Third Street Promenade elevates food court dining to an art at The Gallery

By Jessica Koslow

Featuring tacos with cactus, cauliflower, pineapple
and more, Azulé Taqueria is the latest entry to The Gallery Food Hall

The Gallery Food Hall 1315 Third Street Promenade, Santa Monica,

Remember the Third Street Promenade food court where McDonald’s used to be — on the east side of the street, between Santa Monica Boulevard and Arizona Avenue? If you haven’t been around there lately, that two-level building, with its long hallway on the first floor, recently received a $10 million makeover and was renamed
The Gallery.

Just in time for the holiday shopping rush, The Gallery Food Hall is filling up this season, with each new eatery adding more variety to the mix. All of the restaurants are fast-casual, clean, bright and kid-friendly. And it works well because eating at the Promenade is often an afterthought. You’re there to shop, go to the movies or just stroll, people-watch and be entertained by the endless stream of street performers. You want in and out — and also good.

Step inside the front door of The Gallery and to the left is Everytable, where fast food meets healthy fare under the motto “making healthy, affordable meals a reality for all.” It’s modern and visually appealing, and sort of resembles a place you might find at an airport, with all of the items in rows, packaged and ready to go.

To the right is Sloan’s Ice Cream, and down the hall is Sumo Dog, serving up a street food classic with a delicious Asian twist.

Upstairs, the Voltaggio Brothers’ STRFSH has been holding down the food court solo since Halloween 2017. Both brothers, Michael and Bryan, have appeared on “Top Chef” — Michael earned the “Top Chef” title, and Bryan was a finalist.

On the STRFSH menu are fresh and delicious fish sandwiches. While both chefs list their recommended favorites, I prefer the “build your own.” Choose between salmon, swordfish or, depending on availability, the catch of the day: flying fish. Next, pick a spice (seasoning), followed by the smear (one condiment) and stack (three toppings). The sandwiches are fresh, hot and full of self-selected flavor, like the pickled onions, which added a nice kick to my grilled salmon.

STRFSH pays attention to the details: The fries are big and crunchy and served with a side of dynamite sauce, the toasted sesame bun is soft yet sturdy enough to hold the sandwich together, and they offer mango and grapefruit kombucha. You can eat at the tables inside, or better yet, take your meal outside and sit on the Promenade’s only elevated dining deck, with a bird’s-eye view of all of the Promenade action.

Joining STRFSH upstairs is Azulé Taqueria, which opened this past Tuesday. The small window and counter are decorated like a beach shack, making you feel like you’re on vacation (which the touristy feel of the Promenade also does, but if you’re a local this feels more like an escape).

The tacos are fancy and fresh, served on masa tortillas with two radish slices and a lime wedge. The Fresh Catch taco is my favorite: cilantro-grilled Mahi with pickled onions, cabbage slaw and chipotle aioli. Other highlights include the Garlic Shrimp Avocado taco, with avocado slaw, jicama and cilantro crema, and the Wild & Free taco, which includes wild mushrooms with garlic, herbs, house salsa, daikon sprouts, manchego and garlic aioli. (Azulé Taqueria is offering buy one get one free tacos now through Tuesday,
Oct. 16.)

Azulé’s got asada and pineapple pork belly for meat lovers, grilled cactus and roasted cauliflower for vegetarians. The house guac is the right amount of creamy and chunky, and ordering the Third Street Elote is like treating yourself to dessert before dinner. Bits of the roasted yellow corn burst in your mouth while you’re savoring the garlic aioli, queso fresco and cilantro blend.

The homemade churros arrive at your table like doughnuts just out of the oven, with your choice of dipping sauces: their irresistible house chocolate, which tastes like Mexican hot chocolate, or dulce de leche.

One day, try the churros, and the next, save your appetite for a signature sundae at Sloan’s, a sweet-smelling wonderland with fantastic flavors like coffee and doughnuts and mud pie. Take either dessert outside on the upstairs patio, sit back and watch the Promenade’s world go by — or maybe, like I did this past weekend — you’ll catch the drama unfold as two street performers fight for their four feet of space.