While the local culinary scene has been abuzz with trendy openings in Silver Lake, the developmental boom of DTLA and the cultural preservation of West Hollywood, a stretch of Santa Monica has quietly emerged as one of the best dining neighborhoods in the city. All at once, an area traditionally monopolized by cheesy tourist traps and overpriced bars has transformed into one of L.A.’s premier destinations for celebrity chefs, discerning food lovers and hotly anticipated concepts. And, in many ways, Ocean Park Boulevard has set the tone for this area’s food landscape.
Marked by concepts that balance accessibility with chef-driven menus, the beachy street represents a new addition to classic L.A. restaurant strips like Montana, Sawtelle or West Third. Concentrated along the stretch between Lincoln and 32nd, these elevated neighborhood restaurants embody the spirit of the laid-back beach town.
Local Kitchen and Bar
If there’s an MVP of the Ocean Park restaurant scene, it’s the pizza–, wine– and small plates–focused Local Kitchen and Bar. Though it opened just last year, this eatery was destined for success thanks to founder and Santa Monica culinary vet Maire Byrne, the culinary genius behind nearby Thyme Cafe and Market and Thyme Catering. She brings her family-friendly atmosphere and elevated comfort foods to Local Kitchen and Bar in the form of a sit-down concept that offers, appropriately, everything a local could ask for: an unbeatable bar program, seasonal menu of reinterpreted comfort foods, an outdoor patio and a remarkably well-priced happy hour. 1736 Ocean Park Blvd., Santa Monica; (310) 296-9007, localkitchenandwinebar.com.
Crimson Mediterranean Cookhouse
Tucked inside a shopping center that also boasts a Starbucks and a Yogurtland, Crimson Mediterranean Cookhouse would be easy to overlook. But those who do stop in are treated to some of the freshest, most accessible Mediterranean dishes in the city, ranging from grilled chicken kebabs to falafel wraps. The menu, which also features Intelligentsia Coffee, is built on a foundation of seasonal ingredients, organic produce, Middle Eastern spices and antibiotic- and hormone-free meats; the result is a series of bright, flavorful dishes that are easy on both your body and your wallet. 2901 Ocean Park Blvd., #127, Santa Monica; (310) 396-2400, crimsonla.com.
The OP Café
At the OP Cafe, lifelong Santa Monica residents Mark and Lani Verge run their quintessential California eatery with one motto in mind: It’s personal. A local landmark, the bright yellow beach bungalow has been serving up some of L.A.'s best breakfasts and lunches since it opened in 1996. For surfers, families and anyone who likes their breakfast burritos with a side of local flair, there’s no better place to spend a lazy afternoon — or hungover morning. 3117 Ocean Park Blvd., Santa Monica; (310) 452-5720, theopcafe.com.
At this modern deli focused on redefining an age-old restaurant concept, you won’t find any flavorless cold cuts or stale rolls; the bread is baked fresh daily, the meats are slow-roasted and the ingredients are free of preservatives and hormones. And though the restaurant’s “Roasted and Toasted” motto sets the bar pretty high (because, yum), the menu not only delivers on this ambitious promise but exceeds expectations with its selections of homemade soups, dip-style sandwiches, open-face crisps, savory bowls and all-day breakfast, aka the Holy Grail for L.A. foodies. 3101 Ocean Park Blvd., Santa Monica; (310) 450-0880, carverykitchen.com.
Part coffee shop, part bakery, part breakfast and lunch restaurant, Uplifters Kitchen is equally suitable for a work lunch, brunch with friends or afternoon of coffee and work. In fact, there’s so much going on here that it’s hard to choose where to start, between the signature chocolate chip cookies, Stumptown cold brews and signature frittatas. Thankfully, you don’t have to try everything the first time — you’ll want to come back — or all at once; in the spirit of hospitality and encouraging customers to take their time here, Uplifters Kitchen offers free Wi-Fi. 2819 Ocean Park Blvd., Santa Monica; (310) 664-8868, uplifterskitchen.com.
Thyme Cafe and Market
The original concept from Local Kitchen and Bar’s founder, Thyme Cafe and Market opened in 2009 as one of the seminal eateries on this then not-yet-hip restaurant strip. The type of go-to cafe every neighborhood needs, it draws regulars who come back again and again for Thyme’s salads, sandwiches, Sunday brunch and easygoing wine menu, as well as the selection of themed, seasonal and custom gift boxes and Hollywood Bowl picnic baskets. And the pastries. Don’t miss the pastries. 1630 Ocean Park Blvd., Santa Monica; (310) 399-8800, thymecafeandmarket.com.