Monday, March 4, 2024

EA Seafood Restaurant is the old-school Cantonese neighborhood space Long Beach longs for

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Walking into EA Seafood Restaurant—the Cantonese joint that overtook the former Kinokawa space after it permanently shuttered in July of 2023—I was immediately stopped by a woman leaving: “I had my eyebrows raised, not gonna lie, but this place is good. Shockingly good.”

That is quite the compliment to be entering upon but then again, the sentiment isn’t shocking: While our neighbors to the north and south are chockfull of solid Asian grub, Long Beach lacks—particularly when it comes to old-school Chinese joints that harken to the the Peking, Cantonese, Szechuan, and other Chinese culinary styles.

Think Chengdu Taste in Alhambra and Sichuan Impression in both O.C. and L.A. highlighting Szechuan. Southern Mini Town in San Gabriel and Red 99 in Temple City showcasing Shanghainese cuisine. Ji Rong for Peking in San Gabriel. And when it comes to Cantonese, a rich stretch of culinary love, from staples like NBC Seafood and Auntie Kitchen to high-end joints like Bistro 1968.

And for EA Seafood Restaurant owner Jerry Wu, his Cantonese take on Chinese food is not just a warm welcome for the Cal Heights neighborhood (and all of the city), but a full realization of a dream he’s long wanted to achieve on his own.

EA Seafood Restaurant’s front- and back-of-house have history in Long Beach

Owner Jerry Wu—as well as front service member Carry and manager Mary, the jolly humans that are likely to be the ones that greets any and every customer that comes in—hails from Nomad Bistro and, in essence, EA Seafood has been the dream from the get-go.

“I saw this place and it was a perfect fit for us,” Wu said. “We kept most of it the same—I know it’s Japanese in style but we want to make sure the community is comfortable. We know we are new but we are here to be a part of the neighborhood.”

There’s a deep earnestness in Wu’s sentiments: He is waiting on his alcohol license—”A month or so,” he noted—and until then, has to depend on solely his food to get by. But it is also his appreciation for the chance to invest in the neighborhood that shines.

“We even kept the private room in case people still wanted parties,” Carry said, gesturing toward Kinokawa’s former koshitsu space, the private room with zashiki-style seating.

When I had noted this was the quietest Cantonese joint I’d ever visited, Wu and Carry both heartily laughed as we chatted in a nearly empty, Japanese-inspired interior that fits the new space rather well, with small hints of Chinese art and contemporary guzheng music plays.

“Not for long,” Wu said happily—and me joining his joy, knowing that soon enough, EA Seafood is likely to be a loud, boisterous joint.

East Coast-style egg rolls, live seafood, hot mustard, and more at EA Seafood Restaurant

The discussion of value—particularly when it comes to food—is no new topic and like many immigrant foods within the States, they have been sadly relegated to “cheap” by largely white American audiences that are remiss to the fact that these foods served, first and foremost, those very immigrant communities. Chinese food is no exception, despite having had a presence in this country for well over 150 years. (Let us not even go in on the massive myth regarding MSG’s unparalleled sense of unhealthiness, led by American speculation and racism and literally dubbed “Chinese food syndrome.”)

However, as those immigrant communities became more and more assimilated, all was not lost on what value could provide a community in terms of how it eats—and if EA Seafood’s lunch specials are any indication, Wu and his team are cognizant that many folks need affordable, quality lunches.

EA Seafood’s lunch specials are wildly valuable: Ranging from $10.95 to $13.75, each entree—a hefty portion, no doubt—is accompanied by a bowl of soup (hot and sour or egg flower), spring rolls, rice (steamed or fried) on top of your entree.

Classics from Kung Pao chicken and Mongolian beef to shrimp with cashews and fried squid with spicy salt are among the 30-plus options one has during their lunch time (which is served from opening at 10:30AM until 3PM before switching to dinner).

There are reminders of how Long Beach has long lacked this type of Chinese-meets-Chinese-American space: Live Boston lobsters, Dungeness crabs, turbot, and red grouper sit in bright blue tanks near the back bar. Egg rolls differ from spring rolls, coming in a flour-based wrap that is dipped heavily in beaten egg and fried to a bubbly, crunchy shell and handed over with horseradish-ed out hot mustard and sweet’n’sour sauce (while the spring rolls remain in traditional rice paper wraps).

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Then there’s just the menu items that bring warmth to the heart of people craving the old-school, not-trying-to-reinvent-the-wheel Cantonese grub: Crab meat with fish maw soup. Deep fried tofu. Shrimp in lobster sauce. Peking duck with steam buns and oyster sauce. Hainan chicken. Squid or shrimp bathed in a bright orange batter before being fried and tossed in spicy salt. Duck soup with pickled veggies.

This is no fuss Chinese food, the kind that makes you feel comforted—and not just by the fact that you don’t have to trek to L.A. or Orange County to get it but that each plate is made fresh by Wu himself, who is just longing to create a Cantonese space in Cal Heights.

Say hi to Mary. Hey to Carry. Shake hands with Jerry. And come back again—for I have a feeling this will be a local staple in little to no time, where we can happily sit amongst clanking metal chopsticks and plates, perhaps a loud kitchen, and even louder servers happily yelling across rooms.

EA Seafood is located at 1611 E. Wardlow Rd.

Brian Addison
Brian Addison
Brian Addison has been a writer, editor, and photographer for more than a decade, covering everything from food and culture to transportation and housing. In 2015, he was named Journalist of the Year by the Los Angeles Press Club and has since garnered 25 nominations and three additional wins. In 2019, he was awarded the Food/Culture Critic of the Year across any platform at the National Arts & Entertainment Journalism Awards.

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