When trying to find Amorcito, I admit, I got a little lost. Waze took me to a local tech building in Long Beach and it wasn’t until I found the huge new “Hangar” sign and saw lines out the door that I realized I had found Long Beach Exchange. I stopped to speak to a local as I entered the complex, and he told me, “I’m definitely coming back here. Long Beach was hungry for the Hangar — we needed more variety.”
And variety is exactly what the locals are getting, starting with a fast-casual concept by none other than chef Thomas Ortega. Ortega, who is not a new name in this part of SoCal (known for Amor y Tacos in Cerritos and Playa Amor Mexican Cocina), recently opened his fourth restaurant, Amorcito, at the Hangar.
When talking with Ortega about the project, his voice filled with compassion and excitement as he said, “This was my little sweetheart, my little love.” His idea was to have delicious pocho cuisine at an affordable price while still using quality organic ingredients. Amorcito draws on Ortega’s Chicano roots, with bold new flavors that combine both the old and the new modern Mexican cuisine. Think a Hatch chili cheeseburger with grass-fed Angus beef with garlic aioli, pickles, onion and gooey melted American cheese on a soft potato bun for only $6.75.
Walking up to the counter, you’ll notice that the kitchen and the front of house are separated by a wall of decorative tortilla makers. Ortega told me that on the morning of opening, his tortilla maker broke and one of his employees, whom he’d hired earlier that day, started making tortillas by hand. From that moment on, she became his tortilla godsend and now starts every morning by hand-making 70 to 80 corn and flour tortillas. “Ninety percent of the time people want handmade, so that’s what they’ll get,” Ortega tells L.A. Weekly. This small but authentic touch separates Amorcito from the typical Mexican fast-casual restaurant.
For the amount of food you get per item, it’s an absolute steal. The tacos may look small but they pack a lot of meat and spice. All items except the shrimp cocktail ($12.50) are priced below $10, with tacos starting at $2.95. The short rib taco consists of rich short rib that falls off the bone, chile arbol salsa and caramelized onions. The Tepito taco was inspired by a trip to Barrio Bravo in Mexico City and is topped with papitas fritas (french fries) and a spicy salsa rojo y verde.
If you want to order the largest thing on the menu, get the taco salad, which comes in a massive fried tortilla shell stuffed with organic greens, corn, garbanzo beans, tomatoes, cotija cheese and organic chicken (or meat of your choice) with a perfectly tossed light cilantro dressing. Don’t forget to grab an order of tangy charred Brussels sprouts, or try the street corn with an abundance of green chili garlic aioli on top.
“Ideally, we’d love to bring our revered approach to pocho cuisine to more of L.A. and O.C. by opening several more similar fast-casual restaurants down the line,” Ortega says. They might not all be called Amorcito, but you’ll know one of Ortega’s restaurants when you see it.
Amorcito Urban Taqueria at the Hanger at Long Beach Exchange Food Hall, 4150 McGowen St., Long Beach; @amorcitolb
[Editor's note: The name of Long Beach Exchange has been corrected in the first paragraph.]