LONG BEACH, Calif. (KGET) — We’re in the midst of a Bakersfield summer, which of course means one thing: We’re miserable.
It’s incredibly hot, and it’s going to stay that way for a while. Plus, some of the usual options to beat the heat, such as dining out or seeing a movie with friends at an air-conditioned theater, are currently not available thanks to the coronavirus.
What’s a (sweating) person to do? Well, stay inside, but sometimes staring at the walls of your apartment for the eighth weekend in a row can have a person feeling like Jack Nicholson in “The Shining.” You need a change of scenery before you start hearing the whispers of unkind spirits.
For a change of pace, this past weekend I booked a hotel room in the city of Long Beach, where I walked around the downtown area and admired the murals, picked up a few takeout meals and in general soaked in a new environment — it was my first visit to Long Beach — before heading back to the Central Valley. It was hot, but not Bakersfield hot. Plus I could keep the AC cranked to the mid-60s in my room without worrying about a nightmarish PG&E bill at the end of the month.
I feel like every Best Eats column should include a note about whether or not patrons or staff were wearing face coverings. Despite the heat, I’d estimate a solid 95 percent of the people I saw walking around Long Beach wore face coverings, as did most of the wait staff and cooks I encountered.
‘Cocky Balboa,’ Dog Haus Biergarten, 210 E. 3rd St., Long Beach, multiple other locations
Those who participated in naming the various hot dogs and sausages on the Dog Haus Biergarten menu are a creative bunch. They’ve got “Chili Idol,” “Reservoir Hog” and “Das Brat” among their options. Want a chicken sandwich? Be prepared to ask for the “Bad Mutha Clucka.”
The “Cocky Balboa” is a chicken and mozzarella sausage topped with arugula, pickled peppers and a spicy basil aioli. It contains a lot, but not too much, and the flavor of the sausage still comes through. I made short work of it as I sat on the restaurant’s covered patio.
‘Joe’s Special’ and pickled egg, Joe Jost’s, 2803 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach
The most famous bar in Long Beach, and arguably one of the most acclaimed in Southern California, Joe Jost’s has been pouring ice cold beer and serving simple but delicious sandwiches since the 1930s. Their T-shirts are popular among the tourist crowd. The locals go to drink in an unfussy environment, and maybe eat a liverwurst sandwich or a hot dog.
Order the “Joe’s Special.” It’s a Polish sausage on a slice of rye bread with swiss cheese, a pickle spear and mustard. Perfect bar food.
And — trust me on this one — don’t leave without trying a pickled egg. I was expecting something funky and, frankly, gross, but the pickling mixture and the seasoning they shake on top of the egg make for a salty, briny and surprisingly tasty treaty. Alternate bites with the hot peppers that come with the egg. Not a bad snack at all.
Hong Kong milk tea with boba, Loose Leaf Boba Company, 315 The Promenade N, Long Beach
If I see a boba shop, I have to stop and get a drink. Those small blobs of chewy tapioca are as addictive as popcorn when placed in the bottom of an ice cold beverage.
While strolling around Long Beach, I came across Loose Leaf Boba Company (they’re “Keepin’ It Real” according to their marketing) and picked up a milk tea with boba. They asked me how sweet I wanted the drink on scale of 0 to 4. I said “1,” and got a shock with the first sip — it was exceptionally sweet compared to what I had expected. I can only imagine a “4” on their sweetness scale tastes like pure caramel.
Neoum sdao salad, prahok kteih and Khmer ginger deluxe, Cambodian Town Food and Music, 3240 Pacific Coast Highway, Long Beach
Look up any article on the best Cambodian restaurants in Long Beach and you’re more than likely to find Cambodian Town Food and Music (formerly called Sophy’s) at or near the top of the list. It has been in operation for decades and is considered by some to be the best place to try Cambodian cuisine outside of Phnom Penh. A friend and former longtime Long Beach resident told me Cambodian Town Food and Music is “the spot” for great Cambodian food. Always trust the locals.
I started with a salad featuring the powerfully bitter vegetable sdao tossed with shredded cabbage, bean sprouts, cucumber and chunks of fish in a tamarind sauce. The tamarind helped temper the bitterness of the sdao. The flavors were extraordinarily complex but took some getting used to. The owner told me I was brave to order this salad. You’ve been warned.
Despite its featured ingredient of “curry pickled fish” (you won’t find that at your local Denny’s) the dish called prahok kteih was the best thing I ate all weekend. It’s a dip combining the fermented fish paste with ground pork, kaffir leaf and tamarind, all of which is simmered with coconut milk to create an oily, funky and flavorful mixture perfect for scooping up with the heap of raw and steamed vegetables that come with the order. It’s the Cambodian equivalent of chips and salsa.
I love ginger, and you better too if you order the “Khmer ginger deluxe” on Cambodia Town Food and Music’s extensive menu. It contains a boatload of the spice stir-fried with garlic, soy sauce, black pepper and chicken, beef, or pork, then topped with even more ginger that has been into crispy strands.
There is ginger in every bite, and the pungent, earthy taste will haunt your breath the rest of the night. I found it pleasing, but others probably appreciated my staying at least 6 feet away for social distancing purposes.
PLUS in Bakersfield:
Breakfast burger by Mason Rockfellow
It was breakfast on a bun when Assignments Editor Mason Rockfellow cooked up a burger and topped it with bacon, pepper jack cheese and a fried egg, plus a few shakes of Tapatio. Rockfellow likes to shakes things up, and this gloriously unctuous creation looked formidable.