The plight of 130 Pine Avenue over the last few years is a direct reflection of the changing culinary landscape of downtown Long Beach. When I first moved to the LBC seven years ago, the prime dining drag was a paradoxical mix of high-end restaurants and seedy nightclubs and 130 Pine was a Hooters. When the house of wings moved into to the tourist-driven Pike on the shoreline in 2011, Belmont Shore mainstay La Creperie chose the location for another installment of its French bistro concept. But downtown isn't Second Street and both the cavernous interior space and Euro-style patio remained consistently empty as downtown diners passed on the bougie crepe trend (the smaller Creme de la Crepe still struggles a few blocks away).
Over the summer, however, the Lebanese owners of La Creperie quietly converted 130 into La Shish, a Mediterranean kitchen and kabob house that relies less on meals catering to Yelp reviews and more on family recipes.
The result is downtown's only Middle Eastern restaurant, a field oversaturated in the Shore, but sparse in the historic core where George's Greek Cafe and Kabob Curry's Pakistani/Indian food has sufficed for years.
I stumbled into La Shish the day after they began serving kafta kabob sandwiches and homemade hummus and have been going at least once a week ever since, wooed back by an extensive lunch menu and a Syrian chef who is not afraid to admit his love affair with garlic. Under the head chef's direction, kabobs are stuffed with golf ball-sized marinated meat chunks cooked to moisture-retaining perfection. Once placed on a bed of buttery pilaf, the meat (I go for the chicken) is coated in a thin sauce of eggplant, tomato, red peppers and garlic that leaves the meat with a fiery orange glow. Surrounded by grilled vegetables with edges blacked by flames and accompanied by a ramekin of a whipped garlic sauce called toom, La Shish's kabob plates are infinitely more flavorful than the Greek-inspired ones served across the street at George's, making them an archetype for what we can all only hope to achieve with our own BBQ experiments.
For a few dollars less than the plates ($7.95), La Shish's sandwiches roll the same juicy meat (try the shawarma or falafel) in a pita bread along with either a garlic aoli or a thin tahini sauce for a handheld version of the knife-and-fork specials. Just order the sammies without pickles; otherwise the vinegar overpowers everything else like an over-relished ball park dog.
After swapping owners and names the last few years, 130 Pine seems to have found its calling as the home of Mediterranean food in downtown. Though the restaurant comes alive at night (hookahs are available for around $20 and belly dancers entertain at the table like a mariachi band), lunching amid freshly painted Lebanese frescos and talking casual with the knowledgeable Middle Eastern waitresses makes mid-day mealtime at La Shish worth a drive from the Shore.
La Shish, 130 Pine Ave., (562) 437-8648, lashishlb.com