Cult Santa Monica is a new restaurant, cocktail bar and coffee destination
By Katie Lulla
On the corner of Broadway and Third Street Promenade sits a cheerful restaurant with an interesting name, Cult. The innovative team, the same group that created Lanea and The Craftsman Bar and Kitchen, puts a new spin on the cult favorite foods of Los Angeles and are working to create their own unique foods.
Down time can sometimes be the best time to start something new. The Cult team had always wanted to open a new location and the pandemic provided that opportunity. Cult’s chef, Kim Vu, noted that the pandemic played a role in the restaurant’s affordability.
“I think people are price sensitive because of the pandemic,” Vu said. “You have to meet at that intersection of quality, art and price to be successful. And I think that this location has it.”
When they hear the name Cult, many people may instinctively think of a group of fanatical people. Chef Vu certainly did. Cult’s original concept was an all-vegan restaurant referencing cultivation, but Vu used the autonomy given to her to take Cult in the direction it is now.
“Not only are we playing off of other people’s cult classics, but we want to create our own,” Vu said. “What we’re aiming to do is to create really craveable food and drinks.”
Cult’s most popular dishes are the garlic fries, Nashville hot chicken, burgers and avocado toast. The burgers are modeled after The Father’s Office burgers. Vu changed the bread to a brioche bun and it’s also a bit more arugula heavy.
Vu is a fan of avocado toast and her enthusiasm has led her to create two unique toasts: Greek and Caramelized Onion. While the Greek is similar to a salad, the Caramelized Onion is savory and has the same toppings as the Fancy Burger.
“My approach to avocado toast [is that] I want to make it hearty, I wanted to get a meal,” Vu said. “I want it to be interesting. I want it to look beautiful. I want to excite our customers with lots of different amazing toppings on the toast.”
The chicken is prepared in-house over the course of three days with the same level of taste and style as the toast. The chicken is put in Vu’s special brine and marinate.
“The feedback I’m getting is that [the chicken] is somehow very simplistic in nature, but better than what people are used to,” Vu said. “There’s a lot of technique that goes into the way we prepare the food.”
Alongside the excellent dishes are the coffee and cocktail menus. Head barista Lenita Enriquez envisioned the coffee menu to be a third wave coffee program. She said that there was no exceptional program in the area and thought it would be good to bring the most modern coffee to the community.
“We pay lots of attention to every single detail from the moment the coffee is harvested, roasted and shipped down to the way it is processed and brewed,” Enriquez said. “The entire [coffee] menu is very heavily dedicated to that care and attention.”
With seven years of experience, Enriquez has watched many trends come and go. Floral syrup was one trend that lasted, making her lavender syrup very popular. Not only is it made from scratch, but it can be smelled from outside the restaurant without being overwhelming.
Enriquez said that the matcha tea is as popular as the lavender coffee because not many restaurants serve matcha.
“[Matcha] is hard to get done right, it’s also very expensive to find matcha powder [without added sugar],” Enriquez said. “Lots of places around the area won’t consider matcha powder.”
Libby Russell, operations and cocktail manager, spent a year managing Lanea’s cocktail and taco bar, and has brought that cocktail program over to Cult.
Cult has two unique drinks: the Rose Quartz Cocktail and the Spicy Margarita. Both were meant to be brief specials, but were so popular that they became permanent fixtures on the menu.
“I’m surprised the Spicy Margarita has been so successful because it is very spicy,” Russell said. “People love it because it’s just a different type of spice that people aren’t used to.”
As she described the cocktail menu, Russell reiterated Cult’s affordability.
“We’re trying to find a way to have the same high-quality cocktails we’ve had pre-pandemic, but at a more affordable price,” Russell said. “[We] want to be mindful of how people these days just don’t have the same money they had before.”
Recently, Cult has made canned cocktail sets that can be enjoyed at home. On the preparation side, the restaurant has kept costs down by doing everything from the salts to the liquor infusions in house.
“We dehydrate our own garnishes here, we make our own juices from fresh fruit here,” Russell said. “It’s truly artisanal from top to bottom.”
Vu added that her ties with the Santa Monica Farmers Market have allowed Cult to source some fresh produce directly from farmers. As different produce is in season, Cult will offer various specials.
“We’ll see a changing food and beverage menu over the next several months leading all the way into the summer,” Vu said. “I think there’s going to be something exciting and new, pretty much every quarter at this restaurant.”
For Easter brunch, Cult debuted an “Endless Rosé” program alongside bright floral coffees, new cocktails and egg-themed entrees.
“I wanted to come up with something inspiring, bright and colorful, but using coffee,” Enriquez said, who plans to make a coffee version of the Arnold Palmer.
Other possibilities to look forward to include a penicillin drink with rye, egg-themed breakfast sandwiches, and grain bowls with poached eggs.
“We’re experimenting right now, we have everything we need for an eggs benedict,” Vu shared. “We could [also] do what we call the big breakfast plate, because we already serve cinnamon toast, eggs and bacon. It’s definitely an egg-focused day.”