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Editors note: In the latest installment of our recurring First Stop feature, we asked Javier Cabral, the Long Beach-based Editor in Chief of L.A. TACO, where his go-to spots are in L.A.s last-standing working-class beachside community. He is the former restaurant scout for Jonathan Gold, the Associate Producer of the Taco Chronicles series on Netflix, and the author of Oaxaca: Home Cooking From the Heart of Mexicoand Asada: The Art of Mexican-Style Grilling.Javier has been having the time of his life tasting through all of the Cambodian, Laotian, Thai, and Vietnamese noodles in Cambodia Town and Little Saigon in Westminster. Follow him and L.A. TACO on Instagram. 

Confession time: Moving to Long Beach straight-up reinvigorated my passion for eating out in my home city. Mainly because living in the middle of L.A.’s Cambodia Town and its universe of noodles, beef sticks, and mango salads is a hell of a lot more exhilarating than the wave of post-gentrification restaurants that have opened in Highland Park in the last decade. We just passed the year mark since making the big move from the epicenter of Highland Park, and we haven’t looked back. People say Long Beach is far, located about 25 miles from downtown L.A., but far from what?

We travel to Puerto Vallarta often because that is where my wife is from and where her family lives. When we are there, I eat as many tacos and mariscos as possible, so when I return home to Long Beach, I’m usually voracious for noodles. However, not even throughout my travels in Mexico have I experienced a concha [Mexican sweet bread roll] like the sourdough conchas at Gusto Bread. I am not lying when I say that we moved to Long Beach to be closer to them. To be frank: We want to be part of a community that supports a concha being $5. I’m obsessed with them and usually stockpile them since they freeze very well. Whenever I’m out of town, going to Gusto to re-stock their conchas and rustic bread is a ritual.

I’ve been having the time of my life eating through all the noodles in Long Beach, usually for takeout, but sometimes dine-in. We’ve tried over a dozen places, searching for our next thrill in noodle form. We go through our phases of returning to places over and over but lately have found ourselves loyal to Tasty Food To Go, a Cambodian-owned house-turned-restaurant that does Thai and Lao-style noodles. Our go-to order is pad kee mao (spicy basil drunken noodles) with fried tofu, nam tok, panang curry with curry, and a couple of orders of sticky rice. The Cambodian and Lao influence comes through with the addition of fermented bamboo in the noodles. The curries are thick and always made to order, and the beef in the nam tok is tender and ultra-flavorful thanks to the toasted rice powder and a lime dressing that leans on the fish-forward side rather than sweet. The owner, Kelly, just took over the restaurant from her family and knows my name and order. That, in a nutshell, is what Long Beach is all about: community and making time in everyone’s busy schedules to interact. I also kind of like that the establishment is cash only and my punk-rooted ways perceive that as a political statement against capitalism.

When we first moved here, a friend who has a Mexican-inspired tiki concept cleverly named Chuntikis introduced me to Monorom, another Cambodian spot. They have the best beef sticks I’ve had in Long Beach; grilled marinated beef skewers marinated in a super aromatic base of lemongrass, fish sauce, and a bunch of other things bursting with umami. As well as “Student Noodles” which is like pad Thai but not as sweet. They also carry a strong dark Cambodian beer that I really enjoy and is hard to find, Angkor Extra Stout. It goes great with those beef sticks and noodles.

I’ve been lucky enough to be welcomed by the area’s local expert on Cambodian food and culture, James Tir, who runs the account LBFoodComa on Instagram. Just when I thought I’d thought I’d had all the noodles in town, he blows my mind by introducing me to nom p‘jok at Crystal Thai restaurant, a traditional Cambodian dish of somen noodles in an incredibly delicious turmeric fish broth. It’s refreshing, fortifying, and utterly addictive if you are a fan of turmeric. They also have a great sadao salad made with crispy fried fish and bitter herbs. Note: This place is also cash-only and more of a lunchtime destination.

If I’m noodled out – which occasionally does happen! – I’m a big fan of the wood-fired, thin-crust pizza that the “Roman Cholo” pizzaiolo at La Parolaccia quietly pumps out every night. It’s a spot that doesn’t get as much hype as other big-name Italian restaurants in town but the locals know. The family-owned restaurant has been open for nearly two decades and has an hour-long wait every night, mostly by the restaurant’s neighboring residents who walk there from their homes nearby. The Italian American, second-generation dough wizard behind the pizza program goes back to Italy every year to keep learning his craft, and when you take that first bite of their Sofia pizza with fresh burrata, you’ll see why it’s not your average neighborhood pizza. If you know, you know.

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Javier CabralUlysses Salcido

Published on May 08, 2023

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