Santa Monica's 10 best restaurants: incredible food, sometimes with an ocean view

Santa Monica is one of California's most famous beach cities, for many very good reasons. Beautiful beaches, the iconic pier with its Ferris wheel that lights up the evening sky, and – of course – its countless wonderful restaurants. Visitors (and locals, too) have so many eating choices it can be a bit overwhelming, from classic high-end dining spots to restaurants overlooking the Pacific Ocean to more casual places where a bit of sand in your shoes is the norm.

We've chosen our favorites, the 10 Best restaurants in Santa Monica, which include Chinois on Main, the always delicious Pan-Asian spot and the Michelin-starred French finery at Melisse, as well as more relaxed eateries including Italian standout Forma, seafood specialist Water Grill, classic Mexican from a local longtime favorite (Gilbert's El Indio) and the place for incredibly good pizza (Stella Barra). No matter what culinary style suits your fancy, Santa Monica has it!


Rustic Canyon Restaurant

Santa Monica Rustic Canyon Restaurant

Photo courtesy of Rustic Canyon Restaurant

Rustic Canyon Restaurant opened in 2006 and ever since this homey neighborhood place has gotten rave reviews from the locals as well as being lauded with a Michelin star. The restaurant's convivial atmosphere makes discovering their seasonal farm-to-table cuisine and fine wines a delight. Rustic Canyon works with numerous local farmers, ranchers and fishermen who practice sustainability, helping to ensure that it only delivers the highest quality of food to its patrons. The menu changes all the time, but try their pork chop with a smoked trout roe sauce for a taste you will remember. And don't miss a sampling of Pastry Chef Erika Chan's delightful desserts; she's a Michelin honoree on her own.

Recommended for Santa Monica's Best Restaurants because: Rustic Canyon is doing everything right in terms of cuisine and they have an award-winning wine list that focuses on small producers, too.

Jenny's expert tip: Be certain to have dessert, as Pastry Chef Erika Chan won the Michelin Guide 2021's Best Outstanding California Pastry Chef award.

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Tumbi Craft Indian Kitchen

Santa Monica Tumbi Craft Indian Kitchen

Photo courtesy of Tumbi Craft Indian Kitchen

At Tumbi Craft Indian Kitchen, Chef Ram Krishna Naidu brings an eclectic, exciting twist on Indian food to Santa Monica. His cooking emerges from less-familiar (to most Americans, anyway) places like Rajasthan, Goa, Afghanistan, New Delhi and Pakistan. Which means he's serving up some tasty dishes that people in those places eat as street food like spicy kebabs and Pani Puri, as well as restaurant classics including the Chicken Tikka done in the Tandoor oven. It's great with some Naan bread to sop up the excellent sauce. Diners find plenty of vegetarian options, including the huge Paper Dosa (crepe) made with rice and lentils and paired with yummy chutneys. You can even ask for truffle oil with your dosa, which we highly recommend, at this Michelin Bib Gourmand-awarded eatery. Desserts include the Chocomossa, fluffy fried samosas overflowing with rich chocolate.

Recommended for Santa Monica's Best Restaurants because: Unique flavors and a cheery setting including a sidewalk patio make Tumbi a sweet spot for dining near the Santa Monica Pier.

Jenny's expert tip: Go a bit early to sit on the patio to watch the crowds go by and to see the sunset, too.

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Gilbert's El Indio

Santa Monica Gilbert's El Indio

Photo courtesy of Gilbert's El Indio

For 47 years and counting, Gilbert's El Indio has been serving up the best Mexican food in Santa Monica. This family-run eatery has lasted through thick and thin (and the pandemic), despite lots of competition for the city's Mexican-food loving denizens. Created by and still run by the Rodriguez family, who also live in Santa Monica, this is truly a "local" joint, complete with top-notch Mexican favorites and pitchers of margaritas to help everything go down very smoothly. Favorites include Fernando's Burrito, a melding of Chile Relleno and burrito, and the Plato de Carnitas, luscious pork served in a classic sauce. Say hello to most anyone who works there, as they are all part of the extended family that has kept this classic place going through thick and thin, in a city that's full of Mexican eateries.

Recommended for Santa Monica's Best Restaurants because: One of Santa Monica's longtime, award-winning Mexican favorites for every meal, where everything is homemade, right down to the tortilla chips.

Jenny's expert tip: If you love margaritas, buy them by the pitcher here and share with everyone at your table.

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Santa Monica Forma

Photo courtesy of Jenny Peters

Forma takes its name from Formaggio, the Italian word for cheese, which is clearly dearly loved food in this convivial contemporary Italian eatery. Go with a crowd and share an assortment of small plates or perhaps sit alone at the bar and have a main dish all to yourself. Whatever way you choose to experience the fare at Forma, you'll head home completely sated, especially if cheese makes your heart go pitter patter. There are luscious risotto dishes and homemade pasta, all tossed inside huge hollow wheels of cheese while diners look on, as well as over 50 cheeses. Choose a selection of soft-ripened, semi-soft, washed-rind, semi-hard, blue-veined, hard or truffled cheese to make your own unique selection. For something completely different, taste the strangely appealing Burnt Spaghetti Assassina, one of Executive Chef Piero Topputo's recipes from his native Apulia.

Recommended for Santa Monica's Best Restaurants because: Cheese lovers will swoon over Forma's incredible, extensive selection; and their truffle-asparagus risotto is to die for, too.

Jenny's expert tip: Foodie Instagrammers will love taking a shot of the chef tossing pasta or risotto in the giant hollowed-out bowls made of pecorino romano or grana padano cheese wheels.

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Stella Barra Pizzeria and Wine Bar

Santa Monica Stella Barra Pizzeria and Wine Bar

Photo courtesy of Stella Barra

The pizza at Stella Barra is so good you'll be texting your friends to come join you for some pie at this convivial place on Main Street in Santa Monica, where Chef Ben Goodnick uses a traditional oven to make spectacular pizza. His dough is handcrafted daily, then fermented for at least 18 hours to give it a unique flavor. Then he adds market-fresh ingredients (think butternut squash, charred cherry tomatoes, Calabrian chilies) onto that crispy, yet chewy crust, resulting in a seriously great pizza. It's so good that there are now more Stella Barra Pizzeria and Wine Bar locations, one in Hollywood and another in Maryland.

Recommended for Santa Monica's Best Restaurants because: This is the best pizza you'll find near the beach in SoCal. And maybe the best pizza in all of SoCal!

Jenny's expert tip: Be sure to taste the Burratta Tomato Jam appetizer for a different take on that luscious cheese.

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BOA Steakhouse – Santa Monica

Santa Monica BOA Steakhouse - Santa Monica

Photo courtesy of BOA Steakhouse

Steak lovers know that BOA Steakhouse is the place for top-notch meat in Santa Monica. This outpost is a bit more casual than its West Hollywood predecessor (with a more relaxed dress code), but there's nothing casual about the food served here. The steak menu covers dry-aged beef, including 40-day New York Strip, massive filets and Japanese Wagyu. Plus, like every world-class steakhouse, BOA has signature rubs and sauces to choose from, along with a "Surf" menu including seafood options like lobster tail, salmon, ahi tuna or king crab. In a nod to the California food culture, diners will find gluten-free and vegan options.

Recommended for Santa Monica's Best Restaurants because: BOA Steakhouse is one of Southern California's best places to eat a memorable piece of meat.

Jenny's expert tip: Park in one of Santa Monica's numerous public parking lots, then take a stroll along the Third Street Promenade after your meal.

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Santa Monica Pasjoli

Photo courtesy of Pasjoli

Pasjoli is Santa Monica's relative newcomer, a French-inspired bistro that Chef Dave Beran opened in 2019, after closing Dialogue, his tiny one-Michelin starred eatery on the Santa Monica Promenade. Now in a cozy spot on Main Street, complete with a massive bar and outdoor garden space, Pasjoli is seriously French. That translates to crepe de crab, rilettes de canard and fois de poulet –" just for starters. The crowning jewel of Pasjoli is the main course roasted duck for two, prepared tableside, that the Michelin Guide calls "world-class culinary theatrics" when giving Pasjoli its own single star in the current guide. Beran's accolades also include garnering three James Beard awards, including Rising Star Chef of the Year 2012, an honor he has clearly proven he deserved.

Recommended for Santa Monica's Best Restaurants because: Chef Dave Beran's creations have been wowing Santa Monica diners for years; now is the time to try his highly lauded dishes.

Jenny's expert tip: If the spirit moves you, go for the caviar (ossetra) et blinis appetizer and bliss out.

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Water Grill Santa Monica

Santa Monica Water Grill Santa Monica

Photo courtesy of The Water Grill

Like its older sibling of the same name in downtown L.A., the Water Grill in Santa Monica is a seafood lover's paradise. Huge towers of raw and chilled shellfish are par for the course, served up in a large convivial space dominated by wood and leather. And there are plenty of other delicious cooked choices on the menu, ranging from an ahi tuna and avocado poke to a wild Mexican Mahi Mahi entree that will knock your socks off. Other wild choices include swordfish, halibut and sea scallops; you name it and the Water Grill probably has it on the menu. Plan a visit when the Spiny Lobster is in season in SoCal (October to March) and you'll discover a melt-in-your-mouth treat that makes you want to come back the next day and have more!

Recommended for Santa Monica's Best Restaurants because: Since 1989, the Water Grill has been doing seafood right in SoCal, in Santa Monica and beyond.

Jenny's expert tip: Always look for the hand-written whole fish choices at the bottom of the menu for a sublime treat.

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Chinois on Main

Chinois on Main

Photo courtesy of Wolfgang Puck Fine Dining Group

Chinois on Main, the second restaurant that Wolfgang Puck opened way back in 1983, has always been a perennial favorite on the Westside of Los Angeles. Located on Main Street in Santa Monica, Chinois was one of SoCal's first Asian Fusion eateries, melding Chinese, Korean and Thai flavors with Puck's signature California-French tastes. Classic menu items include Shanghai lobster with curry sauce and crispy spinach, Whole Sizzling Catfish and Szechuan Beef. The famed Chinois Chicken Salad is one of Puck's truly inspired inventions, a dish that has spawned countless imitators across the Southland. But there's only one place to get the crunchy, delicious original, and that's right here, at this beautifully decorated classic spot that's just a few short blocks from the ocean.

Recommended for Santa Monica's Best Restaurants because: This Santa Monica culinary institution is the original Asian Fusion restaurant in all of L.A.; nearly 40 years later, it still is incomparable.

Jenny's expert tip: Parking can be tough on Main Street, so head up Hill Street to Neilson Way where there are plenty of meter-parking lots a block away.

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Santa Monica Melisse

Photo courtesy of Mélisse

Ever since Melisse opened its doors in 1999, Chef-Owner Josiah Citrin has pushed for excellence in every element of this fine-dining experience and has succeeded admirably. His restaurant is the kind of place where patrons dress for dinner, the silver is real and every dish is precisely made to the exacting standards of French haute cuisine. Constantly showered with accolades, Melisse led the way toward seasonal menus sourced via local farmer's markets (Citrin is a fixture at the famed Santa Monica market) and continues to innovate. The chef makes the menu choice during this eight-course meal, so hope that the legendary Dover sole made tableside or the Cote de Boeuf Roti are on the menu. If not, rest assured that every bite will be memorable. Make sure to add wine to your meal, as Melisse has one of the best cellars in the city.

Recommended for Santa Monica's Best Restaurants because: One of the few two-starred Michelin restaurants in L.A. (as of 2021), this Santa Monica star is the place in L.A. for haute French cuisine.

Jenny's expert tip: Know before you go that there is only one way to eat at Melisse, which is an eight-course dinner tasting menu (currently set at $295 per person).

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