Tag Archives: the district

Land of Plenty: Long Beach’s Food Philanthropists

Long Beach sprouted out of an agrarian dream, a pastoral fantasy of bean fields and beaches that sustained entire generations before the onset of the city’s industrial complex. But as happens with the immutable laws of progress, those plots all eventually disappeared, family farms and cultural traditions wiped out by time. With that came not just a divorce from the land, but a fundamental shift in thinking that has left many of our friends and neighbors without access to or understanding of good, fresh food. Long Beach, however, is blessed now with a whole community of food philanthropists: gardeners, cooks, activists and organizations all using their green thumbs for good. They’re reconnecting with the soil, and with Long Beach itself—feeding us, teaching us and reminding us of the simple pleasures (and power) of food. It’s not a new vision, but an eternal one, a return to the time when local, seasonal produce dictated diets and compassion compelled those more fortunate to extend a helping hand.

Read the stories of Jimmy Ng, Adriana Martinez, Cindy Goss and Paul Buchanan in the District.

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Leftovers: Fuego at the Maya

The makings of Long Beach’s own Mayan Riviera for the District:


PHOTO by ROSHEILA ROBLES

Fuego looks out onto the Long Beach of everyone’s oceanfront dream, a seaside theater where pelicans dive with hungry, graceful precision and pleasure-seekers boat by on the last winds of summer. It’s a scene so idyllic it’s nearly unbelievable, almost as if it were constructed and choreographed by a television crew trying again to approximate Miami. For Fuego, the newest tenant of the equally new Hotel Maya, it’s fitting, a perfect backdrop for the restaurant’s high-end exploration of coastal Mexican cooking.

But that sublime setting doesn’t diminish the difficulties of upscaling a cuisine so common in Southern California that even less-than-serious eaters possess a passable understanding of its regional distinctions. As a result, successful Mexican fine dining must undeniably out-cook our taquería favorites and also compete directly with modern masters like La Casita Mexicana in Bell and Moles La Tia in East LA. Chef Jesse Perez is, by and large, up to the task.

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Leftovers: Foggia Italian Market

Serious sandwiches at Foggia Italian Market and Deli for the District


PHOTO by ROSHEILA ROBLES

Sandwiches are the product of industrial circumstance, traditionally inexpensive meals of two-handed utility meant to be consumed in no more than a few hearty bites. Rarely does an expensive, decadent sandwich ever seem truly worth its weight—the humblest creations please the most. But there’s nothing lowly or undistinguished about the sandwiches constructed at Foggia Italian Market and Deli in Lakewood: they’re bold, brash stomach-stuffers descended from a proud East Coast tradition.

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Leftovers: Jay Bharat

A Little India standby for the District:


PHOTO by ROSHEILA ROBLES

Twenty years into its venerated tenure, Jay Bharat is still stuck halfway between a snack shop and a restaurant. A stretch of lilac lights illuminates one specialty: a display case filled with a rainbow of sweets, some shaped like tiny watermelons, others like shrunken slices of pie. The kitchen, however, focuses on thalis, diverse, compartmentalized meals divided into seven or eight separate tastes. Tradition connects the sweet and the savory here, but Jay Bharat continues to anchor Artesia’s Little India because it expertly prepares the best of those two Gujarati worlds.

Gujarati cuisine, the predominantly vegetarian fare from India’s western, Pakistan-bordering state of Gujarat, is well represented on Pioneer Boulevard. Yet none of Jay Bharat’s peers offers quite the same variety. As excellent as Surati Farsan is, it’s best at small bites and take-away snacks. Rajdhani, meanwhile, is defined by its all-you-can-eat thalis, endless meals that litter its tables with constellations of steel cups. Jay Bharat strikes the ideal medium.

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Leftovers: South Shores Meat Shop

Croatian classics for the District:


PHOTO by ROSHEILA ROBLES

South Shores Meat Shop once seemed from a different time as much as a different place. The Croatian-minded store is the kind of neighborhood market that’s been eradicated by history, marginalized to the point of near nonexistence by the human pursuit of hyper-convenience. It’s a throwback to simpler and smarter days, staffed by knowledgeable craftsmen understanding of every facet of their work. But for as foreign as South Shores may seem to modern kitchen traditions, the market has endeared itself to San Pedro, so much so that a San Pedro without South Shores is beyond culinary comprehension.

The shop’s enduring success is owed in large part to owner Darko Skracic, who arrived on American soil some 40 years ago. Skracic has molded South Shores into a family operation that’s as welcoming a butcher shop as you’re likely to find. As a result, it’s become a crucial component of San Pedro’s Croatian community and the town as a whole, operating as a supplier for local restaurants (including reigning pizza champion Pavich’s Brick Oven Pizzeria) and home cooks alike.

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Leftovers: Big Mike’s

Brute burger force for the District:


PHOTO by ROSHEILA ROBLES

If the current crop of gourmet burgers is built on finesse (hand-crafted ketchups and house-cured pickles), then the colossal creations of Big Mike’s in Bellflower are things of brute force. These aren’t burgers that land in your stomach with intestinal indifference—they sock you in the gut by the third or fourth bite. Burgers at Big Mike’s are ungainly mountains of meat in the truest American sense, sandwiches super-sized to skyscraping heights that bludgeon you into acceptance and, eventually, bliss.

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Leftovers: Gaja Moc

Lomita’s house of Japanese pancakes for the District:


PHOTO by ROSHEILA ROBLES

There’s no easy American analog for okonomiyaki, an amorphous Japanese dish defined by an infinitely variable cast of ingredients. All meals considered, it’s most like a pancake: a thick, savory batter is plopped onto a griddle, cooked to a golden brown, then flipped and lacquered with sauce. Okonomiyaki, however, needs no comparison—it’s a dish fully aware of its role as a homely stomach-stretcher best divided between three or four sets of chopsticks and equal amounts of alcohol.

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Leftovers: Bake N Broil

Simpler times at Bake N Broil for the District:


PHOTO by ROSHEILA ROBLES

Jongewaard’s Bake N Broil is a habit for some and a ritual for most, a Long Beach tradition so lovingly passed down through generations that it seems almost hereditary. The unfortunate few who are somehow born without this innate affection eventually develop it—Bake N Broil’s time-warped simplicity is too charming to deny.

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Leftovers: Mustard’s

Downing dogs for the District:


PHOTO by ROSHEILA ROBLES

It’s the first taste of tubed meat that’s often the best—the snap of charred skin, the unearthing of a dozen dead memories. The hot dog isn’t just a signal of summer, but of an American childhood spent at the beach, or the fair, or the ballpark. And although the Southland isn’t without its own famous dog dealers—Pink’s, Tail o’ the Pup, the surreptitious street chefs grilling bacon-wrapped Sonora dogs—it’s common knowledge that this is the taco truck’s domain. Mustard’s knows this and has always known this. That’s why the restaurant smartly subscribes to the Chicago school of hot dogs.

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Leftovers: Pizza and Chicken Love Letter

Korean pizza for the District:


PHOTO by ROSHEILA ROBLES

Korean pizza has little history. Unlike other global creations—the so-called Mexican pizza, for example, has an antecedent in the Oaxacan tlayuda—Korean pizza is a pure product of globalization, and a recent one, at that. It wasn’t until the 1990s, when American flavors crept even farther into Korea, that homegrown pizza chains started reshaping our fast-food traditions to fit the local palate. Artesia’s Pizza and Chicken Love Letter follows this formula, serving American-style pies tweaked to slightly different tastes.

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