Simple fish and chips for the win
3701 India Street, San Diego
I got a press release the other day notifying me that Shakespeare’s Pub had won a contest held among 160 British-style pubs to determine who makes the best fish and chips in the U.S. My last fish and chips experience left me believing cod is dead, and I have since sought redemption.
Shakespeare’s has been dishing out the Queen’s English at the base of Mission Hills for more than a quarter century, and I don’t think I’ve been there in ten years. Visiting the wood-trimmed space is probably a habit I fell out of about the time I decided to get serious about my craft-beer snobbery.
Shakespeare’s Pub has stood on this corner since 1990, when the fish and chips cost $5.95.
The pub’s beer selection remains true to its UK heritage, featuring English ales with terribly British sounding names such as Boddington’s and Smithwick’s (of the silent W). You may also find a pint of Old Speckled Hen, a malty, copper colored ale that was reportedly not named after fowl but rather for a car, specifically a 1927 MG wood-framed roadster.
A red vintage phone booth outside the front door screams “London.”
I mention that because the company responsible for Old Speckled Hen sponsored the contest, which whittled 160 pubs down to five finalists. Should you think San Diego an unlikely place for authentic British fried fish and potatoes, note that Shakespeare’s prevailed in the final round over pubs in Florida, Texas, Arizona, and Las Vegas.
Shakespeare’s sits above the street corner across from El Indio, and if the name doesn’t sound anglophile enough, climbing the short set of stairs to find a red vintage phone booth outside the front door screams “London.”
Inside, a friendly staff sporting Commonwealth accents contributes to an atmosphere ranging from mirth to excitability (when there’s footy on the telly). Visiting with a dog in tow, I bypassed the dining room to sit on the patio, which pulls in plenty of light on a nice day. Actually, the same is true for the well-lit and ventilated interior. If you’re looking for a dank pub experience, this ain’t it.
I ran into a couple of friends, as folks tend to do at a pub, and promptly ordered an old Speckled Hen to accompany the fried cod, french fries, and palaver. The head on my beer had hardly had a chance to dissipate before the fish and chips appeared. The lunch-sized portion served on weekdays prior to 4 p.m. goes for 11 bucks instead of $15.
I have to give it up for ol’ Shakespeare’s. The battered exterior hit that sweet spot between crunchy and crisp, the fish inside remained flaky without being dry, and the cod proved just fishy enough to give some depth of flavor. Diced pickles in the house tartar sauce didn’t hurt a bit.
The fries were also part of the contest judging, of course, and these finger-size fries performed just as well in the measure of crispy outside, soft in the middle. It was almost a shame to soggy them up with a heavy dousing of vinegar, but that’s how I roll. The vinegar also contrasted nicely with the caramel sweetness of the ale, which drinks pleasantly enough on its own but will never contend with my favorite local IPAs.
All in attendance at Shakespeare’s on April 24 at 8 p.m. may witness the official presentation of the Best Fish and Chips in America award.