Santa Monica is a weird place - full of tourists, and also lots of people who actually work there. All of whom are fairly focused on one thing: lunch. (Although the tourists are also looking for that guy who’ll let you take a photo with his snake.)
Fortunately, there are a lot of good options (for lunch), none of which are the bad “deli” in the bottom of your office building. Whether you’re looking for a quick meal, a leisurely spot with a view, or a place where you can get a sandwich to eat while crying in your car, we’ve got you covered.
We have no idea why a Jewish deli as cool as Wexler’s decided to open in downtown Santa Monica, but we’re glad they went for it. This spot has a lot more space than the Grand Central Market original, so you can sit and enjoy your pastrami sandwich without having to worry about the elbow-shoving battle for your seat that’s happening behind you. Take your time, and definitely save room for the babka.
Lunch is an ideal time to get to this Santa Monica pizza classic, because the waits aren’t as long, and there are way fewer people hanging around waiting for their takeout. We’re partial to the mushroom pie, and while we’d normally advise ordering the garlic knots, if you’re heading back to the office after lunch, your deskmate politely declines the resulting afternoon of garlic breath.
When making a decision about lunch is the last thing you need to be doing, KazuNori is your place. Show up, order the five-roll menu, and you will handed excellent handrolls one at a time. This Sugarfish spinoff is just as good as the original but with one important difference - no hour-long waits (yet). It’s an ideal spot when you want good-quality sushi, and need to be in and out in a half hour.
Uplifters might look pretty generic as you’re driving past looking for a parking spot, but once you actually get inside this Ocean Park cafe, you realize it’s a real neighborhood hangout. The coffee is great, and they have a rotating selection of salads and sandwiches for a casual lunch. Including the biscuit breakfast sandwiches, which are a perfectly acceptable thing to eat at noon.
We’d guess a lot of tourists stumble into Plan Check not knowing that they’re about to experience one of the best burgers in Los Angeles. And while we’d definitely tell first timers to get that ketchup leather-filled thing of beauty, we’re into the Santa Monica location for their exclusive seafood stuff. You’re at the beach - you should be eating a lobster roll.
From the outside, it’d be easy to assume Sunnin was just another mediocre fast-casual place, but it’s actually the third location of a Westside Lebanese classic. The chicken shawarma is just as good as the original, and you don’t have to deal with the Westwood parking situation here.
The lunch with a glass of wine crowd is in full force at Forma on Montana Ave. There are business dudes in one corner with their pasta and reds, and a mother’s group with champagne and salads in another. It’s a good spot for a lunch meeting, if only because when you order the cacio e pepe, they’ll toss it in a giant wheel of cheese and therefore give you something to talk about other than pretending to understand the stock market.
You’re not heading to Santa Monica Seafood for the ambiance - you’ll be sitting next to a seafood counter with a soundtrack of numbers being called as people wait to grab their salmon for dinner tonight. But if you’ve had a terrible day and the only thing that will make it better is a dozen oysters and champagne, the ambiance doesn’t matter. Just don’t expect to make it back to the office.
We wouldn’t go so far as to say the eating around Third Street Promenade has gotten cool, but it has gotten a lot better in recent years. North Italia is a relatively new addition to the area, and while it does feel a little like a corporate restaurant’s idea of “what the cool kids are doing these days,” the food is surprisingly solid. The calamari and spaghetti bolognese are good bets, and the space works just as well for a shopping lunch break as it does for a business meeting.
Getting lunch for under $10 is a tough ask in this part of town, but Samosa House on Main St. delivers. The three-item combo involves naan, rice, and your choice of three changing entrees, and comes in at just over $9. There are lots of choices for vegetarians and vegans, including the smoky cauliflower curry that shouldn’t be missed.
Lunetta All Day is kind of boring, but in an inoffensive, take your boyfriend’s elderly aunt out to lunch kind of way. The space is nice, there are things like fried chicken sandwiches and pieces of grilled fish on the menu (most of which are tasty), and there’s easy parking at the back of the building. Aunt Elaine will be all about it.
Most people think of Huckleberry as that breakfast place where you have to stand in a line for a while, changing your mind ten times about whether to get that berry crostata or not. But this ignores the fact that the line is worth it and that lunch here is the best time to go, especially if you order the turkey meatball sandwich. And you can always still get a crostata too.
It’s possible that the fast-casual restaurant was invented specifically for Santa Monica - all those tourists and office workers need somewhere to eat. Flower Child feels more like an actual restaurant than than some of the others, with a definite health bent (there are lots of salads and vegan options). There’s table service once you place your order, so you feel less like you’re in a high school cafeteria.
Ocean Avenue is basically a restaurant dead zone, unless you plan on paying a lot of money for a very average meal. Cha Cha Chicken is a little walk from the center of the action, but totally worth it. There’s a huge patio, lots of space if you’re with a group, and some very tasty jerk chicken. Also: it’s BYOB.
There’s a Sugarfish in every corner of the city, so there’s obviously one in Santa Monica. The waits at this location can get particularly crazy, but skip that process altogether by calling ahead to place a to-go order, and taking your box down to the beach or back to your desk.
You’re by the ocean, so eating things that live in the ocean seems like the logical option. Seasalt has everything from fish & chips and poke to fried clams and fish tacos. We tend to go for a piece of grilled fish with rice and vegetables, for a sort-of-healthy change-up to the salad rotation.
All hail the holy Godmother. Bay Cities is home to one of the best Italian meat sandwiches in all of Los Angeles, The Godmother, and it’s served in an old school Italian deli/market. Yes, we will judge you if you order something other than the Godmother. That said, all the sandwiches here are excellent. Expect a line at lunchtime.
Bagel Nosh is a solid spot for NYC-style bagel sandwiches. Not only is the tuna melt on an everything bagel the best in Santa Monica, but the man behind the counter also won’t judge you if you ask for extra pickles. A perfect spot for eating solo.
Sweetfin is the king of pokéland on the Westside (and much of the rest of LA as well) and is essential in any lunchtime rotation. Their bowls make you feel healthy enough, without stooping to the level of full-blown good-for-you salad. Make a custom bowl with wasabi coconut flakes.
Are you massively hungover, or simply in need a of a burrito? Tacos Por Favor is your spot. We support ordering the California burrito — complete with Asada and fries inside said burrito. And yes, do take a quick nap in your car after. It’s fine.
Andrew’s burrata and tomato on a crusty baguette is one of the best food-on-bread situations around. All the sandwiches, which use the shop’s fancy cheese, cost $9, and we would gladly play more for them.
Blue Plate Taco is a fun, upscale Mexican spot that’s great for a bigger group. The president of your company could easily break bread with the interns at Blue Plate Taco. Also, it’s on Ocean Avenue, so you will get a slight ocean breeze (and plenty of tourists) with your lobster tacos.