Long Beach's Cooper Arms Building on the corner of Ocean Blvd. and Linden first opened in 1924. It featured some of the first apartment homes in the city and offered unobstructed views of the water and "amusement zones." Early purchasers were promised their money back thanks to revenue-producing shops and restaurants located on the ground floor.
Since the post-WWI boom that sparked massive Long Beach growth, however, downtown has drastically changed with new buildings built atop historic ones and businesses struggling to fight against empty storefronts and a high turnover rate. Even in the last few years, the whole area around the Cooper Arms has become anew; the only restaurants to survive the last decade have tablecloths.
In this environment, 16 year-old Modica's Deli is an anomaly.
A counter-service casual eatery in the coveted corner retail unit of the Cooper Arms, Modica's has weathered enough of the city's changes to earn its place as a downtown institution. A massive selection of hot and cold Italian sandwiches continues to lure tourists and locals alike into its doors for lunch, and generous pasta dinners keep the hoardes coming through for dinner.
Enter through the main Linden entrance or off of the Ocean Boulevard-facing 1920s collonade and order at the counter from any one of the longtime staff members who are more than willing to help you navigate the extensive menu.
Sandwich options include both the Italian (salami, chicken parmesean, meatball) and not-so-Italian (peanut butter and jelly, gyro, corned beef) that all beg to be paired with the daily-made deli-style salads (caprese!) that sit in a cold case by the register. One of the secrets to Modica's longevity may be their prices: at around $6 for an eight-inch sub (the 16-inch ones start at $10 and can easily serve as a meal for two), it's easy to see why many who live and work in downtown make their way a few blocks east of the traditional dining district to stop by.
After going through most of the sandwiches on the menu, though, I still find myself most impressed by Modica's pastas. Rocco's, which recently opened up only block away, has way more options for those craving New York-style Italian cured meat subs, but Modica's maintains its reign on simple pasta meals, which no one else nearby offers.
The setup of pick your pasta (spaghetti, bowtie, ziti, ravioli or tortellini) and pick your sauce (marinara, meat, pesto) allows anyone going in with specific pasta cravings to leave happy for less than $10. One downside is that all pasta servings are considered dinners, meaning they are large portions and come with a salad and a French roll's worth of garlic bread. Don't feel bad about taking some home, but keep in mind the lack of lunch specials when ordering.
Speed at Modica's is also impeccable, easy for 30-minute lunches. Out of habit, they'll give you a number when your order, but, really, they just watch where you sit and before you even have a chance to open your can of blood orange San Pellegrino, your salad or sandwich arrives. Count to 50 and the pasta dinners show up (seriously, that fast).
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Though competitors offering similar fare have opened up nearby in the last few years, Modica's benefits from quick, friendly service and a patio with a view of bustling Ocean Blvd. and the water across Shoreline Drive.
Only word of warning: if you're the kind that needs to avoid the police, poke your head in first. It's tradition for local cops to take their lunch breaks at this stalwart eatery.
Modica's Deli, 455 E. Ocean Blvd., Long Beach, (562) 435-7011.