In less than one month, Long Beach went from having zero options for Korean-inspired bulgogi and kimchi pizzas to two. Surprisingly, neither of them are afterthoughts.
The first—dashed with pineapple and launched a mere week before the other—comes from the oven at 4th Horseman, the downtown horrorcore beer bar with an impressive dedication to the kind of bubbly sourdough you wish came in a basket at the start of the meal as well.
The latest is at PowWow Pizza, Bixby Knolls’ weeks-old counter-service pizza shop (no relation to the Pow! Wow! mural festival) and the first restaurant from chef Maurice Yim, who worked the line at James Republic before breaking off on his own to do catering and pop-ups where he fused Cambodian flavors and French technique and service.
At PowWow, Yim goes casual, feeding the north side with, one assumes, some of the same recipes he uses to sate his own kids: A garlicky beef gyro, a crunchy ginger-dressing salad, slices of good-oily pepperoni stuck to gooey cheese atop a tangy, hand-tossed crust.
To be honest, on a recent visit, it didn’t look like much had changed at all since Yim took over the former Bella Pizza location on Carson last month. The kitchen remains dominated by a room-sized pizza oven. Prices for the multi-ingredient specialty pizzas still start at $7. And the quick-service counter convenience continues to ensure that the moseying area in front of the register is consistently crowded with suburban regulars (working moms, sweat-clad dads, teenagers, etc.).
As part of the deal that led him to open within a week of Bella’s closure, Yim even retained Bella’s pizza-loving staff.
But a scan beyond the things you’d expect from a neighborhood pizza joint—like the margherita pizza (pocked with fresh balls of mozzarella) and Caesar salad (made with a Cambodian’s understanding of fish sauce)—reveal what might prove to be PowWow’s biggest draw.
Yim’s love of combining and sharing flavors comes across through a lineup of globally inspired pizzas, topped with everything from Chinese roasted duck (with a plum-hoisin sauce) to egg and Filipino longanisa (his kids are half Filipino) to, yes, marinated bulgogi beef and kimchi (using a gojuchang marinara like their 4th Horseman mates).
If you want to get to know PowWow through just one pizza, though, go for the Angkor, which incorporates ingredients from the chef’s Cambodian heritage. Marinara gets ditched for a white garlic sauce and a lemongrass-ginger beef holds it down like a fennel sausage would at Michael’s Pizzeria. Lest beef and cheese and dough bog you down with savory heft, pickled carrots, a hint of galangal and a vinaigrette-tossed watercress are there with a piquant rope to pull you back up.
The pizza is probably only one of only a few in existence that’s aromatic to the same herbal depth of a pho or curry. (For another Khmer salute, order it to go and it will come in a pink pizza box, like every dozen set of glazed you’ve bought at a Cambodian-owned doughnut shop.)
Combined with Michael’s, 4th Horseman and Long Beach Beer Lab, PowWow Pizza could add yet another layer of depth to the city’s rapidly expanding pizza scene, which is now at a level worth rubbing in the face of all our pizza-snob jerk friends who like to keep saying “the West Coast doesn’t have ‘good’ pizza” (as if tradition is the only thing worth clinging to, or eating).
Sure, we’ll always have the East Coaster-repelling gummy-crust delivery favorites like Dean’s, Big E’s and Canadian Pizza—La Pizza Loca también, the list could go on…—but with the two new chef-driven additions of the last month, Long Beach has now doubled the number of pizza joints that are taking their dough and toppings and quick-flash wood-firing seriously.
PowWow is another example of what’s possible when we toss tradition aside—or at least keep only the most necessary parts of it—and let Long Beach lead the way to our own food future.
PowWow Pizza, 4085 Atlantic Ave. Unit B, Bixby Knolls; (562) 283-0152