Looking for Italian and Mexican restaurants in Santa Monica
agree you can do better than both Louise's and El Cholo.
questions i have are: how much are you looking to spend? what kind of atmosphere do you want? i'm presuming you're from out of town, so will you have a car or be willing to travel 10 minutes to neighboring areas or even within Santa Monica?
i know i may be repeating what others have said, but if i am, i am echoing sentiment :-)
Via Veneto is pricey but good
in Brentwood, Vincente, Pecorino and Palmeri are all good; Pizzicotto is less expensive; Peppone is old-school Italian
agree with Monte Alban for Oaxacan
do you want tacos? Tacos Por Favor is good
for Mexican seafood, head to centinela (10-15 min) to Mariscos Chente
also like Lares
and Gilbert's El Indio esp for breakfast
Re Mexican, El Cholo's food is truly terrible, but it has a fun, festive atmosphere. A better option in Santa Monica is Border Grill, which is also fun and festive but actually has good food. Border Grill is a little upscale compared to many Mexican places. I like the food at Monte Alban, but it's not actually in Santa Monica, more like West L.A., and lately I've found it less enjoyable because of the atmosphere and service--it's been pretty empty when I've been there, which makes it feel a bit depressing, and the wait staff have been MIA.
shhh....Monte Alban has been busy lately when I've been.
Anyway, I second Border Grill and Monte Alban for Mexican. I also like Vicente and Il Grano for Italian.
Via Veneto is VERY high on my list to try; I've heard great things about its food and happy hour.
My experiences at Valentino and Drage have been low value (i.e. food/service/atmosphere much less impressive than the high prices.) YMMV.
First off Santa Monica has a wealth of good, very good and excellent Italian restaurants. Here are some of the greatest hits off the top of my head.
Giorgio's in Santa Monica Canyon. Good, but overpriced. Still, one of the best places to see Hollywood mucky-mucks. A big crowded and you can't bring in wine.
Caffe Delfini - across the street - as good, but cheaper, different, less formal.
Drago - upscale and very good. Leans toward southern Italy. Went here with the son of a mafia boss once night and the kid knew how to order. It was great. But don't think it's like Rao's or anything (it's much, much better). Formal atmosphere. Pricey.
La Botte (get a start from the Michelin people. Very good, quiet. Cant' bring wine.)
Il Piccolo - like La Botte but less formal, smaller and cheaper. And you can bring wine. I like this place a lot, but haven't been there in a year.
Valentino. Upscale and elegant. One of the best wine lists in the entire world. Truly stellar. Food can range from better than good to excellent. But never bad, not even close. Always look forward to going there.
Brentwood - which is next door to Santa Monica has Vicenti which is excellent, and Pecorino which can also be very good. Toscana is over-rated, but still quite good and a place to see media movers and shakers.
Pizzicotto - great lunch place. Tiny but always good.
I'm probably missing a few and I'm sure someone will chime in.
For Mexican - Monte Alban. Mole and goat tacos and rellenos stuff with chicken and raisans - and all manners of good stuff there.
Tlaopazola has it's fans - I used to be one. But I'd rather go to the less formal, funkier Monte Alban.