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The Cambodian Taquería in Long Beach That Was Started by a Refugee 

4:58 PM PST on February 9, 2023

    In 1982, Sok Ly Eang found herself in a Philippines Refugee Processing Center after narrowly escaping mass genocide being orchestrated by the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. She was pregnant at the time, so she, along with her husband Kur Krouch made a beeline from Morong, Bataan to Long Beach, California —to find a place where they could survive—and their children could thrive. 

    As followed, Beeline Long Krouch was born, whose name references the urgent trek that they made, as well as the city he was born in. Krouch’s father really believed in the power of words, and that was something that Krouch held onto as he opened his first taco shop in Lakewood: Chinitos Tacos. 

    Chinito, which translates to “little Chinese” is a diminutive term that has racial undertones. While it doesn’t have the same derogatory weight as “chino”, it is still often colloquially used to refer to Asians and the Asian diaspora in informal settings. Krouch, growing up in Long Beach, and finding himself in the food industry as the sole Asian cook, was often called every variation of Chino, sometimes as a slur, and sometimes affectionately. While initially offended, he eventually accepted the nickname and reappropriated it into a term of endearment. “It’s just a kitchen nickname. As I got older in the industry, as I went from food prep, to line cook, to sous chef, to executive chef, my name went from chino to chinito. I just ran with it,” said Krouch. 

    Shrimp taco on a keto all-cheese tortilla at Chinito's Tacos.
    Shrimp taco on a keto all-cheese tortilla at Chinitos Tacos. Photo by James Tir for L.A. TACO.
    Tacos at Chinitos Tacos.
    Tacos at Chinitos Tacos. Photo by James Tir for L.A. TACO.
    Photo by James Tir for L.A. TACO.
    Photo by James Tir for L.A. TACO.

    Chinitos Tacos, much like his adopted nickname, was a culmination of his experience working as a taquero in restaurants across the Greater Los Angeles area. The restaurant menu merges his knowledge of Mexican cuisine with his Cambodian roots, resulting in Khmer beef stick-influenced carne asada that’s marinated with lemongrass and ginger as well as Cambodian beef stew (kaw ko) influenced barbacoa which has star anise and cinnamon alongside dried California chiles and oregano flavor notes. 

    “It has to be mostly familiar, and a little different,” said Krouch, “I slowly add new things so that people don’t get too intimidated. I would like to involve my mom more and make Cambodian food here, but that can be a little risky around here. So right now I’m playing with different flavors involving things that will be a hit—like pork belly—which everyone loves because it’s just fatty goodness.”

    Krouch’s latest menu item is just that, a pork belly taco comprised of succulent pork belly resting on a bed of small flour tortillas and topped with pickled carrot and green papaya. 

    As one of the businesses to be hit within the recent string of small business break-ins and burglaries, Krouch is still hopeful for what’s to come. “It may not be right, but maybe the thieves desperately needed money more than us. I’m going to look at it that way,” he said, “Looking forward to the future—everything to now is just a baby step. I’m just glad that I still have my foot in the door to bigger and better things.” 

    Next time you’re hungry, make a beeline to visit Beeline Long and try these Asian-inspired tacos. 

    Chinitos Tacos, 11130 Del Amo Blvd, Lakewood. Closest transit line and stop: Long Beach Transit Line 191 - "Del Amo/San Gabriel River (westbound)" or "Del Amo/Stables (eastbound)."

    Photo by James Tir for L.A. TACO.
    Photo by James Tir for L.A. TACO.
    Photo by James Tir for L.A. TACO.
    Sok Ly Eang and her son Beeline. Photo by James Tir for L.A. TACO.
    Photo by James Tir for L.A. TACO.
    The menu at Chinitos Tacos. Photo by James Tir for L.A. TACO.

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