Where the Wild Things Grow
Modern Mexican with a pocho flare
It’s all love at Playa Amor, Long Beach’s first serious entry into the modern Mexican category -- but this isn’t highfalutin, white-tablecloth dining. Under chef Thomas Ortega, Baja-inspired classics like Puerto Nuevo lobster and grilled octopus get prepared with better ingredients and local diners in mind.
Homegrown California-via-Texas barbecue joint
Robert Earl started tossing meats into his homemade smoker and selling the results at the local farmers market a half-decade back. Today, he’s got one of the region’s best barbecue restaurants: a counter, really, with a big dining room attached where you can get down on brisket, pulled pork, sausage links, homemade banana pudding, and more.
Michael Dene's 'Michael's-Plex'
A triple threat of Italian concepts on Naples Island
Michael Dene opened Michael’s on Naples (his namesake fine dining Italian spot) while technically in retirement, then expanded down the block with Michael’s Pizzeria, a Neopolitan-style pie shop, and Chianina Steakhouse, an upscale Italian steakhouse that serves beef from the only herd of Chianina cows in the country. All strung along a block or so of Second Street on tiny Naples Island, it’s kind of like Long Beach’s version of Nancy Silverton’s Mozzaplex. Michael’s-Plex, anyone?
LA mariscos legend lands in Long Beach
Of course the ceviche and tostaditas at Cheko are great -- the tiny mariscos joint in North Long Beach has roots with the famous Peñuelas clan, whose Coni’Seafood and Don Chente restaurants in LA are always worth the drive. Make sure to order the pescado zarandeado: a massive buttered-and-grilled butterflied snook that you’ll want to ravage with your crew.
A chef-driven Cal-Italian bistro in Alamitos Beach
Chef Jason Witzl worked at acclaimed LA restaurants like Campanile, Water Grill, Manhattan Beach Post, and Herringbone before bouncing south to open Ellie’s: his own corner bistro (and an LBC anomaly) dedicated to handmade pastas, charred vegetables, and other Cal-Italian creations. Start with the $25 quarterie menu, which gives you three courses based around your choice of pasta. This is one chef you’ll want to trust.
Raw vegan fare foods in a succulent-lined space
Long Beach had an explosion of vegan restaurants last year, but none were more homegrown or more thoughtful than Under the Sun, an outgrowth of Rainbow Juices in Downtown that only serves living foods. This means squash “pasta,” “sushi” rolls, almond milk tonics and sprouted nut toasts topped with house cashew butter -- food that even has carnivores admitting sometimes they like it raw.
Classic Peruvian restaurant in a former KFC
There might be other places to eat Peruvian in Long Beach, but only one has a drive-through window, and only one gives you a free bowl of cilantro-flecked chicken soup with every meal. That one is El Pollo Imperial, where the location is a former KFC, and everything from ceviche mixto to pollo rostizado is just as it is in the motherland.
Modern seafood from a Long Beach native on Second Street
High-grade sushi menu? Check. Tiki-inspired grog? Check. Al pastor swordfish? Check and check. When a Oaxacan-German chef spends years cooking steak and seafood, you get Roe Restaurant, the Long Beach answer to Connie & Ted’s; come for chef Art Gonzalez’s sustainable seafood creations, stay for some of the best desserts in the city (thanks to pastry chef Alex Ruperto).
Cooking with flavors from across the Southwest
Up the street at Panxa, chef Gonzalez (of the aforementioned Roe) pulls from the other end of the spectrum: his time spent cooking in Santa Fe, New Mexico. This means lots of hatch and chimayó chiles, Navajo tacos, and egg-topped Christmas enchiladas -- all Southwestern dishes you'd be hard-pressed to find anywhere else in Southern California.
Iconic stop for Cambodian noodle soup
It’s called kuay tiew, and as a meat-heavy breakfast soup filled with meat and rice noodles, it’s Cambodia’s answer to pho. Phnom Penh Noodle Shack -- a decades-old institution in the heart of Long Beach’s Cambodia Town -- is the city’s epicenter of kuay tiew worship, with bowls and plates topped with with beef balls and quail eggs and offal, all served from a humble kitchen built into the owner’s former home.
Couple-run kosher brewery with an on-site bakery
He was a biochemist and homebrewer specializing in sour and funky beers. She was a pastry chef working at high-end hotels. Together, they opened a production brewery with an on-site bakery that uses Long Beach-cultivated yeast in everything from farmhouse ales to pizza dough. Try the couple’s latest experiments at their tasting room, where kosher wine barrels surround.
Long Beach’s greatest (and only) Korean restaurant
The LBC only has one real Korean restaurant, and it lucked out with Sura. Whether you want glossy-sweet grilled pork, spicy tofu soup in a gurgling stone pot or a rainbow of pickled banchan, Sura abides. A fusion menu added by the owner’s millennial children includes vegan tacos, bulgogi fries and more -- all the better to help the pitchers of beer flow more freely.