When it comes to spending any amount of time on the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica, you generally know what to expect - crowded Anthropologies, invasive street performers, and unexplained dinosaur topiaries spitting water out of their mouths. Also, a bunch of restaurants you can find anywhere else in America. It’s a tourist trap, and for anyone who isn’t a tourist or with a tourist, finding a good reason to go there is harder than avoiding the guy who’s handing out “Free The Aliens” pamphlets.
Consider Tumbi a good reason. In an area where every clothing store, keychain shop, and smoothie bar is a place we all know about, this modern Indian restaurant feels entirely unexpected.
Tumbi is on one of those Santa Monica Blvd. blocks between The Promenade and Ocean Ave. where everybody’s just looking for public parking structures. And because of that, the area’s pretty quiet. This is not a bad thing. Tumbi is smack in the center of everything and yet, it feels like a locals’ spot on a sleepy side street. No one is here because their hotel concierge recommended it or because they just realized Buca Di Beppo is actually at The Grove now and gave up. People are here because the colorful space is easy to hang out in, and because the Indian food is really delicious.
Tumbi’s menu is full of Indian street food dishes you don’t see in a lot of other LA restaurants. Like the pani puri - traditional puff pastries that come on top of rosewater shots (you pour those into the pastries before eating them as quickly as possible). Their vada pav is basically a spicy potato slider, served with steamed rice fries that you’ll wish were bottomless. There are two masalas on the menu, and while the Goan prawn is good, the one we wish we were eating right now is the Patagonian toothfish in apricot curry with blistered sweet peppers. And make sure to save enough room for the end. Whether it’s the saffron panna cotta or pistachio-flavored kulfi ice cream served on a stick, the desserts are worth a trip here on their own.
Tumbi isn’t good to just have in your back pocket for when you’re stuck in Santa Monica and hungry. Tumbi is a place you should plan dates around, tell your friends to come meet you at, or drop-in when you simply want to eat great food at The Promenade and not be bothered in the process. Good luck to the alien emancipation guy though.
This big plate of thin, crispy bread and house-made chili garlic, basil, and sweet tamarind chutneys are what you need to order first.
Traditional puff pastries served on top of rosewater-filled shot glasses. You’ll never feel more responsible drinking something out of a shot glass in your life.
The bun seems like a bit of an afterthought, but the spiced potato patty on this slider and the side of steamed rice fries are both excellent.
Wok fried and coated in a yogurt/cumin/curry leaf marinade, this bowl of chicken is one of the best things on the menu and will have an incredibly short life on your table. Very shareable with a group.
All the dosas at Tumbi are excellent. But it’s hard to pass on the one that’s stuffed with paneer and spiced ricotta. Be sure to add the mango and ghost chili chutney on top for a little kick.
At $29, this is the most expensive dish here, but it’s also the best. Mixed with the apricot curry, the meaty fish is sweet and rich and barely requires chewing.
Saving room for dessert is a required action at Tumbi. If you have to choose one, choose the saffron panna cotta. Sweet and fragrant, this is everything you need after a spice-filled dinner.