For seven days starting last Sunday, March 30, Eat LBC
, the city's first-ever restaurant week, has been highlighting many excellent reasons to make the drive to Long Beach. Which makes this a great time to add our own list of favorites (some of which, of course, have been covered by our compadres at OC Weekly
). Although we should point out that all this remains just a fraction of the great food in the diverse beach city once known as Iowa by the Sea.
10. LBJ's Fine Foods
Though it is one of the few true soul food restaurants in the entire city (shout out to Sal's Gumbo Shack, too!), LBJ's freeway-adjacent location at the tippy top of the town is often forgotten even by hardcore fans of the Southern style. But under the direction of chef Rita, this hole-in-the-wall (decked out like Rita's own living room, big screen TV and all) has been pumping out heaping plates of smothered chicken, fried catfish and, on the weekends, chitlins, gumbo and neck bones, for the last 22 years. More than a dozen side dishes - from macaroni and cheese to stewed collard greens - add additional Missisippi flair to any meal, and rumor has it Snoop Dogg orders a side of Rita's famous peach cobbler for the road whenever he stops by. 6617 Cherry Ave., Long Beach; (562) 422-3606.
9. Pho Hong Phat
Miles away from Orange County's Little Siagon, Pho Hong Phat holds down the pho front in Vietnamese-lacking Long Beach. A single-concept corner spot that's only open until 5 p.m., Pho Hong Phat serves pho, the whole pho and nothing but the pho. The whole experience is as quick as it is simple: Pick your size and pick your meat and within seconds, a steaming bowl arrives at the table with a softball-sized clump of noodles hiding beneath tinted broth. Fix it up with goodies from their tabletop tray of chili paste and hoisin and slurp to your heart's content. Bubbling vats of next day's broth can be seen cooking through the kitchen window as you pay; don't forget to tip your server by throwing your dollar bills in the trash can next to the register (seriously). 3243 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach; (562) 498-3754.
8. James Republic
James Republic is the latest project from chef Dean James Max, a farm-to-table obsessed chef who seeded restaurants in Ohio, Texas and Florida before converting a dingy Courtyard Mariott-attached diner into his new luxurious Long Beach home. Other restaurants in Long Beach are advocates of buying from local urban farms and crafting seasonal menus, but James Republic makes the L.A.-worthy haute cuisine of modern California coastal approachable, casual and effortlessly affordable. Executive chef Dave MacLennan's Eat LBC menu
includes cauliflower soup, oxtail pasta and grilled spicy octopus with foraged lemons and local almonds. 500 E. 1st St., Long Beach; (562) 901-0235.
In a world where it can seem like restaurants need to be north of the 10 freeway to get attention, it's not surprising that Long Beach, a city only 20 miles south of Los Angeles, is often ignored by L.A.'s food lovers. But many of Long Beach's nearly 500,000 residents have roots in Latin America and Southeast Asia, making the town a microcosm of much of L.A.'s ethnic experience. And the culinary scene that this has engendered is only beginning to earn its deserved praise.