At the beginning of last summer when Steamed took over a former weed dispensary in a house tucked around the shaded curve of 3rd Street near Alamitos Avenue, it was to the delight of Long Beach's close-knit community of vegetarians.
That's because owner Stephanie Carlough–who kind of looks like a sun-bleached Portia Di Rossi–serves Mexican-inspired meatless food out of the two-bedroom-turned-storefront as if you were dining at her own house.
Everything in the place (from the silverware to the plates and tables) looks like a Gypsy Den-esque thrift store find. There are books and magazines stashed around for the taking, and in the cozy side room, you can sip on some Long Beach-brewed kombucha underneath framed inspirational quotes that Carlough found at her dad's place. The food is equally as down-home–burritos, quesadillas and salads loaded to the plate's edge with fresh, locally sourced ingredients given to you without the use of a microwave, fryer or grill.
All the available options are laid out, Chipotle-style, behind some glass next to the register. All you have to do is pick your dish (Vegan Burrito, Tostaco, Dang Quesadilla or others) and answer a series of customization questions that includes what kind of tortilla (corn, flour or wheat), beans (black, pinto or both), rice (brown or jasmine) and salsa (jalepeño, serrano or habanero) you want. Then have a seat on the comfy side-yard patio and relax while your dish is cooked in one of the restaurant's commercial food steamers and brought out to you (don't worry, the personable employees have already remembered your face).
Though I have also tried the garbanzo-and-Veganaise Happy Vegan “Tuna” wrap (almost as good as real tuna with sweet corn–how the Brits like it), I usually order the LBQ, which is basically a kitchen-sink quesadilla filled with cheese, spinach, rice, beans, tomatoes, red onions, cucumbers, homemade pesto, guacamole and sour cream. While by no means authentic Mexi comida, Steamed's gabacha veggie take on it is a whole-plate, knife-and-fork endeavor that fills up as much as it satisfies.
To drink, there are two water dispensers of the daily “fancy H20”–which is always some interesting water infusion like melon, tarragon and cucumber–as well as a deli case full of organic sodas, coconut water and the largest selection of Honest Tea flavors in the city. Carlough may or may not have at one point in time given out bottles of a friend's homebrew, but today she's all BYOB until her beer and wine license gets approved (30 to 90 days, bitches!).
As the only restaurant in town where you can pick up a book, a burrito and an assortment of eco-friendly household items (“We're buying them, why not sell them?” Carlough says), Steamed is now a crucial part of Long Beach's slow-to-grow vegetarian food scene and a long overdue addition to the East Village Arts District. Load up, por favor!
Steamed is located at 801 E 3rd St.,(562) 437-1122; www.steamedrestaurant.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.