As I said introducing my 25 Best Restaurants list, these things aren’t easy to do. Here you are, looking at your city, and you want to represent everyone but that’s not possible. You find yourself including some on the list for things beyond the culinary while excluding others that you dearly love. That’s the stuff that gave me anxiety.
This is by no means an apology, but the fact remains that there are solid restaurants that didn’t make the list but that definitely deserved recognition.
I asked around the office and scored two more suggestions from our publisher, David Sommers, and fellow writer Stephanie Rivera. I’ll start off with five choices that left me pained to leave off the list. And yes, there could be more: Los Compadres, Rose Park Downtown, Pow Wow Pizza…
3618 E. Broadway, Belmont Heights; 562-433-2574
Tucked between a liquor store and a laundromat, sits one of Long Beach’s shining example of Thai restaurants.
Unassuming and solid, the family of Pungauthaikans—led by mom-and-daughter team Nitaya and Parry—have created a neighborhood spot that creates consistently warming, heartfelt dishes which harken to their Thai heritage while using local resources.
Nitaya’s garden is not excluded from that resource list, which grows the betel leaves used for the shop’s stellar miang kham: the forest green leaves, wide and large, are spread around a bowl of light, sweet shrimp broth drizzled across the pile of shredded coconut, peanuts, red onion and lime. It’s the perfect precursor to any of their lunch soup specials, worthy of suffering through additional heat in the summer or any time.
Light dishes like that are countered with deeper dishes like nam yang—dubbed “grilled Thai salami” on the menu—a housemade, minced pork sausage that has its saltiness cut by ginger.
These are but two examples of incredibly great Thai food from Manaow. Go.
3618 E. Broadway, Belmont Heights; 562-433-2574
Seabirds has a cult-like following and for good reason: The small shop on Fourth Street, just a tad east of Alamitos, serves up some of the highest quality vegan creations in the region; distinctly unique plates that are addictive and comforting.
Seabirds opened its truck in 2010 with the sole mission of “pushing the boundaries of vegan cuisine.” That mission proved successful, giving the restaurant an actual location at Costa Mesa’s The LAB.
Directly across from a McDonald’s (scoring extra points for Awesome Dichotomy), you’ll find elegant dishes such as cauliflower ceviche or go full-out decadent with their unparalleled beer-battered avocado tacos.
Phở Hông Phát
3243 E. Anaheim St., Zaferia;
For those in the know, this place is one of the best to score pho, one that easily outshines other joints like Pho America and 123 Pho as well as the definitive Americanized Pho at Number Nine.
Phở Hông Phát’s focus is spectacularly simple: beef pho. And that beef pho is served in a tiny, packed, loud, no-A/C, Cash Only joint that eschews complexity or costly extras and sticks to doing one thing incredibly well. Sure, they have three options outside of beef pho—an all right chicken soup, a noodle-only soup and a seafood soup—but these options are the only ones out of a list of nearly 20 pho offerings that revolve around beef.
From rare flank to beef balls, everyone appreciative of consuming beef will find something they like, but my inner Creature of Habit always goes for the #10: Pho Tai Gan Xach with meatballs added. A cow-centric concoction of rare steak, tendon, and tripe, it’s a homage to the heifer if there ever was one with pink bits of beef floating toward the top while swimming alongside parts of the cow frowned upon by most American palates.
Prime by Shenandoah
3701 E. Fourth Street, Belmont Heights; 562-439-0605
As each year passes since Prime first opened, I remain entirely miffed that it is not constantly mentioned as much as other Fourth Street hubs such as Coffee Cup or Taqueria La Mexicana or Lola’s or…
The space occupied by Prime holds a bit of history: it is the OG locale of MVPs Burgers (which moved into the space formerly occupied by Shillelagh at Fourth and Temple a few years ago) and formerly the Whistle Stop, which came and went.
But Prime surpasses each of these. Here, they have happily married Mexican food with some Southern grub love. We’re talking brisket tamales, mac y chorizo, “boaritas” tacos, and green chorizo quesadillas. Prime offers spectacular quality food with kind service.
Add onto this some wondrous brunch creations, like the fried chicken and funnel cake, and I can assure you that the charm of their servers will surely win you over along with their fun, witty cuisine.
1626 Orange Ave., Central Long Beach; 562-269-0486
Sarah Bennett led me to this place and, for that, I am forever indebted.
When you bite into the creation of Adriana Moran’s tamal, you are transported. Unlike the smaller, heartier Mexican version so ubiquitous throughout California, tamales guatemaltecos are bigger. Much bigger. Wrapped in banana leaves, giving the masa a hint of grass and earth, Moran’s creations come with hints of pumpkin seed and cinnamon and, on the larger plates she serves, she adds a tamal as a side.
This is just one of the one the many wonders to be discovered at La Esperanza.
With Adriana’s mix of Guatemalan, Mexican and Salvadorian food—make sure to get a pupusa, topped with a wonderfully tart and crunchy slaw—this spot is not only a hidden gem but a wonderful break away from the dominance of Mexican cuisine in regards to the array of Latin American food.
And now for a suggestion from David Sommers, our publisher.
Boathouse on the Bay
190 N. Marina Dr., Alamitos Bay; 562-493-1100
by David Sommers
It’s easy to love Boathouse on the Bay and it was hard to leave this waterfront institution off the list. It’s consistently solid. They’ve nailed quality, attentive service and the views are top notch.
Looking for a place to take the in-laws, or the out-of-town guests? Head to the Boathouse. Need a place with a solid brunch? A solid raw bar? Surf? Turf? Head. To. The. Boathouse.
But the best reason to love the Boathouse? The man at the helm: John Morris. A restauranteur’s restaurateur. Morris opened the city’s first sports bar, developing the very concept of a sports bar with Legends on 2nd Street. In 1988, he was the first of a new generation of business leaders to set up shop in Downtown Long Beach, this when others thought that foolhearty. Morris stayed in the arena longer, set the bar high and kept it there.
Since making port in Alamitos Bay, Morris has continued his decades-long traditions of giving back to the community, organizing everything from Big Bang on the Bay every 4th of July, benefiting the Autism Partnership Foundation, to recently celebrating his 39th Annual St. Nick’s Toy Drive, where contributors gifts go to underprivileged children in Long Beach schools.
Anything you order at Boathouse will be terrific, but try this instead: Ask your server for the same as whatever John is having for lunch that day.
And a contribution from Stephanie Rivera.
Pupuseria el Kiosko
1642 E. Artesia Blvd., North Long Beach; 562-612-0692
I’ve made it my unofficial mission to try every pupusa Long Beach has to offer, and while I’ve been satisfied at the handful of restaurants I’ve eaten at so far, none have been patronized by me more than Pupuseria El Kiosko in North Long Beach.
Maybe it’s my go-to spot because of its convenient location across the street from a dispensary I stop at sometimes. Maybe it’s because it’s halfway between my and my parents’ home, and I can just pick some up along the way.
Either way, I can never go wrong with ordering the stuffed flatbread filled with oozing cheese and beans, the classic I grew up with and devoured at church fundraisers. Anyone forced to go to mass every Sunday in a Latino neighborhood knows the best part was when your parents bought you nachos, churros or pupusas afterward.
I’ve learned to place my order ahead of time because sometimes there’s a long wait, but even when I want to sit in and eat, I always enjoy soaking in the environment, the mural along one wall depicting a rural El Salvador and the music. Don’t forget to order a glass Coke too.