Welcome to our annual Top 5 countdown, where our SAFII writers tell you what impressed them over the past year! Here, we have Erin DeWitt’s Top 5 Restaurants (Long Beach edition) – enjoy, and dig in!
Erin DeWitt’s Top 5 Restaurants of 2018:
Of all the southern-fried chicken spots in Long Beach, our heart belongs to Johnny Rebs’ original outpost. Johnny Rebs’ has served up true southern hospitality since 1984—long before that idea became an overused restaurant hashtag. Alongside little jars for donating change (which goes to charity) on the table are peanuts, the shells of which you can chuck on the floor. There’s a few options for fried chicken—Nashville hot, southern fried and chicken fried, all of which feature juicy, sweet meat encased in a cracking, golden crust. There’s also barbecue aplenty, with our favorite being the Burnt Ends dish: a smoked crown of brisket pieces sautéed with whiskey and brown sugar, then piled over hot-pepper cheese grits. Have mercy. 4663 Long Beach Blvd., Long Beach, (562) 423-7327; www.johnnyrebs.com.
Nomad Asian Bistro
One of the few restaurants that can get away with not serving alcohol of any kind, Nomad Asian Bistro dishes out fresh, handmade Chinese cuisine. But it’s two exceptional dishes in particular that landed them on this list: the Singapore noodles, thin and delicate strands spiced with curry, and the basil eggplant, bright purple chunks of the vegetable in a savory-sweet-sticky glaze. The Nomad short ribs are also pretty addictive, with delicate beef seasoned and tossed with scallions, peppers and roasted garlic. Each menu item is crafted with such balanced flavors you won’t even miss the booze. 6563 W. Pacific Coast Hwy., Long Beach, (562) 430-6888; www.nomadasianbistro.com.
Born as vegan-cuisine-on-wheels in 2010 during the food-truck boom, Seabirds Kitchen grew up to become the most legit vegan restaurant in Long Beach (its original Costa Mesa brick-and-mortar continues to boom as well). The chefs’ artisan, from-scratch take on plant-based food packs the house daily. From a grilled cheese sandwich that tastes like honest-to-goodness silky American slices to seriously substantial tacos (some might argue the kimchi taco is the best, but we’re team beer-battered avocado taco all the way) to the big-and-messy Beets Me Burger, Seabirds Kitchen can leave even any non-vegan satiated. 975 E. Fourth St., Long Beach, (562) 317-5545; www.seabirdskitchen.com.
Lola’s Mexican Cuisine
For the past decade, Lola’s Mexican Cuisine has been a staple on Retro Row. And since opening a second spot in Bixby Knolls, the artfully fusioned modern Mexican restaurant is taking over that neighborhood as well. Blame it on that green sauce. Served alongside complimentary chips and salsa, it’s creamy and full of herbs and garlic—we refer to it as “crack sauce,” and yes, it is available by the cup for takeout. Also worth mention are the handmade sopas, three rustic little boats topped with a trio of meats. Another specialty is the mole verde, a green-hued take on the complex classic sauce that has as much depth of flavor, but is lightened by tangy notes of green peppers and chiles. If you opt for brunch, indulge in blue-corn pancakes or a concha breakfast sandwich. 2030 E. Fourth St., Long Beach, (562) 343-5506; also at 4140 Atlantic Ave., Long Beach, (562) 349-0100; www.lolasmexicancuisine.com.
Saint & Second
Since opening in 2015, Saint & Second remains one of the swankiest restaurants in the city. From the upstairs patio overlooking Second Street to the industrial-chic bar displaying hundreds of bottles of whisky to the ever-rotating list of over-the-top craft cocktails, this place puts serious effort into perfecting the fine-but-not-stuffy dining genre. They even offer private wine lockers for repeat customers serious about their vino. Be sure to try the miso-glazed black cod, which comes with a miso-ginger broth that the server will pour over your fish at the table, and the locally famous roasted brussels sprouts with bacon and four-year Cheddar. Oh, yeah, and a reservation. Definitely get one of those, too. 4828 E. Second St., Long Beach, (562) 433-4828; www.saintandsecond.com.