Santa Monica continues to draw a staggering amount of visitors, with over 8 million annual tourists who flock to the city for attractions and of course the food. That number doesn’t even include the steady stream of Angelenos who cruise over to Santa Monica. Learn about eight great restaurants to complement a day (or night) out with family. By Joshua Lurie
Back on the Beach Café
Technically, Back on the Beach Café has an indoor dining room, but why bother? Eat with your toes in the sand at a sun-soaked restaurant with plenty of bicycle parking, bobbing pigeons, and a sea blue façade that matches the adjacent Pacific Ocean. Back on the Beach Café dates to 1989 and now resides next to Annenberg Community Beach House and an inviting kid-filled playground. Dishes like buttermilk pancakes, breakfast burritos, and burgers come as no surprise. North African shakshuka, on the other hand, combines crumbled house-made lamb sausage, poached eggs, tomato and pepper stew, and diced feta cheese for a fun change of pace. The restaurant’s open for breakfast and lunch year-round, and for dinner in summer.
Bru’s Wiffle – A Waffle Joint
Bru’s Wiffle features fun, often over-the-top brunch and serves Belgian waffles that fit every taste. Eight types of chicken & waffles include Chicken on Fire with grilled onions, grilled jalapeños, Oaxacan cheese, and Bru’s blazing sauce. Specify white and/or dark meat. Waffles riff on classic comfort foods like churros (cinnamon sugar with cinnamon ice cream) and banana split (ice cream, whipped cream, bananas, strawberries, and chocolate). More basic options incorporate blueberries, bananas, and chocolate. They even serve a waco (waffle taco) with grilled or fried chicken, lettuce, pico de gallo, cheddar, mozzarella, jalapeños, sour cream, and salsa.
M Street Kitchen
Rich Melman and Lettuce Entertain You serve casual comfort food at M Street Kitchen on Main Street. At the base of a mixed-use building, you’ll find a big patio with grey columns and a relaxing dining room. In the morning, M Street Kitchen is a destination for sourdough English muffins served with whipped butter and seasonal preserves; or on egg sandwiches with thick-cut Hobbs’ bacon, sharp white cheddar, tomato, egg, and spicy chipotle mayo. Later on, consider white oak-grilled Atlantic salmon, cauliflower steak with jalapeño pesto, and for dinner, Prime Brandt Beef ribeye with garlic chimichurri sauce. Swing by the bakery for oversized cookies.
Pier Burger serves the “last burger on land” at the end of historic Route 66, and makes them count. The nouveau retro red and white stand features a big back patio with picnic tables, coastal views, and creative food murals. Their signature burger combines Angus beef, lettuce, tomato, house-made Thousand Island dressing, and melted American cheese on a soft bun. Skin-on French fries are submerged in scalding peanut oil for maximum flavor and crunch. Pier Burger also serves flat-top dogs, a pair of sandwiches (crispy chicken or white sea bass) and delicious frozen custard.
Everybody loves tacos, and Pinches Tacos is easy to pair with shopping in Santa Monica Place or at the nearby Third Street Promenade. This beachside outpost is one of six Anaya brother-run locations in L.A. or Las Vegas. Their food court stall touts a blue and black frame and mural with pink desert motif, cacti, and skeleton. Tacos come on sturdy corn tortillas with fillings like chicken mole with shredded breast meat and house-made Oaxacan mole; pork adobada with crispy chile marinated meat; and nopal with cactus paddle, tomato, onion, and cilantro salad with crumbled cotija cheese. Burritos, sopes, and tortas feature similar choices, plus popular grilled Angus beef (asada), and citrus-scented pork (carnitas). Saturdays and Sundays bring breakfast classics like chilaquiles and breakfast burritos.
REDS Swedish Pizza & Burger House
The original owners of REDS Swedish Pizza & Burger House were from Sweden. Since the business changed hands, they no longer sell Swedish candies, but still bake thin-crust, conveyor belt pizzas with unusual toppings. Turkey Madison touts ground turkey döner, garlic sauce, tomato sauce, mozzarella, and dried oregano. Other atypical topping combos include banana and curry (The Garland) and tuna with onion and bell pepper (The Georgetown). REDS renamed more recognizable pizzas like pepperoni (The Ruston) and Hawaiian-inspired ham and pineapple (The Rockport). Hamburgers are more straightforward. The Charlotte Burger teams a patty with basic lettuce, onion, pickles, dressing, and if you so desire, cheese.
Rori’s Artisanal Creamery
In 2012, Rori Trovato launched Rori’s Artisanal Creamery in Santa Barbara, and has since made an impact on L.A.’s ice cream scene. Her Santa Monica location on Montana Avenue features orange stools, small wood tables, and a counter full of baked goods. Their premium ice cream makes for a family-friendly dessert or snack and is available in cones, cups, cookie sandwiches, shakes, and sundaes. Start with great seasonal flavors like New Hampshire maple pecan, Mary Ellen’s pumpkin pie, and distinct gingerbread ale (age 21+) that pairs well with a house waffle cone.
Chef Dakota Weiss, perhaps most famous for “Top Chef,” teamed with Alan Nathan, Seth Cohen, and Brett Nestadt on Sweetfin Poké, a colorful Hawaiian-inspired chain with seasonal flourishes. The original Santa Monica location features vivid décor and bowls. Classic tuna bowl with white and green onions and shichimi togarashi sure is satisfying, but Weiss doesn’t stick to tradition. Yuzu salmon is a modern classic co-starring tangy yuzu kosho, and edamame. Ponzu lime sweet potato doesn’t miss seafood thanks to a tangy sauce and contrasting mix of avocado, carrots, edamame, cucumbers, Serrano chilies, and black forbidden rice. Grab a bag of Weiss’s signature matcha white chocolate or spicy Sriracha popcorn for the road.