Call it a bar with excellent vegan-friendly Mexican food. Or call it a restaurant with a cool bar setup and an impressive natural-wine and craft-beer selection. According to owners Dakotah Challacombe and Jonathan Potalivo, either assessment of the Little Vice works just fine.
“A lot of amazing wine bars don’t have the same grasp on how the beer industry works, so it’s always unbalanced in our opinion,” says Challacombe. “This is where we feel unique, being a company that bridges this gap while also keeping an amazing food menu.”
Childhood friends who grew up going to Baja Mexico, surfing and eating tacos, Challacombe and Potalivo are also co-partners of the American Dream at Pacific City in Huntington Beach. And while that restaurant is upscale classic American fare (or “kick-ass burgers and brew,” as the shop proclaims), this venture’s theme heads decidedly south.
You may have seen the vacant space located on Seventh Street and Coronado, with its large, window-lined patio and, most notably, decent-sized parking lot. Before Little Vice debuted in late July, Challacombe and Potalivo completely overhauled the interior, painting everything in a palette of coastal pastels. They crafted Mexican-tiled tables, a sizable concrete bar and Miami-vibe neon signs.
When you go, you’re given two menus: one of food and one listing Little Vice’s 24 rotating beers on tap, complete with flavor profiles, plus a curated list of natural wines. There’s also a house michelada, made with fresh mix and a Modelo.
The food menu features starters such as a tangy, addictive vegan aguachile, a bowl of briny hearts of palm and cucumber slices, served with tortilla chips. There’s also a list of proteins—al pastor, carnitas and carne asada, plus meatless options such as vegan chorizo and vegan shrimp—that are available as tacos, tortas, burritos or bowls.
I ordered the torta with vegan chorizo, a smoky-hearty version made with roasted cauliflower; it comes with a black-bean spread, avocado salsa, romaine leaves and a creamy chipotle aioli, all stuffed inside a flour-dusted loaf.
“For the tortas, we got a local bakery, Gusto Bread, to custom-make us perfect, naturally leavened pantuflas, which is a Mexican version of a ciabatta bread,” says Challacombe. “We’re taking some authentic elements and bringing them together with our different take on sauces and toppings.”
Little Vice’s medium-large tacos range from $5 to $6 apiece—all the more reason to go on Tuesdays or during Siesta Hour, when tacos cost $2 less. Each features a single, expertly made, sturdy corn tortilla. The house-favorite al pastor is spicy, sweet and loaded with pineapple, so much so it verges on acidic. “We cut it off the spit!” says Challacombe of the meat. “This was our main idea for this restaurant because it showcases our travels to Baja Mexico growing up and getting these tacos right off the spit.”
However you eat your way through Little Vice’s menu, your journey must end with the vegan mini churros. Much denser and crunchier in texture than the standard version, the six dark, golden flutes are coated in cinnamon-sugar crystals. Each order comes with three decadent dipping sauces: a chunky caramelized-pineapple, a smooth horchata (my favorite) and a rich Mexican chocolate (the only thing on the plate that’s not vegan).
While Little Vice may heavily take its inspiration from Baja, its vegan-friendly dishes loaded with spice and bold flavor, all of which pair well with an ice-cold craft beer you’ve never heard of before, are actually very much Long Beach.
Little Vice, 3317 E. Seventh St., Long Beach; littlevice.com.