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Best Malibu Restaurants

AOL PICK from our Editors
Malibu’s best restaurants haven’t always had the best reputation: overpriced, overrun with VIPs, with mediocre, lazy food. Well, they are pretty pricey, and even if you don’t recognize his face, it’s worth a bet that the guy at the next table is a major power player. But, thankfully, you no longer have to accept uninspired food. Whether you’re going for sushi, fish tacos, homemade pasta or a killer salad, you can expect more local and organic ingredients and innovative preparations. Just be sure to expect a wait, too.

Bob Morris’ Paradise Cove Beach Cafe

Neighborhood: North Malibu Price: Expensive

Paradise Cove is precisely what you think Malibu will be: an endless summer beach party. Located on its own private beach (outdoor seating is on the sand), catching a bite and a beverage at this cafe delivers so much more than sustenance. There are perfect bronzed bodies playing Frisbee, kids making sandcastles, the whitest, fattest seagulls on the planet willing you to throw a French fry, and, on occasion, Paris Hilton shooting a music video. Set back a little form the PCH, it’s the beach in all its Malibu glory, fueled by Dungeness crab cakes and guava mojitos. Dinner entrees run near $30, but portions are large enough to share. The iced seafood tower and the Kobe beef barbecued ribs are favorites. The menu also has tasty cheaper eats, like shrimp cocktail, ahi burgers and calamari. Eating at the cafe lowers the $25 parking fee to $3. In the summer, make reservations or face a 90-minute wait for a table.

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Bob Morris’ Paradise Cove Beach Cafe  

Geoffrey’s

Neighborhood: North Malibu Price: Expensive
Designed by Richard Neutra in 1948, Geoffrey’s seems to have been built solely for your viewing pleasure. All the tables are outdoors (a small number are under a roof, but aren’t walled off from the elements) and look out onto the ocean, where dolphins frolic and pelicans dive for your amusement. Get a table in the early evening so you can watch the sunset. The baked Brie with caramelized pears is a crowd favorite, as is the seafood paella, which overflows with mussels and prawns. Portions are generous, so consider splitting a main dish. You can use the cash for the (highly) recommended valet—street parking on that part of the PCH is dangerous.

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Geoffrey’s  

Nobu Malibu

Neighborhood: Central Malibu Price: Expensive

Relaxed and wildly expensive, the Malibu branch of this nouveau Japanese restaurant empire is hands down your best chance of spotting an A-list celebrity—while eating an amazing meal. The secret formula of chef Nobu Matsuhisa, a celebrity in his own right, is simplicity and surprise. Whether it’s his signature Tiradito (white fish with a flourish of tangy citrus and a dollop of chili sauce) or Kumamoto oysters with a Maui onion salsa, Nobu’s creations unveil unexpected flavors from the freshest fish. Sit at the sushi bar, order the lychee martini and dust off your credit card. You’re not likely to get out for under $150.

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Nobu Malibu  

Saddle Peak Lodge

Neighborhood: The Canyons Price: Expensive

Vegetarians need not apply. With menu favorites like ostrich, elk tenderloin and antelope, liberal use of foie gras, and a decor dominated by taxidermy, Saddle Peak Lodge clearly loves the hunt. Whether you need a break from seafood or you’re just itching to try braised rabbit, this 130-year-old game-meat paradise—once a favorite of Charlie Chaplin—will deliver the unexpected. The entire restaurant has the feel of a mountain lodge, with high ceilings, roaring fires and subdued lighting. Remember to bring along a penlight to read the menu.

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Saddle Peak Lodge  

Terra

Neighborhood: South Malibu Price: Expensive

Terra, which means earth in Italian, lives up to its name with a menu that changes with the seasons and dishes made from local ingredients, including vegetables and herbs picked from their own garden. For instance, the root vegetable salad or the locally-caught grilled halibut, which are vibrant and flavorful. Leave room for their locally handcrafted ice cream. From the outside Terra looks like a private villa; inside, the cozy-but-elegant decor keeps that illusion alive. If it’s summer, sit on the patio and smell the salt air. In winter, ask for a table by the fireplace.

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Terra  

Abuelitas Mexican Restaurant

Neighborhood: Topanga Price: Moderate

Neil Young recorded "After the Gold Rush" in 1970 in Topanga Canyon. It could have been yesterday in this small hippie-meets-New-Age-meets-millionaire-music-producer community. Angelenos may roll their eyes at the locals in tie-dye, but you’re not likely to find a kick-back Mexican restaurant where you can sit outside by a creek and listen to the frogs while drinking margaritas and eating mole anywhere else. It’s not the best Mexican food you’ll ever eat, but somehow it doesn’t matter.

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Abuelitas Mexican Restaurant  

Cafe Habana

Neighborhood: Central Malibu Price: Moderate

Malibu’s latest addition to the restaurant scene is a typical star-studded affair. Located in the new Malibu Lumberyard and co-owned by Rande Gerber, Cafe Habana is the West Coast outpost of the popular New York eatery. Serving up fresh Caribbean, Latin and Mexican fare—not authentically Cuban, despite the name—the cafe’s open-air patio and dark wood gives it an old-school Hemingway vibe, while the outdoor faux-revolutionary mural by Shepard Fairey hints at rebellion. Against what, we couldn’t say, but it infuses the signature grilled corn and pulled pork burritos with a tinge of the forbidden.

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Cafe Habana  

The Canyon Bistro

Neighborhood: Topanga Price: Moderate

Topanga’s newest eatery is a jewel among the hemp necklaces. Located in Pine Tree Circle and decorated in warm yellow tones and soft lighting, The Canyon Bistro is dedicated to the finest organic produce and sustainably farmed meats, which makes every dish on the menu shine—and ups the price of the entrees. Whether you’re having the veggie burger with truffle-oil fries or the hanger steak—which, incidentally, is 10 ounces of prime-certified Angus, raised using sustainable practices that ensure the longevity of the herd and employment for the farmers—you are in for a treat. Keep in mind they’re closed on Mondays.

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The Canyon Bistro  

Coogie’s Beach Cafe

Neighborhood: North Malibu Price: Moderate

What do you get when you mix a Midwestern diner with Pamela Anderson? Coogie’s Beach Cafe. Situated in the Colony Plaza, Malibu’s version of a strip mall, with its colossal menu of BLTs, blackened chicken salad, burgers and eggs benedict (breakfast is served daily until 3PM), Coogie’s is Denny’s done better. Don’t expect much from the coffee, but get ready to be delighted by the homemade potato chips and zucchini muffins.

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Coogie’s Beach Cafe  

Cora’s Coffee Shoppe

Neighborhood: Santa Monica Price: Moderate

Owned by Bruce Marder, the chef at the upscale Santa Monica eatery Capo, Cora’s Coffee Shoppe serves up the same love of flavor and local and organic ingredients, albeit priced for the hoi polloi. There are a few counter stools inside, but the lion’s share of the seating (enough for roughly 25 people) is on the patio, under an iron arbor of magenta bougainvillea. It’s worth the wait for the homemade jam, fresh-squeezed juice, fresh vegetable frittatas and the tricked-out eggs benedict: perfectly toasted rustic bread, smoked salmon, soft-boiled eggs. The kicker? Creamy spinach and a lemon-butter sauce. There’s a small parking area in the rear.

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Cora’s Coffee Shoppe  

Duke’s Malibu

Neighborhood: South Malibu Price: Moderate
This Malibu hot spot is the place to go for luau fare. During dinner, the indoor restaurant, with its cloth-covered tables overlooking the water, serves more refined (and more expensive) dishes, like sesame hibachi and Kona spiced rib eye. But we prefer the outdoor Barefoot Bar. Partially enclosed by glass and surrounded by the Pacific, it’s not a stretch to imagine you’re on a boat, minus the seasickness. (Warning: Rough high tides spray over the glass, so skip the silk frock.) If you do nothing else, have the fish tacos in the Barefoot Bar—just be sure to order them grilled, not fried. The bar’s Aloha Hour serves them, as well as burgers and fish and chips, on the cheap, weekdays from 4PM to 7PM.

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Duke’s Malibu  

Malibu Kitchen & Gourmet Country Market

Neighborhood: Central Malibu Price: Moderate
We need to warn you about Malibu Kitchen—the deli guys can be downright “Soup Nazi.” If the sandwiches and baked goods weren’t out of this world, we’d consider saving you the scolding. The creaky screen door and weathered wooden floor, reminiscent of a Cape Cod ice cream shop, belie the aggression lurking behind the counter, so you’d be forgiven for letting your guard down. Please don’t. Take a menu, decide what you want, and then—and only then—get in line. Keep questions to a minimum, and for the love of Jesus, don’t answer your cell phone until you’re safely seated at one of the outdoor tables. The Empire State of Mind meatloaf sandwich is to-die-for, as is the turkey & warm Brie with cranberry relish.

Malibu Seafood Fresh Fish Market and Patio Cafe

Neighborhood: North Malibu Price: Moderate

The secret to Malibu Seafood is to get there early. The fish, caught each morning, will be the freshest, and the lines, well—they might be shorter. Propped up on a hill with expansive ocean views, this Malibu clam shack is all about the fish—without the fuss of white-wine butter sauces or fine herbs. The clam chowder is generously chunky and the Pacific oysters are enormous. Order, sit down at one of the many picnic tables, uncork a bottle of sauvignon blanc (Malibu Seafood doesn’t serve liquor, so BYOB), and wait for your number to be called. You won’t wait long for your food.

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Malibu Seafood Fresh Fish Market and Patio Cafe  

Marmalade Cafe

Neighborhood: Central Malibu Price: Moderate

The Marmalade Cafe is usually crowded, largely because it’s small and located in the Malibu Country Mart. The food is decent—the filet mignon chili and the French dip sandwich on a French roll are good bets—and celebrities are fairly common. But we can’t help feeling like Marmalade is a little overpriced for what it is—a chain restaurant with passable food. Go for breakfast and order the fresh-squeezed OJ.

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Marmalade Cafe  

The Reel Inn

Neighborhood: South Malibu Price: Moderate

Here’s the scene: You’ve been on the beach all day—in fact, you’re still wearing cutoffs and flip-flops and a thin layer of Pacific Ocean salt on your lightly bronzed skin—and you’re starving. You could go back to the hotel to shower and change. Or you could just go to the Reel Inn. With its clam shack-style ordering (you pick your fish, how you want it prepared, and they call your number when it’s ready) and communal wooden picnic tables, the Reel Inn works best with sun-streaked hair and sandy toes. Order your fish grilled and try the slaw. Opt for the Cajun spice preparation if you like a little kick.

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The Reel Inn  

Sage Room

Neighborhood: North Malibu Price: Moderate
The chefs are from Italy, the pasta is homemade, and the owner Claudio is all charm from the minute you walk through the door of this tiny bistro. Whatever you choose to order (we dream about the linguine with clams) is guaranteed to be made with fresh ingredients. If you see a sign outside that says Claudio’s mom is visiting from Italy, consider yourself blessed and order the meatloaf. The restaurant lets you order half-portions, which keeps the bill down, but we prefer taking home the leftovers for next-day bliss. The restaurant has roughly 15 tables, so reservations are a must.

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Sage Room  

The Sunset Restaurant

Neighborhood: North Malibu Price: Moderate

We’re not saying the food isn’t good. Our ahi tuna was seared to perfection and the mussels and fries were almost sinful. But the real draw to The Sunset is, well, the sunset. With a dining room of windows overlooking pristine Westward Beach (one of our favorite stretches of sand in the Bu), this is an unbeatable place to watch the sun go down without breaking the bank. Stay for after-dinner drinks at the bar to see the moon dancing on the surf. There’s street parking if you can find it or valet for $3 with validation.

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The Sunset Restaurant  

Tra Di Noi

Neighborhood: Central Malibu Price: Moderate
Located in the Malibu Country Mart, Tra Di Noi specializes in homemade Italian food and celebrity-watching. The ambiance inside is laid-back elegance and the tableside truffle shaving makes it feel like Old World Italy. There is plenty of outdoor seating and a take-out window that offers cheaper items. The dessert menu changes daily, but always contains their mouthwatering tiramisu.

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Tra Di Noi  

Hows Market (aka Trancas Market)

Neighborhood: North Malibu Price: Budget

Hows Market is the last place to get a bite, pick up a kite and fill the cooler with ice before you cross the northern limits of Malibu. So, chances are even if it was no more outstanding than a 7-Eleven, it would be packed. Called Trancas Market by locals, Hows is known for its straightforward yet inexplicably tasty deli sandwiches (chicken salad or Boar’s Head turkey on wheat). The shining star of Hows, however, is the barbecue trailer outside in the parking lot, which serves Polish sausage, carne asada and tri-tip sandwiches right off the grill, seven days a week.

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Hows Market (aka Trancas Market)  

Lily’s Cafe & Pastries

Neighborhood: North Malibu Price: Budget
Locals say Lily’s has the best breakfast burrito in the world. It’s certainly one of the best we’ve ever eaten. The basic elements—eggs, beans, bacon and hot sauce—would be enough, but add options like chorizo, avocado, cheese and green chili, and you’re heading into unbelievable territory. If you order the Big Boy for a buck more, you’ll get two meals out of it. The burritos take at least 30 minutes to make, and there’s nothing to do in the area except walk through the Pavilions supermarket, so definitely call ahead to order.
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