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…
Salt and pepper oyster mushrooms from Morning Nights
4150 McGowen St.
There is so much more than this little blurb that needs to be said about Morning Nights (and The Kroft)’s owner, Stephen Le, a man who has entirely shifted the way he runs his businesses—including this vegan dim sum joint and The Kroft, an OC giant in the food scene when they bursted out as Anaheim’s Packing District’s most popular spot when they opened in nearly a decade ago in 2014.
What used to be a vegan dim sum joint that bordered the middling when it first opened, Morning Nights has turned into a genuinely stellar option as it shifts toward making every dish to order and takes it quality, especially from its opening days, to new heights.
While there are many highlights—a good xiao long bao, some great hand-pulled dan dan noodles, an incredibly trippy vegan shrimp and walnut dish—there is something special about the salt and pepper oyster mushrooms in the fact they truly harness the vegan side of Morning Nights: It is not trying to convince non-vegans by mimicking an existing dish and it is not trying to fool any diet that it is nothing more than a stellar dish.
Look for my full feature on Morning Nights and his other operation, The Kroft, in the coming weeks.
Brisket kuy teav from Battambong BBQ
Various locations; check Instagram
To have a bowl of kuy teav from any traditional Cambodian restaurant—often dubbed “Phnom Penh noodles” or “house special noodles” at Cambodian food joints, especially the ones that include Thai or Chinese food on their menus—is to have a serving of Cambodian culture at its center: A clear, clean, rich pork broth set among a bowl of noodles with various herbs and toppings.
It is a must for first-time visitors venturing to Crystal Thai Cambodian or Phnom Penh Noodle Shack or Monoram or…
But Chef Chad Phuong—the mighty Cambodian Cowboy of Long Beach—and his smoked-out brisket version of the dish is an outright ode to Long Beach, Texas, and Cambodia simultaneously. The smoke of the brisket infiltrates nearly every aspect of the dish but in a way that doesn’t necessarily alter the nostalgia of the original nor create a bowl that is entirely dedicated to the original. It is simultaneously new and old—an outright beautiful dish from Phuong, who keeps on impressing as one of the most significant chefs in Long Beach.
Even better? It will be available at this Friday’s Cambodian New Year celebration at Ten Mile Brewing Co.
The lobster eggs benedict from Boathouse on the Bay
190 N. Marina Dr.
Boathouse on the Bay is what I would dub a legacy restaurant here in Long Beach: Owned and operated by John Morris—the man that was behind the founding of everything from Legends in the Shore to the still-has-a-myth-attached-to-it Mumm’s in DTLB (what is now BO-beau)—the space is easily what one would call seafood perfection: Solid cold platters next to equally solid sushi rolls, oyster plates and ceviches next to fried fish tacos and seafood pastas.
But perhaps its most underrated venture is brunch, where the space’s gorgeous patio space overlooking Alamitos Bay comes as one of the city’s best outdoor dining spaces.
And given the sun has finally decided to make its return to the shores of Long Beach, there is no better time than now to get down on their beautiful umami bomb that is their lobster eggs benedict: Chunks of lobster tale and claw sit underneath a creamy hollandaise and yolk-y poached egg.
The Italian Torpedo sandwich from Angelo’s Deli
190 La Verne Ave.
Angelo’s Italian Deli has quite the story attached to it, starting out as a tiny-but-mighty 700-square-foot space in Belmont Shore from the owner of the long-shutters, much-loved Bacchus restaurant in Naples where Michael’s on Naples has since operated. Come ten years later, the space expanded into a 7,000-square-foot mecca dedicated to all things Italian, from olive oils and canned tomatoes to handmade dried pastas and wine.
And while the market is truly an underrated gem, the true star of Angelo’s is and will always be its deli, where sliced-to-order cold cuts are layered in bread baked daily.
My personal favorite (and likely the store’s most popular sandwich)? The Italian Torpedo, where heaps of capicolla, mortadella, and Genoa salami are layered between slices of provolone, smears of garlic pesto, and tomato with lettuce. The result? A MSG-laden wonder that is hard not to return to.
Chicken katsu curry fries from The Kroft
4150 McGowen St. #15
I know, I know: “Didn’t you just talk about the owner of The Kroft’s other restaurant on this very list?” And yes, yes I did.
But there’s no denying that The Hangar inside Long Beach Exchange is not only a space that has given East Long Beach some much-needed alternatives to the corporate big boys that have long dominated the food scene in the area but also marks its place as one of the city’s richest clusters of restaurants—The Kroft being no exception.
The Kroft is rightfully known for its poutine—though don’t skip out on their burgers, some of the best in the city—but one of its latest iteration, what owner Stephen Le calls “food that reflects what I love to eat myself,” is a genuine star: The chicken katsu curry poutine, where happily panko-covered, fried bits of chicken are slathered in a rich, brown Japanese curry after being topped on fries with melted cheese curds. Savory, slightly sweet, all flavor.