For 23 years Rock Bottom Brewery held down one of the Long Beach’s hottest locations—the northwest corner of Ocean Boulevard and Pine Avenue, the foot of the city’s mercantile main street and perched to grab the attention of conventioneers and tourists as well as the faithful clientele of local business people.
When Rock Bottom closed in May 2020 because of COVID-19, it was the first major restaurant to shutter because of the coronavirus and it was a clear signal that the pandemic was going to have a significant impact on the physical and financial health of the city.
The restaurant’s vacancy ever since its closure has been a dark spot at Pine and Ocean, serving as a reminder of the darkest days of the virus.
Now, signaling, perhaps, a brighter future for the abandoned space, comes the announcement that the Mexican restaurant chain, Xperience Restaurant Group, will reactivate the 9,500-square-foot space with the opening of the adventurous, Baja-themed Solita Tacos & Margaritas in the spring of next year.
Xperience owns many of the Mexican restaurants you’ve heard of, outside of the beloved so-called holes-in-the-wall that serve faithfully traditional Mexican fare to devotees of the real thing.
Among the Cypress-based company’s holdings are El Torito, Acapulco, Laguna Beach’s stunning Las Brisas and a half-dozen others.
Xperience CEO and president Randy Sharpe is enthusiastic about snaring the Rock Bottom site. “We couldn’t be more lucky to be able to pick up that corner,” he said. “The ownership (at the Landmark Square building) interviewed us. They didn’t want a ho-hum restaurant moving in. They wanted something unique and exciting, which Solita definitely is. We showed them that Solita would appeal not only to locals, but also tourists and conventions.”
Sharpe wanted a location in Long Beach, he said, because “Long Beach is exploding right now with great restaurants. It’s exciting to see how much the city has changed with the high-rises going up and the conventions coming back.”
If Solita’s offerings aren’t hole-in-the-wall offerings, they are certainly adventurous and unique.
Its Baja-style menu is inspired by the charro cooking of Northern Mexico, with a Santa Maria-style grill and smoker. Some highlights from the menu include:
- Pork Belly Dorado Taco: pork belly smoked in-house for six hours, served with amarillo hot sauce, onions, cilantro, and slaw.
- Vampiro Taco: double tortilla with carne asada or grilled chicken, with cheese, serrano peppers, green onions, guacamole, chipotle sauce, cotija cheese, and salsa fresca.
- Cadillac: wood-grilled carne asada, melted cheese, chipotle-garlic shrimp, avocado and salsa fresca.
- Grilled Corn Elote: roasted and wood-grilled sweet corn carved tableside with butter, chipotle sauce, ground California chile, cotija cheese, and green onions.
- Steak Carne Asada, wood-grilled Angus steak, avocado, jalapeno toreados, scallions, and chimchurri; served with 2 sides.
There are Solita restaurants open now in Huntington Beach and Valencia, and a new one will open in Anaheim in February, said Sharpe. The Long Beach Solita will be the biggest incarnation of the chain, moving into the cavernous Rock Bottom site of more than 9,000 square feet, with seating for more than 300 customers, including room for 45 on the 1,360-square-foot patio, that will include access to an indoor-outdoor bar offering craft cocktails, making use of an array of tequilas and mezcals.
“Solitas were originally designed to fit in smaller boxes, but it’s really shown it can handle bigger places,” he said. “It’s a very relaxed and comfortable atmosphere and we have a great weekend brunch and a great happy hour and unique cocktails that will appeal to a broad spectrum of people, from locals to convention attendees. It’s very casual, not uptight.”
Sharpe said he hopes to open Solitas in Long Beach in April.