Iconic Neighborhood Restaurants: Belmont Heights and Belmont Shore | KCET
Iconic Neighborhood Restaurants: Belmont Heights and Belmont Shore
The development of Belmont Heights began in the early 1900s. Looking to escape the congested streets of Los Angeles, families began to build homes on the hills overlooking the Belmont marshlands below. In 1908, Belmont Heights’ 400 residents voted to incorporate as a city into LA County. At the time, Long Beach was a dry town and locals would flock to the Heights for late night cocktails. However, the fun didn’t last long. Just one year later, the city found themselves in financial despair and had no choice but to annex with Long Beach. Regardless, the beautiful Victorian-style architecture and sweeping ocean views helped the area remain a highly desirable place to live.
The vast marshland views that drew so many families to Belmont Heights did not remain as such for too long. In 1920, developers McGrath and Selover began the development of Belmont Shore, a new residential area catering to young families. While thick swamps and high tides caused a few setbacks during construction, it wasn’t long before the Shore became as popular a destination as its hilltop neighbor.
Both neighborhoods went through some hard times toward the end of the century, but recent efforts to revitalize the area have seen huge success. Today, 2nd Street in Belmont Shore is a thriving business district lined with both old and new restaurants, bars, boutiques and chains. And while Belmont Heights remains a mostly residential town, there are still some gems hidden amongst its quiet streets.
Open since 1954, Domenico’s is not only the oldest surviving restaurant in all of Long Beach, but also one of California’s very first pizzerias. When Domenico and Beverly Spano first started their business, pizza was a fairly new phenomenon in California. So much so that the original menu featured instructions on how to eat it, assuring customers that “your waitress will be glad to show you the proper way.” Back in those days, a large pie went for just $2.70.
The Spanos sold the original Domenico’s in the mid-sixties to the Kenyon family, who again sold it to Mike Rhodes in 2004. Through all those years, however, the original pizza recipe has remained intact. It’s a recipe that may seem backwards to a lot of pizza enthusiasts, as the Spanos did not follow the traditional order of things. At Domenico’s, the scratch-made crust is topped first with a thick layer of cheese, which is drenched in sauce and finally piled high with toppings. In this way, Domenico’s puts the focus less on the cheese, but instead on their infamous toppings, which include ground pepperoni and salami as well as mac ‘n cheese.
Domenico’s Restaurant: 5339 E 2nd Street, (562) 439-0261
It is hard to say just how long the Potholder Café has been a part of Belmont Shore, but ask any local and they will agree that it is a neighborhood landmark. The self-proclaimed “King of Long Beach breakfast” offers an all-day breakfast menu full of eggs, bacon, pancakes and French toast. In this neighborhood joint, the walls of all three dining rooms are lined with an eclectic array of paintings, knickknacks and photos of customers holding signs that proclaim “Eat At The Potholder.” There is a corner of one dining room dedicated to arcade games and you may find a few customers sitting at a booth in their pajamas.
If you’re feeling particularly hungry, order the Potholder Café’s Mac Daddy Pancake Challenge. If you are able to finish this epic meal which includes an 18-inch pancake along with two eggs and bacon on your own, you will still have to pay the $12 bill, but you will walk away with the ultimate bragging rights and, of course, a commemorative t-shirt.
Potholder Café: 3700 E Broadway, (562) 433-9305
Established in 1950, the Reno Room started off as a workingman’s bar, catering to naval officers and longshoremen who had docked at the nearby Long Beach port. The bar is situated in an old bank building that was constructed in the art deco style, with funky brick designs on the front. In its heyday, the Reno Room was a men’s club where local intellectuals like poet Charlie Bukowski would sip on stiff drinks and gossip about politics.
The bar today still feels a bit old-timey – the dark lighting keeps a certain air of mystery while oil paintings of naked ‘50s pin-up girls harken back to another time. The old jukebox may have been upgraded to a digital version, but the drinks are still strong and the pool tables still warped from years of spills. Nowadays, the Reno Room’s patrons are a mix of all sorts of Long Beach locals, both old and young, natives and transplants, blue collar and young professionals.
Reno Room: 3400 E Broadway, (562) 438-4590
Ma ‘N Pa Grocery
Make a visit to Ma ‘N Pa Grocery in Belmont Heights and you may think you just walked onto the set of an old Western film. Made entirely of wood and featuring an actual saloon door entrance, this little shop feels more like an old general store rather than a beach town market. Even stranger is the fact that Ma ‘N Pa’s is the only business on its block. Nestled in a small residential neighborhood, the house that holds Ma ‘N Pa’s was built as a family home in 1922, but it wasn’t long before it was converted into the grocery store and restaurant combo it is today.
The food at Ma ‘N Pa Grocery is classic Americana cuisine. Their house burger, made with all fresh and organic ingredients, will put you back $5. You can enjoy it at one of the tables outside under the shade of an old Coca Cola umbrella, while reading a book from the store’s lending library. All the food served is made with ingredients from the grocery, including the “locally world famous” beef jerky, which is seasoned and dried on the premises.
Ma ‘N Pa Grocery: 346 Roycroft Avenue, (562) 438-4084
Belmont Brewing Company
Belmont Brewing Company cofounders David Lott and David Hansen met in graduate school at UCLA in the ‘70s. Back in those days, the craft beer scene was in its infancy and mainly situated on the East Coast. By the late 1980’s a few breweries had popped up in California, including Karl Strauss in San Diego and Sierra Nevada in Chico, but the City of Angels hadn’t yet gotten into the game. Inspired by a dream of bringing better beer to LA, Lott and Hansen decided to take on the challenge. After raising money by selling shares to family and friends, they opened the Belmont Brewing Company in 1990, making it the very first brewpub in the greater Los Angeles area.
Back in the early ‘90s, Belmont Shore was not the booming cultural scene it is today and thus it took some time for BBC to get off the ground. However, as the area began to improve, their meticulously cultivated house brews and primo location right off the beach helped draw in the crowds. Nowadays, with the rising popularity of microbreweries and craft beers, including LA’s own Angel City and Golden Road, the Belmont Brewing Company is doing better than ever. Brewer David Blackwell, who has been with BBC since 1999, has mastered his award-winning house beers - the Marathon (blonde ale), Top Sail (amber ale), Long Beach Crude (stout), Strawberry Blonde (blonde ale) and the Pale Ale – as well as his rotating tap of seasonal brews. Order them in a flight or in one of Blackwell’s signature blends and enjoy with a view of the beautiful Belmont Shore bluffs.
Belmont Brewing Company: 25 39th Place, (562) 433-3891
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