The questions I hear most often from friends when they visit are: What are the hot new Santa Monica restaurants? Who's the latest chef in town? While I'm well-acquainted with the top-rated Santa Monica restaurants, I don't, however, much keep up with the 'it' places of the moment.
I tend to favor restaurants that withstood the test of time (and repeated visits) and consistently hit the mark. It is for them - and you - that I've created this list of some of the best places in Santa Monica to enjoy an upscale dining experience that won't disappoint.
These are the restaurants I'd choose for a date night, a birthday or anniversary celebration, or if I had the urge to splurge on dinner. They're listed by type of cuisine, ranging from American- and California-inspired to French and Asian. No matter which restaurant you choose, one thing is for sure: You're in for a delicious, memorable evening.
California cuisine is a food movement that originated in California. It focuses on dishes driven by local and sustainable ingredients with an attention to seasonality and an emphasis on the region's bounty. The food is typically chef-driven.
1819 Ocean Avenue; (310) 260-7511.
Cast Restaurant & Lounge at the Viceroy Santa Monica is where you'll find creative food, hand-crafted cocktails, and stylish outdoor cabanas where you can enjoy both.
The menu is equally creative: the deviled eggs with kimchi & bacon starter is not to be missed; My Grandma's Bolognese - a hearty main dish mix of tagliatelle, sausage, veal, bone marrow and parmesan reggiano - is guaranteed to satisfy even the hungriest in your group.
1535 Ocean Avenue; (310) 393-3113.
The flower-filled Ivy at the Shore has the same high-quality food as the original Ivy on North Robertson, without the Beverly Hills pretenses.
The menu offers a little bit of just about everything - from Italian to American to Caribbean fare (in short, that means pasta, meat, and seafood dishes primarily) - so it is guaranteed to be a hit no matter how picky anyone in your party might be.
1111 2nd Street; (310) 394-5454
The Penthouse - on the 18th floor of the Huntley Hotel - takes dining to new heights. Rooftop restaurants in Santa Monica don't get any better than the 360-degree views here.
And dinner? It's among Santa Monica's most enticing - both for variety and creativeness. Start with charcuterie of artisanal meats and homemade pate.
Move on to entrees like fresh-caught halibut, a variety of past, and premium-cut steaks. Desserts here are a star turn.
1147 3rd Street; (310) 451-0843
In a December 2016 feature on newly reimagined institutions where creative types once worked and partied, the New York Times Style Magazine featured Michael's, Santa Monica.
Here, "Godfather" author Mario Puzo often hosted family-style dinners with Francis Ford Coppola (Puzo frequently referenced the restaurant in his books) on the outdoor, 70-seat patio at Michael's.
The patio remains intact today in the newly remodeled restaurant, which is still home to its original famed art collection featuring works by John Baldessari and David Hockney, among others. The highly seasonal, market-driven menu continues today to please the most discerning of palates.
1119 Wilshire Blvd.; (310) 393-7050
Rustic Canyon features a regularly changing menu of Farmer's Market-inspired dishes with ingredients from local farmers, ranchers, and fishers who practice sustainable agriculture. Executive chef Jeremy Fox, an acclaimed Michelin star chef formerly of Ubuntu in Napa, brings his vision of seasonality, simplicity, and quality to Rustic Canyon's kitchen.
The food here is made and plated with sharing in mind so that you can order for the table and taste different dishes.
2709 Main Street; (310) 392-9025
Come to this iconic eatery owned by Wolfgang Puck, specializing in Asian-French fusion cuisine, and prepare to fall in love with the sophisticated decor, its cozy romantic vibe, and its location on Main Street, which offers plenty of places to stroll before and after dinner. Chinois is spendy but worth it - you may want to check out the prix fixe menus available for lunch and dinner to keep costs down.
1104 Wilshire Blvd.; (310) 395-0881
Josiah Citrin's chic French-New American restaurant, known for its season-driven prix fixe menus.
1810 Ocean Avenue; (310) 394-5550
This intimate upscale Italian restaurant will have you feeling like a Capo. You can't go wrong with the fresh and tender Italian meats, delectable seafood, and pasta dishes. The extensive wine selection has something for every palate and budget.
Suppose you'd prefer a bit more privacy during your dinner in Santa Monica. In that case, you can always take the route Selena Gomez and The Weekend chose when they stepped out recently for dinner at Giorgio Baldi: They got a room. As in a private dining room.
Whether you're like-minded when it comes to privacy or want to make a special meal even more intimate, you've got options at Santa Monica restaurants.
You don't need to be a rock star - but having a rock star's budget might help. While private dining at Capo will set you back $15,000 for the night, many restaurants offer the privacy you seek - and are a bit less spendy.