If you ever catch yourself wandering around Santa Monica and looking for South Asian cuisine, look no further – Cobi is one of the best spots in town, not only because they serve some of the best butter chicken but also because they're highly sustainable, and all of their dishes are made with local, conscientiously sourced ingredients.
When I lived down the street from Cobi's, it was originally known as Dhaba, owned by Manhar and Margaret Patel for an incredible 50 years. It always smelled amazing – but for whatever reason, I kept saying I'd try it later. I'm happy I waited because now this incredible establishment is a new staple.
Mueller first started his journey in the dining scene of L.A., working at E.P & L.P., a well-known restaurant/lounge in West Hollywood. Eventually, he decided to open a pop-up with his wife, and they called it Cobi's Curries.
Because Cobi's stepmother is Balinese-Indonesian, Colbi Marsh spent a lot of her time in Bali; this thread — specifically influences from Southeast Asia and Pacific islands, is apparent in everything at Cobi's, from the colors to the flavors of the curries.
Prior to opening up their pop-up, Mueller and Marsh spent a lot of their time traveling all over Asia, trying various curries and building their recipes from their research.
The first pop-up happened during the pandemic, and it was an incredible success–however, the space they were working in was a temporary lease. Eventually, they learned that the space at Dhaba was open, so they gave the owners a tasting, and after running the place for 50 years, the owners were ready to pass the torch.
After some inspiring renovation, Colbi came to life. Marsh put her knowledge to work on infusing the old with the new within the dining room. You'll find an upside-down rose garden hanging above you in the bar area, which also serves as a foyer. In the dining spaces, you'll have the option to choose from a lush garden patio space or a living area-like room.
"Cobi infused her artistic views and architecture experience into the interior. She was able to provide a warm and inviting feeling, kind of like going to your grandma's house. A kind of mismatch-y, eclectic vibe," says Mueller
All of the dishes are made conscientiously and with locally sourced ingredients. You'll find Mar's chicken, fish from The Joint Seafood, and pork from Peads & Barnett. Produce is sourced from local farms like Coleman farms, Fresno Evergreen, The Garden Of, and more.
Additionally, they serve carbon-neutral beef. After doing a little bit of research, I discovered that producers who want to be certified have to provide a significant amount of detailed data on how their cattle were raised, and a company will then utilize that data to estimate the approximate amount of carbon emissions involved in taking those cows from birth to slaughter. If the assessment does find that these emissions were at minimum 10% lower than the Low Carbon Beef benchmark, then the beef can be certified as having reduced greenhouse gas emissions.
"At Cobi's, you'll know exactly where the product is coming from and the story behind it. We treat it with the same love and respect when it gets to the restaurant. That's just how we feel about using good ingredients. I think the product speaks for itself, so we don't need to be too loud about it," says Mueller. "We're trying to work with the best ingredients that are available by looking into their farming practices, how the animals are raised, and their living conditions."
Additionally, Colbi's has a great selection of natural wine from California and France.
"The idea behind it was making sure that we had an approachable wine list in terms of cost as well as on the palate. It's a very new world," says Mueller.
From skin-contact sauvignon blanc to malbecs from local Santa Barbara, there are handfuls of wines available by the glass. And if you want to take any bottle home after dinner, there's a nice 40% discount.
Try Morgon from Beaujolais' Terres Dorèes, "it's just really fruit-forward and has a beautiful finish. It's less judgy, more chuggy, which is our approach to the wine list," says Mueller.
I made reservations in advance and headed to the restaurant. I was impressed immediately by the exterior. The pink exterior was beautiful; there's an upside-down hanging rose garden in the bar area, and the dining room replicates a lush garden patio. Everything is simply green and beautiful, and it feels like you're just dining in nature. On top of that, the bathroom had an heirloom tomato-scented candle that smelled incredible.
Colbi's is a family-style restaurant, so our server suggested we order everything to share. The focus is primarily curries; you'll find things like beef rendang, butter chicken, and jungle curry on the menu, but before I get ahead of myself, let me start with the drinks and appetizers.
The drink menu has great options. You'll find everything categorized properly, ranging from sparkling wine, white and skin contact wine, rose and coferment, and red wine. They also offer beer, a draft cocktail, non-alcoholic drinks, and tea/coffee.
I went for a glass of their Bel Air, Chenin Blanc, and La Granga Tiphaine from Loire, France. Anything from Loire is an absolute must in my book, and my guest ordered a glass of the Sophia Greco Cantina Giardino from Italy. It was an orange wine, and she loved it – I thought it tasted like kombucha.
Moving on to the food, there's a raw bar with Kanpachi with green chili and coconut dressing, as well as an Ora King Salmon with citrus dressing and prawn crisps – pro tip: ask for the cassava crackers. Our server mentioned these two appetizers are likely to change seasonally.
I wasn't feeling too raw that day, so instead, I opted for something from their snack menu. The grilled prawns with a ginger and yellow bean sauce sounded great, the Curry Puffs (based on Yelp and our server) are extremely popular, but I was more interested in the pork dumplings with a side dipping sauce made with chili crunch, shallots, chili, and Nam Jim jeow.
When I tell you those were some of the best dumplings I've had – I'm not joking, although I preferred them plain and simple without the sauce.
As mentioned before, you'll see beef rendang on the menu, devil chicken curry, which is known to be extremely spicy; there's also a vegan option which is Mister dal, made with yellow split peas, coconut milk, and crispy curry leaves, and last, but not least, there's Butter chicken.
I went for the Beef Rendang and Butter chicken, and both were beyond phenomenal – I liked the butter chicken just a smidge more as it came in the most flavorful sauce I've ever had. I ordered a side of jasmine rice along with some roti which is a round flatbread. I could have at least had 6 of those rotis; they were that good, especially when dipping into the butter chicken and scooping it with rice.
If you're not interested in curries, they also offer various vegetables, noodles, and stir fry. The green papaya salad is extremely popular, and our server highly recommended the Nasi Goreng, which was with rice, fried egg, sambal terasi, and long beans; you can also add a protein to the dish.
If you've got the bandwidth, go with one of their large format selections, like dry-aged branzino in yellow curry, gai yang chicken in lemongrass marinade, burnt chili nam Jim, or beef short rib in chili and tamarind dressing.
All the dishes are flavorful, but more importantly, they build upon each other as you move down the menu, making for an incredible spread and overall meal.
To finish the meal on a sweet note, try their Thai tea pudding with boba pearls, black sugar, and lemongrass. And, if it's a hot day, try their coconut shaved ice. Both are delicious.
Make a reservation in advance when you come; it's easier not to have to wait. They're open for dinner on Sundays through Wednesdays from 5 pm to 10 pm, Thursdays through Saturdays from 5 pm to 11 pm, and they offer brunch on weekends from 10:30 to 2:30 pm. This spot is perfect for a weeknight meal, a date night, or to simply come to if you're coming from out of town or you have friends in town that you want to share a good experience with.
There's metered street parking available, as well as a few residential neighborhoods that have street parking.
Check this place out – and be sure to order extra roti with your butter chicken; you won't regret it.
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