This little city by the sea is no longer in the culinary shadow of the big city dining establishments. Even Pete Wells from the N.Y. Times gave three stars recently to Cassia and Bryant Ng’s Asian themed eatery, and many other well-known chefs are opening outposts of their Eastside eateries out West in Santa Monica. Popular mini-chain Plan Check has added Ocean Avenue to its most recent outposts, Grand Central Market’s Wexler’s Deli and Silver Lake hang-out Knuckle & Claw have recently opened in the beachy area as well, with other top chefs to follow, but here are seven current standouts.
Top Tables to Book Now
Frequent Food Network celebrity chef Eric Greenspan has opened a Santa Monica outlet of his West Hollywood favorite dining destination Mare in the old JiRaffe space. While there is not a romantic patio at this location, the food and ambiance emits an equally sultry Mediterranean vibe. Try the skirt steak sandwich with chimichurri, crispy skin trout with walnut guanciale gribiche or choose your own bowl of shellfish and broth from basil pistou to spicy sausage romesco or vadouvan curry with green apple and keep the rose wine flowing.
If you think that vegan food is boring, you have not tried Erven. Located just a few blocks from Mare (along with the same owners) – Chef Nick Erven from the now defunct St. Martha in K-Town, puts a delicious spin on the plant based menu. A must is the beer battered tofu sandwich with slaw, a rice cake ‘gnocchi,’ with beans and tomato-kimchi soup or the black garlic chickpea fritters with yuzu. Fans of St. Martha will be glad to see the seaweed ‘Dorito’ with guacamole made lives again on this menu. Unlike other eateries of this ilk, you will not leave with a heavy carb-loaded feeling, but more of a subtle, satisfied appetite.
Jeremey Fall has brought his original Hollywood breakfast bar to Venice beach (just a few blocks from Santa Monica), with the most important meal of the day, all day and night theme. Not lost on the Westside crowd is his indulgent boozy milkshakes and spiked coffee. The menu offers many childhood favorites such as French toast made with challah bread, but with an added zing of pear brandy. The hands down best all-around item is the house breakfast sandwich with sausage, eggs and gruyere cheese on a pretzel bun, which makes perfect sense since Fall is also a partner with Alvin Cailin – (the creator of Eggslut), on a few other upcoming ventures that we are already salivating about. NighthawkRestaurants.com
Revamps and Revitalizations
Again, this one is on the border-line of Santa Monica and Venice but the exciting new revamp and menu changes after 26 years, should keep this Main Street original bar and restaurant on top of mind for locals and travelers to the area. Executive chef Yuichi Natori remains at the helm, with over 25 years at the Chaya Restaurant Group. Highlights of the modern Izakaya menu of shared plates include seabass brandade croquettes to sliced Korabuta pork belly and a hearty seafood paella. What is not sourced locally at the farmer’s market, comes from the best vendors in Japan – seafood from the open waters of Kyushu or beef from Kobe. The sushi bar still remains but diners are now able to sit around a Kaisen market (think raw bar), where a variety of unique as some local offerings are displayed.
Restauranteur Michael McCarty was a pioneer in Santa Monica when he opened the doors to Michael’s over three decades ago. The culinary scene was bleak in these parts and the Promenade was filled with tacky stores including a Woolworth’s – but that didn’t stop chefs from Nancy Silverton to Sang Yoon from cooking here over the years. This classic dining staple has just reinvented itself again – along with the coveted patio and upstairs art gallery, with new chef Miles Thompson at the helm (Allston Yacht Club). Sichuan pork dumplings with cured salmon roe and black vinegar are already creating a buzz as is the blistered baby broccoli with braised pig ears, spicy peanuts and a soft egg Milanese. Larger plates include duck confit with rose geranium, sweet potatoes and pomegranate or black cod with lemongrass rice. Whipped cheesecake with walnut sour cream curd is a brilliant light ending.
Come for Cocktails, Stay for Food
LOCAL KITCHEN + WINE BAR
We love a place with a patio on Ocean Park but also a daily happy hour from 3-5pm. While the Fig & Thyme cocktail has been a huge hit, you will want to order several of the pizzas that feature truffles and mushroom or house sausages. Try a middle Eastern spiced meatball sandwich with herbed yogurt during a weekend brunch along with smashed duck fat potatoes. Chef Stephen Murray hails from famed Bottega in Napa Valley and has created a stir with locales here for his chicken under a brick with balsamic chili glaze, Monterey calamari and wood-roasted crispy cauliflower.
Finally, a good destination restaurant on the Third Street Promenade that is not an afterthought from a shopping excursion or movie binge. Whether you are wanting lunch, dinner or cocktails, this massive two-story space will have something to keep you entertained for hours. If you love to people watch, sit on the front patio near the bar with A Lo Cubano drink. For a lunch with friends, try the main floor dining room with a spaghetti carbonara. Move it upstairs to the cozy bar with a view below if you have a romantic tryst in mind – or just a chocolate ménage a trois dessert.
Contributed by Carole Dixon