You might remember Arthur Gonzalez as the owner/chef of Belmont Shore's Roe Restaurant & Fish Market, a seafood joint that had to revert to serving its food out of a truck when renovations on its building hit roadblock after roadblock.
Roe finally folded last year after the retrofits to get the building up to code went nowhere. But Gonzalez re-emerged with Panxa Cocina, a restaurant he was developing as Roe's fate was stuck in bureaucratic hell. Panxa Cocina doesn't feel as if it were Plan B or an exit strategy; it's the restaurant Gonzalez was meant to helm all along.
In the space that was formerly Christy's On Broadway, starkly gorgeous Georgia O'Keeffe-like motifs splash the walls as Gonzalez cooks New Mexican flavors I never knew he was capable of when he was slinging chowder at Roe. It turns out that before Panxa Cocina and Roe, even before his stint at McKenna's On the Bay, Gonzalez worked with chef Eric DiStefano of Coyote Cafe in Santa Fe, arguably one of the Southwest's most iconic restaurants. And in bringing Long Beach closer to the Holy Land of fry bread and Hatch chiles, Gonzalez gives a city full of seafood joints something it needs instead of more chowder.
One of his best dishes is the so-called NM Style Enchiladas, which he drapes with a choice of either a red or green chile sauce. But when I was ordering, I noticed a third saucing option: “Christmas.”
“I assume this means I get both kinds of chile sauce on it?” I asked our server.
“Yes, and would you like the fried egg on top?” she asked as her eyes lit up.
“Of course!” I answered.
What came out was a cast-iron platter of meat, cheese, sauce and corn tortillas–with an egg on top–that were as soft as the homiest lasagna. And I'd argue there might be no heaven akin to what happens when the vegetal perkiness of green chile combines with the creaminess of melting cheese in your mouth. The egg? It was fine, but in truth, the dish didn't need the add-on, especially if you opt for the already-rich short rib as filling.
The short rib, by the way, is the same meat (along with either chicken or pork) that you can ask to stuff your fry bread for Panxa's Navajo tacos, but try them on enchiladas before the tacos. Besides, you get plenty of fry bread–oar-sized, char-marked planks of it–when you order the Chimayo Chile Red Pozole, which hews closer to stew than soup here. Though you can have it with pork, chicken or beef, the sink-sized bowl isn't about what meat you choose, but rather how the hominy pearls and the lubricating brick-red brew hints of the complexities of the Land of Enchantment.
An option of more fry bread comes with the flat-iron steak. Ask for the corn tortillas instead, even if they're not yet made in-house. There won't be many–just three. But since the dish isn't technically a fajita platter, you won't mind running out of tortillas before you finish the meat. As if to compensate, Gonzalez includes a sweet potato hash with bits of crisped chorizo and pork belly as a side. But the flat-iron is the star: This is a thick slab, but also sublimely tender and crusted with charring so flavorful I almost thought it was blackened.
The steak, as with everything else, is better shared, so ask for a few extra plates. If only to spread the guilt, you need at least three people to help with the Chick-a-rones, swoops of golden-fried chicken skin that look uncannily like fried wonton but somehow feel 10 times crispier and unhealthier than pork rinds.
Order it for this reason, as well as because it comes with a salsa made from pequin chiles, a hot sauce that burns as though it's a less acidic and sweeter version of Tapatío. Use it, savor it, but definitely save some to douse the fried calamari with. It's one of the dishes Gonzalez salvaged from his days at Roe. No, it's not that the calamari doesn't come with its own tasty, two-toned, creamy dipping sauce made with red and green chiles; it's just that the pequin chile hot sauce is so much better–a substance worthy of its own bottling plant.
The desserts are also wonderful, especially the biscochito donuts, which eat more like buñuelos covered with cinnamon sugar than the classic Christmas cookie since they're served hot from the fryer, their interiors as fluffy as down. Dip one into the crème Anglaise as you consider that it might've never come to light if Roe's situation went according to plan and Gonzalez didn't move on to Panxa. Just this once, thank God for bureaucrats!
Panxa Cocina, 3937 E. Broadway, Long Beach, (562) 433-7999; www.panxacocina.com. Open Mon.-Thurs., 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 11 a.m.-11 p.m.; Sun., 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Dinner for two, $40-$60, food only. Full bar.
Before becoming an award-winning restaurant critic for OC Weekly in 2007, Edwin Goei went by the alias “elmomonster” on his blog Monster Munching, in which he once wrote a whole review in haiku.