Long Beach Lunch: Holé Molé

Sarah Bennett

There is one Mexican restaurant that is a rite of passage for Long Beach's newbie 20-somethings, and it's not because it's the most authentic taqueria or it actually has an assortment of mole, as its name would imply. Holé Molé (accents aside, it's pronounced "holy moley") is locally world famous among all the young boozers for being the only post-midnight grub along the infamous 4th Street dive bar crawl.

At least that's how I first discovered it--shoveling cheese enchiladas and 50-cent potato tacos into my sloppy drunk face after a round of Jameson at Ferns across the street.
Only after nursing half-a-decade's worth of hangovers and venturing out into the sunlight for food as a sober adult did I discover that Long Beach is actually home to five locations of this homegrown Baja-style chain, and that all of them are unsurprisingly more equipped for quality lunch than the late-night hovel on 4th Street.

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Long Beach Lunch: Ahimsa Vegan Cafe

Sarah Bennett

Last year, Long Beach's oldest vegan and raw restaurant unceremoniously disappeared from its long-standing location at 340 E. 4th St., without so much as a closing party or note to loyal customers. Despite wonky hours and notoriously slow cook times, Zephyr was the much-loved bastion of health food and alternative thought on the northern fringes of the East Village Arts District, perfect for a lazy-day sietan bowl or a casual meeting over zucchini and tempeh sandwiches--until it was gone.

Thankfully, the kirtan-loving, political-rallying, crunchy-granola vibe that Zephyr cultivated for the city's artists, hippies and college students remains not only intact but on steroids at its former location, where Ahimsa now resides. Aside from its hard-to-pronounce name ("ahh-heem-sah"), Ahimsa is an upgrade from Zephyr, with a fresh, re-decorated interior (think: chalkboard menu art and a South Asian-inspired mural) and a selection of healthy foods that adds Indian flair to the previous veg offerings.

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Long Beach Lunch: Hamburger Mary's

Sarah Bennett

There aren't too many places where lunch includes a sandwich with a sexually suggestive name and a bill that gets dropped on the table, placed delicately inside of a sequined high-heeled pump. But then again, there aren't too many places like Hamburger Mary's, Long Beach's most flambouyant--and largest--gay bar.

More than just a watering hole that churns out generously poured well drinks in frosty schooners (which it does every day during happy hour), Hamburger Mary's is also an LGBT nightclub, dinner theatre and restaurant with a mammoth selection of grub for every diet and appetite. Since vacating its original location on Alamitos Ave. and Broadway earlier this year--where it anchored the west end of the so-called "Gayborhood"--Mary's now occupies prime real estate on Pine Ave., where its nightly drag shows and go-go nights add vibrancy to downtown Long Beach's straight scene.

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Long Beach Lunch: Roxanne's Lounge

Sarah Bennett

By night, Roxanne's Lounge in historic California Heights is an upscale neighborhood bar with dapper bartenders, a password-only speakeasy in the back and a lineup of house craft cocktails unlike anywhere else in Long Beach. During the day, however, Roxanne's swaps its dimly lit interior for sunny patio space and switches up its Latin-inpired dinner menu for a creative selection of lunch and brunch items that mix its owner's Central American heritage with American bar favorites.

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Long Beach Lunch: El Torazo

Sarah Bennett

Whenever I get asked about where to find the best taco in Long Beach, I genuinely have to think about it. Do I say El Taco Loco because they make their own tortillas and are open 24 hours? Or do I say Taqueria La Mexicana since they are the most accessible, yet with a dollop of guacamole on each, not quite authentic? Or do I say Los Compadres even though they are the most expensive and least likely to afford a taqueria-like experience?

These days, I've taken to telling folks to wait until Tuesday or Friday and going to El Torazo, the shotgun shack of a taco stand permanently parked on the corner of 10th St. and Temple Ave. On those two days only, all of Torazo's five distinct taco types are on extreme sale, costing only $1 each for the little guys and $2 each for the bigger ones.

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Long Beach Lunch: Arya's Fine Persian Cuisine

Photo by Sarah Bennett
Persian for the paisas

To some Long Beach residents, the strip mall unit at 2507 Long Beach Boulevard is best known as Julio's, a beloved 'hood-ready Italian delivery establishment that takes forever to get to your door, but surprises with edible pies and standard meatball subs. To a number of particularly adventurous diners, though, 2507 Long Beac is also home to Arya, the only certified Halal Persian restaurant in the city and the only place to get pecular-sounding dishes like kashk o'bademjan, moust o'mosier and fesenjoon.

I say "adventurous" because it takes some serious guts to order even steamed rice from a place that has for decades spooned out basic Hawaiian pizzas and orders of chicken alfredo and just a few years ago decided to add kebobs and other exotically spiced goodies to its menu. And it takes even more cojones to wander into the perpetually empty dining room of an almost exclusively take-out-and-delivery place and sit down for a proper cornish hen kabob like it's your neighborhood Iranian bistro.

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Long Beach Lunch: Your House

Sarah Bennett

The house you physically live in might be small or large or not even a house at all (I, for one, have never not shared a wall with others). But no matter what your living situation is, there will always be a seat for you at Long Beach's Your House, a sizable restaurant on Pacific Coast Highway that specializes in as much Thai food as it does Japanese, just like your actual home, I'm sure.

Shaded from street view by a near-forest of trees and shrubbery, Your House occupies a two-story pitched-roof structure that looks more like the neighborhood Bhuddist temples than an actual former house of any sort. After zooming past this blip on the block between Temple Ave. and Orizaba Ave. for years on my way to the Traffic Circle, I finally decided to pull into their on-site parking lot and take advantage of their extensive lunch specials, long advertised on a purple vinyl banner with more visibility than the restaurant itself.

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Long Beach Lunch: Cafe Ambrosia

Sarah Bennett

Charter cable customers who live in Long Beach are familiar with the grainy local television commercial for Cafe Ambrosia. A man with a heavy Eastern European accent touts the vegetarian-friendly, Mediterranean-inspired food at the Alamitos Beach restaurant as the camera pans over happy customers clinking wine glasses and b-roll shots of the lush open-air dining opportunities.

What the commercial doesn't mention is that Cafe Ambrosia is a calming urban oasis of a bistro that will get you drunk and full for cheap while transporting you worlds away from the intersection of Broadway and Cherry Ave.

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Long Beach Lunch: Bambuco Colombian Grill

Sarah Bennett

It's unfortunate that most of the world thinks only of Colombia as the home of top-notch cocaine and its most famous slinger, Pablo Escobar, because the northern South American country of 46 million people is also home to a rich cultural history that includes Nobel Prize winning author Gabriel García Márquez, colorful Carnival celebrations and native food dishes unlike anywhere else.

More than 3000 miles away in Long Beach, Colombia's traditional culture lives on at Bambuco, an eatery hidden deep in the city's uninhabited lower west side. Named after the country's native folk music genre, Bambuco--Long Beach's only Colombian restaurant--is close enough to the big rigs and warehouses of the port complex to smell the salt water and yet transportive to another world.

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Long Beach Lunch: Belmont Brewing Company

Belmont Brewing Company

The list of reasons why Belmont Brewing Company is the ultimate summertime lunch spot is a long one, but it starts with the incomparable waterfront view and ends with the award-winning house-made beer. In between is a thoughtful menu of beyond-brewpub eats, friendly local servers who have been around for years and the kind of casual beach-life atmosphere that inevitably surrounds a Long Beach creation like BBC.

Opened in 1990, Belmont Brewing Company is the oldest operating brewpub in Southern California, and its longevity speaks not just to its prime location on the Belmont Shore bluff, but also its epic happy hour, during which pub-grub favorites (like wings and pizza) are 40% off and pitchers of easy-drinking beers like Strawberry Blonde and Marathon Golden Ale are only $11.

But doing BBC during happy hour only gives you a partial experience, albeit one that includes a sunset view from one of the bar area's booths or high-top tables.

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