Amuse Café. Brooke Williamson has already been an executive chef twice — first at Boxer, then at Zax. Together with Nick Roberts, 25, they’ve appropriated Venice’s funky old Van Gogh’s Ear (once a railroad bunkhouse), gave it a lick of chrome-yellow paint, prettied up the patio and upstairs dining room filled with clear seaside light. Amuse serves California bistro cooking made with lots of local farmers-market ingredients — a modest and lovely ambition. 796 Main St., Venice, (310) 450-1956. Brunch Fri.–Sun. 9a.m.–3p.m. Dinner Wed–Sun. 5:30–10 p.m. Entrées $13–$18. California Bistro. MH $$
Cha Cha Chicken. Although Cha Cha Chicken seems to operate mostly as a takeout stand, the patio off to the side is a pleasant place on a hot night. The cuisine is Caribbean poultry with attitude: a luscious, crisp-skinned bird gritty with spices and painted with dense, black sauce, slightly sweet and intricately spiced. Mulato Cubano is everything you could want in a pressed sandwich: violently spicy chicken, melted cheese, a pickle chip or two, and a French roll that has been folded, spindled and mutilated in the jaws of a sandwich press. 1906 Ocean Ave., Santa Monica, (310) 581-1684. Open Mon.–Fri. 11 a.m.–10 p.m., Sat.–Sun. 10 a.m.–10 p.m. BYOB. Street parking. Dinner for two, food only, $15–$20. MC, V. Caribbean. JG ¢
Cora’s Coffee Shoppe. This tiniest café, a former favorite hang of surfers, pier fishermen and idlers, has been annexed by owner Bruce Marder to the high-end Capo and transformed into a smart little patio café. Inside are glass cases packed with pastries and frittatas, a couple seats and about enough room to turn around in. More likely you’ll eat on the pretty patio, under a bougainvillea arbor overlooking Capo’s parking lot. The food is fresh, shares Capo’s excellent ingredients and is, according to the menu, "organic whenever appropriate." 1802 Ocean Ave., Santa Monica, (310) 451-9562. Breakfast, lunch and dinner Tues.–Sun., 7 a.m.–9 p.m. Closed Mon. No alcohol. Takeout. Lot parking. AE, MC, V. Meal-sized dishes, $5–$14. American. MH $
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Globe Venice. Chef-owner Joseph Manzare is a veteran of Spago and Granita, and the first restaurant he opened, the Globe in San Francisco, is noted as an off-hours hangout for other chefs. This Globe has outsized art and smart, cheerful waitresses — and one of the best roasted chickens in town. 72 Market St., Venice, (310) 392-8720. Lunch Mon.–Fri. noon–3 p.m. Dinner Sun.–Mon. 5–10 p.m., Tues.–Sat. 5 p.m.–mid. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, CB, DC, MC, V. Entrées $16–$24. California. MH $$
Joe’s. Enlarged from cramped tables in hallways to actual restaurant proportions, Joseph Miller’s beloved Venice venue is now like, well, a real restaurant, with a real dining room, a larger wait staff and — inevitably — a certain loss. Miller’s clear--flavored California-French cooking can still graze perfection, but the overall focus in both the cooking and temper of the place seems fuzzier and the bill seems significantly higher. And yet I still love his three- and four-course prix-fixe menus. 1023 Abbot Kinney Blvd., Venice, (310) 399-5811. Lunch Tues.–Fri. noon–2:15 p.m. Dinner Tues.–Fri. 6–10 p.m., Sat.–Sun. 6–11 p.m. Brunch Sat.–Sun. 11 a.m.–2:30 p.m. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, MC, V. Entrées $10–$25, plus $38–$45 prix-fixe dinner. California. MH $
Michael’s. California nouvelle cuisine may have been born in this art-infested restaurant where the Diebenkorns are real, the patio swarms with Robert Grahams, and media barons sup on pretty little salads of quail with pansy blossoms and sherry vinegar. Beyond the piles of arugula that reach halfway to the moon, the steak is the real thing, a prime New York strip dry-aged halfway to infinity, with an alarming mineral pungency bred out of most steak-house meat around 1952. But make sure somebody else is paying. 1147 Third St., Santa Monica, (310) 451-0843. Lunch Mon.–Fri. noon–2:30 p.m. Dinner Mon.–Sat. 6–10:30 p.m. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, CB, DC, MC, V. Entrées $28–$36. California. JG $$$
Rocca. Don Dickman, formerly of Trumps and Daily Grill, finally opened his dream restaurant in Santa Monica, a rustic Italian bistro with the look of a neighborhood New York eatery. Dickman does the lion’s share of cooking — all the stewing and braising — but he also has brought in an ace pasta maker, Maria Gomez. I’d go back for the flattened half-chicken "al mattone," an excellent-quality, juicy bird with beautifully seasoned skin. One night, a friend looked up and said with a slightly startled air, "Is this, uh, like a major restaurant?" In some ways, Rocca is simply too modest for that — too neighborhood, too underdressed. But for those of us who crave authentic Italian cuisine, Rocca is definitely a major restaurant. 1432-A Fourth St., Santa Monica, (310) 395-6765. Dinner Sun.–Thurs. 5:30–10 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 5:30–11 p.m. Beer and wine. Valet parking across the street at Border Grill. Entrées $11–$17. AE, DC, MC, V. Italian. MH $$