Fittingly for a place that refers to itself as “The International City,” Long Beach has long been one of the most diverse municipalities in the nation. (It was actually named the most diverse a few years ago by USA Today.) Nowhere is this more evident than the city’s food scene, which presents a dizzying array of cultures and cuisines. So, if you’re interested in widening your world view, not to mention palate, just head south on the 710 and then off the beaten path to these global gems.
Physician-turned-chef Vinod Venkataraman converted a medical building storage closet into a vegetarian/vegan hotspot serving traditional/fusion Indian dishes. His vegetarian Maharaja Burrito is often cited as one of the nation’s best – the Maharani is a vegan version. Soups like the vegan yellow lentil are popular as is the lemongrass chai. Small and unadorned, Appu’s exudes charm thanks to its near-perpetually smiling chef who, as a musician, played with sitar icon and Beatles collaborator, Ravi Shankar. Order the Maharaja, ask about George Harrison, sit back and enjoy.
Chef Beeline Krouch has created a unique eatery reflecting both his Cambodian heritage, born and raised in Long Beach, and training in Mexican cuisine. A disciple of local legend Thomas Ortega (Playa Amor, Amorcito), he offers tacos with a burnt cheese shell and filled with meats prepared with lemongrass, ponzu and Chinese spices, topped with technicolor pickled veggies. Chinitos is the kind of place you can get your Thai tea with a splash of horchata.
Located in a rather non-descript stucco cube, Cuizina offers a wide-range of Filipino cuisine. Everything from fish balls to breakfast tocino burritos. They serve all traditional Filipino meats, adobo to spam, and everything in between, all of which can be ordered silog style, with a fried egg and side of garlic fried rice. There’s also a thorough menu of isaw, a street food consisting of meat, many times intestines, grilled on skewers. If you want the real stuff, go on the weekends when they barbecue quail eggs, chicken feet and crispy pig ears.
El Pollo Imperial manages to welcome newbies to Peruvian cuisine with such staples as lomo saltado – flavorful carne asada, served over and dripping into French fries – while continuing to entice aficionados with dishes like braised lamb, slow-cooked in cilantro sauce served over light beans. Imperial offers an array of seafood and its Peruvian ceviche is simply one of the best around. Even better, the large majority of entrees are $15 or less. It’s been said that this is a restaurant with drive-through prices, which figures since it’s located in a converted KFC.
It wasn’t long ago that Long Beach was a city bereft of ramen. That’s certainly not the case anymore as noodle-options abound, led by HiroNori which was recognized as a Michelin Guide “Bib Gourmand” restaurant for serving high-quality fare at a reasonable price. Chef Hiromichi Igarashi offers both meat and vegan options with his house-made noodles. Braised pork is a popular choice as is the heavenly black garlic sauce that’s poured into bowls, creating an otherworldly alchemy of creamy broth with layer upon layer of flavor.
A celebration of authentic Thai cuisine, Naree is the downtown destination for food that is the genuine article. From lemongrass soup to green papaya salad, from rice to noodle dishes and all manner of entrees ranging from chicken to seafood, the restaurant and its food exudes elegance with a significant nod to tradition. And you can’t get much more traditional than mee krob, which just may be Naree’s most popular dish.
Arguably one of the most popular restaurants in Belmont Shore’s Second Street, Open Sesame’s indoor-outdoor layout allows diners to take in the city all the while partaking in exceptionally good Mediterranean fare. Open Sesame doesn’t try to reinvent this cuisine (why would you?) they just do it very well. For starters, the spicy garlic potatoes and flash-fried cauliflower are pretty much required. There’s all manner of meat and seafood – the shawarma is incredible, as is the tiger shrimp, tawook and lamb chops. Veggie dishes abound, popular ones include baba ghannouj, fattoush and tabouleh. It’s all good, which is why it’s not unusual to see folks waiting, gladly, for a table.
Pho Hong Phat
In a town awash in this Vietnamese soup, Pho Hong Phat stands apart for its no-nonsense approach, especially when it comes to beef. Yes, there are other exceptional offerings – chicken, seafood and a noodles-only option – but nothing comes close to beef, which is offered in nearly 20 incarnations. And we’re talking the whole cow, flank to tripe, meatballs to fatty brisket. The menu is small as is Pho Hong Phat’s physical space but, fortunately, both deliver big. For more information, call Pho Hong Phat at (562) 498-3754.
In a city boasting the largest Cambodian population outside of Asia, it says something that Phnom Penh Noodle Shack is where locals are most likely to go. This Cambodia Town touchstone first appeared in 1985 and serves everything from rice porridge to stir fry. But it’s its noodle dishes, and soups, that keep the people coming back. And of these, none is more popular than the House Special with ground pork and sliced pork paired with pork stomach, liver and shrimp and placed atop noodles. It’s so good, regulars have it for breakfast, lunch or dinner.
If the iPad-sized pretzels weren’t enough of a clue, then the elk sausage has to be. Rasselbock does German cuisine, so expect to find all your favorites, i.e. potato pancakes, schnitzel, currywurst and an out of this world apple strudel, all of them done with a decidedly modern twist. They also have beer. Lots of beer. Rasselbock is part of Long Beach’s Brewery Knolls craft beer district and features more than 35 German and Belgian beers.
For more food, drink, and fun in Long Beach, head to VisitLongBeach.com
Photography by: Fukushima Photography (Matt Fukushima)