Too many years back, I wrote a very self-indulgent listicle that was about so-called “essential” Long Beach dishes; dishes that I loved and could depend on as long as that place existed—and 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 after a year of not doing such lists, I want to return to it. Not some grand list of “essential dishes”—that is too hard of a burden to put on a restaurant: You better have this and you better have it all the time. But for now, in this moment, I am happy to share some of my favorite things.
In other words: Why not just own the moment? Without further ado, here are the favorite things I’m eating right now…
The picante de pollo from El Pollo Imperial
5991 Atlantic Ave.
I’ve long sang the praises of this North Long Beach gem, an institution for the neighborhood for over a decade after Oscar Ramirez and wife-and-husband team Alicia and Carlos Cortez decided to repurpose a shuttered KFC—and rather than take the route of continuing to offer American fast food, they stuck to their roots and offered us a gift in exchange: A Peruvian restaurant that isn’t only one of Long Beach’s most underrated; it’s one of its best.
Unwitting Angelenos and OC’ers might claim El Pollo Inka or Picca or Aji Limon as the best Peruvian joint. But, in reality, it has always been El Pollo Imperial in North Long Beach, with its takeover of an old drive-thru (that they still keep active) filled with classic, unapologetically Peruvian grub.
Surely, most come for their lomo saltado and I will always—always—openly advertise the beauty of their seco de cordero, their braised lamb shank. (Though as of lately, lamb has been pricey and they have been offering an equally stellar beef version.)
Meeting with my friend and fellow food lover James Tir (aka @LBFoodComa on Instagram), he introduced me to a dish I had never tried: the picante de pollo, a wonderfully bright yellow-and-orange, tumeric-meets-aji amarillo, long-simmered chicken concoction layered with potatoes and a hard boiled egg.
It’s an outright beautiful dish that shows the layers and wonders of not just a local, underrated restaurant but an underrated cuisine.
The matzo ball soup from The Marvelous MexiJew
Last month it was pozole; this month it is matzo ball soup.
Yes, it is soup season—and when it comes to Scott Ruiz, aka the Marvelous MexiJew matzo master, there is no one season to which his wondrous broth can be cornered into.
Churning out some of the creamiest, richest matzo broth this side of Brooklyn, Ruiz’s Instagram soup center is worth both the ordering ahead and the delivery. Perfectly delectable reheated, easily frozen-then-reheated—yes, I’ve done both—this is the kind of soup that doesn’t need anything. No squeeze of citrus, no additional salt.
The only accompaniment I use is a hefty chunk of crusty bread slathered in unsalted butter and my heart and stomach remain content—even when dealing with the seemingly endless confusion, frustration, and impatience that comes with a pandemic going into year three.
The sweetbreads with buttermilk dill from Heritage
2032 E. 7th St.
I have long sang praises for Chef Philip Pretty’s masterful care with handling sweetbreads: Long before Restauration was a political-meets-public health disaster, his spicy sweetbreads on their inaugural post-fire menu were listed on this very monthly list back in 2019.
His newest endeavor—his sandwich-shop-in-the-day meets fine-dining-at-night pairing—is one that has not only been recognized by Michelin but is serving some of the best food in the city. And while it was on my underrated restaurants list this year, I have a feeling it won’t be on there next year as his reputation amps up.
Pretty’s prix fixe menu is great—and its stand-out star for me is once again his sweetbreads, braised and then given an outer crisp, sat atop a mound of green bean salad and a beautiful buttermilk sauce drizzled with a dill oil. It mimics his spicy sweetbreads of before—ranch-like dressing included—but this one feels a bit more sophisticated.
Umami and creamy meet tart and salty in this genuinely gorgeous dish that reminds the American palate that all of the animal should be given places on plates if we have the audacity to take its life for food.
The On Dasher cocktail from The Ordinarie
210 The Promenade N.
There’s much to celebrate at The Ordinarie year-round but when it comes to the holidays, no place in Long Beach goes as all out as them. Kitschy as all hell, outright overwhelming, and overwhelmingly over-decorated, Miracle at The Ordinarie turns an already-wonderfully warming watering hole into one of the most beautifully saturated-in-the-spirit spaces in Long Beach for the holidays.
And it has a list of holiday cocktails to amp up the merriment. And while I usually prefer their house cocktails, Miracle is a brand that hand-selects bars to have its decorations and libations at so recipes are to be strictly followed—there is no doubt that a particular highlight comes this on this year’s menu.
And that star happens to be the newest drink of them all: The On Dasher.
Creamy, foamy, marshmallow-y, this wondrous concoction is nothing short of a pain in the ass to create—black pepper, cardamon, and marshmallow fluff are turned into a creamy base before shaken with egg white, gin, vanilla liqueur, and lemon only to be topped with a toasted marshmallow—but well worth the efforts of your bartender. (So treat them kindly by recognizing their services.)
For Brian Addison’s the full feature on Miracle at The Ordinarie, click here.
The chili cheese fries at Louis Burger III
555 Atlantic Ave.
While I work on a larger piece that examines how generations of immigrants have kept the American diner alive and well in SoCal, I should begin by at least giving a shout-out to one of the longtime staples of comfort food in my life here in Long Beach: the stellar, no-place-like-teenage-nostalgia, late-night-drunken-solace that are Louis Burger III’s chili cheese fries.
Yes, you can add pastrami. Sure, you can go all out with the DUI fries version, slathered in bacon and jalapeños and pastrami and yellow peppers (and for that version, I actually suggest Golden Burgers over Louis).
But the plain, good ol’ chili cheese fries never fail me—and intoxicated or not, it’s worth every damn calorie.