With around a dozen Mediterranean and Middle Eastern restaurants spread throughout the city of Long Beach, chicken kabobs and rice pilaf are in no short supply. And for more than a decade, the mile-long retail corridor of Second Street in Belmont Shore has been the stronghold for pita fans, with two Lebanese joints and a Greek staple, George's, lining the stretch.
Though offerings beyond meaty kafta, tawook and schwarma plates are limited, Open Sesame earns deserved acclaim for their mankoushe Lebanese-style pizzas and Magic Lantern has a rotating selection of chef's specials from Saudi Arabia, Syria and Egypt. Still, it's hard to find one place in Long Beach that allows diners to dig deeper into cuisine from the Mediterranean region as a whole.
Enter Boubouffe, a two-year-old Second Street venture located blocks away from the nearest competitor, that serves a diverse menu of meat and vegetarian plates from throughout North Africa, the Middle East and the Balkans.
Boubouffe stands out first for its wide selection of mezze, small plates that are not technically appetizers (as they are often advertised at other local Middle Eastern spots), but more like tapas, meant to be ordered en masse along with wines or apertifs, and shared among all at the table.
In addition to the hummus, tabbouleh and falafel commonly served pre-meal, Boubouffe has nearly 20 other intriguing hot and cold mezze, spanning from feta-stuffed North African peppers to a sweet and vinegary white-bean-and-rosemary dip. It's not against the rules to order the mezze as appetizers, and the hummus combo (with regular, spicy and the white bean dip included) makes a perfect palate cleanser before a main course.
Like any good Mediterranean or Middle Eastern restaurant, there are the standards–juicy spice-rubbed cubes of chicken tawook, freshly sliced pieces of beef schwarma and sausage-like forms of minced lamb kafta–some available as a wrap for around $9 and others on a platter with two sides starting at $14.
But astride the basics lay far more interesting options from around the Mediterranean coastline, like a shrimp skewer slathered in pesto, a hearty roasted beet salad with currants and a fig vinaigrette, and pistachio-crusted tuna pan seared with tapenade and artichokes.
Boubouffe is also the only place for miles that serves authentic North African dishes in traditional earthenware tajines, teepee-looking pots that arrive at the table with the lid still on and its ingredients simmering inside.
The Morroccan lamb tajine features a fall-off-the-bone lamb shank in an oily stew of parsnips, carrots, spices and mission figs. The secret ingredient that sends the decadence level over the top, however, is cinnamon, which is included by way of two fresh sticks placed on top of the lamb. Wet with steam from the cooking process, the cinnamon is an unexpected variable in the dish's full aromatic orgy.
Even though Boubouffe doesn't offer any lunch specials yet, its prices–which are far more affordable than comparable competition in the city–and its swath of cultural influences make up for the lack of outright deals.
And the ability to eat a Moroccan lamb burger (or an Algerian chicken tajine or a Turkish-style kabob or…) at streetside tables on the restaurant's open-air patio makes Boubouffe the Mediterranean complement we didn't know was missing from Belmont Shore's dense Middle Eastern food supply.
Boubouffe, 5313 East Second Street, Long Beach, (562) 433-7000, boubouffegrille.com