10 Best Restaurants in Santa Monica

Santa Monica, the city famous for its beaches and shopping, its healthy residents and fantastic quality of life, is not quite as renowned for its restaurants. Yet there are a ton of great places to eat, if you know where to look.

We ate our way through the restaurants of Santa Monica, visited the old standbys and the shiny new hot spots, and came away with a list of 10 restaurants that warrant the drive — or, soon, the train ride! — to the beach.

Fish taco at Tacos Punta CabrasEXPAND
Fish taco at Tacos Punta Cabras
Garrett Snyder

10. Tacos Punta Cabras
Duck into this tiny taco shop at lunchtime and you'll easily find just as many patrons as you will at bigger, fancier restaurants at the same hour — all crammed into a space the size of many restaurants' foyers. People probably will be watching a soccer game on the overhead TV while they wait for their excellent fish tacos and cauliflower tostadas, or spilling out to the few tables and chairs that are set up out on the Santa Monica Boulevard sidewalk. Run by two chefs with fine-dining backgrounds — Josh Gil at Joe's Restaurant and BLT; Daniel Snukal at LudoBites and Urasawa — Tacos Punta Cabras crams a lot of great food into that small space along with all those people. This being the Westside, you also can get healthier renditions of street food: Order a tofu taco with some lemon habanero sauce and enjoy the best of all worlds. -Besha Rodell 2311 Santa Monica Blvd., Santa Monica; (310) 917-2244, tacospuntacabras.com.

"The Grand" seafood platter at Water Grill
"The Grand" seafood platter at Water Grill
Anne Fishbein

9. Water Grill Santa Monica
Apart from the view, the best reason to come to Water Grill in Santa Monica is the raw bar. There's a fantastic selection of oysters, and the iced shellfish platters both here and downtown are one of L.A.'s great treats. The smallest (dubbed "the Grand") is one of the few things on the menu that could be described as a bargain: For $39, you get four oysters, two cherrystone clams, two Peruvian scallops, six shrimp, six mussels, half a lobster and a smattering of periwinkles that you pry from their shells with tiny plastic picks. It's enough to satisfy two people easily, an affordable indulgence. Water Grill's greatest strength, the quality of its product, is evident here: sweet, tender lobster meat; fat, briny oysters; mussels and shrimp that pop with freshness. That freshness carries over to the rest of the menu, where you can order just about any type of fish or shellfish, prepared simply or as a composed dish. -BR 1401 Ocean Ave., Santa Monica; (310) 394-5569, watergrill.com.

Office burger at Father's Office
Office burger at Father's Office
Anne Fishbein

8. Father's Office
The original location of Sang Yoon's gastropub (some say L.A.'s original gastropub) is still as strict in its policies as it is fun to partake in them. You must be 21 to enter, you must order at the bar and then fight for one of only about 70 seats, you may not request substitutions. The website even proclaims that "dessert items including birthday cakes are not permitted." But give in to Yoon's fussy way of doing things and you'll be rewarded with one of the best beer selections anywhere, one of the best burgers in the country and a creative, affordable menu that is as generous as the rules of the place are strict. -BR 1018 Montana Ave., Santa Monica; (310) 736-2224,  fathersoffice.com.

Pizza bianca at Milo & Olive
Pizza bianca at Milo & Olive
Rick Poon

7. Milo & Olive
In the over four years since it opened, Milo & Olive has become many things to many people: the hub of Zoe Nathan's small but brilliant baking empire; the place to get arguably (arguably! Calm down) the best pizza on the Westside; a restaurant where you can run into friends and wandering chefs at the bar or the handful of communal tables. Any of these is reason enough to head over to the restaurant Nathan and husband Josh Loeb named after their kid (that would be Milo). Another reason, along with the latte with house-made almond milk, which goes pretty damn well with Nathan's chocolate chip cookies: the two giant pizza ovens that are the focal point of the open kitchen, the literal hearth warming the whole house. -BR 2723 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica; (310) 453-6776, miloandolive.com.

Whole roasted turbot at Santa Monica Yacht Club
Whole roasted turbot at Santa Monica Yacht Club
Anne Fishbein

6. Santa Monica Yacht Club
Add chef Andrew Kirschner to the short list of purveyors of West Coast–style seafood. If anything, his restaurant, the Santa Monica Yacht Club (known also as SMYC), is even more Californian than the Hungry Cat. There are no lobster rolls here; instead, there is lobster on toast. With burrata, of course. There's a midcentury nautical vibe to SMYC. And there is a lot that it borrows from Asia, borrows from Mexico, borrows from South America. Yet it all shares a common theme of colorful, bold flavor, an aesthetic that is certainly Kirschner's but also Southern California's. It's breezy and fun and, yes, almost too fashionable, but this chef in this town can get away with overt trendiness. It's a style of seafood restaurant we, as a region, can be proud to call our own. -BR 620 Santa Monica Blvd., Santa Monica; (310) 587-3330, eatsmyc.com.



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