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Italian restaurant Fritto Misto is a popular spot for pasta, allowing patrons to create their own dishes using a variety of sauces and fresh ingredients, including sauteed calamari. (photo by Michael Ryan)

Only steps away from tourist magnets like the Santa Monica Pier and the remodeled Santa Monica Place, Fritto Misto seems to mostly go unnoticed among the hustle and bustle of summer sightseers.

Adjoined to the other small businesses all sharing the same coordinated turquoise awnings, at a casual glance you may think it was just another chiropractor, law office, or pilates studio. Certainly a different scene from the cafes, bistros, and restaurants jostling for business, blocks away on the Third Street Promenade. It truly is in that sweet spot of being centrally located, making it a quick bike ride away, no matter what part of Santa Monica you may reside, but also is just enough off the beaten path that it is not mobbed by tourists.

However, be warned that it will be packed during peak hours. It is no secret that Santa Monica loves Fritto Misto. And I have a hunch that Fritto Misto loves us back.

To celebrate their recent 20th anniversary, Fritto Misto hosted a party for 500 of their closest friends treating their guests to free beer, wine, and food. Not too difficult to fill the seats when you are giving everything away. If you missed the celebration, the 25th is just around the corner.

For being as popular as it is, advertising has never been a key component for the restaurant’s popularity. Fritto Misto flyers will never be littered on your doorknob. They do not have coupons in the weekly mailer. And you will never see them vying for local airtime unlike the omnipresent ChoSun Galbee commercials that seem to be running every time I turn on the tube. Fritto Misto relies on the most vital form of publicity, word of mouth.

“It’s local people, they tell each other, they bring their friends, when mom comes to town they bring her. It’s that kind of place” explains Fritto Misto owner Robert Kerr

Plus it sure beats hiring a sign twirler.

“Our original idea was this; you go to a pizza place and you pick all of your toppings. Why not do that with pasta?”

And with that, the “create your own pasta” option began. Choose from over a dozen freshly made pastas, pick from even more sauces, and select any number of add-ins from anchovies to walnuts. You may come up with a tricolor fusilli in a carbonara sauce, with sautéed calamari, and roasted capers. Or perhaps a fettuccini in a sage cream sauce, with pancetta, Kalamata olives, and artichoke hearts.

With a list of daily specials, Fritto Misto likes to keep things fresh and are always full of surprises. I would recommend the pasta/salad combination. Pick a rich pasta, balance it out with a light salad and find yourself in a happy place somewhere in the middle. With so many options, daily specials, vegan friendly, and variations on classic dishes, it is a great place to try new things as well as have that go-to dish that beckons you back.

“If I tried to take someone’s dish off the menu, they would be lined up outside with pitchforks and torches,” Kerr says.

Fresh food, at reasonable prices, and personable service is an automatic recipe to a restaurant’s success. If you prefer not to eat fresh Italian food with a real local vibe, go a couple blocks down to the mega franchise Buca di Beppo, I think they just cracked open a can of bologna Parmesan.

Michael can be seen riding around town on his bike. To reach him visit his Twitter at twitter.com/greaseweek or his website at tourdefeast.net

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