As we emerge, ever so cautiously, with great trepidation, from our winter (and spring, and now summer) of quarantine and isolation, some of us have gone perhaps a tad mad for the sun. That’s what I encountered recently driving to the Peninsula in Long Beach. The streets were so blocked off for those heading for the strip of beach that connects the Peninsula with Belmont Shore, I was fairly sure I’d have to give up.

But heading far enough west, I found some small street that led me, ever so slowly, down to Ocean Boulevard and, eventually, to the eccentrically situated Vibes Beach Café. (Where, I should add, parking can be a challenge. But then, it always is on the Peninsula. It comes with the territory.)

There’s a chance that, even if you’re a longtime resident of Long Beach, you’ve never actually seen Vibes Beach Café — a retro name for a not-very-retro breakfast and lunch hot spot. That’s because Vibes sits not just at the further end of the Peninsula, near where the Peninsula comes to its watery end, but it’s on a side street off East Ocean Boulevard, the main thoroughfare through the Peninsula. So, even if you’re a regular at Alamitos Park, you haven’t meandered past Vibes Beach, which is a pity. It deserves more than a few meanders.

And indeed, as secret dining destinations go, it’s not much of a secret among locals, who flock to the café for their daily meals, especially for breakfast, and especially on weekends, when the wait can be considerable. It’s a good natured wait, with lots of discussion of the relative merits of the drunkin’ berry pancakes and the brioche French toast — both cheery carb extravaganzas for those who have been thinking about going low-carb. But just not today.

Vibes sits on a residential street, a beach café that’s not actually on the beach, but close enough for rock & roll. Though the interior has been closed to dining by COVID, there’s still a small open patio at the front, and a larger patio in the rear, accessed through the longish narrow dining room in between. Service is cheerful, but can be erratic as the kitchen tries to keep up with the many orders for dishes that need a certain amount of preparation — both to eat in, and to take out.

As a beach-adjacent café, Vibes has its share of healthy of-the-moment dishes sharing the menu with breakfast-time carbo loads. There is, for instance, The Blue Bowl, both vegan and gluten-free. It’s a fruity mishmash of pineapple, mango, banana, strawberries, blackberries, blueberries, almond milk, passion fruit puree and granola, along with such good-for-what-ails-you totems as chia seeds, edible flowers and, of all things, blue algae powder. I looked it up. It’s supposed to be jam-packed with proteins, vitamins, carotenoids and antioxidants. It’s claimed to be good for immunity, inflammation, viral infections, and protects cells from damage. And yes, it’s blue.

The other bowl on the menu — the Shredder’s Bowl — cuts faster to the protein. It’s actually quite the meal (in a bowl): Scrambled eggs (organic, of course), white cheddar, smoked salmon, hash browns — and to give it some moxie, pico de gallo and tomatillo salsa. It’s a lot of flavor going on in that bowl, one of the most satisfying bowl meals I’ve ever had.

They do a good avocado toast too, called in this case “avo smash tartine.” It’s topped with a poached egg, because that’s just right.

The breakfast section of the menu meanders through a couple of omelettes, bagel & lox, chilaquiles, breakfast tacos and breakfast burritos, along with a big selection of pastries, and (yes!) a breakfast pizza topped with prosciutto and sunny-side up eggs, before turning to savory shares, burgers, sandwiches and non-breakfast pizzas — where you have the option of pies made with a cauliflower crust and/or vegan cheese. Both of which are a lot better than they used to be. In fact, these days, vegan cheese is good enough to fool you, if you’re not paying attention. And even if you are. Better living through science.

The lunch section of the menu is a happy quilt of the dishes that are familiar to those of us who dine out in Southern California. Rather than Buffalo chicken wings, there’s Buffalo cauliflower, one of my favorite meatless innovations of recent years. (I don’t know who came up with Buffalo cauliflower. But I do hope they’re rich and happy.) Brussels sprouts are roasted in garlic butter, with capers, balsamic, lemon juice and a final anointment of parmesan.

There’s a fine shrimp ceviche, chips & guac — and for the fun of it, a hummus sampler of classic, sun-dried tomato and pesto. We do love our hummus these days, as much as our guac.

The burgers are beef or veggie. There’s a chicken wrap, and a spicy chicken sandwich. But what really got to me was the presence of a couple of vegetable sandwiches, a notion that’s faded from the culinary scene. One is built around portobello mushrooms and heirloom tomatoes. The other around heirloom mushrooms and mayo with pine nuts and “fennel fronds.”

I grew up eating tomato and mayo sandwiches. On white, not on sourdough. I like it on sourdough. But on white, it’s a taste of my youth, especially if it’s kind of soggy. Nothing soggy here. The vibe of Vibes is crisp — and beachy keen.

Vibes Beach Café

  • Rating: 3 stars
  • Address: 76½ 62nd Pl., Long Beach
  • Information: 562-343-5572, www.vibeslb.com
  • Cuisine: American
  • When: Breakfast and lunch, every day
  • Details: Coffee, beer and wine; reservations accepted
  • Atmosphere: About as cool and carefree a beach café as you might expect to find anywhere in SoCal, way down the Peninsula, far from the hub and the bub of Long Beach proper, with a breakfast and lunch menu of many Cal faves, and dining patios in the front and back.
  • Prices: About $15 per person.
  • Suggested dishes: Buffalo Cauliflower ($12), Shrimp Ceviche ($13), Hummus Sampler ($12.50), Peninsula Breakfast Plate ($13), Shredder’s Bowl ($14), OG Omelette ($13), Veggie Omelette ($13), The Blue Bowl ($11), Bagel & Lox ($13), Avo Smash Tartine ($12), Drunken Berry Pancakes ($13), Chilaquiles ($13), Breakfast Tacos ($12.50), Breakfast Burrito ($11), Tex-Mex Chicken Salad ($15), OG Tacos ($11-$14), 6 Burgers & Sandwiches ($13-$15), 5 Pizzas ($15-$27)
  • Cards: MC, V

Merrill Shindler is a Los Angeles-based freelance dining critic. Email mreats@aol.com.

American food is a winner at this Long Beach café – Press Telegram

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