When Don Chendos closed in late 2018, the Wrigley neighborhood of West Long Beach was unfortunately left with one less authentic Mexican hole-in-the-wall. But the nearly ready-to-go quick-service setup was just waiting for the right restaurant to take over.
Enter Joliza’s. There’s a new sign out front, but the inside is nearly identical to its predecessor: white with pops of red and yellow, silver metal tables and chairs, an open kitchen just beyond the counter in which you can see various meats being grilled.
Joliza’s is a family-run business, with a patriarch who ran a Los Angeles taquería for 30 years before opening up this Long Beach shop. And the food at this small eatery tastes as if it were made by someone who’s been at it for three decades; it was some of the most flavor-packed Mexican food I’ve had on either side of the border.
The menu is simple, offering tacos, burritos, tortas and quesadillas, all with your choice of meat (asada, pollo, al pastor, carnitas or cabeza). You can add cheese, or make it a combo with rice and beans. The menu runs pretty cheap ($1.50 per taco, $8 for a massive burrito), but Joliza’s also offers menudo for 10 bucks per bowl every day of the week. To drink, there’s horchata, Sunny D and Mexican Coke, of which you can grab a can or bottle from the small, self-serve fridge.
There are taquitos de papa for vegetarians—or anyone else who loves the crunchy-yielding-to-soft bite of a fried, rolled tortilla filled with mashed potatoes. These come three to an order, all topped with a drizzle of tangy crema, shredded lettuce, onions and Joliza’s special green sauce.
Even though you order your meal at the counter, the service is excellent. They’ll ask if you “want everything,” then explain what that entails. Almost every item automatically comes with hot sauce, by the way, and it’s a delicious slow-burner. When you get your food, they’ll go over everything, and if it’s packed up to go, they’ll throw in some lime wedges. The dedication to the customers feels very special.
While Long Beach is lucky to have a vast selection of Mexican restaurants, both old-school and modern, Joliza’s takes the flavor a notch higher. Maybe it’s that home-cooked flare: The matriarch makes all the sauces, and the pretty-much-perfect al pastor is marinated in the same spices as the secret red sauce to be smoky and sweet, then charred just on the edges.
Red and green sauces are brought out in two little squeeze bottles to your table. The brick-colored option has a chipotle, mild-heat punch, while the green is bright, fresh, smooth and unabashedly addictive. I couldn’t get enough of it; my taco ended up being equal parts green sauce to chicken.
Though Joliza’s opened its doors last month, the official grand opening is this weekend. Starting Thursday, July 18 and running through Sunday, there will be buy-one, get-one deals on burritos and tacos, plus giveaways. So whether or not you’re in the neighborhood, stop by and have some of the best Mexican food in the city. It’s worth traveling for.
Joliza’s, 2233 Pacific Ave., Long Beach, (562) 612-4200; www.jolizas.com.