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.”
So I want to return to that but not with 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…
Mortadella panini from La Parolaccia
While I await for my full feature on La Parolaccia to reach the homepage of Eater LA, I figured I might as well share some of the carby mastery pizzaiolo and gluten samurai Michael Procaccini is serving up at the long-loved (and rightfully so) Roman restaurant.
There is no question that La Parolaccia’s pizza is among the city’s best, meticulously straddling the line between perfectly imitated Roman food and a deep connection to its Long Beach audience.
But as Procaccini perfects his control of gluten, typically drawing eyes toward his classic takes on Roman pizza proper, one should not ignore his offerings made on his perfect focaccia bread—particularly the simplicity of nothing but mortadella, burrata, and olive oil stuffed between sliced focaccia.
Savory, creamy, wondrous.
Chile en nogada from Lola’s Mexican Cuisine
2030 E. 4th St. and 4140 Atlantic Ave.
There are many things of beauty in the gastronomical diaspora of Mexico: the almighty taco, the never-fails ceviche and aguachile, the beauty that is barbacoa and birria, the culinary class act that are carnitas…
The list is endless. But the most cherished culinary beauty of the time surrounding the celebration of Mexico’s independence is none other than the chile en nogada.
The creation of proud Mexican women, the charred and peeled poblano pepper is then stuffed with ground beef, nuts, and dried fruits before being slathered in a gorgeous walnut béchamel sauce and pomegranate seeds. The result? A reflection of the Mexican flag and an ode to the resilience of a culture that has faced imperialism, colonization, and a constant pressure from outside forces to conform.
And the city’s best version comes from Lola’s—but you gotta get it before the month’s end, when it disappears from the menu.
The pulled pork banh chao from Battambong BBQ
Various locations; check Instagram
I’ve long sang the praises of Chef Chad Phuong, there the self-dubbed Cambodian barbecue—and for good reason: Distinctly blending three seemingly opposite cultures—Texan barbecue, Cambodian cuisine, and SoCal flair—are tied into Phuong’s food.
But his cuisine is far more than just the smoked meats he churns out on the weekly.
And there is no better example than his absolutely stellar, Cambodian-meets-Texan take on the classic Vietnamese bánh xèo: Using the coconut milk and turmeric base that is in the Vietnamese version, Phuong stuffs the egg-like crepe with pulled pork from his smoker and allows you to fold the stuffed creation into lettuce wraps with cucumbers a sweet-meets-heat fish sauce that make it roller coater of flavors that might be part Cambodian, part Texan, and part Vietnamese—but I can assure you: This dish is entirely Long Beach.
The turtle soup from Shady Grove Foods
2708 E. 4th St.
Before I leave you offended, hear me out: Turtle soup has a rich history, particularly in the States and Mexico, where it was once so popular that it was canned by Campbell’s for both countries.
And the boys at Shady Grove have created a stellar version—so stellar that I, along with James Tir (aka @LBFoodComa on IG) have decided to partner with them for a special storytelling dinner where guests will not only experience the turtle soup but also hear about its history, the history of Creole and Cajun food that are in the background of Shady Grove’s food, and the reason why they call their food “Long Beach barbecue.”
And it all goes down Oct. 6. Special tickets will be required; more info coming soon.
As for the boys of Shady Grove Foods? They’re easy to love, y’all: Homegrown and home-made, father-and-son team David and Dennis Robicheau have turned their smokey creation that is Long Beach barbecue into a full-fledged brick-and-mortar after years and years of doing popups, events, festivals, and slingin’ meats out of backyards.
Midnight chicken from Chiang Rai
3832 E. Anaheim St.
I know, I know: I included Chiang Rai’s stellar khao soi last month—but given I haven’t done a full feature on them (and they are indeed worthy of it), I figured I would include their equally stellar chicken dish, Midnight Chicken.
The joint itself has gone from way (way, way) under-the-radar to Michelin-recognized within seven months of it opening, after it took over the Moo Pa space before it. And for good reason: Unassuming on the outside and colorful, bright on the inside, Chiang Rai represents the full spectrum of Thai food proper and Thai food-gone-Californian.
Their Midnight Chicken—which can be ordered from their valuable lunch special menu or as a full entree at dinner—is an ultra savory bit of soy-meets-garlic magic needs nothing more than its self.
While some would recommend the entree dish that comes with the space’s roti and yellow curry dip—I personally find the roti to be too heavy on the grease and too little on the crisp—I go for their lunch special continually.