Press-Telegram (Long Beach)

Playa Amor

- 210 E. 3rd St., Long Beach; 562-436-4020, www. beachwoodb­bq.com Marketplac­e, 6527 E. Pacific Coast Hwy., Long Beach; 562-430-2667, www. playaamorl­b.com

There is so much pleasure to be found at Beachwood BBQ and Brewing on downtown Long Beach’s 3rd Street Promenade. A menu of very good, even exceptiona­l barbecue, admittedly eaten with non ‘que shack utensils, but with a tray of many sauces, ranging from the sweet and spicy, to the vinegary and spicy, to the just plain hot and spicy. And an assortment of side dishes so good, at moments they make the ribs, the brisket, the pork and the chicken pale by comparison. But then, you take another bite — and who knows which is better? And does it really matter?

And then, there are the housemade Tater Tots, served in a casserole that arguably gilds the lily like crazy, “dusted” with dried porcini mushrooms (with a bit of umami smack), topped with smoked cheese curds and duck gravy, turning it into a Tater Tot Casserole Poutine. (For $5 extra, you can add duck confit.)

These are a world apart from frozen Tater Tots, thick and crunchy, oversized potato statements clearly not purchased at the local market. Turned into a poutine, they’re a bit goofy.

But then, if it’s calorie loading that’s your goal, there are plenty of ways at Beachwood — consider the mac and cheese with bacon, cheddar and (yes!) Velveeta. Or the fried pickles (“Lena’s Famous”), with a chili buttermilk dipping sauce.

If you want to run wild at Beachwood, it’s easy. I had fun with the deviled eggs stuffed with pickled green tomatoes, and the smoke

Until COVID-19 soiled the party, this was Modern Mexican Master Thomas Ortega’s most madcap, rollicking restaurant — just plain fun. And the kitchen is still having a fine time coming up with new school variations on old school dishes. Even the chips and salsa, which are oversized, and actually so good they need to be eaten; this isn’t just filler to keep you busy while you wait for your food.

Since we’re by the water, there’s no surprise that there are several ceviches on the menu — a shrimp model with chunky, firm Mexican shrimp, tossed with pico de gallo, jalapeños, garlic aioli and cotija cheese.

Chef Ortega likes his spice, and he likes his Mexican cheeses, which appear all over the menu. He also likes to have a little (or maybe a lot) of fun with his creations — consider the poutine (a French-Canadian dish) made with Tater Tots (the essence of Americana) flavored with mole negro and lots of cheese. This may be the best poutine ever; certainly, it’s good not to have to face a dish topped with the gloppiest gravy, an industrial ingredient that makes me wonder if I’ll live long enough for the next course.

I like mole, the chocolate and chili sauce that makes eating in Oaxaca just a joy. And apparently so does Chef Ortega. He flavors his mussels with a mole verde “curry” that’s so good, it can be finished off like a soup.

There’s mole on his Oaxacan chicken as well. But for some real fun, check out the “caramel sticky” pork spareribs, with a Moroccan harissa sauce; it’s a culinary carom shot that’s all over the map — and all over your fingers as well. They’re serious about “sticky”!

There’s also a sizable selection of seafood dishes, including a lobster done in the style of Puerto Nuevo, the “Lobster City” on the road to Ensenada; and the classic Pescado zarandeado — a butterflie­d whole fish flavored with lemon, garlic and smoky chipotle.

There’s a wide assortment of burritos, tacos and enchiladas, for those who can’t live without. And for dessert, there’s Mexican chocolate pudding, tres leches carrot cake and churros with salted caramel. Sit outside, and linger over dessert and maybe a snifter of Hornitos. In Thomas Ortega Land, life is both easy — and delicious. 562-860-2667, www.amorytacos.com

Like Playa Amor, Amor y Tacos is the creation of Thomas Ortega, where he also serves Tots. But not the same Tots as at Playa Amor — this isn’t a chef who likes to duplicate himself. Here, they’re Mole Tots — Tater Tots slathered with the house 21-ingredient mole, along with Mexican queso panela (aka “basket cheese”). It’s ridiculous­ly good, a silly dish that you’ll inhale — along with pile of Nachos Libre, which are nachos made with ground Kobe beef and queso Oaxaca.

And how about the Doritos Chilaquile­s? They’re real Doritos chips topped with a sunnyside-up egg and queso fresco. Eating here is an education in Mexican cheeses — and so many flavors.

There’s a hot dog that’s a variation on the fabled Dodger Dog served at the stadium, topped with short rib chile colorado and crispy chicharron­es, served on a brioche bun. There are nine tacos on the menu, five of which can be tasted on the Tour de Taco, which includes the short rib taco, a master stroke of life in Tacolandia.

There are also 14 big plates, one of which is Peking duck filtered through a Mexican kitchen, with Korean kimchee added on for good measure. And then, there’s the Mexican CocaCola Glazed Pork Belly, which I expect to be one of the best dishes I eat all year.

For the heck of it, there are sugary churros with salted caramel for dessert. If there’s a game on, you can keep on eating and drinking. Parking in the mall lot is easy and free. Here, it’s all about amor y tacos.

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 ??  ?? 2400 East 7th Street, Long Beach • (562) 438-3839
2400 East 7th Street, Long Beach • (562) 438-3839
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