Missed out on previous Favorite Things? I got you covered—just click here.
This month is AAPI Heritage Month—and given Long Beach’s rich AAPI communities, I’ve felt there is no better way to celebrate from a writing perspective than showcasing the businesses in those very communities.
This month’s “Favorite Things” is dedicated to just that, honoring Cambodian, Filipino, Vietnamese, fusion, and the love their foods bring to our culture.
Bún thịt nướng with chả from Sesame Dinette
1750 Pacific Ave.
There is something particularly special about Sesame Dinette—and that is the fact that much of our Vietnamese food is passed through a Cambodian or Thai lens. Even our much-loved Pho Hong Phat is Cambodian owned and operated—and that necessarily isn’t a bad thing but it does provide a deep yearning for traditionally prepared Vietnamese food by Vietnamese hands.
And that’s where daughter-and-mother, owner-and-chef team Linda Sivrican and Chef Judy Mai Nguyen come in: What started as a market popup in DTLA’s Chinatown during the pandemic, where Nguyen’s cold food was served out of a refrigerator, blew up into a national sensation, garnering coverage from the New York Times to the Los Angeles Times.
Nguyen’s food is special: It spans the traditional and even breaks away from it—like her beautifully witty pho French dip—but the traditional is where Long Beach can begin to explore some genuinely gorgeous Vietnamese dishes, like her bún thịt nướng with chả.
Vermicelli noodles colorfully painted with green, pickles, peanuts, carrots, bean sprouts, and a variety of pork—in this bowl, something special: chả, or Vietnamese pork sausage—before you get to douse it with a fish sauce vinaigrette and toss to your delight.
The result? A nearly perfect dish to enter into summer.
Ube-macapuno ensaymada from Gemmae Bake Shop
1356 W. Willow St.
Over 30 years ago, Prescilla Tolentino decided to uproot herself from the Philippines in order to embark on a trip to the United States.
With 13 Gemmae bake shops in the Philippines, she sold ten of them on a gamble to take on a different coast: Long Beach.
Come 1993, at the southwest corner of Willow Street and Easy Avenue in West Long Beach, Priscella opened the first (and only) American Gemmae in what was then a small but growing Filipino and Filipino-American community—and celebrating 30 years of business, has become the heart of Filipino food in Long Beach.
And their ube-macapuno ensaymada—where layers of baby coconut chunks and ube are rolled and swirled into a fluffy, light sweet bread before being lathered in a butter cream frosting—is, dare I say, quite the perfect companion to one’s morning coffee or aching sweet tooth.
Sisig pizza from Speak Cheezy, a collaboration with Gemmae Bake Shop
3950 E. 4th St.
Speaking of Gemmae: The owner of Speak Cheezy, Chef Jason Edward Winters, holds a deep attachment to the Asian community and culture: His wife, Merly, was born in the Philippines, giving him his blended family with three children; his three stepsisters are Thai; his group of friends growing up was largely Vietnamese, with families playing cards and sharing food…
It is a beautifully tight and proud relationship that you can very easily see on his face when he talks about his family, friends, and cultures he respects. And with both kindness and talent—Speak Cheezy is certainly one of the city’s best pizzerias—it results in stellar pizza collabs.
Like his one-day-only collab with Gemmae Bake Shop to create a sisig pizza: The pizza is a savory bomb of the best kind. Gemmae’s sisig is a thing of wonder that honors the country’s famed dish—probably only second to adobo when it comes to meat entrees from the island country—where pork meets calamansi citrus and chiles.
Missed out? Fear not: Speak Cheezy will be doing a collab with the Cambodian Cowboy himself, Chef Chad Phuong, in the coming weeks.
Lumpia from ReMix Bar & Kitchen
3860 Worsham Ave.
Chef Ross Pangilinan, the man who opened Remix at the Long Beach Exchange retail complex on the eastside just weeks before the pandemic, has his many laurels when it comes to his cuisine.
Classically trained at Cordon Bleu, he has worked for Patina, Leatherby’s Cafe Rouge, Big Canyon Country Club, Pinot Provence, Les Trois Marche…
This is just a small sliver of the man’s story with food—one that mingles a collage of cultures, inspirations, and purposes. And for such levels of complexity, his demeanor does not reflect such grandeur: Quiet and reserved, humble and soft-spoken, there is almost a difficulty in talking about the accolades—which is precisely what makes his food even more impressive because it actually is impressive.
And frankly put, more should know about his food in Long Beach, where Filipino, French, and Italian co-mingle in a menu that includes a $40, three-course dinner with wine on Wednesdays. Yes, $40.
But certainly something not to miss? His lumpia, a mixture of both tradition and complete deviation away from the original Filipino dish: Pangilinan’s lumpia—a Filipino, egg roll staple—is filled with shrimp rather than pork; his is made with feuille de brique, the French wheat pastry dough, rather than the ultra-thin egg roll wrapper common for lumpia, giving a crisp pastry quality over a thin egg roll texture; his sit atop a spread of charred jalapeño aioli rather than accompanied with a vinegary or sweet’n’sour sauce.
It’s awesome. Period.
Beef skewers from Crystal Thai Cambodian
1165 E. 10th St.
If one wants to really take in Crystal Thai Cambodian—which should, in all frankness, own its beautiful Cambo-ness and just drop the “Thai” part out of its moniker—then one should skip the Thai offerings and go straight for the comfort food that many Cambodian families experience when they visit and don’t want to cook at home.
Crystal represents Cambodian food at its most homey, with dishes I’ve raved about—their stellar nom p’jok, a turmeric fish noodle soup that is as clean and bright as a citrus-based broth; their nomh sdao, a bitter-meets-savory salad with tripe and fried fish…—but perhaps their most accessible, instantaneously-lovable dish is their beef skewer.
Eschewing the thing skewers found nearly everywhere else, Crystal’s version are chunky, thick sticks of heft, seared beautifully on the outside and wildly tender when ripped from their wooden grip by your teeth. Sweet, savory, and umami combine to create, well, the perfect handheld food.