Oh, man. Ria wants nuts and twigs. I’m dreaming of fish and chips. Splots of malt vinegar. Cocktail sauce. Greasy, crispy chunks of cod.
“Ho-kay,” says Ria. “Your funeral, buddy. Know how many calories and fat in a batter-fried slab of cod?”
Ria’s one of our bestest friends. But she’s purer than me and Carla on the food front.
Whatever...a minute later, we’re sweeping up to this final corner unit in an unnamed strip mall in Egger Heights, little-known corner of I.B. Big swathe of empty land stretches across the road.
“That was Marian High School,” says Ria. “They’re turning it into — guess what? — condos.”
We’re parked right in front of a flag. One of those vertical ones flapping in the wind. “Fish & Chips,” it reads.
“You’d really have to be a fanatical affishianado — heh-heh — to track this down,” I say to Ria. She doesn’t bite.
“Come on,” she says. “Let’s get your fix.”
Inside, we’re looking at a wall menu while the lady, Karen, waits behind the order hole. Can’t help noticing: the stainless kitchen is sparkling. Not a splash of batter in sight. Also, clean brown floor tiles out here, white walls, and dreamified pics of San Diego from across the bay.
Pricewise, I have to remember this is a fish joint. So we’re not talking bargain-basement here. But reasonable. Item Number 1 is “Classic Fish ’N’ Chips.” Costs $9.99. Comes with two fish fillets, chips, and a drink.
“And you don’t have to have fish and chips,” says this kid. Sean. Karen’s son. “You can have the mushrooms or zucchini or hushpuppies or onion rings instead.”
“Without paying extra?”
Oh, yeah. I see under “veggies” that fries, fried mushrooms, hushpuppies, fried zucchini, and onion rings all cost the same: $3.
He’s an engaging, bright kid. “I wipe down the tables, grandpa cooks the fish, and mom takes orders at the register,” he tells Ria.
Karen’s husband is ex–Air Force and now works as a civilian contractor for the U.S. military.
Guy in line behind me’s getting antsy. Okay: fish and chips. Ten bucks. Or, turns out, you can just buy the fish fillets at $2.95 per fillet.
That’s the first item under “Combos.” Item #2 is Fish ’N’ Shrimp, $10.99. For that you get a fish fillet and four large shrimp, along with chips and a drink. Also for $10.99, five jumbo shrimp, chips, drink, or chicken strips ($7.50).
Now I see “sandwiches,” and a fish sandwich is $4.50, or $7.50 with combo fixin’s. Chicken sandwich is $4.25 and $6.25.
’Course, you can go all the way up to “Seafood Delight” for $36.99 in the “family meals” section. That buys you five fish fillets, 10 jumbo shrimp, countless chips, and coleslaw.
“Hungry?” I ask Ria. Me, I haven’t eaten since Carla and I dined on leftover sandwiches last night. Ria says something about is there a bull moose in the north woods, so what the heck. Let’s bust the budget a bit.
She says she wants a meal-size plate of calamari rings ($12.99; $9.99 without chips and drink). She found this in the “specialities” section. Hmm... What else? Clam strips: $8.99/5.25. Scallops, $9.99/$6.99. Oysters, $8.99/$5.99 for five; $12.99/9.99 for ten. Ten jumbo shrimp, $18.99/$15.50.
In the end? We share a clam chowder ($3), Ria’s calamari rings ($12.99), five oysters ($5.99), and #2, Fish ’N’ Shrimp ($10.99.) On Sean’s advice she gets fried mushrooms as her side, and I get chips.
And, boy, it’s a real sampler. Way too much. But we both know we’ll be taking back peace offerings to our mates.
The best for me? The heavily breaded oysters, no contest, and the cocktail sauce Karen’s Laotian-American dad made to go with them. He also made the fab clam chowder. The pollock fish is good, too, all the way from the Atlantic. But the nicest surprise is the fried mushrooms. They are juicy, flavorful, and as big as the tires on a toy truck. You’re squirting out flavor with each chomp.
“It was my husband’s idea to start this business,” says Karen when I ask her. “But we were struggling with this shop, and we had preemie babies — Sean was only three pounds when he was born — and the medical costs, and we’re sending them to Catholic school. So, we realized, my husband would have to go back again, for the money. That’s where he is now, in and out of danger zones since 2008.”
She has restaurants in the blood, though. “My aunties have opened many pho restaurants in Laos,” she says. “And one cousin has this restaurant in France.” She shows me a photo of a smart-looking red-painted place called “L’Éléphant Blanc.”
Ria checks on the calorie guilt index online. From a site called Seafish UK. “Hey! Fish and chips, 9.42 grams of fat per 100 grams, but pizza’s more! Eleven grams. Big Mac ’n fries, 12.1; chicken korma, 15.5; doner kebab, 16.2. And calories? Fish and chips, 595 calories average portion vs. pizza, 871; Big Mac, 888; chicken korma, 910; doner kebab, 924. Dude we’ve just had ourselves a health lunch!”
We climb into Ria’s wagon. Head past where the Marian High School site is about to transform into a sea of Shea Homes. Thousands of potential customers, if Crisp Fish N’ Chips can hang in there.
1850 Coronado Avenue #401, Imperial Beach
Hours: 11 a.m. –9 p.m. daily (Friday, Saturday, until 10 p.m.)
Prices: Classic Fish ’N’ chips combo (two fish fillets, chips, drink), $9.99; fish fillets alone, $2.95 each; Fish ’N’ Shrimp combo (fish fillet, four large shrimp, chips, drink), $10.99; five jumbo shrimp combo, $10.99; chicken strip combo, $7.50; fish sandwich, $4.50 ($7.50 with “combo” fixin’s); chicken sandwich, ($6.25); Seafood Delight (5 fish fillets, 10 jumbo shrimp, chips, coleslaw), $36.99; calamari-ring combo, $12.99; clam-strip combo, $8.99 ($5.25 stand-alone); scallops, $9.99; oysters, $8.99 stand-alone: $5.99 for five, $9.99 for ten; jumbo-shrimp combo (10), $18.99; house-made clam chowder, $3
Buses: 901, 933, 934
Nearest bus stops: Coronado Avenue at Saturn
Trolley: Blue Line
Nearest Trolley Stop: Iris Avenue (if you connect via 933 bus); if you’re walking, Palm Avenue probably best choice