Amidst the massive sprawl of retail known as the Long Beach Exchange—dubbed LBX—announcing the arrival (and exodus) of tenants, its upcoming array of food-centric tenants is arguably the most impressive part of the complex: From Portola’s first location outside Orange County to cult favorites like The Kroft and Grilled Cheese Bar, LBX is attempting to distinguish itself from the Big Box developments of the late 1980s and 1990s.
But perhaps most intriguing are its Long Beach-centric restaurants—and while Thomas Ortega’s upcoming Amorcito still remains largely under wraps (and is, for me, one of the most exciting things coming up in the Long Beach scene), it is a place that no one knows about that is perhaps stirring up the pot the most: The 908.
And when I say stirring up the pot, I don’t mean The 908 is courting controversy; I mean its owners are trying to genuinely alter what has long been a stagnant East Long Beach food scene. And in this sense, it seems 908 founders and owners Ian Moston (current owner of Riley’s in Belmont Shore) and Ciaran Gough are echoing Ortega.
When Playa Amor opened near PCH and Second Street, Ortega took the initial charge in shifting East Long Beach’s culinary space away from staple-driven joints—places like Enrique’s, Tracy’s (great burger, bee-tee-dub), and Baja Sonora have operated for years on end, beloved among the neighborhood but offering little on the new side—and introducing chef-driven plates and experiences.
With that first leap taken, Moston and Gough are ready to take the next one.
“In all frankness, I am tired of hearing that places like Bestia or Republique [in DTLA and Mid-Wilshire Los Angeles] can’t exist in Long Beach,” Gough said. “Long Beach not only wants it but deserves it.”
Name-dropping joints like Bestia and Republique, each often featured on any list of the best restaurants L.A. has to offer, isn’t a brag on behalf of Gough; it’s a proclamation—and a bold one at that.
While it is safe to say that Chef Jason Witzl of Ellie’s, Chef Philip Pretty of Restauration, Chef Alex McGroarty of 4th & Olive, and Ortega—each of whom made my inaugural best restaurants list last year—have succeeded in bringing a higher caliber of food into Long Beach, each have experimented with levels of Bestia-like food only to dismissed by a huge portion of the Long Beach audience.
“Long Beach is difficult but wonderful,” Witzl once told me. “I was viewed as an outsider so I was kind of snubbed, but I knew I could create great food… I will give it that: Long Beach loves great food but there’s a learning curve.”
That learning curve is essential to survive here in Long Beach on a culinary level. The local pride is oftentimes at such a height that it causes some chefs to burn out—remember Chef Susan Tract and her ability to withstand criticism from locals for only one year?—but with chefs like Ortega and Witzl, Gough’s dream doesn’t aim for a pie in the sky.
Originally from Ireland and living in East Long Beach for over 15 years, Gough has been through the trenches and back when it comes to the restaurant industry: He’s been a cook, a bartender, a general manager, a vice president, and a COO of a restaurant—the dream of a Republique-like place has been in his blood for quite a bit.
The only struggle that plagued him was whether he follow East Long Beach tradition and revive something old a la Tracy’s Bar & Grill or, more challenging, create something entirely new that simultaneously lifts up the Eastside scene while also remaining Long Beach-centric.
He opted for the latter.
“We’ve been asking our chefs what their favorite dish is, where it’s from, and why it was their favorite,” Gough said. “And the items ranged—from sandwiches to steaks—but they all held one commonality: They were executed well.”
With a menu that’s pushing 40 items, an impressive beverage program that includes what Gough calls “low brow and high brow hanging out together” along with wine on tap and “kickass beers from Oregon that you just can’t find here,” execution will be key for The 908’s success. (We can all remember Table 301’s overwhelmingly large menu. And fun fact: The 908 is bringing on IDA Architecture for the design of its space, the same firm that oversaw the direction of Table 301’s gorgeous interior.)
While The 908 is currently in the construction phase, with the permitting process set to take over this week, Gough is hoping to be open by spring of next year—but not until his menu is perfected.
“We won’t be opening until we’re completely ready to serve some of the best food the area has seen,” Gough said.
In addition to The 908 and following their announcement of tenants like The Kroft and Grilled Cheese Bar earlier this year, two more restaurant tenants will be moving in. The Hangar, a 17,000-square-foot dining hall within the 26-acre development near Douglas Park, will soon be home to the Korean barbecue joint Quarters and sushi hand-roll chain Temakira.
Long Beach Exchange is located at 4069 N Lakewood Blvd.
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