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From a pandemic pop-up to brick and mortar, Cobi’s emergence on Santa Monica’s Main Street is a success story in which all the pieces just seemed to fit together.
Taking over the space previously occupied by 50-year veteran Dhaba’s, which closed during the pandemic, Cobi Marsh and Lance Mueller realized their dream of moving into a permanent dine-in restaurant in mid-October. And they’ve brought curries and more along with them.
Here’s everything you need to know about the colorful newcomer.
1. From Down Under to Los Angeles.
Mueller first stepped onto the L.A. dining scene via E.P. & L.P. before starting a pop-up, Cobi’s Curries, with wife and business partner Marsh. Mueller, who is Polynesian, and Marsh, who is Australian, first met in Melbourne while Mueller was a chef working at places like George Calombaris’ Press Club.
Because her stepmother is Balinese-Indonesian, Marsh spent a lot of time in Bali, and she lived in Indonesia for 10 years. This thread — especially influences from Southeast Asia and Pacific islands and countries — is apparent in everything at Cobi’s, from the colors to the curries.
“We have a really big Asian population in Australia, being so close to Southeast Asia. So the quality of Southeast Asian food in Australia is pretty incredible. So I’ve always grown up eating curries,” says Marsh.
In preparation for opening their pop-up, Mueller and Marsh spent time traveling all over Asia, trying different curries and building their recipes from this research.
2. The old Dhaba’s space was a perfect fit.
The first Cobi’s Curries iteration began as a pop-up on West Third Street during the pandemic, which proved successful, but it operated in a space with a temporary lease. They then moved to delivery-only from a kitchen space in Koreatown. So when Mueller and Marsh learned that the space at Dhaba’s was open, it seemed like a perfect fit.
“We gave [owners Manhar and Margaret Patel] a tasting. After a 50-year run, they were ready to pass the torch, so it was by chance. We were really lucky,” says Marsh.
After some renovations, Cobi’s was born. The pink exterior was already on theme with Cobi’s Curries, so Marsh put her expertise to work on infusing the old with the new in the dining room. You’ll find an upside down, hanging rose garden in the bar area, which also serves as a foyer. But in the dining spaces, you’ll choose from either 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.
3. The trim but hearty Southeast Asian menu is built around curries
The focus, unsurprisingly, is curries such as beef rendang, butter chicken, and jungle curry. But don’t miss out on Cobi’s tasty snacks, such as curry puffs, pork and shiitake dumplings, and chicken larb. Pair any of those with egg noodles and pork belly, or crunchy nasi goreng with fried egg.
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 and burnt chili nam jim, or beef short rib in chili and tamarind dressing.
All the dishes are flavorful, but better yet, they elegantly build upon each other as you move down the menu, making for a fun spread.
4. Dishes are made with local, conscientiously sourced ingredients.
Part of why so many dishes sing is the local and conscientiously sourced ingredients Mueller and Marsh use in their recipes. You’ll find carbon-neutral beef, Mary’s Chicken, fish from The Joint Seafood, and pork from Peads & Barnett. They source produce from Weiser Family Farms, Coleman Farms, Fresno Evergreen, The Garden Of, and Manuk Ranch.
“You 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.”
5. Don’t forget the natural wine.
The wine program is equally fun to explore. Most selections hail from California or France, but all have been tasted and tested to go well with the food on the menu.
“The whole idea behind it was making sure that we had a very approachable wine list in terms of cost as well as on the palate. It’s very new world,” says Mueller.
From a skin-contact Scholium Project sauvignon blanc (La Severita di Bruto) to malbec from local Santa Barbara darling Lo-Fi, there are a handful of wines available by the glass. Should you want to take any bottle home after dinner, there’s a big 40% discount.
Think: Morgon from Beaujolais’ Terres Dorèes for another day. “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.