4. Beachwood BBQ and Brewing
The BBQ at Beachwood might not have all the gritty goodness as Long Beach's other popular BBQ joint, Robert Earl's on Artesia Blvd., but chef Gabe Gordon's elevated take on contemporary North Carolina-style wins out because it's served alongside some of the best beers in the country. Gordon's fine dining background and molecular gastronomy obsessions make this a house that smoke built, with cold-smoked fish and chips, smoked lamb ribs and smoked accouterments such as smoked feta and smoked Serrano aioli. Imaginative appetizers include the lamb corndogs with habanero-berry "ketchup" and a poutine look-a-like made with tater tots and a cup of duck fat gravy. Grab a slab of ribs or a pulled pork sandwich and pair it with one of brewmaster Julian Shrago's expert hoppy ales. 210 E 3rd St, Long Beach; (562) 436-4020.
Long Beach is home to the largest population of Cambodians outside of that country and their colorful culture runs rampant along Anaheim St. with dozens of restaurants, dress-makers and jewelers lining the strip now known as Cambodia Town. Sophy's is one of the few Khmer restaurants that veers off the road most traveled, but its comprehensive menu of Cambodian specialties and Thai dishes (to ease in the timid) makes it an easy place to crash into whichever Southeast Asian country you're feeling like sampling the cuisine from that day. Trained palates go deep with Sophy's Khmer food, which shares both its savory meat marinades with Thai cooking and its herbal reliance with Vietnamese cuisine. A fish paste called prohok
is used in many dishes (a Khmer house without it is like an Italian kitchen sans garlic), and a lemongrass-tumeric spice mixture called kreoung
permeates the rest. Try the Phnom Penh noodle (a breakfast soup), beef lok lak
, or any one of the coconut milk-based Khmer curries. 3240 E Pacific Coast Hwy Long Beach; (562) 506-2162.
2. Michael's Pizzeria
As the casual counterpart to the high falutin' Italian dining found at Long Beach's highly-rated Michael's on Naples, Michael's Pizzeria is still anything but basic. Sure it serves up trendy Neopolitan-style pizza like Pizzeria Ortica and Pizzeria Mozza, but Michael's makes this list both for its affordable takes on non-crusty dishes (veal and pork meatballs so tender, they fall apart when you look at them) and their nurturing attention to quality (like the burrata, mozzarella and lasagna pasta, all made in-house). The continued success of owner Michael Dene's Long Beach empire - which now includes a steakhouse for which he is raising his own Italian cattle - proves there is a growing market in this working-class city for well-sourced, skillfully-cooked food. 5616 E 2nd St., Long Beach;
(562) 987-4000. 210 E 3rd St., Long Beach; (562) 491-2100.