It's a simple rule of thumb that any place calling itself fancy ain't really all that fancy. Such is the case with The Fancy Fish, a casual seafood spot sitting in the elbow slot of a mid-size Mira Mesa shopping center.
9430 Mira Mesa Boulevard #5B, Mira Mesa
It offers the clean, comfortable interiors of a contemporary fast food concept, with customizable menu to match. You choose a fish (or chicken or tofu); then choose to have it pan-cooked, grilled, steamed, or tempura-fried; then dress it with one of a dozen sauces.
Obviously, the cleanest and healthiest choices here would be one of the seared tuna options; grilled salmon, mahi mahi, or shrimp; or steamed anything. Prices top out at $14, as low as $9, with the cheaper end featuring stuff like catfish, tilapia, and whatever's being served as white fish that day.
But I went for the shop's most visibly entertaining option: tempura soft-shell crab. As plenty of Yelp and Instagram photos attest, this features an entire crab — legs, claws, and all — battered and fried and ready to eat.
However you have your fish prepared, there's an option to eat it in salad form, and also as a bao — wrapped in a steamed bun, which the Fancy Fish menu describes as Asian Tacos.
For six bucks, the tempura crab backs right into a single bao and winds up looking like it's taken up residence in a fluffy dough shell.
There's much else to it: cucumber, lettuce, a little carrot, and the Fancy Fish logo branded into the bun. A lot of your enjoyment will depend on choice of sauce. Aside from Cajun and mango habañero, most of the sauces hail from an Asian palate: teriyaki, hoisin, sweet and sour, and lemongrass satay, for example.
I tried a couple variants: creamy sriracha and "cusabi," which uses cucumber to dull the horseradish wallop of wasabi.
I preferred the richer sriracha sauce, and regardless, chomping through the crab's legs and claws proved fun, almost as fun as snapping photos of it. Most of the crab had that sort of funky fishiness that some people adore, and other people hate.
I'm personally lukewarm on fishiness, and usually stick to cleaner tasting seafood. The folks behind the counter told me they consider fish'n'chips the restaurant's signature dish, but I'm thinking about going back for a seared albacore salad, regardless how it looks on my social.