Is Santa Monica’s Main Street suddenly the coolest place to eat in LA?
Last Friday night on Main Street in Santa Monica, Vamos Vamos cited an hour wait for solo diners at 6 p.m. – although the New Mexican-inspired restaurant of Silverlake Wine owners Randy and April Clement is only on its third night in service. Others lucky enough to score a nearby table at raw seafood hotspot Crudo e Nudo were catching up with glasses of natural wine and plates of impeccably fresh fish on the parklet’s bustling patio. Further up the street, young diners crowded past Little Prince, waiting for seats, and a line formed at Augie’s on Main, legendary L.A. chef Josiah Citrin’s new “dirty” panko-crusted chicken restaurant. which also opened its doors last week.
For years, Main Street has been a mix of boozy fraternal bars and timeless restaurants (think The Galley, Wolfgang Puck’s Chinois and La Vecchia Cucina, which literally translates to “the old kitchen”). The stretch from Santa Monica to Venice lived in the shadow of Abbot Kinney and Rose Avenue further south, where serious restaurants drew big money and large crowds. But now the heavily pedestrianized Main Street, just steps from the Pacific, suddenly has a buzz of its own — and there are more projects on the horizon, too. Has Main Street suddenly become…cool?
While Main Street has always been a hospitality hub, the biggest recent shot in the arm came in 2019 when fine-dining chef Dialogue Dave Beran opened an acclaimed French restaurant. Not pretty, serving pressed duck at the table and attracting an upscale evening audience. The year 2021 saw a boom in growth as pandemic diners flocked to the Westside for alfresco parties near the water. Both Crudo and Nudo and elegant Southeast Asian restaurant Cobi’s opened in April and October, respectively, with hard kombucha brand JuneShine. Many operators credit Santa Monica’s parklet dining facilities with keeping them afloat; the city recently announced that Outdoor parklet program will become permanent.
“I felt like there were more small independent businesses that weren’t franchised,” says Leena Culhane of Crudo e Nudo. “It’s very friendly. We are constantly running next to Lula [Cucina Mexicana] borrow things.
“Main Street has this quaint thing where the units aren’t big enough to be interesting, say, for a Ruth’s Chris [so] they go to downtown Santa Monica,” says Culhane’s partner Brian Bornemann. “Main Street is where Venice and Santa Monica meet, and is both a thoroughfare and a pedestrian street. You get a mixture of foot traffic and road traffic.
He adds: “There is also this locals-only Westside vibe. You don’t get random tourists. Every day feels like an episode of Cheers.”
Cobi owner Cobi Marsh says Main Street has a lot of local appeal. “People are tired of schlepping,” she says. “Being able to walk to a restaurant is the Platonic ideal of a community.”
Randy Clement of Vamos Vamos, which has been brimming with diners clamoring for nachos and margaritas since it opened, attributes the area’s recent growth to a number of factors, including proximity to the beach (“there’s something in the ocean air you can’t explain”) He, too, credits the city of Santa Monica and local diners.
“There’s an entirely supportive network of people who have the best interests of the street and the city in mind,” Clement says. “The wind of optimism, hope and gratitude blows a permeable moment down the street, and it attracts good. The people who have come to Vamos Vamos couldn’t be kinder and more enthusiastic about it. idea of having something new.
There’s more to come for diners who are excited for all the new stuff. North of the street, taro donut specialist Holey Grail Donuts, which recently secured a $9 million investment, is set to open a physical store in October. Near Rose (and technically on the Venice line), a larger Melrose butchery outpost Standing butcher’s shop arrives later this year; an adjoining restaurant space will be divided by Breakfast by Salt’s Cure in the morning and Burgers by Standing in the afternoon. Roman Slice Shop Triple Beam Pizza would take up space at 2905 Main Street, a former Sam’s Bagels, and there are rumors circulating about several other well-known restaurant groups with ongoing leases.
Meanwhile, Danny Gordon and Max Miller of burger truck heavy hand are working hard to update 2912 Main Street, where they have already commissioned a colorful mural by a local artist DJ Nave. Their first brick-and-mortar location, which they hope to open sometime in mid to late October, will serve their short rib burgers and beef suet fries, along with ice cream, beer and wine.
“For us, being on Main Street was really a chance to get back to our roots, since we started our pop-ups at Surf Liquor and got kicked out, but then came back with a food truck,” says Gordon. “It’s kind of a full circle. Heavy Handed has always really resonated in the Westside.
“It’s so great to have this whole complementary restaurant business, along with other young owners,” adds Gordon. “You can really feel the energy.”
Indeed, that energy doesn’t seem to be waning anytime soon – and the Westside is here for it.