If you're one of those Americans who balked when The New York Times suggested putting peas in guacamole, then you should know that Padre puts nectarines in its version. Yes, nectarines, cut up in bitty pieces, are folded into the mashed avocado along with onions and spices. And I'm glad to report it's delicious. In fact, I wished there were even more nectarines in there because this guacamole—silky, fresh and bursting with fruity flavor—was as good as guacamole gets. I've ordered it twice from two different servers on two separate trips to Padre—the new restaurant that replaced Bliss 525 inside a bank-like, two-story, granite-and-marble edifice—and both times, I was warned it included the stone fruit.
Perhaps those servers also had the #peagate backlash in their minds. Maybe they thought that not disclosing the interloper would be a breach of trust against Americans who have suddenly become insistent on authenticity in their Mexican food. But our servers shouldn't have worried. Padre has every license to embellish since it never labels itself as a Mexican restaurant. It functions as a “Latin Table,” a catchall phrasing that affords it a lot of leeway in the same way that Pei Wei describes itself as generally “Asian.” In fact, some of Padre's dishes are so geographically disparate and culturally indeterminate it's a testament to the talents of its chef, Frank DeLoach, that he can wok-toss a Peruvian lomo saltado, bake a Portuguese version of paella, and put fried chicken and watermelon in the tacos without anyone batting an eye.
This is all because DeLoach is just a darn good cook. Before Padre, he helmed Tavern On 2 in Belmont Shore, introduced a Malaysian rendang waffle at Early Bird in Fullerton, and was the sous chef at Playground. The DeLoach you witness at Padre is the same student of food as he always was, recognizing what works but still unafraid to go off on creative tangents. He knows, for instance, that the best part of lomo saltado is when the fried potatoes soak up the flavors of soy and cumin. And for his version of elote, he shaves the corn kernels off the cob; coats them with lime butter, queso fresco, paprika and cilantro; and serves it in a bowl that makes it easier for sharing—an excellent idea, even if it ends up tasting more like a spiced-up creamed corn than the original Mexican street food.
For a bacon-wrapped hot dog that's exclusive to Padre's happy hour menu, DeLoach doesn't deconstruct. The hot dog is exactly as you would have it in front of Dodger Stadium: tucked into a squishy bun, covered in sugary grilled onions and zigzagged with mayo. But the dog he uses is an upgraded wiener. It's thicker, juicier, snappier—an actual sausage swaddled in crispy bacon that acts as its second skin.
The happy hour, by the way, lasts until 8 p.m. all week long, and it's the time you want to try all the tacos, which are sold two for $10 instead of $12. But again, Mexican-food purists should be warned: DeLoach favors flour tortillas instead of corn, and as such, they function as little more than delivery devices. Instead, pay attention to the fillings, which include soft-enough-for-dentures medium-rare skirt steak, gorgeously charred octopus with feta, sautéed wild mushrooms showered with flecks of thinly sliced fried garlic, mahi mahi, and morsels of country fried chicken with watermelon salsa. All are great and exist in that designer taquería plane that Taco Asylum currently occupies.
DeLoach's strongest dish is a pork-belly plate smeared with an oily dried-chile pesto, garnished with reconstituted dried apricots, and featuring three rigid planks of slow-roasted pig as it should always be: crispy meat marbled with melting blubber, bordered by the skull-rattling crunch of its rind. His second-best dish is the paella with longanisa crumbles mixed into the rice. It's served fuming in a searing cast-iron pan topped with clams and two gigantic freshwater prawns with their praying-mantis-like appendages akimbo.
The weakest thing at Padre right now is the roasted, house-pickled beets, a dish DeLoach serves by the bucketload, but one I wasn't able to eat more than a spoonful of without wincing. And if I was allowed to lodge one complaint on behalf of Mexican-food authenticity, it's the tortilla chips. One bowl was hot and perfect, but every refill either had thinner chips that looked as if they came from a different tortilla stock or floppy chips that weren't fried long enough. Am I really complaining about free refills of chips? Yes. That's how American I am: #NoFloppyChips.
Padre, 525 E. Broadway, Long Beach, (562) 612-4951; www.padrelbc.com. Follow it on Instagram: padrelbc. Open Mon.-Thurs., 4-11 p.m.; Fri., 4 p.m.-midnight; Sat., 9:30 a.m.-2 p.m. & 4 p.m.-midnight; Sun., 9:30 a.m.-2 p.m. & 4-10 p.m. Dinner for two, $30-$50, food only. Full bar.
Before becoming an award-winning restaurant critic for OC Weekly in 2007, Edwin Goei went by the alias “elmomonster” on his blog Monster Munching, in which he once wrote a whole review in haiku.