Missed out on previous Favorite Things? I got you covered—just click here.
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…
Rex’s Po’ Boy at Sal’s Gumbo Shack
6148 Long Beach Blvd. / 4470 California Pl.
Sal’s Gumbo Shack owner Sally Bevans is nothing short of the prime example of taking ownership of one’s life: After living a life in the corporate workspace only to find it questioned when a new owner took over, Sally took what she had saved—a nice chunk of nearly $40K—and began focusing on turning her gumbo into a bonafide business.
One of her earliest fans? None other than Mayor Rex Richardson, who was anything but when he first met Sally as a neighbor: Young and ambitious, the future mayor would depend on Sally and her skills at the stove to stave his hunger—but not without his own suggestions, including the brilliant idea of combining the catfish and shrimp po’ boys into one.
The result? A perfectly salty umami bomb stuffed between the slice of a starchy white bread roll and topped with a creamy rémoulade and lettuce.
Goat biryani at Flamin’ Curry
My love of Flamin’ Curry has been a long and obvious one—and that is because, well, we lack decent Indian food (and why it was included on my 2021 Underrated Restaurants list. Look for 2023’s version in the coming days). And for the ubiquity with which Artesia has access to such great Indian food—from the amazing Gujarati food at Rajdhani to aromatic-spice bomb is that sweet pan from their street carts—Flamin’ Curry fills that quick-service hole when one is in need of Indian food but not feeling the trek up to Artesia.
And my go-to is their goat biryani.
Biryani is, in and of itself, one of the culinary world’s standout dishes that defines the Indian city of Hyderabad—and you will have to be a bit patient for, as it takes an anguishing ten minutes for Flamin’ to serve rather than being served directly out of the trays. This goat biryani, arguably city’s best, revolves around none other than rice, yogurt-braised meat, and a complex variety of aromatics, herbs, and spices.
This plate can be ordered with other meats but the goat (as with their curry) is the par-none choice: Succulent, bone-barely-clinging chunks of marinated goat sit atop a bed of basmati rice, coriander and saffron lurk up from the pile of food when you open the lid of its black styrofoam vessel. It’s nothing short of wondrous.
Champagne/wine tastings at The Wine Country
2301 Redondo Ave. (Signal Hill)
It is safe to say that The Wine Country in Signal Hill—the massive warehouse dedicated to alcohol’s finest, from wine and champagne to beer and spirits, along with a stellar mini-market of cheeses, cured meats, and other goods—introduced Long Beach to The Good Drink.
Good wine. Good beer. Good spirits. All long before the renaissance of the past 15 years, where Americans have learned what quality beer, wine, and spirits really mean in terms of cocktails, wine dinners, and brewing.
And the staff is largely the reason behind that—and champagne lover-slash-authority Samantha Dugan’s champagne tastings are the stuff of wonder. Her humble, approachable persona with what is widely viewed as a luxury item creates a beautiful dichotomy where you learn, sip by sip, the depth of one of France’s greatest gastronomical contributions.
At this month’s tasting, she brought her dear friend and fellow champagne expert, Bordeaux native Aline Thiebaut, to the tasting, where pours of ten different champagnes were interwoven with cheeses, snacks, and beautiful stories about the origin of the champagne houses whose creations we were ingesting and the beauty of the process of making champagne.
It was, well, nothing short of quelle joie.
Chicharrón de salmon from El Barrio Cantina
210 E. 3rd St.
“My food is here,” Chef Ulises Pineda-Alfaro once told me. “I was born in L.A. and raised in it. I was surrounded by different cultures, people from different countries—and my food reflects that. Of course, it’s also a direct reflection of my Mom and her food, which I grew up eating.”
And with that, Pineda-Alfaro comes from that all-too-old-school camp that food should speak for itself and for him, the reflections of his Mexican heritage, American upbringing, and mother’s influence shine perfectly bright on their own in his plates.
And yes, it is perfectly reflected in whimsical plates like his chicharrón de salmon, a delightfully salty-meets-umami-meets-citrus appetizer that can easily be downed by a single person in one setting, an elevated poem to the tiny-but-mighty fish stick if there was one. And that yuzu aioli used for dipping? Outright awesome.
Lobster tortellini at La Traviata
301 N. Cedar Ave.
Long Beach is filled with some stellar Italian—La Parolaccia, Michael’s on Naples, Vino e Cucina, Ellie’s…—and it’s pasta game (including non-Italian joints like Wood & Salt in Bixby Knolls) has never been stronger.
But it’s also easy to forget about some of the legacy restaurants that have come to define Long Beach and opened the doors for others to come in—and La Traviata is such an example.
Owner Mario Nasab has been serving the Downtown community out of his ground-floor Italian restaurant for over 25 years, using the beauty of the French-revival building its housed in, The Willmore, to his full favor: Custom wood cabinetry for both bars—yes, there are two—along with chandeliers and old-school charm, La Traviata is one of the city’s most beautiful restaurants.
And so are its pasta dishes, including its lobster tortellini, a dish that has been on a staple on the menu for years: Using porchini mushrooms and truffle oil, this beautiful bit of seafood pasta is earthy, creamy, and delightful.