Every now and again, I am reminded that exploring, having adventures, eating good food and going new places are not limited to the traditional idea of traveling. You don't need to go somewhere far to have a new and fun experience. My friend Chanzelle was visiting from Seattle, and I wanted her to have an enjoyable time down here in Southern California.
Unfortunately I was not able to take time off work, so I didn't get to plan an extravagant day trip to a popular part of LA, nor did I get to make reservations or buy tickets for some kind of special activity. I had to rely on existing knowledge and try to make the best of the short time we had.
Over the years, I feel that Long Beach has been setting the scene for local makers, artisans, and independent food establishments to shine. A wonderful example of this is known as Steecraft, a collection of recycled steel containers on the corner of Long Beach Blvd and E. Bixby Rd. There are several food vendors who offer fare ranging from burgers with mac n' cheese buns, to shave ice, to craft beer. In my opinion, it's every community's dream - an open-air area with deliciously crafted food and reasonable prices. Hanging out is encouraged, and you will find more than just trendy hipsters at this location. There are families, young working people, students, and plenty of cute dogs! Seating is communal, so you may find yourself sharing a table with a stranger who may become a new friend by the end of your meal.
We opted to sit at the bar-like seating next to the ordering window while we waited for our order. If stools are not your style, there are also tables available in other areas of Steelcraft. Since I am not a fan of spicy food, I chose the classic Tajima Ramen with "fat" noodles and an extra half egg, along with a side of takoyaki. I was definitely not disappointed! The broth was wonderfully seasoned and FATTY! It was incredibly rich and served very hot. Very few things beat a fresh bowl of ramen. And the takoyaki? Amazing! Chanzelle leaned over my box asking if the bonito flakes were "dancing." I laughed, but they really were dancing. The amount of mayo and sauce was perfect. The takoyaki was made to order (much like the ramen), so it was crispy on the outside but melt-in-your-mouth on the inside. The pieces of octopus were generous and cooked wonderfully. No laborious chewing needed.
Next, we headed to my current favorite ice cream shop: Long Beach Creamery. This was not my first trip here - I am absolutely in love with its unassuming store front, artsy logo, unique flavors and creamy, handmade perfection. It's always hard for me to stray away from flavors that I already know are good (like whiskey vanilla), but I went out on a limb to try key lime pie, featuring locally made pie by The Pie Bar. "Jolene, key lime pie is not unique. That is a normal dessert!" I know that's what you're thinking. However, I don't generally like lime! I was mostly curious because I've been following The Pie Bar for so long, so I almost felt obligated to taste the flavor to show my support.
It was HEAVENLY. The lime flavor was not overpowering, and the creaminess of the vanilla complimented the subtle tanginess of the lime, reminding me of a well-made lime curd. The pieces of graham cracker crust added texture, earthiness and sweetness. I thoroughly enjoyed my scoop!
A block away, there is a new coffee shop called The Merchant. Again, I drive by it every day on my way home from work. Since we had already parked, we simply walked a couple minutes to grab a post-dessert drink. You all should know by now - I love coffee and I love coffee shops. The Merchant is an adorably decorated cottage that boasts the coziness of a home kitchen with some serious espresso.
Chanzelle opted for an almond milk chai, while I went for a soy cortado. I believe she enjoyed hers, and I most definitely enjoyed mine. The espresso was smooth and nutty, with no bitter aftertaste. I also couldn't help myself and bought a Compartes chocolate bar. I've been supporting Compartes for a few years now - I'm obsessed with their beautifully designed packaging and crazy flavors. You can order their bars online, but I've noticed more and more establishments carrying these designer treats. I'd been eyeing the Roses & Rosé bar for a while, but I've been fighting my craving in the name of saving money. Lucky for me, I didn't have to order online and grabbed one at The Merchant! The bright pink bar was the perfect sweet complement to my smooth espresso. There are some major strawberry undertones, but the rose and rosé still come through.
After all of these places, we were stuffed! We decided to head home (an entire 5-minute drive back) and have a girls night in. If you are ever in the Bixby Knolls area, I highly suggest stopping by these locations! I'm surely going to become a regular at The Merchant now!
Until next time,