LAReview

photo credit: Jakob Layman

Cobi’s review image
7.8

Cobi’s

$$$$

Earn 3X Points

Generally speaking, eating in Santa Monica can get a little snoozy. That’s not a knock, it’s just that we can only get excited about so many hyper-seasonal “New American” places with muted dining rooms and menus filled with crudo, pasta, and chicken that wants you to know it’s from Petaluma. 

But then there’s Cobi’s, a Southeast Asian spot where the two themes are maximalism and curry. Soul and reggae are on full blast. The dining room and two patios are packed for weekend brunch and well into the night, even on Mondays. And the menu—refreshingly all over the place—is energetic, loaded with Thai, Indonesian, and Indian dishes. Cobi’s is like a shot of espresso for the whole neighborhood. 

Jakob Layman

Cobi’s review image

The restaurant sits in the old Dhaba space on Main Street in close vicinity to a community garden plot, a jacuzzi store with a soothing “California Hot Tubs” sign in the window, and lots of almost charming but decidedly underwhelming shops and cafes. In other words, this is not the “Promenade part" of Santa Monica. Except for maybe the French tourists who have unanimously descended on Venice and Ocean Park, Cobi’s attracts locals.

Friend groups order practically the whole menu in the shadow of the restaurant's lifesize flower sculptures that glow in candlelight. A techy duo uses big hand gestures and outside voices inside to debate…everything, over natural wine. (One likes the kitschy, mismatched floral dishware, pink floral wallpaper, and floral chandeliers. The other thinks it’s…kitschy.) And a young couple dressed like they just raided Aritzia yell “what?!” and “huh?!” back and forth as they go in on yolky nasi goreng. This place is loud, and, by Westside standards, it’s happening. 

Jakob Layman

Cobi’s review image

As for the food, the menu is flooded with curry, which figures because the chef ran a curry pop-up before settling beachside. There’s crispy branzino in a puddle of yellow curry,   deep-fried split pea and potato curry puffs, fork-tender beef rendang, and so many more curry-based dishes. Across the board, though, the food here could use a little more oomph, curry and otherwise. The devil’s chicken curry doesn’t live up to its three-chili-pepper warning, and the perfectly cooked prawn skewers bathe in a sauce where the most discernible flavor is salt. But there are a few standout dishes where the flavor dial isn’t turned down. The kanpachi crudo, for example, is a must-order: buttery slices of fish bathe in coconut milk, topped with pearls of finger lime that burst in your mouth with such bravado, we got quiet and weird on a later visit when it was sold out for the evening.

For the neighborhood that can be stuck in its ways, Cobi’s is a big deal. The mix of dishes from various regions in South and Southeast Asia is a breath of fresh air, and the flower explosion in the dining room and out on the patios makes it a fun gathering place for just about everyone. Cobi’s is where Santa Monica is letting its hair down.

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Food Rundown

Cobi’s review image

Kanpachi

This appetizer is the best dish on the menu at Cobi’s, and an absolute must-order. The kanpachi soaks in a lemongrass-tinged coconut milk puddle that’s so rich, it doesn't pay taxes. Acidic finger lime bubbles float on top, and explode in your mouth with each bite. The cohesive outcome is creamy, fishy bliss.

Jakob Layman

Cobi’s review image

Grilled Prawns

Three prawn skewers come beautifully presented with a picture-perfect char, but it’s hard to discern any flavors in the yellow bean and ginger sauce beyond salt. We wish this dish had a little more punch, but that’s OK because the head-on prawns are worth getting your hands dirty for. Add this to the order if you’re with a group, but consider skipping if you’re with just one other person.

Cobi’s review image

Curry Puffs

These deep-fried curry puffs are loaded with curried split pea and potato, so they’re texturally one-note. But that’s kind of the best part about them. Each simple fried pouch is hot, flaky, and flavorful when dipped into the tamarind ketchup. We wish we had a stash in our freezer for afternoon snacking purposes.

Chicken Larb

To contrast those heavy curry puffs and decadent kanpachi, you’re going to need something light and fresh. Both the papaya salad and the chicken larb have a nice kick of heat and crunchy vegetable components, but if deciding between the two, go for the larb. Each crumble of ground chicken is cooked with care, and it’s fun to make mini wraps with the meat and accompanying cabbage and cucumber.

Jakob Layman

Cobi’s review image

Beef Rendang

If you’re only going to order one thing from the “curry” section of the menu, make it the Indonesian stew. Put a forkful of that hearty, shredded beef and crispy shallot into a rip of flaky roti, drizzle on some gulai sauce and spicy sambal, and you’re in business.

Cobi’s review image

Devil Chicken Curry

Despite the three-pepper warning on the menu, the only real spice from this dish comes from the habañero sauce on the side. Otherwise, it’s a little bland. Prioritize the rendang, or go for the gai yang chicken.

Jakob Layman

Cobi’s review image

Nasi Goreng

Don’t count on it being the centerpiece of your meal, but this nasi goreng is perfectly fine if you’re in the mood for a rice dish. We like to mix up the runny egg as soon as it hits the table, and doctor it up with a little of the habañero sauce that comes with the Devil’s Chicken.

Mister Dal

If you ride for dal, Cobi’s version is perfectly fine, and we’d suggest adding it to your order if you’re with a big group. But it’s a little heavy on salt and turmeric and does not need to be a priority.

Jakob Layman

Cobi’s review image

Dry Aged Branzino

Now this is a nice piece of fish—and our favorite entree from the “Wood Grill” section of the menu. The skin on the branzino is topped with fragrant herbs and has a crispy char even though it rests in a pool of yellow curry. The subtle combination of all of the above has major capacity to wow.

Jakob Layman

Cobi’s review image

Coconut Pandan Shaved Ice

Finish your meal off with the pandan shaved ice. The mix of temperatures and textures between the frozen granita, jelly cubes, popping boba, and fresh fruit is light and delicious.

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