Don’t be surprised if you get a serious case of deja vu walking into 4-month-old Roe Seafood Xpress on 2nd Street in Belmont Shore. The corner unit towards the Naples side of the dining and shopping strip is a straight reincarnation of the much-loved Roe Restaurant & Fish Market, which closed its walk-up concept in 2014 after plans to renovate the building into a full-service restaurant languished for two years in underfunding limbo.
On the sign is the same orange pointilist logo that for two years signified Long Beach’s classiest counter for fresh and fast seafood. In the case is the same fresh fish, ceviche and poké that chef Arthur Gonzalez created after departing from the kitchen at now-shuttered waterfront restaurant McKenna’s on the Bay. And on the menu is the same selection of “you call it” market-price fish dishes that made Roe one of the saddest restaurant losses in recent Long Beach memory.
In the meantime, Gonzalez tapped into his born-and-bred New Mexican roots and opened Panxa in the former Christy’s space on Broadway, and for a moment, it seemed as though he was content to just be the only chef around slanging Southwestern specialties like Navajo tacos and Chimayó posole.
But Gonzalez never gives up on a dream. So when Panxa was all running smoothly and he discovered the 2nd Street space he left a year before remained untouched, he found a new investor and dove back in.
Last week, Gonzalez was again behind the deli case at Roe, a quick-service fish market and take-out joint that, like its predecessor, is an all-things-seafood spot that serves as a preview for the full restaurant and beer garden concept (which is definitely, for sure opening this summer).
The deja vu hit me hard when I watched him pull whole flanks of halibut and wahoo out of that case, cutting them to order and grilling them up with his secret spice blend. And again when I ordered the potato-dusted octopus fries, which lived up to the nearly two-year craving I’ve had for the signature appetizer and its spicy dipping sauce. My friend ordered a French-fry-filled California burrito with mahi mahi, an off-menu specialty that might be the only handheld burrito worth a $12 price tag.
All the other Roe favorites are alive and well, too: the not-so-traditional lobster and crab banh mi, the hatch-chile-infused clam “chowdah;” the fish tacos that for $5 gets you your choice of grilled fish that defies Ensenada-style’s battered-and-fried taco dominance.
The poké is still pre-batched in the simple nearly naked Hawaiian style, available by the pound or (a sign of the times) as a bowl, perched atop a helping of ponzu brown rice with wakame seaweed salad for a set price of $14. The ceviche, loaded with chunks of white fish and pico de gallo, is $10 for an appetizer. All the fish in the case (including wahoo, sea bass and whole branzinos) is available to go as well.
After praying over another satisfying seafood-filled lunch at the altar of Roe, the real excitement is that its revival is more than just a fleeting deja vu.
Roe Seafood, 5374 2nd St., Long Beach; (562) 434-2763; roeseafood.com
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.