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Iconic Neighborhood Restaurants: Long Beach

Long Beach may come second in city size next to Los Angeles in L.A. County, but it's no less varied in neighborhood diversity. (Although for outsiders, the city might draw images of either the semi-permanently docked Queen Mary or gang violence.) But to simply dismiss the state's 7th largest city as another L.A. suburb would be missing out on what it has to offer Southern California culture.

For instance, north of the downtown area is Bixby Knolls, named after the family who helped develop the once extensive ranch area during the late 19th century. Cambodia Town, or Little Phnom Penh, with the largest Cambodian community in the U.S. is just below Signal Hill, a separate city encircled by Long Beach. Cal State Long Beach sits on the east side. Adjacent to the water, pricier real estate line the sections of Belmont Shore and Naples.

Notable figures who grew up there are just as assorted. You're likely to recognize more than one Long Beach native among the long list of famous artists and athletes, depending on entertainment preference, like actress Cameron Diaz, basketball player Russell Westbrook, and rapper Snoop Dogg.

Signs of the city's modern industrial past from oil to auto to aerospace are not difficult to come across -- whether it's the oil derricks dotted here and there or the Port of Long Beach looming not too far from downtown. A heavy price for all the progress both present and previous is lower quality of air and water. Whereas recent reports indicate that the water quality has improved, Long Beach residents still face problems with air pollution. Yet generations of families have lived here and remain for the schools, cultural offerings, and laid back attitude of the LBC.

 

German chocolate cake from Jongewaard's Bake'n Broil | Photo: Christine Chiao

German chocolate cake from Jongewaard's Bake'n Broil | Photo: Christine Chiao

Jongewaard's Bake'n Broil: In contrast to the somewhat sleepy commercial section of California Heights, there's a constant bustle inside Jongewaard's Bake'n Broil. The corner family-owned restaurant hasn't stopped slinging comfort classics like chicken fried steak since 1965. Try to snag a spot at the counter and witness firsthand how brisk its business can get. You'll be front and center of the hutch that houses rows upon rows of pies and cakes baked daily, frequently drawing at least one server to and from a different part of Jongewaard's. Always save room for a slice of the often sold-out German chocolate cake -- one of the best not just in the city, but in the county too.
3697 Atlantic Ave, Long Beach, (562) 595-0396

 

Joe Jost: One of the older eateries in Long Beach, not to mention the county, Joe Jost's is nevertheless a beer tavern first. Moving from Balboa to Long Beach in 1924, Joe Jost's started out as part barbershop, part pool hall and poker room. It didn't serve beer until after the Prohibition was over. The cold beer on tap, favored in a tall glass known as a schooner, is meticulously kept at 29 degrees Fahrenheit. Whereas a beer selection or two gets swapped every so often, menu staples like a sausage sandwich on rye known as Joe's Special and the pickled eggs heavily peppered then served on a bed of pretzels, have weathered the changes. 2803 E. Anaheim St, Long Beach, (562) 439-5446

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Sophy's Thai & Cambodian Cuisine: Sophy Khut's eponymous establishment dishes out both Thai and Cambodian favorites. Regulars point to Khut's approach to the latter as the local model for a cuisine not as easily found outside of the Southland (and the U.S.). The such koh ngeat, a deep-fried steak akin to beef jerky, and the papaya salad, flecked with small salted crabs, are often recommended as key components of anyone's initial foray into Khmer food. 3240 E. Pacific Coast Highway, Long Beach, (562) 494-1763

 

Photo: Christine Chiao

Photo: Christine Chiao

Coffee Cup Cafe: Options for traditional American diner brunch fare and the lines that form for them abound in Long Beach. Even so, the Coffee Cup Cafe stands out for its popularity among visitors and locals. Weekends invariably lend to a longer wait. Service is quick and your breakfast-or-lunch orders arrives just as fast -- once you get seated. The reasonably priced menu has a fair share of Mexican-inspired entrees as in Hank's chicken chili verde or huevos rancheros. The 4th Street French toast, filled with cream cheese before being pan-fried and loaded with butter, will gratify on a particularly indulgent Saturday morning.
3743 E. 4th St, Long Beach, (562) 433-3292

 

Photo: Los Compadres

Photo: Los Compadres

Los Compadres: There are two Los Compadres locations in Long Beach and both serve the similar lengthy menu of Mexican standards that range from massive molcajetes to equally as big combination plates that might pair chile relleno with chicken enchilada. Ceviches and seafood cocktails are meant to be shared as you'll probably eat your fill of complimentary salsa and chips. Those who've tried the hearty soups recommend the caldo de res (beef stew).
3229 E. Anaheim St, Long Beach, (562) 961-0061; 1144 Pine Ave, Long Beach, (562) 432-0061

Honorable mentions: Robert Earl's BBQ and Pho Hong Phat.

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