Santa Monica Place: Third Floor Dining Deck
After a $265 million makeover, Santa Monica Place reopened in August. Located at the southern end of the Third Street Promenade near AFM ground zero, the open-air mall boats new eateries, upscale boutiques, Nordstrom and Bloomingdale’s. On the third-floor dining deck (with free Wi-Fi), there’s a bustling food court and six smartly designed restaurants. With views of the ocean and pier, outdoor dining here in the crisp, clean Santa Monica air is the quintessential Southern California experience.
Expect crowds of local residents and business people during lunch and happy hour; reservations are recommended at dinner. Smoking prohibited throughout, even on the outdoor terrace. Santa Monica Place’s on-site concierge is a good resource for visitors (santamonicaplace.com/dining).
La Sandia Mexican Kitchen & Tequila Bar: From D.C.-based chef Richard Sandoval, this Mexican eatery is equal parts South Beach and SoCal. Whitewashed walls and skylights brighten the space while the efficient staff delivers standards such as prickly pear margaritas, tableside-made guacamole, ceviche and carne asada. It takes two days for the house-made Sangria’s flavors to marry. (It’s $5 a glass at happy hour.) (310) 393-3300
Zengo: Also from chef Sandoval, Zengo’s small plates are a mix of Asian dishes, from sashimi to dumplings. The shaded outdoor deck and open-air bar overlooks the Third Street Promenade and the large booths and banquettes are ideal for lunch meetings. The vegetarian and gluten-free menus are new as is the $20 prix fixe lunch option. (310) 999-1000
(Both La Sandia and Zengo will have specially priced signature cocktails and 10% off food-only for AFM attendees who show their badges).
Ozumo: Classic Japanese cuisine is presented in a minimalist interior; there’s a sushi bar and sake lounge, with a thoughtfully chosen sake list, to complete the authentic experience. Three private dining rooms are suitable for small groups up to 15. Daily happy hour from 3 p.m.- 7 p.m. offers drink specials and izakaya (pub-style) dishes. AFM badge holders will receive a 15% discount at lunch and dinner. (424)214-5130
Pizza Antica: Casual fare — soups, salads and pizza — are served in an equally casual setting. The chopped salad and margherita pizza are solid choices; hot pasta dishes, like the summer squash-stuffed ravioli, are also appealing. The weekday happy hour runs from 4 p.m. – 7 p.m. Call ahead to be added to the wait list at peak times. (310) 394-4080
Sonoma Wine Garden
Sonoma Wine Garden: An instant hit with locals, there are trendy comfort foods (charcuterie and truffle fries) and more than 20 wines by the glass on the menu at the indoor/outdoor Sonoma Wine Garden. The outdoor deck’s couches are extremely popular even for business meetings.
Xino Restaurant and Lounge: Restaurant features distinctive cocktails and modern Chinese cuisine. Curtained cabanas on the outdoor deck are perfect for meet-and-greets. Kobe beef sliders, handmade dumplings and bao are featured on the latenight weekend dim sum happy hour menu. (310) 755-6220
Third floor food court
Within the food court are nine choices for quick bites from tacos to sushi to quickfire teriyaki. With seating for 850 indoors and out, it’s a lively and noisy scene. Tucked away on the third floor of the Nordstrom department store is the stylish Blue Stove restaurant as well as the E-bar cappuccino bar. Bloomingdale’s, in addition to designer duds, has frozen yogurt at Forty Carats.
POWER DINING BEYOND THE PLACE
Blue Plate Oysterette: Open from for lunch through dinner, this East Coast-style seafood restaurant overlooks Santa Monica’s Palisades Park. The outdoor patio and raw bar selection compare to Cannes’ Astoux et Brun. 1355 Ocean Ave., (310) 576-3474
Catch at the Casa del Mar Hotel: At Santa Monica’s most grown-up beachfront hotel, a new wine bar and menu are featured in the view-rich restaurant and relaxing lobby lounge. 1910 Ocean Way, (310) 581-5533
Whist at the Viceroy Hotel: High style and market fresh Cal-Med cuisine are just across the street from the AFM. Dine outside in the chic cabanas. 1819 Ocean Ave., (310) 260-7511
Suite 700, Hotel Shangri-La: Sunset views, smashing cocktails and a festive atmosphere are found at this indoor/outdoor rooftop boite. $5 drinks/appetizers are available at happy hour from 5 p.m.- 7 p.m. The hotel’s dining room has an $18, three-course executive lunch. 1301 Ocean Ave., (310) 394-2791
FIG, Fairmont Hotel: Charcuterie, cheese and snacks are first-rate; the view of the pool and gardens is very pleasant and gives the restaurant a true resort feel. The FIG at FIVE special offers include 50% off drinks and entrees from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. 101 Wilshire Blvd., (310) 319-3111