Long Beach, my fair city, is having its first Restaurant Week, and though this city of almost 500,000 may not be the first area that comes to mind as a hub of fine dining, there are some really good places you should try.
Eat LBC will run from March 30 to April 5 and features more than 50 restaurants offering set menus priced at either $26 or $38, depending on what the individual establishment thinks the market will bear.
Of those restaurants participating in the restaurant week, here are my picks, as an extremely opinionated resident of the city for more than 20 years.
Simmzy's Pub: Located on 2nd Street, the strolling and shopping center of Long Beach, Simmzy's is the gastropub that every neighborhood wishes it had. The food is good to very good (leaning toward things like salads, burgers and pizzas with the occasional roasted Brussels sprout thrown in for currency). The beers are crafty and good, the wine selection is interesting, and there's both a bar and a communal table running down the middle. Warm nights they open all the windows so you can feel the sea breeze.
5271 E. 2nd St., (562) 439-5590, www.simmzys.com.
Open Sesame: A sprawling megaplex of Lebanese dining, it started as one storefront and now has taken over a couple of neighbors. Such is the power of good hummus, kibbi and kebabs. They also serve Lebanese pizzas and pita sandwiches.
5201 E. 2nd St. and 5215 E 2nd St., (562) 621-1698, www.opensesamegrill.com.
Berlin Bistro: If Long Beach has an arbiter of cool, it's probably Kerstin Kansteiner, who helped found the Retro Row area on 4th Street with her Portfolio coffee shop and a little later her purchase and renovation of the splendid Art Theater. Berlin is in the up-and-coming East Village area of downtown and is the perfect hang for that neighborhood. It's stylish but still comfortable, there's really good coffee and a nice bistro-ish menu with nibble-y things like flatbreads and salads and an assortment of entrees that can best be described as global – everything from German latkes and bratwurst to Hawaiian kalua pork to Thai yellow curry to French steak frites. As an added bonus, Fingerprints, a very sweet record store selling new and used vinyl, is attached.
420 E. 4th St., (562) 435-0600, www.berlincoffeehouse.com.
The Crooked Duck: This is one of those restaurants that screams "one man's passion." Joseph Rooney opened it about five years ago on an odd-shaped triangle of land on Pacific Coast Highway. The menu is quirky, but in an accessible way – fried green beans, duck chili and lots of sandwiches and burgers. Breakfast and brunch are big meals here, featuring the house omelet made with that duck chili and cheddar. The place is always crowded with what seem to be groups of friends from the neighborhood.
5096 E. Pacific Coast Hwy., (562) 494-5118, www.thecrookedduck.com.
Sababa Restaurant & Lounge: One of the more unexpected finds in Long Beach, Sababa feels like the kind of upscale lounge/restaurant you might find in Tel Aviv. It's kind of hidden away in the center of the Marketplace outdoor shopping center at the corner of 2nd Street and Pacific Coast Highway, home to places like Claim Jumper and California Pizza Kitchen. But the menu was done by Eric Greenspan and the quality shows. Grilled pizzas, shakshuka, Mediterranean salads, flatbreads and grilled eggplant.
6527 E. Pacific Coast Hwy., (562) 252-3572, www.gosababa.com.
Michael's on Naples: Probably Long Beach's most artistically successful fine dining restaurant, Michael's started out as an expression of owner Michael Dene's love for all things Italian and there aren't many nicer places for dinner than the top deck of Michael's on a summer night. Not satisfied with that, though, Dene opened a pizzeria next door as a kind of neighborhood hang for residents of the swanky Naples area. Then he opened another pizzeria on the Promenade downtown (the pizza has been voted the best in the country on one survey by its passionate fans). And now he's working on steakhouse called Chianina, which is open, but having troubles with the liquor license.