10 Best Fish & Chips in Los Angeles
Los Angeles is having a seafood moment. New-age clam shacks and haute oyster bars are tucking into neighborhood spaces and building out into massive new digs at an unbelievable pace. Even the lobster roll, that sometimes rubbery, thick with mayonnaise or hot with butter lunch snack, is popping up in unexpected places all of a sudden. Yet for all the newness of these oceanic delights, there is one seafood dish that can be found on the menu of most any restaurant with a fryer in the back: the fish & chips.
It is a long-standing dish, iconic enough to score it's own ampersand (as in "fish & chips", not "fish and chips"). These are not two separate food items that happen to share a plate -- they are intrinsically linked in a dance of lusty oil and crunchy desires, while a bottle of malt vinegar flirts around the edges. Ask any Brit, and they'll tell you that fish & chips is late night food, a perfect swan song of starchy potatoes to soak up the evening and a plank of white fish to keep you from feeling too heavy in the morning. Over the pond, it's often just wrapped inside a newspaper, because you don't even need a fork to finish this dish. It's a perfect pairing already.
For our purposes, we wanted to look at places around Los Angeles that approximate the United Kingdom's version of fish & chips. That is to say, a slab of white fish (usually Icelandic or Alaskan cod, with some haddock exceptions) that's been battered with flour and fried, with crispy salted French fries and a pour or two of malt vinegar to boot. This list contains no panko crusting, no salmon, no sweet potato fries, no "you buy we fry" fish markets; just great fish and tasty fries that work towards -- or riff on -- the notion of quintessential British fish & chips. Here are the ten best we've found.
10. Water Grill
Water Grill Water Grill Fish & Chips
As perhaps L.A.'s most iconic seafood restaurant, it's no wonder that Water Grill serves up a mean fish & chips. It also helps that their relatively new chef Damon Gordon is a native Brit with a love of all things fresh from the water. The downtown Water Grill location emerged from a serious revamp with a more open, inviting feel and plenty of eye candy access to the well-lit kitchen in the back. What tends to emerge from back there is fresh and vibrant, with the same simple touch of class you'd expect from Water Grill.
The fish & chips are no exception. Instead of medium-sized, craggy logs of indiscernible fish, the fried cod at Water Grill is smooth, thick and buttery. Fork through the hulking single chunk of cod for waves of juicy, tender flesh inside. With all that mass, you'll want to flake on some sea salt or add a squirt of lemon to help cut through the natural oils. The sharp, vibrant tartar sauce also helps in that department. The potatoes are served separately and have been triple-fried, which means they are shatteringly crispy but lack the full, creamy richness you might be looking for in a spud. Also, by leaving a little room for the baby Jesus between these two dance partners, the fries never get the opportunity to soak up some of that juice and oil. It's a bit of a shame, but nothing you won't be willing to forgive with a hefty forkful of freshly fried cod. 544 S. Grand Ave., Downtown; 213-891-0900.
9. Lucky Baldwin's
Farley Elliott Lucky Baldwin's
Beer drinkers have already heard of Lucky Baldwin's, the Old Town Pasadena haunt that's home to 63 taps and a bottle line up that is constantly astounding. If you stick around those pint glasses long enough, you'll start to notice something: everyone around you keeps ordering the fish & chips. That's because the freshly battered cod plate is the perfect antidote to an afternoon spent soaking up suds, and everyone knows it. Thanks to British expat David Farnworth, who opened the pub in 1996, the well-fried fish & chips have been a staple for Pasadena drinkers for almost 20 years.
The fish & chips here are served English-style, which is to say: wider, thicker fries and a side of peas. A half order is enough for most, with the oblong fish spanning nearly the entire plate. There's an uneven batter to the cod, heavy and saturated at some points and thin, almost transparent at others. Still, the misshapen fry is almost endearing to the place, a sign that your order was freshly dipped just moments before. Besides, isn't Lucky Baldwin's still a little rough around the edges itself? As for the steak fries, they offer a surprisingly crisp exterior, with lots of starchy goodness inside to soak up the bottles of HP malt vinegar. You'll find some sogginess down at the bottom of the plate, but with a fork and a rodeo of peas to corral all the last little bits, it's a still a satisfying finish. 17 S. Raymond Ave., Pasadena; 626-795-0652.
8. Hot Red Bus
Clay Larsen Hot Red Bus
Billing itself as the "L.A.'s FIRST British Indian Chip Shop", Hot Red Bus in Alhambra is all about reclaiming a bit of England's fish & chips magic here on the West Coast. Inside, Union Jack flags are like hidden Mickeys at Disneyland; once you spot the first one, you start to notice that they're everywhere. As are images of the namesake double decker red buses that toot through London, and the occasional piece of British kitsch. Hot Red Bus is really trying to sell the true chip shop brand, that's for sure.
The same holds true for the menu, which is practically overrun with Indian-influenced dishes. There are balti rice bowls, lots of chicken tikka, a vindaloo burger and tandoori chicken wings. But if you're here for the fish & chips, your only option is the swai fish, a moist, slightly coarse white fish from southeast Asia. The thin, long strips are lightly battered, which means you'll have to hit the curled edges to find some serious crunch. Still, the flesh is plenty tasty, with bright and almost slightly sweet taste that works well with the vinegar-laced tartar sauce or housemade curry ketchup. The fries are standard fare, perfectly squared at the edges for easy bundling and dipping, but need a dose of salt to really pop to life. Most authentic of all, Hot Red Bus imports their tangy Sarson's Vinegar, which has long been a staple across the pond. 31 E. Main St., Alhambra; 626-576-2877.
544 S. Grand Ave., Los Angeles, CA
25653 Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu, CA