Long Beach’s Westside has its own special brand of local pride. As if the vehement solidarity that comes from growing up in an often forgotten second city betwixt two counties and between all the cultures of its working-class residents wasn’t enough – try being from part of the city that itself is often forgotten. The Long Beach of Long Beach, if you will.
That’s what it’s like in the Fabulous West (also the name of its best dive bar), a long and lean sliver of modest homes wedged between the 710 Freeway and the nation’s largest port complex that has deep roots in the former Naval base. For a sample cross section of its diverse inhabitants, drive up the main drag Santa Fe; it’s dotted with Italian delis, Filipino bakeries, Nayarit-style seafood, pupuserias, barbecue pits, nonprofit deep-dish pizzerias, and more.
In 2016, one of Long Beach’s only Samoan restaurants, Island’s Best, closed down. Last April, Tux & Chucks Street Food took over its Willow Street storefront, heralding the next generation of Westside cuisine, one that bucks tradition in favor of representing the whole neighborhood.
Tux & Chucks started as a weekends-only catering company in 2013 with little more than a portable grill manned by three guys wearing tuxedo shirts and Chuck Taylor Converses. The trio built a following for not only their high-meets-low style, but also their bacon-wrapped hot dogs, carne asada quesadillas and bulgogi tacos — all of which carried over to the brick-and-mortar’s TV-projected menu.
Since evolving into an all-day storefront, the owners (two of whom are Westside locals) have only expanded their list of dirt-cheap, piled-high, mash-up street food. There are new proteins that reflect the West’s rich history — grilled fish and shrimp for the waterfront, Japanese-inspired teriyaki chicken, and sweet Filipino tocino (culled from one of the owner’s family recipes) — plus new forms atop which such proteins can be placed.
Loaded fries, rice bowls, nachos and burritos are now among the top sellers, and there are more extreme variations of each. The loco moco bowl is a take on the Hawaiian favorite with a hamburger patty and fried egg doused in several cups worth of a rich brown gravy. A Long Beach dog is their long-standing L.A.-style bacon-wrapped dog with cream cheese, grilled onions and fresh-cut jalepenos tucked into the bun.
To keep the local teenagers happy — Cabrillo High is nearby and skaters perpetually congregate at the West-repping lifestyle store West Wing a block down — Flamin’ Hot Cheetos are beginning to appear on everything, from fries to hot dogs to another new addition: corn esquites.
And Tux & Chucks continues to experiment with ways to better serve the community. I’ve been sold off-menu items like buffalo chicken tacos and was once encouraged to take the spicy ramen burrito challenge, which requires you to eat a carne asada burrito stuffed with an unnervingly hot packet of instant ramen (you get it for free and your photo on the wall if you finish).
From the low prices (tacos are $2, nothing is over $10) to the Long Beach mural (replete with baby Chucks tossed over a faux electrical wire), Tux & Chucks is part of a new wave of homegrown takeout counters exuding Westside pride. If at any time you forget where you are, employees wearing the company’s signature tuxedo shirt are also perpetually sporting flat-bill hats emblazoned with a riff on the Vans logo that defiantly says “WEST.”
1916 W. Willow St., Long Beach; 562-676-4034; tuxandchucksstreetfood.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.