The Best Restaurants in Santa Monica

Wilshire Restaurant Santa Monica Patio
Wilshire Restaurant, Santa Monica | Photo: Wilshire Restaurant

Every week, tens of thousands of people descend on Santa Monica to enjoy the inviting beach, bike path, pier, mountains, and of course the food. SaMo has long been a culinary trendsetter, and now boasts several classics, including Michael’s Restaurant, Chinois on Main and Valentino. The farmers market, which dates to 1981, of course helps to supply surrounding eateries with the most current produce. Here are 15 of our favorite restaurants in Santa Monica.

Bay Cities Godmother
The Godmother at Bay Cities  |  Photo: Joshua Lurie

Bay Cities Italian Deli & Bakery

Order online at this Santa Monica institution, opened since 1925. Bay Cities is so popular for sandwiches that cars frequently flood the parking lot, halting traffic on adjacent Lincoln Blvd. Bay Cities is synonymous with the Godmother, an Italian sandwich that stacks Genoa salami, mortadella, capicola, ham, prosciutto, and provolone on house-baked bread that packs a pleasant chew. Of course, Bay Cities also sells plenty of Parmigiana, meatballs, and hundreds of different dry goods that fill aisles of shelves.

Farmshop Artichoke and Strawberry Salad
Artichoke and strawberry salad at Farmshop  |  Photo: Joshua Lurie


Thomas Keller Restaurant Group graduate Jeff Cerciello charted his own course with business partner Michel Darmon in the Brentwood Country Mart. The airy space has an open kitchen, black-and-white farmer photos on the walls, a DNA helix-like chandelier, and a space that eases into a multi-faceted gourmet market. Cerciello’s protégée, Joshua Drew, helms the kitchen on a daily basis, primarily producing salads and sandwiches for lunch. Dinner is more ambitious, delivering dishes like grilled Burgundy snails with griddled Provolone, and yellowtail with Thai basil and horseradish pistou. Pastry chef Brittainy Turnquist contributes morning pastries and desserts like butterscotch pudding with candied ginger, brown butter and pecan shortbread.

Father's Office Burger
Father's Office Burger  |  Photo: Joshua Lurie

Father's Office - Santa Monica

Sang Yoon, who rose through the ranks while working in fine dining and has gone on to create a formidable culinary compound in Culver City, made his first mark in Santa Monica by revamping Father’s Office in 2000. The chef has built on the success of his bar menu, which includes a well balanced Office Burger with dry aged beef, caramelized onion, applewood bacon compote, Gruyere, Maytag blue cheese and arugula on a baguette. Matchstick fries are natural companions, as are the craft beers. The rest of the menu has evolved over the years from Spanish style tapas to include choices like spicy stout ribs and Manila clams. What hasn’t changed is the demand, which remains high.

FIG Santa Monica Wood Smoked Manilla Clams
Wood Smoked Manilla Clams at FIG Santa Monica | Photo: FIG Santa Monica

FIG Restaurant

FIG is a seasonal powerhouse located inside the Fairmont Miramar Hotel & Bungalows. The space features an inviting porch with pool views, a pewter bar, and plenty of pigurines. Yes, there is an infatuation with pork, and it factors into the menu as charcuterie, a Brussels sprout bolstering agent, and pork ribeye. Of course, people can’t live on pork alone, and FIG touts plenty of other options, including braised tongue with tomatillo salsa and breakfast radishes, a panoply of salads and vegetables, and ocean trout with fennel, carrots, grains and chicken jus.

Huckleberry Rotisserie Chicken
Rotisserie chicken at Huckleberry  |  Photo: Joshua Lurie

Huckleberry Bakery & Café

Josh Loeb and pastry chef Zoe Nathan built on the success of Rustic Canyon by opening Huckleberry Café & Bakery in 2009. Their order-at-the-counter concept with nostalgic art and natural lighting was an immediate hit thanks to countertops and display cases packed with tantalizing pastries and seasonal sides. Breakfast and lunch bring hearty egg dishes, sandwiches, and salads like Kale Caesar or Shaved Fennel + Citrus. At night, people grab whole rotisserie chickens to take home, along with roasted Weiser Farms potatoes and turkey meatballs that come bathed in tomato sauce that all but begs to be dipped with Huckleberry’s crusty house-made bread.

Melisse Redesign.jpg
Mélisse  |  Photo: Joshua Lurie


In an era when fine dining has dwindled, Josiah Citrin has managed to stay relevant by continuing to push Mélisse forward, and not just the cuisine. In 2008, to celebrate his restaurant’s 10th anniversary, he worked with DEX Studio to create a new color scheme (violet and white), installed a floor-to-ceiling wine case, and accented the space with glass chandelier with a black linen shade and hand-blown crystal sculptures from Saint-Paul de Vence, France. In 2012, Pablo Moix and Steve Livigni complemented a robust wine program with deluxe specialty cocktails. As always, Citrin remains French-inspired, market-driven, and plenty progressive. His “standard” menu includes options like lobster Bolognese and truffle-crusted Dover sole, served tableside. Citrin invites diners to give him “Carte Blanche,” treating guests to a luxurious anything-goes experience.

Note: It has been reported that Mélisse will be closing from March 2, 2019 until Summer 2019 to undergo a change into "something completely different."

Rustic Canyon California Prawns Scampi
California prawns scampi at Rustic Canyon  |  Photo: Joshua Lurie

Rustic Canyon

Chef Jeremy Fox steered Rustic Canyon’s kitchen in a very different direction after Evan Funke departed Josh Loeb and Zoe Nathan’s restaurant to open Bucato at Helms Bakery. Fox, a Bay Area refugee, now steers clear of house-made pasta and incorporates more global influences into a menu that’s still seasonally inspired and no longer lists Rustic Canyon’s famed burger, though it is still available if you ask nicely. The space remains a modern classic, with a glass front, plant-shielded sidewalk tables, green backed booths and wood tables and menus that hint at the restaurant’s namesake locale, which contains a hidden creek in northern Santa Monica. The share-friendly menu changes frequently and might include California prawns, bathed in Calabrian chile butter; and roasted sugar snap peas coated in savory Kalamata and caper tapenade. Heartier eaters can opt for “big plates” like roasted chicken with young carrots and vadouvan, which is earning buzz. As always, the restaurant has a strong wine program, and they recently added cocktails.

Stella Barra Pizzeria Margherita Pizza
Margherita pizza at Stella Barra  |  Photo: Joshua Lurie

Stella Barra Pizzeria

The mouth of Main St. now features the first restaurant from Lettuce Entertain You and chef Jeff Mahin, who previously worked as a pastry chef, and now primarily focuses on savory items when he’s not serving as a pizzaiolo. The Santa Monica restaurant features a U-shaped bar ringed with high-top butcher-block tables, an open kitchen with white subway tile backing, shelves of wine up high, and reclaimed wood pylons. The menu carries a pizza mission statement that describes, “locally milled flour, filtered water, sea salt and fresh yeast.” Keep matters simple with a Margherita, featuring a chewy crust that hosts mozzarella, sweet basil, extra virgin olive oil, and a fairly sweet tomato sauce. It’s also possible to add ingredients like house-made pork sausage and Hobbs pepperoni. Mahin has also developed a following for his burrata with wood-grilled grapes.

Whist Bellwether Gnocchi
Bellwether ricotta gnocchi at Whist  |  Photo: Joshua Lurie

CAST Lounge

The Viceroy Santa Monica is well past the point of being trendy. Sure, designer Kelly Wearstler provided an initial spark with her plate-lined walls and chic poolside cabanas. The Sopranos added a secondary boost, when Christopher Moltisanti (played by Michael Imperioli) stayed there before his untimely end. Now the hotel’s signature restaurant, Whist, relies more on Chef Tony DiSalvo to keep things current. The CIA graduate worked for New York titans like Jean-Georges Vongerichten before heading west and adopting a more seasonal approach. He took over Whist in 2009 and initially focused on creative pastas, proteins and salads. Now he’s incorporated more global influences and made the food more shareable. His menu now contains sections of “bites,” vegetables, “simple salads” and “pasta,” with a hint of protein and sweets. Options now might include lamb kefta meatballs with orange, pistachio and yogurt; whole wheat papardelle with porcini mushrooms, walnuts and noble vinegar; and honey glazed Muscovy duck breast with fennel and Asian pear.