Santa Monica’s dining scene improves each year. Fast, casual options abound on the Third Street Promenade and several new upscale eateries (Wally’s Santa Monica and Elephante Beach House) represent major capital investments in the seaside city. Best of all, the area is easily accessible by the new popular mode of transport: battery-powered scooters tied to apps such as Bird, Lime, Lyft and Uber. Within the past year, they’ve become the quickest way to navigate Santa Monica’s crowded streets. Hop on and buzz to one of these new spots.
Elephante Beach House
Reservations are essential at the open-air Elephante, a breakout hit restaurant and lounge located on the rooftop of the Laemmle theater complex. The earthy decor and chill vibe combine for the ultimate beach house experience. There’s comfortable low seating, while North African textiles add texture, and the views of the beach and Pacific are outstanding through oversized telescoping sliding doors. On the crowd-pleasing menu are wood-fired pizzas, pictured above, grilled vegetables and innovative takes on Mediterranean dishes. Several bars keep the craft cocktails flowing. Once guests are seated, it’s almost impossible to get them to leave this singular setting. Open for lunch, dinner and weekend brunch.
1332 2nd St., Santa Monica, 424-320-2384
The Gables Santa Monica
Drop in early for coffee, pastries and free WiFi at the Gables, a well-lit newcomer on Wilshire Boulevard near the Fairmont Miramar Hotel & Bungalows. Order at the counter for quick turnaround; sit outside or in at this cheerful, artfully decorated space. There’s full-service breakfast with gluten- free options including the buckwheat babycake. At lunch, selections range from the six-grain bowl to patty melts and grilled jidori chicken sandwiches with the requisite avocado toast topped with sprouts and peppers. Happy hour runs daily from 4-7 p.m. showcasing $5 beers.
331 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica
The Golden Bull
Vintage looks are in and the Golden Bull embraces its storied past and original design elements. Open since 1949, the clubby restaurant and bar has been updated with comfy leather booths, deep red walls and wood paneling. The menu offers a full complement of beef cuts paired with hearty sides, including creamed spinach and baked potatoes with all the fixings. Unwind with a classic cocktail at the revitalized vintage bar. Weekend brunch and happy hour (from 5-6:30 p.m., Monday-Friday) encourage mingling at this Santa Monica Canyon hideaway.
170 Channel Rd., Santa Monica, (310) 230-0402
The bright interior of Punta Cabras — on a glass-walled corner at Broadway and 10th Street — matches the fresh and vibrant flavors at this elevated taco spot, bar and restaurant. Counter lunch service is speedy and geared to nearby high-tech and entertainment industry businesses. Standouts include the house-made tortillas, fish tacos and the fiery shrimp patty slider. There are two happy hours daily: 4-6 p.m. and 9 p.m. until close at the full bar specializing in potent margaritas and of-the-moment mezcal cocktails. Mexico’s Negro Modelo and Santa Monica Brew Works blonde ale are among the six beers on tap. Large, private booths are sized right for lunch or dinner meetings.
930 Broadway, Santa Monica, 310-917-2244
Championed by local critics, Tumbi’s elevated Indian fare ranges from a selection of dosas (India’s crepe-like lentil flour pancakes) to kabob burgers, tandoori dishes and a plentitude of vegetarian items. Farmers market ingredients result in seasonally changing menu. Finish off with a masala chai paired with the saffron panna cotta. The daily happy hour is 4-7 p.m.; there’s also a chef’s tasting menu plus beer and wine.
115 Santa Monica Blvd., Santa Monica, 310-829-7200
Luigi al Teatro
Italian seafood and house-made pastas in the tradition of Italy’s Puglia region are the specialties at Luigi al Teatro, which opened in the spring. The restaurant within a former theater is off a quiet side street at Santa Monica’s southern border. The large sheltered and heated patio is a pleasant and tranquil spot for happy hour (beginning at 5 p.m.) or dinner meeting. Michelin-star chef Luigi Fineo’s refined technique is evident in the grilled Spanish octopus, ricotta dumplings and seafood lasagna made with spinach pasta. Italian beers and wine are well represented. Cocktails have an Italian bent, too.
3116 2nd St., Santa Monica, 310-328-0000
Wally’s Santa Monica
Wally’s, the famed wine shop in Westwood, moved its multi-million dollar wine collection, retail enterprise and cheese shop further west to Santa Monica in October with a major addition: a chic, full service restaurant complete with bar. There are more than 100 wines available by the glass ranging from recent vintages to hard-to-find cult classics. Cheese and charcuterie are the stars here; market salads, gourmet sandwiches and French-influenced menu items are featured, too. Seating is communal with the high-topped tables offering the most comfortable chairs and views of the busy scene. The 2,500 varietals of wine stacked to the ceiling are for sale and represent only a portion of Wally’s bottle inventory. Wally’s stays open until 2 a.m.
214 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica, 424-293-5500
The thoroughly contemporary space at Wexler’s Deli hides a traditionalist heart: it serves “the best versions of the classics,” per owner Micah Wexler, who oversees three other outlets — one in Century City, one at Grand Central Market in downtown L.A. and a just-opened full service restaurant in Palm Springs. The house-cured meats and house-smoked fish are all sliced by hand. There’s a daily happy hour from 3-7 p.m. when beer and wine are half-off. Seating includes a long counter space and several outside tables. Three kinds of caviar add a rich option; among the local favorites are the hearty breakfast sandwiches, pastrami on rye and matzo ball soup from a recipe from Wexler’s mother.
616 Santa Monica Blvd., Santa Monica, 424-744-8671
AFM badge-holders net a free dessert with lunch or dinner entrée at Boa Steakhouse. Look for the upscale steakhouse at the corner of Ocean Avenue and Santa Monica Boulevard behind a new entryway and updated patio.
101 Santa Monica Blvd., Santa Monica, 310-899-4466
Located directly across from the AMC Santa Monica theaters in the Gallery Food Hall, Sumo Dog promises 20% off to all AFM badge-holders. Choose between pork, Wagyu beef or vegan hot dogs and an assortment of Asian-influenced toppings like spicy tofu. Hamburgers are on the menu, too.
1315 3rd St. Suite G, Santa Monica