"What came first: the chicken or the egg?" That question is irrelevant here. Far more pressing is which came first: the "World Famous" Reno Room or Coco Renos, its adjoining, Baja-style taco stand?
Many theories abound as to how a four-table storefront serving Mexican grub intertwined itself with a dive bar of Long Beach proportions. On the corner of Broadway and Redondo Avenue--straddling the border of nice Bluff Park and nicer Belmont Heights--is a two-headed haven for the vegan, meat-hungry and drunk alike.
The two businesses live in symbiotic harmony, with heavy-handed Reno Room drinks being brought to customers at Coco Renos' wooden, high-topped tables and blackened-sole tacos making their way to sweaty Reno Room booths in corners so dark you'd never know it's noontime.
Would you like daylight with that combo meal? Then try the original Coco Renos, accessible through a slapping screen door between Reno Room and the neighboring Somatic piercing shop.
A sunny, Baja beach scene--painted on the textured east wall--instantly puts you south of the border, and a false roof tries to give a faux balcony view. But one look to the other side of Coco Renos' studio-apartment-size space, and you come face to face with the two peppy Mexican dudes who craft beachside-worthy dinners using the rusty kitchen contraptions that line the wall.
Within moments of your arrival, you are given colorful tortilla chips and a chunky salsa without too much spice that is easily inhaled. Burritos--wet or dry--fill a plate, filled with either vegetarian options (including tofu and jicama root!) or whatever land or sea creature you desire (besides mahi mahi--that has been replaced with sole).
I've always preferred the combination plates, however, not only for the wider range of choices (enchiladas, tacos, chile rellenos, etc.), but also for the included sides of refreshing black beans and rose-tinted Spanish rice.
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Everything at Coco Renos is solid, Mexi grub. Nothing too fancy, except for the mushroom tacos, for which the cooks season the hell out of baby brown bellas before flash-blackening them on the grill, then throwing them in a flour tortilla along with some house corn-avocado relish--a condiment that should be provided by the bowlful.
It's easy to eat a light and cheap lunch at Coco Renos (two veggie tacos are $4; combos start at $6), but don't be afraid to order up. This is one lunch that provides leftovers worthy of a microwaved midnight snack.
Coco Renos, 3400 E. Broadway, Long Beach, (562) 438-9381.