If you haven’t noticed, we’ve been switching things up a bit here at Long Beach Lunch. Not that I don’t have love for my mid-day meals, I just haven’t really been in town enough during the day lately to hit up all the must-do lunch spots on my list. So, instead, I’ll be skipping around, covering drinks, local events, where to get dinner—you know, your trusty, all-around Long Beach food coverage (albeit with a lunchified title). So I thought I’d dive into this newly expanded dining beat with something I haven’t been able to cover under previous lunch-only restrictions. Something closer to home. Like, a block away from home.
I’m talking about Broadway Donuts, a place that you could probably blow off as just another basic Long Beach doughnut shop based on exterior appearances alone. But if you live in the Gayborhood (or have watched an episode of Dexter that was filmed there), you know this place is so much more.
No Long Beach doughnut shop is truly basic, anyway. As the story is often told, the majority of California’s 1,500-plus ubiquitous strip-mall doughnut shops are owned by Cambodians, who fled the brutality of the Khmer Rouge and found a decent living making fried dough rings for the locals at independent doughnut shops across the state.
With the largest Cambodian population in the country, Long Beach is where this microeconomy first flourished and it can be seen in action every day at dozens of places that offer exactly the same things as Broadway Donuts: cheap cups of coffee, 20-plus kinds of sugary pastries made fresh throughout the day, handmade West Coast-style bagels, fresh breakfast sandwiches and a fridge full of bottled sodas, teas and juices.
To be fair, in all my years going there, I’ve never asked the owners of Broadway if they are actually Khmer, but they sure make a mean glazed twist, they speak fluent Spanish to their many working-class regulars and have made their little corner spot such a neighborhood institution that it at least falls in line with the trend. But what really sets Broadway Donuts apart from all the other doughnut shops in Long Beach (or, hell, any actual coffee shop) is its insane-intense-no-joke java bar, which stares you right in the face the second you walk inside.
Where other doughnut shop owners might have placed tables and chairs (there are none inside), Broadway’s decided instead to make one entire wall an overwhelming display of self-serve coffee options. This means once you pick your cup (Styrofoam or biodegradable in three sizes each), you can go down the line and choose from 25 different pump pots of Gevalia coffee to fill it with (think: blueberry, double French roast, 100% organic Mexico, Havana espresso, etc.).
Then, the real decision begins.
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Broadway Donuts purchases literally every single kind of coffee creamer produced by Coffee-mate, which at your supermarket might not seem like a lot but on the wholesale end apparently adds up to no less than 75 bottles of flavored creamer (from Almond Joy to All-Natural Vanilla to Bailey’s Mudslide), which are all stacked next to one another in a chorus line of milky options. Like the city’s craft beer and cider bars, Broadway is the only place where you’ll find some of these weirder creamer flavors (Thin Mints from the official Girl Scout cookie line, salted caramel chocolate) and I like to use the opportunity to try something new each time I’m there (for the brave, try a suicide where you mix and match different ones!).
These days, you can get a dozen decent doughnuts in a bright pink box from almost anywhere (even at ol’ bullet-proof-glass Cherry Donuts). But only at Broadway do doughnuts (and jalepeño and ham croissants) come with a 30-foot-long, build-your-own coffee bar that lets you walk out with a $1.75 cup of liquid that’s anything but the burnt diner-grade crap served at most doughnut shops. Luckily for me, this Long Beach legend is close to home.
1200 E Broadway, Long Beach; (562) 432-6595