bay Cities accepts cash or debit only, so come prepared.
The birthplace of California cuisine, Michael’s has produced some of the most notable chefs in the city who went on to start their own restaurant empires including Top Chef winner Brooke Williamson, James Beard winner Nancy Silverton and Top Chef Masters Sang Yoon. At Michael’s you’ll feast on market driven plates that highlight seasonal ingredients from local producers. Owner Michael McCarty is known for his art collection, so take a moment to admire the art on the wall as you savor your bites.
HiHo Cheeseburger’s are made with grass fed and grass finished wagyu that’s certified humane and sustainably raised. Keep things simple with the classic burger or get the HiHo topped with cheese, ketchup, onion jam, lettuce, pickles and mustard. There’s even an option to add pastrami to your burger. Complete your order with hand-cut-twice-fried fries.
The team behind The Tasting Kitchen opened wood fired pizza spot Ghisallo in 2021. On the menu are a wide range of mouthwatering pies from a classic Margherita to a peppery Cacio Pepe. Ghisallo also offers freshly made pastas as well as salads and Italian sandwiches.
Chef Jeremy Fox’s playful Eastern European/American menu at Birdie G’s is influenced by what Fox grew up eating. Here you will find matzo ball soup, Southern Kugel in a pecan sage brown butter sauce and Sauerbraten, a German style roast, and other comfort staples. One constant is the $30 relish tray (worth it), a pickle-lover’s dream packed with fermented, fresh, pickled and marinated vegetables served with an onion dip. For dessert, the Rose Petal Pie is a stunning slice made up of kaleidoscope bits of strawberry, hibiscus, raspberry and rose on a pretzel crust. The restaurant recently added a happy hour daily from 5 to 6 p.m. with bar-only specials like a Kishka Burger, Caesar Fries and Smoked Sable Terrine.
The Office Burger at Sang Yoon’s gastropub Father’s Office is legendary and often named one of the best burgers in Los Angeles. Made with a house dry-aged beef patty, the burger is topped with bacon, arugula, caramelized onions, Gruyére and Maytag blue cheese. Order a side of Salt & Vinegar Tots and ask the bartender to guide you through picking a beer, there are dozens of options including a “Really Good Shi…” list if you want to get fancy.
Water Grill turns sustainably caught seafood into devour-able plates of art. Seasonal specials are located on the front page of their website and highlights the best of what the ocean has to offer at the moment. Maryland soft-shell crab, wild halibut, and spiny lobster have all made seasonal appearances. The restaurant also boasts a street view of the ocean, which is an added bonus.
Via Veneto on Santa Monica’s Main Street is where you would have dinner with someone you really, really like (as in… LIKE-like). The romantic atmosphere and incredible Italian food has kept this neighborhood gem in constant business since 2001. It’s a little on the pricier side, and there is a dress code, but the food and service is solid. Menu highlights include classics such as Vongole, Bolognese, and salt crusted Loup de Mer.
Japanese omusubi shop Sunny Blue adds a dash of diversity to the restaurant scene on Main Street in Santa Monica. Open since 2010, the family owned business is the first “made-to-order” omusubi business in the United States. Offering an authentic Japanese food experience that’s budget and kid friendly, this spot is ideal for anyone looking for a quick bite. The omusubi (also called onigiri) are triangle shaped rice balls stuffed with a filling and wrapped in a sheet of nori. Each are priced $4-$5. Stuffings include Miso Beef, Curry Chicken, Spicy Salmon to vegetarian options like Shiso Ume. The $14 Bento Box is a good deal and includes two omusubi of your choice, edamame, a spicy cucumber salad and Japanese pickles. Highlights also include the Kinpira Gobo a cold burdock root and carrot salad and the Milk Tea Boba.
Husband and wife duo Bryant Ng and Kim Luu-Ng has a real winner in Cassia. The upscale restaurant serves an imaginative Southeast Asian menu influenced by California-style cuisine. Food here packs a flavor punch with ample use of spices, herbs and fresh ingredients from local farms. An attractive range of dishes include Vietnamese “Sunbathing” Prawns dressed in lots of hot sauce; Kaya Toast slathered with coconut jam served with a runny egg dip; and a Spicy Lamb Breast on jasmine rice served in a clay pot.
Enjoy some handmade pierogis and other Polish eats at Solidarity. The restaurant has been the go-to spot for Eastern European food in Santa Monica and offer classics such as Golabki (stuffed cabbage), Borscht, Schnitzel and Stroganoff. Stop in during happy hour (Tuesday to Friday 5-7 p.m.) for discounts on platters, dumplings, beer and cocktails such as the Warsaw Mule.
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