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A few years back, I wrote an Essential Long Beach Dishes listicle. I wrote it because there’s something so elemental and useful about a specific great dish at a specific place; it was less about some grander proclamation than it was about, “This is just great food.”
And I want to return to that, but the reality of that list is that some restaurants went out of business, some ingredients aren’t around, moods shift, seasons alter, food changes. Constantly. So why not just own the moment? Without further ado, here are the favorite things I’m eating right now…
The green chile cheeseburger at Amorcito
3991 N. Lakewood Blvd.
I have long lauded the wonders of Chef Thomas Ortega’s Amor familia.
The man behind “pocho cuisine” serves up some of the city’s best tacos at both Amorcito and Playa Amor, along with some other wonders like his short rib birria and mole tots.
But my latest addiction is one of his simplest: Amorcito’s green chile cheeseburger. A wonderfully starchy, buttery potato bun has a grass-fed patty, a garlicky aioli, onion, pickle, ketchup, mustard, and a mound of ground, roasted green chiles atop some melted American cheese. (Yes, American cheese, dammit!)
It’s comfort food with masterful simplicity—and it’s only $6.75.
Moules frites at Pier 76 Fish Grill
95 Pine Ave.
The best part about Chef Chris Krajacic’s style is his cleanliness in his approach to food. Eschewing complicated preparation, his plates are simultaneously simple and complex—and this shines best in his moule frites. I have long-loved this plate but, after realizing I hadn’t had it well over a year, decided to re-test the waters. It was a dive worth taking.
Pier’s tin bucket filled with a hefty heap of freshly steamed California black mussels atop a pile of fries is Krajacic’s take on the seafood classic, one I first experienced at Walt’s Wharf in Seal Beach, which just happened to be under the direction of Krajacic when I had it.
We’re talking brilliant execution here with a white wine broth—beautifully balanced to the point where one could easily use it as a soup—that the fries happily bathe in, mixed with onions, roasted poblano peppers, and chunks of bacon.
Keep it up, Chef.
Roman-style pizza at Pow Wow Pizza Company
4085 Atlantic Ave., Suite B
Chef Maurice Yim is already well-known as an artist of fusion food, masterfully blending his Cambodian roots, love of multiple cuisines, and talents into his pizzas—and with it, building up a stellar reputation within months after opening Pow Wow Pizza Company in Bixby Knolls.
But his adoration of the art of pizza perhaps supersedes his love of the art of fusion. And this is best expressed in his Roman-style square pizza. Each piece you get is the result of hours of dough work: fermenting, folding, repeat. The result is a light, airy crust that is a wonderful base for whatever toppings you choose. If Chef Yim happens to have it, get the habanero honey to drizzle over your pepperoni square.
Nashville hot chicken from Kim Prince’s Hotville popup at Beer Belly
Kim Prince has come to Long Beach to spread the love and her talent for frying fowl. Twice now.
And yes, I know it is rather jerk-ish to tell you about something that has twice passed and let you know about its wonders—but my secret hope is that we can convince Kim to join Long Beach permanently and show some of the impostors what’s up.
This isn’t the subtle heat of Memphis fried chicken—where Long Beach can experience a prime example at Gus’s on Long Beach Boulevard—but truly sweat-inducing heat, especially if you enter into the upper echelons of hot chicken’s heat scale. That scale is always on a four-figure escalation when excluding the plain option: country, Cali mild, medium, and hot. And true to the spirit of Nashville hot chicken, each level of heat is its own special concoction of spices: Kim’s medium has a sweet subtleness to it while her hot is a heavy but worthy dose of cayenne and, of course, secrets.
Tripas taco at El Taco Loco #3
1465 Magnolia Ave.
I wrote about this taco years ago—genuinely one of the best discoveries offered to me by retired food legend Russ Parsons—but I still feel no one knows about its wonders.
This Downtown Mexican restaurant has long been serving house-made tortillas and offering everything from buche to cabeza.
But the real treasure are their tripas taco. (Don’t do the burrito if you’ve never had the tripas here; it buries the tripas with rice and beans which, by no means, is a bad thing, it just dampens the first experience.)
Marinated and wonderfully charred with a slight crisp, slathered in salsa verde and topped with onion and cilantro. This is the classic taco at its finest, served with a part of the cow all-too-often dismissed by boring appetites.
But, if I had to pick just one to live with for the rest of the month—just one—it would be Ms. Prince’s chicken.