Thursday, July 18, 2024

Long Beach’s The Wild Chive named one of the best brunch spots in the nation

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Chef Soozee Nguyen and the entire Wild Chive team have definitive reason to celebrate: Yelp!—the user-determined restaurant aggregator that is simultaneously useful and one of the worst parts of the food industry—has determined that the Alamitos Beach vegan spot is one of the country’s best for brunch.

Wild Chive came in at #27 while our sister to the north, the city of Los Angeles, didn’t have a single listing. (Seriously? Not even All Day Baby? Bafflement.) The closest? Immigrant Son Cafe in Ventura to the north (#2) and Breezy in Juan Capistrano to the south (#8).

What makes The Wild Chive such a gem in Long Beach’s food scene

The Wild Chive has been featured in my 2021 Underrated Long Beach Restaurants list. And my 2022 Underrated Long Beach Restaurants list. It would have been included in my 2023 list but I was specifically aiming for a list that included entirely never-mentioned-before spaces.

And when it comes to vegan food, what Nguyen has achieved is—at least when she began kicking off this concept as a popup in 2017—is quite extraordinary: No one really thinks of The Wild Chive as vegan; they go simply because it is good food.

Additionally, this posits one specific ideal: One must not underestimate the growing vegan scene here in Long Beach—whether that is at a restaurant dedicated to veganism, like the stellar Seabirds (which is also up for sale) or (the now sadly closed) Under the Sun, or a non-vegan restaurant which offers heft vegan options, like Sura and Ammatolí.

Of those many options, it remains The Wild Chive, the brainchild of Nguyen, that is by far the most underrated—and its resilience amid an ever-changing scenery of restaurant spaces is worthy of applause.

And calling it underrated, even now, has an irony to it because, well, it still is underrated. And what makes that odd is not only its large following—the restaurant’s Instagram has over 25,000 followers—but that it has been a vagabond staple across the city for over five years before she settled into the Chive’s forever-home in Alamitos Beach. With that brick-and-mortar, she has introduced a steady place where the public can experience her spectacularly creative and solid vegan grub.

The history of Nguyen’s journey with Wild Chive is worth celebrating

A decade in the making—she left Long Beach to train and learn in what is arguably the most competitive food market in the nation, New York—Nguyen now offers her famed vegan brunch on a regular basis within her own space and joins the growing vegan scene that has taken hold throughout the city.

And back in 2017, it took two weekends for Wild Chive—then serving as a weekend popup at the now-shuttered Portfolio Coffeehouse—and its vegan brunch on Sundays to turn Portfolio Coffeehouse into a full-fledged dining destination.

Nguyen’s keen sensibility for high quality vegan food kept vegans and non-vegans alike, with her vegan journey stemming from a mixture of ethics and nostalgia: She deeply wanted to mimic things people knew and loved.

Croque monsieurs. Eggs. Monte Cristo sandwiches. Mac’n’Cheese.

And she went well beyond her first few hurdles when it came to the popup. Patrons continually returned for signature dishes such as stuffed french toast filled with house-made chocolate hazelnut spread, fresh strawberries, bananas, coconut whip and topped with maple and almonds. Or a breakfast bánh mì filled with tofu, tempeh bacon and ham, pickled veggies, cucumber, cilantro, chile, fried shallots, and a chive-cilantro aioli.

“It was so successful that we had countless iterations while she was at Portfolio,” said Kerstin Kansteiner, then-owner of Portfolio, said when the space was running. “We decided to do a separate POS, we tried to separate the dining-from-coffeeshop, we brought in servers… It was originally intended as a popup and it just outgrew Portfolio. It was really quite amazing.”

Hungry followers would be willing to eat standing, sit on the curb, or find any makeshift eating area possible—and that is precisely why Nguyen eventually moved her operations to into (the now sadly shuttered) MADE space in DTLB in 2018. Come 2020, the space was a formal brick-and-mortar, taking over what was then an antique shop.

The Wild Chive is located at 2650 E. Broadway

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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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