The only food tour through downtown Long Beach starts big — with a fiery flash, a drizzle of lemon juice and a hearty “Opa!”
Five days a week, Beach City Food Tours initiates its lunchtime Downtown Long Beach Walking Tour at George’s Greek Cafe, where visitors savor the local institution’s famous saganaki appetizer, a so-called “flaming cheese” that’s a slice of springy kasseri doused in alcohol, then set ablaze tableside in a cast-iron skillet.
It’s a fitting introduction to the neighborhood’s current (and growing) culinary offerings, which span from homegrown brands with strong immigrant roots such as George’s to new-wave start-ups that sprouted from cottage businesses to storefronts.
I visited all of these and more on my first Beach City Food Tour, a three-hour stroll to seven restaurants, coffee shops, juicers and dessert bars within a few blocks of one another that gives visitors not only food and drink to replenish calories lost walking, but also insight into the art, history and diversity that make Long Beach unique.
Admittedly, I was skeptical about taking a food tour in my own hometown, especially since I spent years running the restaurant gauntlet down Pine Avenue when I had an office gig there, plus, well, it’s kind of my job now to know which Long Beach food makers are worth sending tourists to.
But Beach City Food Tours founder Layla Ali-Ahmad, who started the company about two years ago and has lived in the city for nearly a decade, created an impressively thorough circuit that is fun, educational and highly recommended, even for locals.
Her two other tour guides—Cassidy Liston and Lisa Mendoza—also understand the city beyond the first few Google search pages, and as we ate that first flaming saganaki at George’s, it was Liston who proudly told our group the little-known tale of how the Cyprus-born George Loizides landed in Long Beach on the heels of a stint in, of all places, Zimbabwe.
After George’s, we walked to Pier 76, then Michael’s Pizzeria, then Rainbow Juices for a colorful, cold-pressed flight, with Liston stopping along the way to discuss the architecture of several downtown buildings (“Look up” is always good advice in downtown!).
On the tour the day I booked was a Peruvian couple from Chino who were free of their tween daughter until the evening and decided to make a daycation out of it (an alcohol add-on is also available at most of the stops). Together, we drank iced basilfruit coffee from Recreational, licked clean our shot glasses of key lime pie from the Pie Bar and destroyed sample platters of house-made confections from Romeo Chocolates—all while hearing the inspirational stories behind each small business and chatting casually with Liston about all the other things there are to love about Long Beach.
I didn’t get stuffed, but I didn’t leave hungry either. More than anything, though, the tour made me proud of all the culinary advancements the city has made in the past few years—and even prouder to know there is a food tour worthy enough to show it off proper. Summer is high season for Beach City’s downtown tour, but already, Ali-Ahmad is scheming for the next one she wants to launch: an East Village Cocktail Tour, with mixologist appearances, spirits education and, of course, a slice of history at each stop.
Beach City Food Tours runs the Downtown Walking Tour Wed.-Sun., starting at 11 a.m. Prices start at $69.
Sarah Bennett is a freelance journalist who has spent nearly a decade covering food, music, craft beer, arts, culture and all sorts of bizarro things that interest her for local, regional and national publications.