For the last 17 years, the teriyaki grill in East Long Beach down the street from Cal State Long Beach has been my spot, probably the restaurant in the city I’ve eaten at the most frequently. I’ve never been a “scene” guy with food, mostly because I didn’t have the money to be one until a few years ago. So I’ve always looked for my spots, and there’s never been one better than Rascals, which sadly is closing its Long Beach location this Saturday, Aug. 12, according to owner Phil Kiyokane.
Long Beach’s Rascals opened my last year of college, and our newspaper staff quickly gravitated to it because it was affordable, filling, fast, and delicious—plus, they’d let you sit in a booth with your friends for a few hours writing and refilling your drinks for free because you were dead broke.
Over the last nearly two decades in a green booth at Rascals, I haven’t seen a lot of people taking Instagram photos of their plates or making TikToks where they deliver soliloquies about their lunch to their cell phones. What I’ve seen is other reporters and photographers, construction workers and painters on lunch breaks, police officers and firefighters during down time on a night shift, and more than a Pyramid’s worth of Long Beach State athletes and college students.
Before a night match against Long Beach State, the USC men’s volleyball team shuffled in one Saturday afternoon, led by USC’s head coach (an East Long Beach resident). I don’t even know how many staff meetings before football games JJ, Tyler and I have held there.
I don’t mean to sound harsh on foodies or food critics—I love reading about great new restaurants, and my wife and I always enjoy looking at pictures of exciting dishes we haven’t tried before. But the truth of our lives is that we went from college students with not much money to young professionals with not much money to not-so-young parents with a little more money, but a lot less free time.
Every month or so, we try to go to a new spot that it takes time to find a seat at—but in the meantime, we need reliable spots where we can feed four people in a half hour between a tennis lesson for our daughter and a baseball practice for our son.
Most people I know have a relationship like that with food and with restaurants. It’s why a spot like Rascals was never empty—you knew what you were getting with their delicious teriyaki sauce, whether you wanted it on rice with beef or chicken, or on a burger. Your kids could always find something to eat without complaining. If you were up too late working or partying the night before, the Chinese chicken salad always helped get your stomach in order. In 17 years of near-weekly visits, I never once had a bad customer service experience there, almost always getting a warm greeting from Phil and his staff.
Now its homegrown charms will be available only in Carson, Gardena and Torrance, with the current Long Beach staff moving to their new location in Carson. I’ll miss seeing “my” Long Beach passing by while I worked on a story or a book, popping in to say hi for a couple of minutes.
A restaurant to me isn’t just about the food or its rating or reviews or Instagrammability—it’s about how it makes you feel. And a spot like Rascals always felt like home to me, a place I could work, hang with friends, or bring my kids without worrying that they’d mess up someone’s lunch entree photo shoot. More often than not, I left after seeing a friend, too. You never ran into a lot of foodies at Rascals, but you ran into just about everyone else.