Most people that live in Long Beach love the fact that there aren't a lot of corporate chain restaurants here. Bustling dining districts like Belmont Shore and Bixby Knolls are full of quality, locally owned eateries, leaving the city's lone Chili's, Outback Steakhouse and Islands locations to serve tourists down at the Shoreline.
But despite Long Beach residents' near disdain for chain establishments, the Rock Bottom Restaurant and Brewery on the corner of Ocean Boulevard and Pine Avenue has always retained a local following for more than a decade, thanks, in part, to its homey interior and Mug Club benefits for beer-drinking regulars.
A few months ago, however, the Colorado-based chain refreshed its Long Beach restaurant–redesigning the layout, adding new food adventures to the menu and eliminating the Mug Club in lieu of a more upscale Rock Bottom concept. Intrigued (especially by the addition of "more Southwest-influenced" food items), I scheduled a lunch meeting at the updated location.
It's clear that the vibe at the new Rock Bottom is different — less oversized neighborhood bar and more Yardhouse, BJ's and even P.F. Changs. Dark colored booths sit on elevated platforms and cushy bar stools surround long banquet-style tables. The brewery, once hidden behind walls, is far more visible now, but the hand-written chalkboard of homegrown beers (like the Pine Ave. Pale and Great White Wheat) that one hung on the north wall is now a digital menu board behind the bar that displays offerings in a chalkboard font.
After trying tasters of some of their new beers — the black IPA was the best, a well-crafted balance of hop bitterness and roasted malt flavors — my group ordered some appetizer nachos and I decided to try the $7.95 "lunch enchiladas" plate off of the daily lunch specials menu (sorry, I couldn't convince myself to try the chicken and waffles bucket).
True to Rock Bottom's pub-food roots, the nachos were hugely portioned and perfect for sharing. Topped with cheese, black beans and (canned) jalepeños, the platter was a simple enough starter on its own, but the heaping helping of chunky, fresh guacamole meant the whole table was scrambling for a chip to dip. Stay clear of the milder-than-mild wannabe salsa in the middle, though. It might as well be a chunky pasta sauce.
My lunch portion of enchiladas was generous as well — two corn tortillas lightly fried then filled with chicken, corn and gobs of oozing cheese covered in a tomatillo verde sauce and fresh pico de gallo (way better than the nacho "salsa"). The dish also came with my choice of side (I got the black beans, which came Cuban-style with a spicy kick) plus a soup or salad, making it one of the better corporate lunch deals in Downtown.
Aside from a mix-and-match of red-sauce-free Hispanic food options that has been combined under the umbrella term of "Southwest," there aren't a lot of lighter lunch choices at Rock Bottom. If you're really craving the fried chicken, macaroni and cheese, New York steak or a "2 a.m. Burger" (a burger with a fried egg, hash browns and bacon on it), you should probably go for dinner when you can wash it all down with a few extra beers.
Rock Bottom, 1 Pine Ave., Long Beach, (562) 308-2255
Sarah Bennett is a freelance journalist who has spent nearly a decade covering food, music, craft beer, arts, culture and all sorts of bizarro things that interest her for local, regional and national publications.