For more than 50 years, Long Beach's Park Pantry has occupied the southeast corner of Broadway and Junipero, baking sugary breakfast pastries and serving classic diner eats. In that time, however, a lot around it has changed.
Many of the city's other American-food havens gave up on their aging clientele and closed doors (RIP Hof's at the Marina), Broadway lined itself with gay bars and became better known as "the Rainbow Corridor," and the restaurant's namesake park across the street is now home to one of the most important skate spots in greater LA.
Still, In a neighborhood where a crowded coffee shop is more likely than a greasy spoon, the Original Park Pantry remains relevant--not despite its old-school ways, but because of them.
The menu of breakfast-all-day and fresh steak-and-burger favorites is only complemented by endearing floral-print booths and an entire floor of wicker chairs, amenities that create a grandma's-house level of comfort in which lunchtime means you're a kid again and anything goes.
So order that $4 mimosa and Pantry tostada salad. Or an endless mug of chuggable coffee and an open-faced turkey sandwich. It's even okay to start with the fried zucchini and get a stack of blueberry pancakes for the main course. And yes, keeping it simple with a club sandwich or burger (both served with fries or onion rings) is acceptable, too.
Though the choices at places such as this can be overwhelming (Harbor House's six-page menu, anyone?), it's worth it to peruse the "International Omelette" list, a back-page afterthought that hosts many of the best eggy options. Here, entire food cultures are simplified into omelet form, such as the Italian, filled with prosciutto, tomato, basil, mozzarella and Parmesan cheese, and the California, made with bacon, avocado and sour cream.
Cooks are notorious for being heavy-handed with the meat--a financial plus, but a flavor negative--so ask them to go light with whatever protein is inside, and you'll receive an imaginative omelet (plus homemade apple-cinnamon jelly for the toast!) that is light years above anything Denny's could churn out.
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For lighter options that aren't salads (the Nicoise is a specialty), there is a selection of other interesting, healthy plates. Presumably there to help Park Pantry's many senior patrons watch their blood pressure and cholesterol, the offerings include the typical grilled-fish and poached-chicken-breast dishes alongside veggie quesadillas and a good earth sandwich.
Sit at a street-facing window and people-watch one of Long Beach's more interesting intersections, or take a booth or sit at the counter for the real diner experience. Either way, you'll get to relish in the cozy atmosphere and positive vibes that have kept Park Pantry (the original!) in business for more than half a century.
The Original Park Pantry, 2104 E. Broadway, Long Beach, (562) 434-0451.