Rebel Bite's Headquarters
Did you know that Rebel Bite, a newly minted restaurant in Long Beach, used to be a food truck? I only realized this when I saw a mention of it on the menu. Ah, yes! I knew that Che Guevara pig cartoon logo looked familiar. But being as these newfangled luxe lonchera kids have inundated Southern California for about four years now, with more than a few employing cartoon swine as mascots, it's no wonder I didn't recognize this particular pig at first. Besides, as far as I was concerned, the better local luxe loncheras—the Lime Truck, Dos Chinos and Slapfish, among others—have already garaged their vehicles and matured to become fully realized brick-and-mortars, for which constant location updates via Twitter are no longer required.
Now Rebel Bite has joined their ranks—and a good thing, too, because this permanent incarnation showcases food that might have gotten lost in a traffic jam of lesser food-truck fare. It once again proves that just as all TV actors aspire to be film stars, all food trucks aspire to be restaurants. Located within walking distance of Roscoe's House of Chicken 'n' Waffles, the eatery sits inside an ivy-covered building that used to be a pizza parlor next to a one-way residential street on which parking is impossible. But the food is worth circling the block a few times, even if you end up buying groceries at the Vons across the street so you can use its lot without getting towed.
As with so many others that came out of the Great Recession idea lab, the menu here is experimental, a little out there, invented, refined and field-tested in that constant game of one-upmanship every truck plays. Rebel Bite still serves, among other things, thick hoagies stuffed with Korean barbecue-style steak and mozzarella and grilled cheese "sammiches" with spicy pork—every dish exhibiting the kind of border-neutral combinations that had Roy Choi's first Korean taco customers scratching their heads, and then lining up for miles. Similar to Choi's creations, Rebel Bite's food puts a premium on loud, in-your-face flavors, with dishes bolder than you expect and hotter than you bargained for. Simply described as spaghetti in a spicy house-made meat sauce, Dirty Sketti is a dish that screams its tomato sweetness and lip-scorching chile burn. A baby octopus stew advertised as cioppino-like resembles a soup, without any shells or whole pieces of seafood in it, but with all the essential flavors present. Yet every simmered sip of the murky, brick-red broth brings to mind a union of the San Francisco staple and spicy Korean maeuntang; you can't decide which you'll want to sop it up with—some rice or crusty bread?
Stacks of napkins are required when you eat the crisp, deep-fried chicken wings covered in what seems to be an inch-thick coating of the house barbecue sauce—a sticky-sweet, napalm-like gunk that you later discover has jammed itself underneath your nails and stained your pants, even though you thought you were careful while eating them. Since the wings are hacked into pieces half their normal length, spitting out bone fragments is inevitable. Perhaps this is the reason why the mismatched table covers are plastic.
And the picnic-table surroundings turn out to also be perfect for tucking into the coffee-rubbed ribs, an anomaly among the rest of Rebel Bite's pseudo-Italian menu, but one you should order because of it. Bits of garlic and other vaguely Asian flavors festoon the near-black, thick, caked-on, syrupy basting sauce, making the pork taste more Korean or Thai and less southern. Yet you'll still gnaw on the bones as you would at a Memphis dive. Offsetting its richness is a thimble of sweet pickled onions minced so finely you'll mistake it for coleslaw and a mess of fries you'll use to wipe off any of that leftover sauce.
You must also order the squid-ink pizza—a pie slathered with a jet-black substance that coats the pencil-eraser-like nubs of the stir-fried calamari as though it were spilled crude oil. Eat a slice, wipe your mouth, and your napkin ends up looking as though a printer had a catastrophic cartridge malfunction. But if you close your eyes while you do it, your brain will tell you what your mouth already knows: The stuff is even better than any tomato sauce or cheese. This is an extraordinary pizza: crisp-crusted; balanced between the tangy, the salty and the fishy; and, most important, something Rebel Bite never offered when it was a just a food truck. And did I mention it's now allowed to serve beer?
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