Greek fried cheese (saganaki) and pita bread from George's Greek Cafe. Photos by Stephanie Rivera.
Before an intrepid 28-year-old local foodie sprang into action earlier this year, Long Beach had a culinary dilemma: how to give visitors a taste of more than just one of the city’s best eateries, in a traveler’s limited amount of time.
So, in August, Layla Ali-Ahmad launched Beach City Food Tours in hopes of creating such an urban excursion.
“I feel like Long Beach is a really underrated city and I feel like the food scene is really coming up,” said Ali-Ahmad, who has been living in Long Beach for the past six years. “There’s constantly new restaurants coming up and the caliber is getting better and better and I wanted to showcase that to people.”
Fish tacos and beer at Pier 76 Fish Grill.
The Orange County native considers herself an avid lover of all things food, people and travel—most likely spurred by the constant adventures she and her family would embark on to other countries, including her parents’ native country of Lebanon. Not to mention, her exposure to cuisines from different cultures, in addition to the mediterranean food cooked at home.
Yet, Ali-Ahmad found herself following in her family’s footsteps to become an engineer.
Not surprisingly, after three years in the field she realized it just wasn’t her thing.
“I was constantly looking for that opportunity [to find] something I was more passionate about,” she said.
Beach City Food Tours founder Layla Ali-Ahmad offers historical information about The Federal Bar in downtown Long Beach.
With the support of her husband, she eventually left engineering and went into the wine industry for a few years.
“He supported me the whole time,” Ali-Ahmad said. “I wasn’t making as much money, but I was happy and he saw a shift in my personality and mood. I can’t thank him enough for that.”
Despite her rediscovery of a thankfully not-so-long-lost passion, a difficult finding three months before her wedding, in 2014, only reinforced her decision to pursue her interests.
“I actually found the lump on my way to the Pride Parade in Long Beach,” she said. “I was going to my friend Amy’s house and went to undo the kickstand on the bike, and hit the lump on my bike seat and felt it.”
She was diagnosed with stage three breast cancer. She went through chemotherapy and a mastectomy, and has been in remission ever since.
A Beach City Food Tours booklet with coupons to local eateries.
It wasn’t until she and her husband took a food tour in Edinburgh, Scotland during their honeymoon, that she felt inspired again. Not not just by the food but by the lifestyle, she said.
“Having cancer gives you a whole new perspective,” Ali-Ahmad said. “Life is too short to go to a job you don’t love everyday.”
Ali-Ahmad gets to meet people from all over the world, whether they are disembarking from cruise ships or in town for conventions. She said she wants to avoid taking people to tourist traps, hoping instead to make the tour a personal, unique experience with a small group.
“When I moved here, I fell in love with the city, the diversity of it and the people,” Ali-Ahmad said. “The people here are really laidback and supportive. I just didn’t see myself leaving and the food scene here was definitely worth exploring.”
The food tour itself lasts about three hours, running daily starting at 11:00AM.
Guests take in food, sights and sounds within a 1.5-mile route that does not involve stairs or hills. It’s recommended that guests dress in comfortable clothes and arrive hungry!
Fried cheese (saganaki) up in flames at George's Greek Cafe.
When I took part in Ali-Ahmad’s food tour in October, we met up at George’s Greek Cafe where about six of us took turns introducing ourselves and were gifted a tote bag, pin and a tour booklet with coupons. We indulged in fried cheese called saganaki, and gyro falafel among other delicious appetizers.
Other stops included Pier 76 Fish Grill where we had a fish taco and beer; Michael’s Pizzeria for pizza, pasta and Sicilian wine; juice shots at Rainbow Juices, coffee and donuts at Recreational Coffee; and finished with bite size portions of key lime and chocolate pies.
Chocolate and key lime pie shots at The Pie Bar.
Ali-Ahmad also took the time to show us other spots worth checking out, such as The Brass Lamp Book Bar—an all-in-one venue that can be as much a quiet space for working as it can be a hangout spot with friends—as well as MADE by Millworks, a local shop offering a variety of gift-giving and souvenir options. She also pointed out artwork that decorated some of the city’s buildings and offered historical information on certain architecture along the walk.
Tickets run at $68 a person on Saturdays and Sundays, $65 a person Monday through Friday and $35 for children 3 to 12 years old. Public tours can hold as many as 12 persons, but private tours like corporate events or birthday parties can hold up to 25 persons.
Margharita pizza from Michael's Pizzeria.
While the tour is only offered in downtown Long Beach, Ali-Ahmad said she hopes to eventually expand the business with routes at other spots, such as Belmont Shore, and hole-in-the-walls in lesser known neighborhoods via a van or bus tour.
For more information on Beach City Food Tours click here.