Thomas Ortega, the chef behind Ortega 120 in Redondo Beach and Amor y Tacos in Cerritos, will open his third concept, Playa Amor, in Long Beach on Tuesday. The restaurant has taken over the space previously occupied by Sababa Middle Eastern restaurant in the Marketplace shopping center.
Playa Amor's style is similar to the elevated, locally sourced Mexican cuisine Ortega has been cooking at his other two restaurants, including Ortega 120, which opened in 2008, before "modern Mexican food" was a thing in L.A.
"I put Mexican on the sign outside to suck you in, then get you to try a lot of different things," said Ortega, leaning on the U-shaped bar that serves as the focal point of his restaurant. "But, yes, we will have the mole tots. Everyone wants it."
The mole tots he's referring to are the tater tots smothered in rich mole negro that he serves at Amor y Tacos. Those will be on the menu at Playa Amor, along with some dishes he's specifically designed for the new location, including New Mexico Hatch chile spaghetti made with bucatini and Hatch chile sauce.
"It's close to me because my family has made it for years," Ortega said of the spaghetti. "When we have family parties, that's the thing everyone demolishes."
The plan is to also include a lot of fresh seafood, including pescado Zarandeado, a butterflied, whole striped bass served with clarified butter, rice, beans and fresh flour tortillas. Also on the menu is the Estilo Puerto Nuevo lobster; Mexican white shrimp; Tecate fish tacos; charred octopus; and a ceviche mixto.
Like Ortega 120, which opened with 120 tequilas (hence the name) behind the bar, Playa Amor boasts an impressive selection of tequila and some of the cocktails Ortega's other two restaurants have become known for. All of the drinks feature housemade ingredients such as the Mango con Chile, made with Avion blanco tequila, house-made mango puree, house-made limeade, agave chamoy and tajin.
But don't call Ortega or anyone in his crew a mixologist.
"We're no mixologists," said Ortega. "We just make good drinks."
Ortega also likes to feature what he likes to drink, so expect some Japanese whiskey behind the bar as well.
Most of the seating for the 115-seat restaurant is outside on the covered patio. There is seating around the bar inside, as well as upstairs, where Ortega plans to hosting private events.
Playa Amor will be open nightly for dinner and will eventually introduce lunch and weekend brunch service as well.
6527 E. Pacific Coast Highway, Long Beach.
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