If you didn't before have an Aunt Rita to visit for some mean Mississippi-style soul food, fret not–you do now.
Every day, Long Beach lifer Chef Rita can be found in the kitchen of LBJ's, the strip mall masterpiece where she has been crafting her special BBQ plates, soul food platters and fish dishes for the last 22 years. Her North Long Beach outpost is a home away from home for most customers, and no wonder–the dining room looks like it was stripped straight from Rita's own house, framed paintings of Sojourner Truth, old school big screen TV and all.
I almost missed discovering LBJ's as I got onto the 91 Freeway from Cherry Ave. one day, but lured by an awning next to a dry cleaners and a smoke shop that says nothing more than "Southern Style," I had to stop in.
Eat before 3 p.m. and generous plates of soul food favorites like fried winglets, smothered turkey chops and BBQ beef links, which during dinner start at $15, are only around $10. Each comes with a helping of white bayou rice and a savory gravy, plus you get to pick two sides from a dizzying list of Southern staples like red beans and rice, collard greens and macaroni and cheese.
At LBJ, all you have to do is choose what meat you're in the mood for and pick your cooking method and Aunt Rita's got you covered. Chicken can be BBQed, smothered, baked or fried; pork chops come smothered or fried and a selection of fresh fish–like red snapper, catfish and whiting–can be either fried or grilled with a garlic lemon seasoning (the best deal in the house may be the plentiful half-pound serving of any fish for only $5.50).
No matter what you order, though, Chef Rita has mastered a from-scratch version that rivals anything else around. Her BBQ literally falls off the bone and comes doused in a thin, sweet BBQ sauce that has hints of Sweet Baby Ray's goodness while her beef gravy (it's recommended that you smother anything and everything you can with it) is worthy of its own Thanksgiving feast.
The meat is only one part of LBJ's equation, though, and the sides are a marvel all their own. Maybe it's slightly blasphemous that all of the vegetable dishes on the menu are made–gasp–without any meat byproducts, but it's a nice touch that goes easy on the cholesterol for meat eaters and also lets vegetarians get a taste of that salty collard green goodness sans the oily bacon grease.
Try the yams–desserts in their own right soaked in a brown sugar and cinnamon glaze–or the corn and okra–LBJ's bean-less version of succotash in a light tomato sauce. And if you still have any room left at the end of your southern comfort, Aunt Rita's peach cobbler is also a marvel, made with filo fough and gooey fruit goodness, it's available in a family size to go if, like many locals, you just can't get enough.
Tucked away in an obscure corner of the city, LBJ's should be Long Beach's flagship soul food joint, but it has somehow flown under the radar for more than two decades, subsisting on those unfettered by its moderate prices and hole-in-the-wall location.
But with a void of legitimate places where black eyed peas are always on the docket and Sundays mean gumbo, chitlins and turkey neck bones, LBJ's is a southern-style Long Beach lunch that satisfies any day of the week.
LBJ Fine Foods, 6617 Cherry Ave., Long Beach, (562) 422-3606