It was only last month that this column space was extolling the virtues of Wok N Roll, a Chinese fast-food institution whose continuously replaced steam trays, cooked-to-order vegan and vegetarian options, and a friendly staff of extended family made it one of the best places in Long Beach putting a two-item combo into a Styrofoam box.
In researching that piece, I also got reconnected with some of my other favorite locally owned fast-food counters around town — Taste of India on Long Beach Boulevard, Wa Wa in the East Village, the Filipino turo turo joints on the Westside — and discovered a handful of ones that had just opened. These trips not only solidified an appreciation for the wide range of food from around the world that’s still affordable here, but it also proves that these grab-and-go counters are not only remnants of Long Beach’s past, but also an integral part of its culinary future.
For the price and the location, the most promising of all the new buffet-style fast food in town is Flamin Curry, a 2-month-old walk-up with 15 seats plopped into a former frame store in Belmont Heights.
As its name implies, Flamin Curry’s 10 steam trays are stocked with curries of varying spice levels covering a panoply of colors and seasonings, all ubiquitous of Northern Indian cuisine. Behind the glass on the vegetarian side is always a creamy vegetable korma, chunky aloo gobi (potato and cauliflower), goopy eggplant and saag, the Indian equivalent of creamed spinach.
The other half of the options are stewed meats, some familiar (such as the lilting sweetness of chicken tikka masala’s tomato and cream) and others house inventions, such as a black pepper chicken inspired, no doubt, by India’s Chinese and Southeast Asian neighbors. A goat curry—does anywhere else even make this in Long Beach anymore?—is cooked overnight to loosen the notoriously tough meat so that by the time it’s served, swimming in a soup spiced with garam masala, the flesh is ready to melt on your tongue as if the sacrament.
“We don’t believe in fine dining,” one of the employees said proudly when asked about Flamin Curry’s other locations, which include the similarly set up Curry Huts in Pico Rivera and Fullerton. “Not everybody has time or can afford to eat Indian food as a sit-down meal.”
Flamin Curry might not serve certified-organic meats, farmers’ market veggies or chef-driven cuisine like other new restaurants entering the local scene, but its dedication to serving the best food at the lowest prices possible reflects an important democratic outlook.
Appetizers from crunchy egg rolls to spicy, turmeric-loaded pakoras are all less than $5. Two-item combos cost only $8.99. A clay oven installed in the back (where, I like to imagine, decades of family portraits were once matted and mounted when it was Hall of Frames) produces fresh naan on demand, as well as boneless chicken tikka, hand-formed shish kebabs and more.
You can take home a whole, red-rubbed tandoori chicken for $12.99. And with the addition of a few sides, the whole family can eat for less than $20.
Flamin Curry, 3344 E. Broadway, Long Beach, (562) 343-7319; www.flamincurrylb.com.
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.