The Sweet Mona at Pono Burger features fresh, organically-grown strawberries. Pono is Hawaiian for doing things the right way, with integrity and grass-fed beef. (Photos by Michael 'Snacks' Ryan

Now that the year is all but over, an obligatory “best of” article seems fitting. Santa Monica certainly has had its fair share of notable restaurant openings, so here’s a brief rundown of my top new spots of 2013.

The Sweet Mona at Pono Burger features fresh, organically-grown strawberries. Pono is Hawaiian for doing things the right way, with integrity and grass-fed beef. (Photos by Michael ‘Snacks’ Ryan

• Pono Burger: Chef Makani’s philosophy is simple; use organic and farm-fresh ingredients for a handcrafted burger made with integrity that, above all, tastes great. Brioche buns fresh out of the oven, wood burning grills and organic everything are all hallmarks of Pono Burger. However, it’s Chef Makani’s seasonal creations like a burger topped with cheddar, wood-smoked onions, and caramelized strawberry jam that make Pono Burger standout over a handful of other burger joints that have opened locally this year. Located in the World War II-era Quonset hut on Broadway just off Lincoln Boulevard. The lightweight huts made of galvanized steel were mass-produced during the war and erected quickly to serve a variety of purposes, including housing and offices.

• Rita’s Italian Ice: On the East Coast Rita’s is commonplace, but here in Santa Monica it’s a real treat. Situated alongside the other small businesses on Main Street, Rita’s offers more than a few sweet snacks, including Italian Ice, frozen custard, and ice cream. The Gelati (Rita’s top seller) combines Italian Ice with the creamy custard. Blending that together with a choice of candy (M&M’s, Snickers, etc.) yields the Blendini. The possibilities are endless. Rita’s is a welcome addition to town, especially if you’re bored with frozen yogurt. That was so 2011!

• Water Grill: The Water Grill is bringing sexy back to Ocean Avenue! Iron and reclaimed wooden decor open up to excellent views of the ocean and the Santa Monica Pier. It has quickly become one of the premier seafood restaurants in town. Enjoy a bottle of Muscadet and kumamoto at their beautifully displayed seafood bar. Or find a seat bar-side and people watch with a craft cocktail and the best shrimp Louie salad in town.

ShopHouse recently opened on the Third Street Promenade, offering Southeast Asia’s version of fast food by cranking out fresh rice and noodle bowls laced with spicy sauces, marinated meats and herbs and vegetables.

• ShopHouse Southeast Asian Kitchen: Chipotle diehards rejoice! With similar prices, the same assembly line service, and fresh ingredients made fast, ShopHouse is, simply said, a Southeast Asian version of Chipotle. Located in the heart of the Third Street Promenade, ShopHouse offers a perfect lunch on the fly. All lunches are bowl based and flash-fried in hot woks and topped with fresh veggies, an aroma of Thai herbs, and assertive spices. If Chipotle and Sriracha had a baby it would be ShopHouse. Odd but true.

• Tacos Punta Cabras: If someone asks where to find the best fish tacos in town, without any hesitation you should send them to Tacos Punta Cabras. The atmosphere is laid back, the service is friendly, and the menu is simple. Tacos, tostadas, and cocetel (ceviche in a tomato broth) make up the menu. Choose amongst shrimp, scallops, fish, and tofu. Fresh seafood, topped with crunchy slaw and a homemade pineapple habanero slaw, makes for one of my best bites of the year. Despite long lines during the lunch rush and cash only, Tacos Punta Cabras is worth these obstacles for any seafood taco aficionado.

That’s a short but not definitive list of some of the best new places of 2013. But for every new restaurant another one fades away. In memoriam: The Shack, Renee’s, South, Omelette Parlor.



If you go


Pono Burger

829 Broadway

Santa Monica, Calif.


(310) 584-7005


Rita’s Italian Ice

2307 Main St.

Santa Monica, Calif.


(310) 450-5042


Water Grill

1401 Ocean Ave.

Santa Monica, Calif.


(310) 394-5669



1401 Third Street Promenade

Santa Monica, Calif.


(310) 382-8028


Tacos Punta Cabras

2311 Santa Monica Blvd.

Santa Monica, Calif.


(310) 917-2244



Michael can be seen riding around town on his bike burning calories so he can eat more food. He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter at

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