Long Beach has all the elements of a worthy restaurant road trip. Creative chefs. Daring operators. Quirky, walkable neighborhoods. Ethnic pockets. And notable places to pass time until hunger strikes again. Best of all, we’re neighbors—Long Beach is truly our foodie hub next door. A dynamic port city with a vast landmass, Long Beach has long supported a vigorous restaurant scene, but recent years have seen a striking increase in hot spots. From whiskey saloons to clever breakfast joints rising from threadbare motel diners to imaginative reclamation of precious waterfront real estate for that romantic salt-air repast, this is a dining destination ready for its close-up.
Windows open wide to Fourth Street infuse The Social List’s exposed-brick space with the buzz of Retro Row shoppers. Despite the restaurant’s punster name, the only partisan goings-on here are Euro-tinged share plates and a prejudice for Belgian brews. Bubbling in cast iron, the “better than your mother’s” meatballs are savory orbs of pork and veal with grilled bread ovals. Skip the tame patatas bravas to save room for Liquid Gold, a fine butterscotch pudding. 2105 E. Fourth St., thesociallistlb.com
Hungry for cinema? Catch a first-run flick or art movie at the Art Theatre. Restored to handsome splendor, the 1924 house conveniently connects to Art du Vin, a petite wine bar with Parisian style and a blackboard list of better wines. It opens at 5 p.m., so plan accordingly. 2027 E. Fourth St., artduvinwinebar.com
Jaywalk across the street—everybody does—to browse vintage shops on the way to Lola’s, a hip Mexican spot that helped get the Fourth Street food party started. Consider the hazelnut mole chicken and do peruse the list of Mexican wines. This ’hood also is home to Portfolio Coffeehouse, revered by locals for occasional live jazz, and java with the requisite barista latte art. 2030 E. Fourth St., lolasmexicancuisine.com; 2030 E. Fourth St., portfoliocoffeehouse.com
The up-and-coming arts district is home to James Republic, a slick, roomy lair with a wide patio. This is the place to match intriguing glasses of wine with hyperseasonal modern California fare from chef Dave MacLennan. Grass-fed burgers with Fiscalini cheddar (pictured) are hugely popular, but adventurers should try the faro fried rice with cashew butter and pork belly. For a pre- or post-dinner drink, step downstairs to the Blind Donkey. Esoteric whiskeys and craft cocktails are specialties at this chill, and chilly, subterranean bar with shuffleboard, pool, and darts for drinkers who don’t play couch potato on cushy leather seating. 500 E. First St., jamesrepublic.com; 149 Linden Ave., theblinddonkey.com
Daytime has its lures, too. Enjoy breakfast or a lingering lunch with a French accent at Crème de la Crepe, where the slow pace doesn’t spoil the legit character of buckwheat crepes stuffed with sweet or savory fillings. Or, return for happy hour when a cheese plate and glass of French wine on the shady patio are yours for $10.50. 400 E. First St., cremedelacrepe.com
Despite its name, Long Beach is light on beachfront or surf’s-edge dining venues. Touristy Shoreline Village doesn’t count in our book, which only adds to the allure of waterside Fuego at the Hotel Maya. Its open-air setting beside a sandy playa with fire pits evokes a Baja resort, and the waterfront ambience has a way of slowing time. Chef Victor Juarez’s pan-Latin menu includes inventive ceviches, superior ropa vieja, and a fiendishly good coconut flan. Gracious service, too. 700 Queensway Drive, fuegolongbeach.com
To stick close to the water, “island hop” to Belmont Shore and the canals of Naples. Main artery Second Street is perpetually buzzy, with drinkers, diners, and shoppers crowding the narrow sidewalks. Simmzy’s, Nick’s on 2nd, and Tavern on 2 keep a steady stream of locals happy with clued-in menus that straddle the line between unfussy and exceptional. New Chianina Steakhouse deserves raves for terrific steaks, some from a custom herd of Tuscan Chianina cattle raised in Utah. Polished service and sophisticated cooking from chef David Coleman combine with a sleek, boutique-y remodel of the old Kelly’s venue that draws an upscale crowd of regulars. The 18-seat bar is rarely empty. 5716 E. Second St., chianina.com
If ultraexclusive beef is too rich for your wallet, don’t miss the cultured gems on display at Cheese Addiction, the loveliest cheese shop between Corona del Mar and Beverly Hills. Proprietress Lisa Albanese knows her curds and whey—heck, her wedding cake was built with round wooden boxes of French triple cream. 195 Claremont Ave., cheeseaddiction.com
A host of clever morning joints offer plenty of choices to refuel before you start your day.
WHAT IS IT ABOUT BREAKFAST AND BEACH CITIES?
They have an affinity for each other. The raw stats suggest breakfast is Long Beach’s favorite meal. Try these spots for a hot mug of java beneath a foggy morning sky, or a tasty refuel of pancakes after that sunrise run.
THE BREAKFAST BAR
Open at 6 a.m., this scrubbed-up diner on lease from a timeworn Travelodge is a new mom-and-pop lovechild from local industry vets cooking from the family recipe book. Don’t miss Uncle Marcee’s egg casserole or heavenly Naked Cakes from batter made with buttermilk and ground wheat berries. Crazy good. 70 Atlantic Ave., the-breakfast-bar.com
JONGEWAARD’S BAKE ’N’ BROIL
Beloved for nearly 50 years, this family-run corner shop is almost as homey as your grandma’s kitchen. Anything that sounds yummy is, and more. Consider the cheese pocket French toast, left. Exceptional baked goods and comfort-food dinners, too. Half-price day-old pie slices make bargain desserts to go. 3697 Atlantic Ave. bakenbroil.com
Locals pack the bitsy sidewalk patio of this quaint yellow daylight diner in the California Heights neighborhood. Lots of Benedicts (spicy Hollandaise!) served on colorful Fiesta ware. Mega omelets, proper corned-beef hash, and giant mugs of hot chocolate are popular orders. Check the chalkboard specials. 3405 Orange Ave., 562-490-2473