From Tijuana to Portland to Mission Viejo, cities are creating modern food courts to call their own. Some, like L.A.’s Grand Central Market, are massive food halls constructed in the grand tradition of a sprawling city market; others, like Tijuana’s Telefonica, are more temporary-looking food pods or gastroparks, once-empty lots that now host collections of mobile eateries.
SteelCraft in Long Beach, which had its grand opening last weekend, is some of these things and none of these things. Yes, the outdoor food court lies on what was once an unused dirt lot in Bixby Knolls, but the eight vendors leasing space there (including attention-grabbers like Smog City Brewing and Pig Pen Delicacy) are not parked temporarily, nor are they using their own wheel-mounted kitchens as a home base. And even though there is little grandeur to the relatively small, courtyard-like space, there is definitely still a mercadito-like feel to it.
Instead of copying what any other assemblage of restaurant stalls has done before, SteelCraft went the Long Beach route, filling most of the 14,500 square-foot lot with painted-on 20- and 40-foot-long shipping containers, which locals are more accustomed to seeing stacked by the thousands in the nearby port.
The containers were punched out to make room for ordering windows and doors, industrial kitchens (and one pizza oven) were installed, and the resulting structures were arranged in a quizzical pattern united by two communal dining areas that invite you to first wander through the patches of Astroturf and around corners of corrugated metal looking for your next meal.
The options for that meal are perfectly varied, an effective curation of local, regional and more far-flung names that reflect Long Beach’s status as a natural meeting ground between L.A., OC and beyond. Approach along the main Long Beach Boulevard frontage and you’ll be greeted by Steelhead Coffee, the second location for the 49th-Parallel-loving Cal Heights shop, which serves sidewalk-adjacent cold brew, pour overs and pastries from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. (loading zones in front make it easy to grab and go). Next door is the first mainland outpost for the Kauai-based food truck The Fresh Shave.
Find one of the four entrances to the main interior space (with a stark facade on the other three sides, this is actually not as easy as it sounds) and you can get a chewy Neapolitan-style pie from a miniature version of East Hollywood’s DeSano’s, a dripping-with-all-the-bad-that-is-good maple bacon jam burger from Pig Pen Delicacy, or a chashu-dunked (paper) bowl of tonkotsu ramen from San Diego chain Tajima that’s so porky, it lines your mouth for a full day afterward.
To wash down whatever you order, Smog City’s taproom serves as SteelCraft’s de facto bar (get a light and crisp Little Bo Pils with lunch, the barrel-aged imperial stout Infinite Wishes for dinner), and for dessert, there are sugary piles of carbs and chocolate sauce to choose from at The Great Food Truck Race finalist’s Waffle Love’s first brick-and-mortar.
After rolling out vendors over the last month and taking the last few weeks to test various (mostly dinner) soft opening hours, SteelCraft is ready for its official, all-day debut. From the unconventional construction to the thoughtful food selection, it’s an impressive entry into the wide world of modern food courts, one that’s already proving to be a win for locals worth the drive for outsiders. Welcome to the club, Long Beach!
SteelCraft, 3768 Long Beach Blvd., Long Beach; steelcraftlb.com