There’s a quiet residential section of East Long Beach that, unless you live there or have an optometrist appointment, you won’t travel through too often. So for occupants of the well-maintained little neighborhood, having a restaurant—any restaurant—on the block is welcomed. Ferraro’s Italian Kitchen held that honor for well more than a decade, but the old-school Italian eatery closed about two years ago, leaving the only sit-down space in the immediate area vacant.
That’s when the team behind the now-defunct River’s End Café in Seal Beach, which was more a destination patrons went to for the beach and ocean view than the greasy-spoon-type food, stepped in this past February.
Right from the start, it was apparent Mike and Carolyn Balchin had upped their game with Lou & Mike’s. The interior, for one, is a vast improvement. The previous restaurant’s dated burgundy-and-dark-wood décor has been sanded away and painted a bright white. It’s clean, airy and minimalist. The outdoor patio, enclosed with glass and overlooking storybook-cute single-level homes, is spacious but still cozy and comfortable.
The menu is pretty identical to River’s End’s (save for a few tweaks, such as rechristening the Huevos de River dish as Huevos de Los Coyotes—that’s white fish in a garlic-basil sauce served over eggs, by the way—after the street the café sits on), with many items keeping the same word-for-word description. But there’s something about this new location—everything’s somehow much better now. Consider it a refresh. The plating is neater. The dishes arrive piping-hot. The service is faster and more attentive. The kitchen kept the de facto melon-slice garnishes.
Lou & Mike’s serves a motley assortment of lunch items, including fish and chips, enchiladas, and clam chowder, but at its heart, this is a breakfast joint. Open at 7 a.m. every day, the café closes by 2:30 p.m. during the week and an early-bird rebuffing 4:30 p.m. on the weekends.
Among the breakfast options, the huevos rancheros comes with crispy, seasoned, cubed potatoes topped with a swirl of orange-tinted, spicy sour cream. Three eggs are served with perfectly runny yolks over a heap of black beans and warm, soft corn tortillas. Sauce comes Christmas-style, with one side fiery red and the other a tangy verde.
The Super Oatmeal is a choose-your-own-adventure dish. A bowl of steaming oats comes with an array of tiny ramekins holding toppings such as brown sugar, milk, raisins, granola, walnuts, blueberries and bananas. If you skip the milk, this is one of the only vegan options available, though there are plenty of vegetarian dishes, including the massive spinach omelet or the hangover-curing chilaquiles.
The coffee is thick and strong. And there’s actual chilled cream served with it (no plastic, room-temperature tubs of creamer here, thankfully). It’s a nice touch.
So though the Balchins traded in a large, beachfront venue for a smaller one nestled in a sleepy part of town, the downsizing seems to be a business move in the right direction. And given the crowds even on cloudy midweek mornings, the locals are glad to have a neighborhood eatery again.
Lou & Mike’s, 3500 Los Coyotes Diagonal, Long Beach, (562) 420-0010; louandmikes.com.