Long Beach Lunch: La Ceiba
Despite not having a very large Salvadoran population, Long Beach has been an overall good place to have a pupusa addiction. The city's farmers markets are filled with acceptable $3 versions of the cheese-bean-and-pork-stuffed corn tortillas, and there are even several authentic Salvadoran restaurants at which to properly knife-and-fork ones made with traditional vegetables like the loroco vine and calabaza (squash).
There is, however, only one La Ceiba--that pan-Latin eatery on 7th Street, Long Beach's home of the 99-cent pupusa.
I say there is only one because although I was originally lured to La Ceiba by its Tuesday-Wednesday-Thursday pupusa deal (during which popular selections like frijoles con queso and revueltas are all under a dollar), it's the rest of its diverse menu that keeps me coming back. Besides pumping out the longaniza (sausage) and curtido (cabbage slaw) essential to Salvadoran cuisine, La Ceiba also specializes in the soups, tamales, quesadillas and mariscos of Honduran and Mexican food.
An assortment of 99-cent pupusas
With such a range of options all in one place, lunch here often means a mix-and-match smorgasboard of bites from across oceanfront Central America. You can of course order La Ceiba's famous pupusas--cheesy, oozing, chubby dough rounds worth way more than 99 pennies--but you can also in the same breath get a Honduran sopa de coracol (snail) or Mexican carne asada fajitas.
Since Mexican food is ubiquitous in Southern California, though, I find myself more often complementing a few savory pupusas with a loaded Honduran taco plate or a hearty baleada, the latter of which is also only 99 cents on certain weekdays.
Just know that tacos from Honduras are not your miniature Mexi ideal of hand-held small corn tortillas with some sprinkles of onions and cilantro. Instead, they are burrito-sized fried flour tortillas rolled around a yellow (almost curry-like) mixture of chicken and carrots that is topped with so much cabbage, tomato paste and pink-ish cream sauce that utensils are the only way to get it to your mouth.
Two Honduran tacos are under there somewhere
As the unofficial national dish of Honduras, baleadas are just as distant from its Mexican-taco cousins. A thick, handmade flour tortilla gets folded in half over a layer of scrambled egg and smushed pinto beans, along with avocado, cotija cheese and goopy crema. Part breakfast and part lunch, the influence of this Central-American specialty can be felt from the breakfast tacos of Texas to California's avocado-brimming quesadillas.
Bearing food from across the isthmus that connects North and South America, La Ceiba is a reminder that Latin-American food is more than just burritos from south of the border and Salvadoran food is more than just pupusas on a paper plate. Dollar deals may still be its initial main draw for pupusa lovers, but for many, the restaurant has been an introduction to the diversity of native Central American food and a gateway to discovering tacos, tamales and empanadas that shatter SoCal norms.
La Ceiba, 1436 E 7th St, Long Beach, (562) 590-3186, laceibarestaurant.com
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