Thursday, July 18, 2024

Playa Amor to close, host last week of service; women’s sports bar concept to take over

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Playa Amor, the lauded Mexican-American restaurant from Chef Thomas Ortega, will likely be serving its last week of service as the space is readying to be occupied by what will be a women’s sports-centric concept. Service is expected to run through May 31.

Playa Amor’s closure has been long in the making—and it is likely due to a constantly evolving Long Beach development landscape

“We just can’t make it work—but we are so honored that we had the chance to serve and connect with Long Beach,” said Thomas.

The words of Thomas should come as no surprise: Last August, the chef and restaurateur had expressed deep concerns with his landlord. He feels that consistently empty promises—from property upgrades and renovations to lower rents following the build-out of the neighboring 2nd & PCH retail complex—have been pushed toward him and other tenants, all with no fruition. This has furthered his sentiment that the landlords are more focused on their proposed residential complex.

Given that residential project has moved through the entitlement process, Ortega’s accusation does not feel completely unfounded. Owners of the property have yet to return comment.

Why Playa Amor was important for the Long Beach food scene

Playa Amor represented—at a time when it was largely considered sacrilege to bend the rules of traditional Mexican cuisine—a very SoCal interpretation of Mexican food and representation, even bringing famed food writer Jonathan Gold down below the 10 to experience Thomas’s food.

While Gold himself never placed Playa Amor on his cherished 101 Best Restaurants list, former L.A. Times food critic (and much missed food writer) Patricia Escárcega sang the spot’s praises in 2019 while adding it to that very list after Gold’s death: “Smart… Delicious cuisine smudging the line between high and low.”

I”ve written this before and it is worth repeating: Playa Amor is Chef Thomas Ortega’s very personal love letter to Mexico from the United States.

That dichotomy is (and for Playa, was) important in his food: Like many Mexican-Americans—too “pocho” for their Mexican relatives still living in the motherland and too Mexican for white Americans—his food simultaneously uplifted and reinterpreted Mexican food. Playa Amor is Ortega’s confession: He loves Mexico and the United States.

The new, unnamed tenant plans to bring a women’s sports bar concept to the space

Lauren Coombs, the realtor who brokered the deal, has some decent news to bring: It’s new tenants are two married women who are invested in Long Beach and, even more, love women’s sports—to the extent that they want to create a space devoted to women’s sports.

“The pair is pretty much a thousand-percent invested and is really putting in every ounce of effort to make this happen,” Lauren said. “They have been looking at other successful examples of what works and doesn’t work. They’ve also done a multitude of campaigns within the community to see if this is something viable and they’ve received nothing but positivity in return.”

The hope? Open by July 26 in time for the Summer Olympics.

What about Chef Ortega’s other Long Beach space, Amorcito?

Chef Thomas Ortega’s other Long Beach concept, Amorcito at Long Beach Exchange in East Long Beach, is also facing problems—and for Thomas, it stands in stark contrast to his other concepts.

“Amor y Tacos and Sunny on South [both in Cerritos] are doing fantastic,” Thomas said. “So it breaks my heart that I am losing a grip on Long Beach—but I definitely want to encourage people to come out my places in Cerritos to continue experiencing my food.”

So is that a full closure on Amorcito as well? Thomas can’t give many details but it is heavily leaning toward just that: A “dear friend and fellow taquero” is looking at taking over the Amorcito space.

“It’s been a pleasure—and maybe, I’ll have a return to Long Beach,” Thomas said.

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Playa Amor is located at 6527 E. Pacific Coast Hwy.

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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