Welcome to EAT THIS CITY, your tour of the best restaurants in one of our favorite cities, as chosen by a world-class chef, celebrity, or local hero.
This week, we’re headed to Long Beach, CA, the home of tourist attractions like Knott’s Berry Farm, The Queen Mary, and Aquarium of the Pacific. It’s tempting to think only of the city’s opportunities for play, but no one should sleep on the local food scene. Long Beach residents are serving up some of the tastiest eats in SoCal, and no one knows that better than Chef Arthur Gonzalez of Roe Seafood and Panxa Cocina.
Gonzalez is all about sustainability, using the fresh bounty of the Pacific ocean at Roe Seafood and amazing produce and proteins to capture the flavors of New Mexico at Panxa Cocina. He calls his approach to seafood “dock to dish,” and lives out that commitment with a serious emphasis on sourcing fish. His entrance to the culinary world is pretty interesting, too, as he fell in love with cooking while working as a firefighter. Preparing meals in the firehouse peaked his interest in all things culinary and he set out on that path, finding a mentor in James Beard Award-winning chef Eric DiStefano of Geronimo in Santa Fe.
People around the country are recognizing that Gonzalez has skills. “Best of” consistently include Gonzalez’ properties — like OC Weekly’s “Best Seafood Restaurant in Orange County,” CBS-LA’s “Best Long Beach Restaurants,” and Thrillist’s “Best Restaurants in Long Beach.” One look at what he’s cooking up makes it clear that the accolades are deserved.
Ready to grub? Let’s check out Chef Gonzalez’ fave food experiences in Long Beach!
For the best pizza in Long Beach, I’d have to give a shout out to Michael’s Pizzeria. They do a traditional but artisanal Napoli-style pizza in the Naples neighborhood of Long Beach as well as their location Downtown. The crust is paper thin, and all of the toppings are of the highest quality available, using the best tomatoes, house-made cheeses, super fresh basil, etc. Michael’s Pizzeria has been around since 2010, and they are very well established here. I like my pizza simple and straightforward—made with attention to detail and great ingredients.
My favorite pizza at Michael’s is the Salsiccia E Funghi, with house-made mozzarella, taleggio cheese, sausage, and forest mushrooms. You can see them pour the good olive oil on the pizza afterwards. The guy making them is straight from Italy as well, so that’s always a good sign!
The carnitas tacos at El Torazo are my go-to, and I usually get the chorizo tacos as well for good measure. All of the tacos here are simple, straightforward, and always hit the spot. They also do a great taco Tuesday with super cheap beer and $1 tacos. It’s a small hole-in-the-wall type of place and if you didn’t know it was there, you would miss it!
This place is a fixture in Long Beach, serving up delicious homestyle Cambodian cuisine. There is a huge Cambodian population in Long Beach, the biggest anywhere in the US, and the food culture here reflects that. This noodle dish called Mo’s Special is my favorite, made with ground pork, sliced pork, and beef balls, and their house special is the Phonm Penh Noodle. These noodle soups are made with bone-filled broths that simmer for hours developing flavor. You can get the broth on the side and they serve the broth with a marrow bone in it. The broth is very clean and clear – it’s simple but super comforting.
Phnom Penh Noodle Shack is also a great spot for breakfast as well; their porridge in the morning is outstanding. This place is special because the food is out of this world, but you also feel like you’re in someone’s home eating a meal.
Manaow does the best hawker/street-style Thai food in my opinion. I love Manaow Thai; it’s another family owned and operated place that is so solid and always busy. The yellow curry they make is one of the best I’ve ever had. Another thing that makes this place special is there is a little hole in the wall where the kitchen pass is, and you can see all the grandmothers and mothers cooking your food — a great sign!
The front-of-house staff are all so kind at Manaow, and the service is great. Plus it’s a stone’s throw from my restaurant Panxa Cocina, so all of my employees and I go frequently. We opened Panxa around the same time they opened, so we have this bond with them that makes eating there feel special every time.
Sweet Jill’s is a classic bakery that anyone who grew up in Long Beach would recognize. Jill makes super solid classic baked goods, like a consistently perfect carrot cake with just the right amount of cream cheese frosting. You can go there on a Saturday night and get a warm cinnamon roll that is so nostalgic for a lot of people around here.
Jill’s has been open 365 days a year since 1987. For many folks who grew up in Long Beach, that smell of freshly baked cinnamon rolls is very nostalgic, and a stop at Jill’s is a must for natives coming home for a visit.
Long Beach has more of a casual dining scene overall, and there isn’t really true fine dining here. That’s reflective of the casual beach town culture. Nico’s isn’t true fine dining but that’s about as close as you’re going to get in Long Beach. Service is great at Nico’s; the servers pay close attention to you and they really know the menu and the wines inside and out. For go-to orders, I get the Pork Rib Chop and a perfectly made martini. It’s located in Naples area right down the street from my restaurant Roe Seafood, and it’s a small neighborhood spot with an old-school vibe — classy, sexy, and awesome, but not too stuffy. A lot of locals hang out there.
There is a relatively cozy 12-14 seat bar as well as an upstairs seating area, always filled with locals.
This place has a fun and innovative menu and casual, waterfront vibes. You don’t feel the pressure to get all dressed up to eat there, but it is nice enough that you could make it a date night. Plus they have great food and a great cocktail program. On top of that Tantalum boasts one of the best views of the sunset in Long Beach, hands down. It’s located right on the water, and you can pull a boat up to the back dock and walk right in. Their yakiniku calamari is really solid, and I also usually get the beef and chips, which is their play on a poutine with short rib, duck fat steak fries, and white truffle cheddar sauce.
My go-to cocktails here are the blood orange margarita and the whiskey business.
They do these jackfruit kimchi tacos and beer battered fried avocado tacos that I am obsessed with. I would go there just for those tacos. Seabird’s started as a food truck I believe and recently went into a full brick and mortar location.
I had the beer battered fried avocado taco from the truck before they went brick and mortar, and I was hooked!
Starling Diner is a super solid a.m. eatery here in Long Beach. Everything on the menu is really good, so I try to order something different every time I go. They make these perfectly soft and crumbly lemon scones served with lemon curd that I like to order as an appetizer, and I also love the crab cake benedict. Their menu consists of breakfast/brunch food done properly where you can count on perfectly cooked eggs every time. They season everything perfectly, too; you can tell that every component of each dish is seasoned separately. They really get the portion sizes right, too, which is nice for brunch, so you don’t feel like you need a nap immediately after a gigantic meal.
Starling Diner is one of those places in Long Beach that’s smack dab in the middle of a neighborhood (there are ton of restaurants tucked into residential areas here), and you’d have no idea it was here. You drive by a bunch of houses in this residential strip and all of sudden there are a bunch of people hanging outside one of the houses. That’s Starling Diner.
Iconic Food of the City
Joe Jost is an iconic Long Beach fixture. I think it’s the oldest bar in Long Beach; it’s been around since 1924! They are known for their pickled eggs and they serve this sandwich, the Joe’s Special, that’s a piece of rye bread with mustard, a slice of swiss cheese, a split hotdog with a pickle wedge in the middle, and one of their famous pickled eggs served on the side. It’s one of those spots where people buy their shirts and take pictures all over the world wearing them and then put them up in the bar. It’s the place your dad went when you were growing up, and you often see multiple generations of families hanging here, especially during the holidays.
More than any other dining establishment, Jo Jost has that classic Long Beach feel that people fall in love with.
Odd Culinary Experience
There’s this bar called Dogz; they’re actually getting ready to reopen since they had a truck hit a fire hydrant out front and flood the place. The odd culinary experience here is this Vienna Sausage soaked in Everclear with mustard — they call it “shooting the dog” — and if you shoot the dog you get a free hat. Everyone’s shot the dog at some point but only once! Never again.
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I go here when I want a simple burger and bomb zucchini fries. The burger is a diner burger that’s not reinventing the wheel by any means but consistently delicious. The zucchini fries are the real reason I go, they’re sprinkled with parmesan and served with a side of ranch. The ambience is simple and relaxed. I love this little family owned and operated diner in South Long Beach.
The best hangover food for me is the Breakfast Burrito from Ma N’ Pa Grocery, which is again one of those little houses tucked into a residential strip. That breakfast burrito has eggs, potatoes, chorizo, and bacon or sausage. They are an old school grocery with a small dine-in section and serve really well-done prepared foods. They do a fried chicken night and meatloaf night, and it seriously feels like someone’s mom is cooking for you. Ma N’ Pa’s has been around forever serving up comfort food — it’s been there for like 50+ years!
I like to go pick up Ma N’ Pa’s meatloaf with au gratin potatoes and take it home to eat, but they do have picnic benches outside where you can eat there.
Thank you, Chef Arthur Gonzalez, for taking us on a culinary tour of Long Beach!
Stay tuned for more EAT THIS CITY — where each week we’ll feature a premier chef in a different city sharing their insider eating tips! Missed a week? Check out Phoenix/Scottsdale, Washington D.C., Dallas, Indianapolis, St. Louis, Napa Valley, Asheville, Charleston, Columbus, Kailua-Kona, Monterey, San Antonio, Louisville, Nashville, Raleigh, San Diego, Cambridge, Hoboken, Hollywood, Return to Miami, Return to Las Vegas, Manhattan, Oakland, Paris, Portland, Tampa, Durham, Toronto, Baltimore, Monterey, Vail, Lexington, Bentonville, San Antonio, Warsaw, Kansas City, NYC, Washington DC, New Orleans, Cleveland, Miami, Seattle, Las Vegas, San Francisco, Sydney, Portland, Chicago, Austin, Los Angeles, Brooklyn, New Orleans, Providence, Memphis, Orange County, Boston, and Detroit.
See you next week!