A Long Beach staple for the District:
PHOTO by ROSHEILA ROBLES
Measured against the bulldozed bulk of Long Beach history, Ma ’n Pa Grocery seems like a place that could’ve been easily erased from its adorable corner near the Colorado Lagoon. But that it remains is a testament to its charm—the market, full of Iowa-by-the-sea spirit, is as much a part of the community as any of the finely furnished homes that otherwise define the neighborhood.
Familial in more than just name, Ma ’n Pa has long cultivated a friendly, always-there-for-you atmosphere. That the place operates like a general store—stocked with produce, prepared foods and all the household essentials in between—is only part of the appeal. The rest of the market’s accessible reputation is earned by its easygoing attitude. And this is a trait obvious even from the street, where hand-painted advertisements color the grocery’s cabin-like exterior, picnic tables sit along the sidewalk and a rack of communal books waits at the ready for any hungry readers.
Time, it seems, has passed over Ma ’n Pa—you still have to swing open wood-framed doors just to get to the refrigerated cases that house the market’s liquid assets. It’s appropriate then that its small menu is dominated by the kind of well-worn American classics that once went straight from Good Housekeeping into already-packed recipe Rolodexes. Mexican-inflected and more global dishes have made their way into the shop’s weekly rotation, but these are simply reflections of the current American appetite—Ma ’n Pa is still as classic as it gets.
Most classic, of course, is Ma ’n Pa’s burger. In a crowded burger world, Ma ’n Pa’s rendition is a good one, reminiscent of the kind that might be constructed during a backyard barbecue, but cooked with much greater care. Add a side of potato salad or a bag of chips to complete the American experience.
Even things like tuna noodle casserole succeed here. Normally something of a kitchen-sink dish, tuna noodle casserole has earned a bad rap that’s usually defined by the tinny taste plaguing fish sourced straight from metal cans. But Ma ’n Pa’s version is more precise—it’s nothing revelatory, but studded as it is with big blocks of bell pepper and meaty hunks of tuna, it’s a casserole that finally tastes more like a treat than a chore.
Lunch is the best time to actually eat at Ma ’n Pa. In the afternoon, the grocery provides crucial convenience—there are the aforementioned dishes, as well as prewrapped sandwiches and ready-to-eat items that fit right into your lunch break.
But Ma ’n Pa is just as good for dinner. Instead of eating in, drop by for takeout and pick up barbecued sirloin, fresh baked fish or a chile relleno. The deli menu changes regularly, recently featuring dishes like tarragon mushroom chicken, garlic and basil artichokes, and carne asada. Some options are standards—the “locally world famous” fried chicken, for one—and it’s usually clear why. Not only does Ma ’n Pa provide excellent dinners, but they last long as leftovers, too.
Dessert is also ever-present. A square of banana bread is a good choice, a not-too-sweet option that takes on homemade touches like tiny chocolate chips and a few slivers of coconut. Better, though, is the crumb coffee cake, which is capped by a layer of cinnamon-spiked sugar so thick you can practically peel it off in a single sheet.
There’s so much to consume in such a small space—Ma ’n Pa’s own fresh beef jerky, limited-edition Tabasco potato chips, maybe a cool can of Coors—that you really have no choice but to double back for a second trip. And that’s what keeps the grocery going.
MA ’N PA GROCERY 346 ROYCROFT AVE | LONG BEACH 90803 | 562.438.4084 | OPEN DAILY | FOOD FOR TWO $10-20