Only a few businesses in Long Beach have been around long enough to see the city through its last century of tumultuous phases and all of them continue to be destinations for the working class population that permeates this town.
Joe Jost's has been serving frosty schooners on East Anaheim since 1924, Outer Limits Tattoo occupies a space that has been a needle-workery for nearly 90 years and Curley's restaurant recently celebrated its 80th year of serving meaty grub to Signal Hill's oil-slicked finest.
At Curley's, however, it might as well still be Long Beach's black-gold heydey. One of the last remaining restaurants catering to those who work in Long Beach's original thriving blue collar industry, the diner and bar sits atop one of the world's smallest high-producing oil fields, which started churning out barrels of the stuff in 1921. There's even two working oil wells surrounded by green fence in the parking lot that silently dip their noses towards the ground as you eat.
Today, there are big screen TVs and V-neck-wearing waitresses covered in tattoos, but every day around lunchtime, Curley's returns it to the male-dominated, locals-only restaurant it's been for decades, filling with first-name-basis regulars ordering food to fuel the remainder of the work day. It's not uncommon during this time to see a guy dressed straight out of a still from There Will Be Blood chomping on a patty melt by himself or to spot a burly grey moustache covered in foam from a pint of Coors Light.
The menu is full of standard American diner fare, perfect for big appetites and small budgets. From the oft-ordered Curley Burger to the roast beef sandwich–both of which come with a side of fries for under $8–any typically-found combination of bread and protein seems to be fair game.
But the main attraction at Curley's is surprisingly its most polarizing. A little bit watery and filled with equal parts beans and meat, the restaurant's mild-as-it-is-simple chili comes from a recipe that has presumably been around since the beginning. While “mild,” “watery” and “beans” are ordinarily blasphemous descriptions for staunch chili traditionalists, Curley's owns theirs so hard that one can't help but order some.
Lacking the pasty consistency of heartier chilis, this one craves not a bread bowl or even a cold winter's day, but insists instead on being poured over hot dogs, meat patties and–for the so-called “Red Top,” at least–a bowl of beef stew.
Though perfect for that noontime caloric intake, lovingly crafted burgers and loaded up chili sizes are not the only reason to hoof it up to the top of “The Hill” for a meal at Curley's. It's the unchanged character despite a shifting urban landscape and the steady stream of life-long Long Beach locals–not necessarily the food–that keeps people returning to the faithful oil-industry hub year after year.
Curley's, 1999 East Willow Street, Signal Hill, (562) 424-0018