Little Black Book

The Chef's Guide to Eating, Drinking, and Shopping in Long Beach, California

by Arthur Gonzalez
Long California dreamin' in sunny Long Beach. Photo courtesy of the California Tourism Board.

Celebrated local chef Arthur Gonzalez made his way to Long Beach, right outside Los Angeles, some twenty years ago, and never looked back. These are the sunny and tasty places that keep him there.

LONG BEACH, California – I’m a SoCal native. I grew up in the Los Angeles suburb of Cerritos and lived and worked as a chef in New Mexico for many years. But 20 years ago, I came to Long Beach and fell in love. I knew it was where I wanted to open my restaurants, and I did: Roe Seafood focuses on sustainable seafood and global influences and Panxa Cocina, inspired by my time in New Mexico, is a modern Southwestern restaurant, one of the only New Mexican restaurants in L.A. My cooking hinges on access to incredible ingredients, and in Long Beach that means sourcing sustainable seafood directly from fishmongers and through the Dock to Dish program and produce from nearby Farm Lot 59, with whom I’ve partnered.

I love Long Beach for many reasons, including its central Southern California location: Orange County on one side, L.A. on the other, with us right in the middle. And I love the diversity, which makes for great ethnic restaurants. Long Beach is also a outdoors town with some of the greatest beaches in Los Angeles. The city is extremely dog-friendly, and it's so nice that my girlfriend and I can bring our three boxers with us all over. With its long and interesting history and a downtown area that feels urban and exciting, Long Beach really have a little bit of everything. These are some of my favorite spots in town.

Roe Seafood
One of the author's restaurants in Long Beach, Roe Seafood. Photo by Art Gonzalez.

El Pollo Inka
I absolutely love Peruvian food, as it incorporates so many global influences, especially the bits of Japanese and Chinese cuisine. Which may be why one of my all-time favorite Long Beach restaurants is family-owned El Pollo Inka. The food and decor are simple, and everything I’ve ever ordered here has been fantastic. My go-to is lomo saltado – a Peruvian stir fry with your choice of meat and lots of sautéed onions, tomatoes, garlic, herbs, French fries (!), and a side of rice. The different flavors work really well together. This dish and many others are served with a green sauce made from Peruvian mint that is to die for. When I have a rare day off, this is where I want to eat.

Manaow Thai
I love Manaow Thai, another solid, family-owned and -operated place that’s always busy. Their yellow curry is one of the best I’ve ever had. Another thing that makes this place special is the little hole in the wall kitchen pass. You can see all the grandmothers and mothers cooking your food — a great sign! The front-of-house staff are all so kind and attentive. The restaurant is a stone’s throw from Panxa Cocina, so my employees and I eat here regularly. Panxa opened around the same time as Manaow, and this bond that makes eating here feel special every time.

Phnom Penh Noodle Shack
A fixture on Long Beach that serves delicious homestyle Cambodian cuisine. We have a huge Cambodian population in Long Beach, the largest outside of Southeast Asia, and the food culture here reflects that. The house special is Phonm Penh Noodle, but my favorite is Mo’s Special, made with ground pork, sliced pork, and beef balls. These noodle soups are made with bone-filled broths that simmer for hours developing flavor. You can get the broth on the side; they serve it with a marrow bone. The broth is very clean and clear – simple but super comforting. This is also a great spot for breakfast: The porridge is outstanding. This place is special because the food is out of this world and you feel like you’re in someone’s home.

Manaow Thai
Homestyle Thai cuisine at Manaow Thai. Photo courtesy of Manaow Thai.
Phnom Penh Noodle Shack
Chef Art's favorite: Mo's Special. Photo courtesy of Phnom Penh Noodle Shack.

Blind Donkey
I probably go to Blind Donkey more than any other bar in Long Beach. A long time ago, the Donkey was an underground dive and club, but new owners remade into a whiskey and bourbon bar. It’s located underneath a street in Downtown Long Beach and is pleasantly dark inside. They have a pool table and host fun events like karaoke nights. You definitely want to order whiskey, straight if you can handle it, but the classic Manhattan is always a great choice. The bartenders here won’t lead you astray!

Nico’s is where you’d go to get a little dressed up and order a perfect martini. I like coming here on my birthday — it reminds me of an upscale version of the bar in Cheers. Located in the Naples area right down the street from Roe Seafood, Nico’s is a small neighborhood spot with an old school vibe: classy, sexy, awesome, and not too stuffy. There is a relatively cozy 12-14 seat bar as well as an upstairs seating area, always filled with locals. Go for a well-made cocktail with proper technique and perfect glassware.

The Exhibition Room
This was the first speakeasy in Long Beach and the place is just brimming with history and class. Getting into the bar is half the adventure. You have to make an appointment, enter through a telephone booth at Roxanne’s restaurant, and pick up the phone and tell them your name before they let you in. I usually pick a cocktail off the menu to start, and then ask for a bartender’s choice. I pick my spirit and they make something incredible.

Sakura Chocolates
Sakura Chocolates is an online-only chocolate venture run by my pastry chef, Alex Ruperto. There is no brick and mortar location yet, but you can order chocolates online and pick them up in Long Beach. I’d describe Sakura as an artful chocolatier: Alex uses the highest-quality chocolate and ingredients, and creates outstanding sweets. He is 100 percent self-taught and is so passionate about his craft. Each creation is a work of art, and would be a really cool souvenir to take home. His passion fruit bonbon was incredible: The tart fruit and the sweet chocolate were perfectly balanced. Also great, cherry blossom chocolates and salted caramel chocolates. Right now, he does small batches, but with enough notice he could do bigger orders.

The Exhibition Room
Enjoy a cocktail at the Exhibition Room, if you can find it. Photo courtesy of The Exhibition Room.
Sakura Chocolates
Edible chocolate creations at Sakura Chocolates. Photo by Sakura Chocolates.

Fingerprints Music
Fingerprints Music, a must for music lovers, is an incredible record store that has been around for a long time. Big advocates and supporters of the awesome and well-known LB music scene, they bring in acts big and small to perform free in-store concerts at 4th Street and downtown locations. Last year we saw Prophets of Rage and Dirty Heads, which was so much fun.

Kari Barba’s Outer Limits Tattoos
Kari Barba and her son are world-famous tattoo artists who live and work in Long Beach. Kari has several parlors, but the LB outpost is the oldest continuously operated tattoo parlor in the United States and the second oldest in the world. Not only is this a great place to get tattooed, but it also has a tattoo museum collection.

2nd Street Shopping & Strolling
When friends come to town, 2nd Street is the first place they want to go. The pedestrian-friendly area on the water has a ton of eclectic shops and restaurants. My favorite eateries are Open Sesame, Monster Ice Cream, and Rocket Fizz candy store. I’m not really one for shopping, but my girlfriend is and loves it here. I’ve seen old photos of 2nd Street from the early 20th century, and it’s pretty cool that it’s as much a focal point today as it was back then. Our restaurant Roe Seafood is also here, in a building built in 1932.

Long Beach shoreline
The Naples area along the Long Beach shore. Photo by Art Gonzalez.

Where to Stay

Hotel Maya
Hotel Maya, a cool Joie de Vivre hotel, has a tropical vibe, with huge wooden doors and plants that remind me of the Mexican Riviera. It’s in a great location by the Queen Mary overlooking the harbor, with views of downtown across the water.

Hyatt Long Beach
The Hyatt is the place for a modern, upscale hotel. It has a rooftop pool with amazing views of the city.

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