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Best place to eat in Santa Monica? Will travel for great food!

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My husband and I will be spending two nights in LA (last trip pre-first baby) at Casa Del Mar. We are huge foodies from Chicago. We are looking for excellent food, either : Japanese, Spanish, Vietnamese (no Italian French orAmerican, please). Also looking for excellent ambeince...maybe something outdoors or romantic or jsut plain cool. Last time in town (years ago) we went to Crustacean and Les Deux. We were thinking about The Bazaar...any thoughts? We are adventurous...want something upscale but not stuffy! thanks so much!

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  1. Santa Monica is filled with fantastic restaurants - no need to travel all the way to Bazaar, but you won't find anything like it elsewhere, so worth going. Look into:

    The Wilshire
    Bar Pinxto

    And then there are all the great Japanese and Korean restaurants on Sawtelle...

    6 Replies
    1. re: yogachik

      yogachik steered me to Wilshire and she was right on.

      1. re: lizziee

        Totally agree with Wilshire and make sure to reserve for the patio, which is both beautiful and romantic, so you can enjoy our gorgeous weather.

        I also think the Bazaar is a great choice both for the great ambiance as well as the food. If you're drinking, definitely be sure to check out one of their signature cocktails.

        Musha has a really fun, celebratory atmosphere and I think would be a great option for Japanese, especially since I don't think there's much in the way of izakayas in Chicago. Another option might be Bar Hayama in west LA which has a really cool fire pit and might be more in line with what you're seeking for ambiance.

        1. re: mollyomormon

          Also, on the patio at Wilshire, there's a corner table that's especially romantic and beautiful.

      2. re: yogachik

        i just went to bar pinxto - while its not a bad place - I wouldn't go out of my way. Gjelina on the other.... #1- its wonderful.
        Wilshire also a great call. and if you are looking for a comfy french style bistro for breakfast - annisette on santa monica was pleasant.

        1. re: yogachik

          I know I'm in the minority, but apart from the patio, I'm not crazy about Wilshire. I'd go to Fraiche instead.
          I do agree with the Musha, Bar Pinxto and Gjelina recs and add Cora's for breakfast and lunch.

          1. re: whatsfordinner

            I was alone inside Wilshire and had a FANTASTIC experience, can't wait to go back.

            (They had an unbelievably priced prix fixe, just $30+)

            1. re: aventinus

              Urth Cafe as the best place in Santa Monica? IMHO - not even in the top 25. And that might be generous.

              Catch, the restaurant in the Del Mar is actually pretty good (and way, way, way better than Urth) - leans toward the Japanese. Mori Sushi for Japanese - get the omakase. Casual, but not a lot of ambience. I've tried Wilshire twice - once in it's earlier incarnation where it had more pretense that content - but it was reshaped. I had lunch and got sick. So I'm reluctant to go back. But if Yogachik and Liziee have good things to say - then I suspect I had a uniquely bad experience. Let us know what you think!

            2. Skip Catch (the restaurant in the hotel). There's no good Japanese nearby. With the possible exception of Bar Pintxo, which I thought was decent on my one short visit, there's no good Spanish nearby. I personally enjoy China Beach for Vietnamese but I won't recommend it because I think it simply suits my peculiar tastes. Hope that helps! (I guess the takeaway is that the area around Casa Del Mar has myriad restaurants, few of which offer anything remarkable.)

              I do recommend Urth Caffe for breakfast -- in part for the food, in part for the experience (quintessentially upper-class LA). All the food and coffee is good quality, at least, though I suspect most chowhounds would find it bland, too healthy, overpriced, and lame. You can walk there.

              I recommend a drive out of Santa Monica for Japanese -- something LA excels at.

              1 Reply
              1. re: sillygoosedown

                I disagree - Catch is always very good. However, they've changed their menu and done away with the sushi bar this week, I'm not sure how the new menu is, post-renovation.

              2. Hi Ijero, your post's title includes, "Will travel for great food!" I strongly suggest that you do so for great Japanese and Vietnamese. Unfortunately, I don't think an enclave for the Spanish community exists out here - LA is not known for having lots of Spanish eateries. Being that you are staying at the extreme west end of the LA area, driving will be a prerequisite. Aside from Musha and Bar Pintxo, I can't think of any places that rate and are close by that fit your three ethnic category requests.

                The closest for Japanese will be West LA - 15-30 minutes down Olympic blvd if traffic is decent. The true epicenter of Japanese is in the general South Bay area, particularly in Torrance - that will be 40 minutes to an hour. There is J-town/Little Tokyo in Downtown LA - about 30-45 minutes.

                Vietnamese will take you further. You have two general areas for this. Little Saigon - Westminster/Fountain Valley/Santa Ana area which will take over an hour (probably 90 minutes to be safe), and the San Gabriel Valley (Arcadia/Monterey Park/San Gabriel/Rosemead/El Monte to name a few) which is another 15 to 30 minutes past Downtown LA.

                All of these time estimates can mean nothing depending on traffic. In general, avoid the rush hours. I would suggest lunch to be the best choice to the areas further out from your hotel - this will cause the least amount of traffic issues for you folks.

                As far as excellent ambience, most ethnic places that rate well on the Chow scale tend to be challenged to okay in this category. Places like Crustacean are white unicorns and I've found that most hounds do not favor this place. I think you will find clean and casual to be the rule. The Japanese places do focus more on ambience, but still - no Kyoto tea garden setting for the most part. Places like Thousand Cranes in Little Tokyo are very uncommon.

                As you know, many of the great cuisines tend to be compartmentalized. Japanese and Vietnamese are no exception. I think if you can specify what you would like to eat as far as Japanese and Vietnamese, you will get a lot of suggestions. You can then look them over and decide where and when you will be driving too.

                1. Take a look at the Chowhound LA UL:TIMATE FOOD GUIDE Poll for 2009:

                  If you're looking for adventurous, upscale not stuffy, not american or Italian from poll results:
                  1. The Bazaar (#3 Over $25) - fun, adventurous, expensive, unique

                  LA Food is all about ethnic foods and adventure. Chinese in the San Gabriel Valley, Japanese in Torrance, Thai in Thai Town, funky in Venice. So ignoring your upscale request for upscale for a foodie from Chicago, I would also recommend off the ULTIMATE FOOD GUIDE list:
                  2. Animal - Casual but adventurous approaches to MEAT! (#7 over $25
                  )3. Gjelina - Casual Venice restaurant using fresh local ingredients near your hotel (#11 over $25)
                  4. Park's BBQ - Very casual Smoky top Korean BBQ n Koreatown (#12 over $25)
                  5. Matsuhisa - Pricey flagship restaurant of Nobu Matsuhisa (#27 of over $25)
                  6. Bistro LQ - Casual French style improvisations in bargain tasting menu (think sea urchin tapioca pudding with oyster and yuzu gelee) (#34 over $25)
                  7. XIV - Trendy tasting menu (not on Ultimate List, similar to Bazaar but without Spanish influence)
                  8. Jitlada - Casual Thai in Thaitown (#2 under $25)
                  9. Father's Office - Top gourmet burger in LA in a causal bar environment near your hotel (#6 under $25)
                  10. Torihei - Japanese Tapa in Torrance (#9 under $25 - can easily spend more)
                  11. Sea Harbour - Dim Sum lunch or Seafood Dinner in San Gabriel (#10 under $25)
                  12. Elite Restaurant - Dim Sum lunch or Dinner in Monterey Park (#12 under $25)
                  13. Javan - Persian restaurant near best concentration of Persian restaurants in US (#30 under $25) moderately close to your hotel
                  14. Spago - (#4 over $25) Lunch tasting menu less expensive, but needs advance notice

                  Of the above, the ones open for lunch are Spago, Gjelina, Jitlada, Park's BBQ, Father's Office (Sat/Sun), Sea Harbour, Elite and Javan.

                  My suggestion for 2 days:
                  1. Lunch: Gjelina (close), and Musha (Japanese not on Ultimate list but good and near your hotel). Consider Tasting Menu at Spago for lunch (good food, more relaxed than at dinner)
                  2. Dinner: Bazaar and either Matsuhisa or XIV.
                  3. Sneak a meal in to Father's Office to try their Burger

                  If you do Spago for lunch, two tasting menus in one day might be a bit much unless you schedule dinner late. Don't do Matsuhisa and Musha (both Japanese) in the same trip.

                  Good eating!

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: altstarr

                    i don't believe that musha is open for lunch.
                    they open at 6pm, but will take phone calls earlier in order to take reservations.

                    1. re: altstarr

                      Ate at Park's BBQ last night, thanks. Delicious. Best Korean BBQ I've ever had.

                    2. As noted in other posts, if you are really prepared to travel, within two hours of your hotel is food you aren't likely to get "almost" anywhere else in the U.S. However, there are still some great restaurants in Santa Monica where you will eat very well and fit foodie sensibilities.

                      Musha and Wilshire have been recommended and I agree.

                      I would also strongly recommend Fig and Rustic Canyon (along with R.C.'s sister spot just across the street- Huckleberry- for breakfast). If you go to Fig, the tongue is an epiphany.

                      The coctel de camarones (shrimp cocktail) at a little taco stand called La Playita that is not far from your hotel is magical. Just note, it is literally a taco stand, meaning you might need to eat standing up. But it's worth it.

                      The chilaquiles at Cha Cha Cha, which is quite literally next to your hotel, are actually very good if you have a hankering for that sort of thing.

                      Also, right next door to your hotel, is a very very spendy but also cozy romantic restaurant called Capo. If you love grilled meats and hate money, go.

                      If you get up early and love great coffe, just South of you in Venice is Intelligencia and North of you on Montana in Santa Monica is Cafe Luxxe. Both worth it--and it doesn't even have to be early come to think of it.

                      On the super romantic tip, eating outdoors at Michael's in the garden/patio area is pretty hard to beat. Some will say the food isn't up to foodie standards but in my experience, as long as I order well, I have great meals and again, so romantic it is sick.

                      And as long as we are talking about the North end of the Pomenade, whose gravitational pull is almost to strong to resist for any visitor to S.M., if you find yourself there, there's a foodie truck right in the area to keep your eyes peeled for. It often parked on Wilshire between 3rd and 4th and is called Calbi. If you spot it, it is worth tyring the impossibly confusing but too delicious to ignore Korean BBQ/Mexican street food hybrid they offer.

                      And that brings me to trucks in general. In case you haven't heard, Los Angeles has gone bonkers for foodie food trucks. Quite a few of them frequent various locations on the Westside and if you pick a few you are interested, the conceirge at Casa should be able to help you with navigation. Or, if you want to play a kind of food truck roulette, there is almost always something interesting parked on Abbot Kinny in Venice, particularly in the parking lot of the Brig. Just go and see what you get. It will probably be something scrumptous.

                      Lastly, I will leave you with this. If you can pull off Bazaar, go. I grew up in Santa Monica, still live here and love the city and its food. But from one self proclaimed foodie to another, Bazaar is an if you can, you must.

                      Lastier, I know you don't want Italian, which is too bad as the Westside has some world-class places but I digrees. However, there is an Italian deli right by your hotel that is one-of-a-kind. It is called Bay Cities. If nothing else, it is fun to walk through even if you don't eat. And if you feel like it, search this board and find countless ecomiums to their sheer awesomeness.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: ellaystingray

                        Bay Cities is great, but what makes it great is that it is an Italian deli/importer like the best of the ones you would find back East. You might wonder what all the fuss is about.

                        1. re: coffeebrownies

                          Coffee &,

                          To clarify, I would agree that there are plenty of great Italian Importer/Deli's, in numerous locales, more even than just "back East." However, I think there are two things of foodie import (sorta pun intended), in regard to Bay Cities that make it a reasobable passing recommendation at the very end of my post.

                          1. Bay Cities goes beyond Italian. Hot wings. Canned Israeli Kosher pickles. American, Mexican, French, British, Spanish, Greek Artisinal Cheese. Pastrami Sandwiches. Obscure Mexican soda pop. Scotch. And on and on. I think they are not only fun from a foodie perspective and but an exceptional Italian Deli that is uniquely Los Angeles in experience and perspective.

                          2. Just becuase I have been to the flagship HEB Central Market in Austin doesn't mean I didn't have a great time wandering the flagship Publix in Miami. There isn't a day I won't enjoy perusing a Dean & Deluca even though I've been to many of them many many times. Meaning, foodies like foodie places and I wanted to make sure that our CH friends from Chicago don't inadvertently pass up a place close to the hotel that I think they might like. Even, if to just walk around.

                          Don't worry, it won't reflect on you personally if they don't think it is anything special.

                      2. You've gotten lots of great ideas for Santa Monica. Even though you are willing to drive, if you are pregnant you may not want to sit in a car for an hour to find Japanese in the south bay. You can go to either Mori Sushi which is just east of Santa Monica at Pico and Gateway, or Kiriko, a bit further east, but right in the wonderful and fun Sawtelle corridor. Both places will serve you excellent sushi, cooked dishes, and/or omakase in a nice (but not party style) atmosphere.

                          1. re: Fresser

                            The OP specifically said no French, which Is why I didn't mention Melisse despite believing it is the best restaurant in the city.

                            For Japanese, I still think Kiriko on Sawtelle is a real standout. The sushi is fresh and perfectly prepared, while they do a lot of very interesting and unusual hot dishes. Plus, you can get their homemade sesame or ginger ice cream for dessert.