Long Beach Lunch: Aki Sushi Bar and Bai Plu Thai Restaurant

Sarah Bennett

Once upon a time there was a Japanese businessman and a Thai chef who decided to blend their heritage cuisines into a fusion restaurant built for Asian-food-loving indecesives.

Instead of combining elements of Japanese and Thai food into a new menu of fusion dishes, however, the pair's Long Beach eateries function more like a split-screen union between two separate and perfectly executed concepts: Aki Sushi Bar and Bai Plu Thai restaurant.

The two locations of Bai Plu Thai and Sushi (or Aki Sushi Bar and Bai Plu Thai, depending on who you ask)--one on 7th St. and another on Bellflower Blvd.--offer the same extensive Thai and Japanese menus along with lightening-fast dine-in service and delivery for miles around.

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Long Beach Lunch: Taqueria El Pacifico

Sarah Bennett

Not that high schoolers are the most discerning foodies in town, but they sure know where to find cheap sustenance on which to spend those last few precious dollars stolen from mom's wallet.

And sometimes, their purchasing choices at a corner mercado become so undeniable that the store just decides to open a taqueria inside to accommodate the raging teenage hunger nearby.

Take, for example, El Pacifico, a market on Atlantic Ave., which is within spitting distance of Poly, Long Beach's largest high school. Though it's also across the street from the infamous Poly Burger, sometimes, a kid's gotta get some lengua tacos, and so starting a few years ago, the Jalisco-bred family that owns El Pacifico began rolling a grill onto the sidewalk every afternoon to cook up goodies from the carneceria in back.

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Long Beach Lunch: Jerry's Place

Sarah Bennett

If you have to eat breakfast for lunch and need it down your gullet in under ten minutes, Long Beach locals know to hit up Jerry's Place, a shabby storefront along a residential stretch of 4th St. that has been making quick-and-tasty hash brown-stuffed burritos, French toast platters and double bacon cheeseburgers for the last 60 years.

Even though I once lived just a few blocks from this tiny neighborhood hole in the wall, its early close time (2 p.m.) and obscuring frontage (bars cover the only windows, preventing anyone from seeing inside) meant I never actually knew the place was in still business.

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Long Beach Lunch: Binh Duong

Sarah Bennett

Usually when somewhere claims to be the "best in town," it's a euphemism for "just decent." However, when a Vietnamese restaurant in the heart of Long Beach's Cambodia Town splashes it all over their paper marketing, take heed.

Most Vietnamese grub in Long Beach rests on the laurels of banh mis (like My Le) and cheap bowls of pho (like Pho Hong Phat). Unlike in nearby Orange County where literally hundreds of restaurants dish out non-soup-and-sandwich Viet specialties like banh hoi, bun, chao, and com tams, Long Beach only has one: Binh Duong.

As the only all-embracing Vietnamese restaurant in town, Binh Duon's claim to be the best is technically true by default. But it's beef balls, shredded pork bi cuons, and all sorts of carby banh offerings are also good enough to go up against some of Little Siagon's favorites.

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Long Beach Lunch: Pancho's Mexican Restaurant

Sarah Bennett

If you ever needed proof that, in some way, Long Beach's "Iowa By The Sea" nickname still lives on, stop by Pancho's Mexican Restaurant on Pacific Coast Highway for lunch.

Despite the fact that the restaurant's rock-crusted façade and neon lights peering through its tinted door screams "aging Reno casino circa 1975," the windowless dining room will always filled with aging families from another era of the city, one where bean fields became tract homes and Mexican food meant putting cheddar cheese on everything.

With a faded pastel interior and plates of beans and rice more befitting of a Midwest truckstop diner than a Mexican restaurant in a city that is 40% Latino, Pancho's remains the most diverse city in the country's elusive doughy, white center.

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Long Beach Lunch: The Marketplace Grill Cafe

Sarah Bennett

Sometimes, the Long Beach suburbs births a concept eatery so needed, it doesn't even bother the hopeless nostalgics that it replaced the city's last remaining car-hop diner.

Eight months after its opening, The Marketplace just outside the Traffic Circle off Los Coyotes still features the sweeping open kitchen and slick-for-roller-skatin' floors of its former inhabitants. But an updated interior, counter-service concept and newsletter-sized menu of classy paninis, juicy burgers and Greek-inspired lunches defines it as a restaurant built for the 21st Century.

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Long Beach Lunch: LBJ's Southern Style Fine Food

Brian Addison

If you didn't before have an Aunt Rita to visit for some mean Mississippi-style soul food, fret not--you do now.

Every day, Long Beach lifer Chef Rita can be found in the kitchen of LBJ's, the strip mall masterpiece where she has been crafting her special BBQ plates, soul food platters and fish dishes for the last 22 years. Her North Long Beach outpost is a home away from home for most customers, and no wonder--the dining room looks like it was stripped straight from Rita's own house, framed paintings of Sojourner Truth, old school big screen TV and all.

I almost missed discovering LBJ's as I got onto the 91 Freeway from Cherry Ave. one day, but lured by an awning next to a dry cleaners and a smoke shop that says nothing more than "Southern Style," I had to stop in.

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Long Beach Lunch: Chiltepe

Sarah Bennett

As an admitted pupusa lover of grande proportions, I am always prowling for places in Long Beach to fill my unhealthy cravings for the Salvadoran cheese-and-dough disks.

Pupuseria Salvadorena stole my heart early and I fell hard for their bulky selection of fillings and masas, but as I made the monthly journey to the Westside, I often found myself craving Latino foodstuffs besides what was on the strictly Salvadoran menu--some thicker salsa, a taco on the side, maybe (gasp!) tortilla chips.

With a more diverse menu and dedication to what its outdoor sign calls "Salva-Mex food," Chiltepe on Atlantic Ave. in North Long Beach is the pupusa place that fulfills all my pan-Latino nom needs.

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Long Beach Lunch: Deli News

Sarah Bennett

Growing up in the '90s, I would always cackle at my octogenarian dad when he would hand me a $5 bill and tell me to go buy lunch with it. Maybe during the Korean War you could get a full lunch for $5, I would tell him, but not these days.

Enter the aughts and it's gotten even worse--supposed recession busters like Subway's $5 footlong deal still leaves you short of a thirst-quenching beverage to wash it all down.

Not at Long Beach's cash-only Deli News, though, where my father's dream of $5 meals still stands tall. In fact, if you hand the cashier a $5 bill for one of the lunch specials at this cheapo Italian joint, you might even get change.

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Long Beach Lunch: Aroma di Roma

Sarah Bennett

In small-business obsessed Long Beach, a Starbucks closing is cause for major celebration--proof that community support helped neighboring coffeeshops prevail. And when the empty corporate storefront becomes home to an expanded location for one of those local favorites, it feels as though all is right in the world.

Just as Comedy Central's Dumb Starbucks experiment began confusing Angelenos, I felt obliged to lunch at the new Aroma di Roma Caffé Italiano, the city's most Euro-centric coffeehouse and a longtime Belmont Shore social hub.

Ten years ago, Aroma di Roma started serving gelato, paninis and espresso from a small Second Street frontage, but decided last year, it needed a serious upgrade. Starbucks had recently shuttered the smaller of the two locations it operated on the dining-and-entertainment drag and Aroma di Roma wasted little time renovating the interior and moving a few blocks west.

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