As customizable, choose-your-own dishes pop up, sometimes even as entire restaurant concepts, it’s fun to watch how eateries put their own spin on the trend. For instance, at the recently opened Plancha Latin Kitchen in the Long Beach Exchange, about half of its menu is dedicated to “Layer Your Flavor” bowls.
The eatery’s mantra reads, “We hope to feed all who enter our door with the same love you feel at home.” And with the easy ability to pick and choose exactly what you want and just how you want it, what you get is a very comfortable, casual, as-you-like-it atmosphere. Plus, there are many options for those with gluten-free and vegetarian diets.
Start out with one of the Bocaditos (appetizers), such as the house-made escabeche, a bracingly addictive jumble of pickled and spiced vegetables and peppers. Then check out such house specialties as the Cubano sandwich, which is offered in either a traditional pork-and-Swiss style or a California version that comes with chicken and charred vegetables (broccoli!) and smeared with a bright-green sauce.
However, the arepas are Plancha’s best dish. Available in beef-and-beet and soyrizo versions, each comes as a flavor-punched mini mountain. The standard arepa is served as a towering mound of pink-cabbage slaw and white, melty cheese sauce. Start digging, and you’ll find cool beets, exceptionally tender beef and dots of green peas, all stacked on two thick, sweet corn pancakes.
But Plancha is ultimately all about the bowls, with multiple options for each of the five layers. The sheer number of possible combinations is a little daunting—mostly because everything looks so damn good! How do you choose between the mojo d’ajo (citrus-and-garlic shrimp) and the ropa vieja (shredded beef with red wine, tomato and onion)? And then there are the salsas (charred red! mango!) and sauces—Peruvian green, aji chile, sofrito, crema, chimichurri. . . . If it’s just too much, try one of Plancha’s pre-formulated creations; the Pescado Veracruz, for example, comes with rice, black beans, tomatoes, capers, jalapeños, seasonal fish and cilantro.
You can order at the counter, but if you need some time with the menu, you can sit down with a pen and paper card and get to work designing your bowl, then pay the server directly when they take your order. Though only open two days at the time of my visit, the staff were already very knowledgeable, explaining the menu and even making suggestions.
Whichever direction you go with your bowl, look for items with texture—snappy shrimp, crispy garbanzo beans, crunchy chicharron, etc.—because while all components offered have layered, deep flavors, they also tend to be on the soft side.
Plancha’s food comes out pretty fast, with staff continually checking up, bringing extra napkins and seeing if you need any extra sauces. And they’ll happily provide to-go packaging once you realize you’ve ordered way too much food to possibly consume in one sitting.
Plancha Latin Kitchen, 3860 Worsham Ave., Ste. 300, Long Beach; planchalatinkitchen.com.