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Four kinds of fish and chips

The third favorite may surprise you

From top to bottom: halibut, swordfish, cod, salmon.
From top to bottom: halibut, swordfish, cod, salmon.

Probably one of the most urban things about downtown San Diego is its motley accumulation of restaurants. Most of the press goes to well-financed, high-volume eateries with glossy interiors, PR representation, and “up and coming” chefs, which are statistically likely to close within a year or two of opening.

Place

Downtown Fish Joint

407 C St, San Diego

At the opposite end of the spectrum are a smattering of scrappy, low-brow eateries that plug away, year after year, surviving for decades by serving cheap eats with low overhead. Think pizza by the slice spots, back counter delis, and Chinese takeout.

Add Downtown Fish Joint to that list. Its physical menu consists of pieces of laminated printer paper taped to the wall behind the ordering counter. Its mostly fried seafood options are cooked in a little, open kitchen, and served on wood tables and chairs in a small dining room. Its sole decorative advantage may be large windows that provide a clear view of the trolley passing by out front, and surprisingly good light for those of us who photograph our food before eating it.

The Fish Joint can be super affordable, if you want it to be. Tacos run about five bucks, but they’re huge. An assortment of fish sandwiches, burritos, and fish-and-chip platters range between 10 and 15 dollars, depending which type of seafood and preparation you prefer. Fans of fried shellfish may choose among oysters, clams, scallops, and shrimp. I found myself more tempted by the assortment of regular fish: cod, swordfish, salmon, and halibut. In trying to choose, I was forced to wonder, which is my favorite?

Let’s dispense with the suspense: it’s halibut. But picking a second favorite would require some work. I ordered the $14.95, mixed fish and chips plate, which offers a portion of each, served with coleslaw, cocktail sauce, tartar sauce, and waffle-cut fries.

Those fries are a golden, crispy, salty thumbs up. The fish were each well-fried within a cornmeal crust: nothing fancy, but nothing you’re going to stop eating once you’ve started, either.

The cod tasted only slightly fishy; I’m not sure I’d have noticed if I weren’t eating it beside a relatively delicate and clean filet of halibut. As the default fish and chips option on the menu, priced at $11.95, cod would be my top choice for anyone interested in saving three bucks. But on this combo plate, it’s my third favorite.

Number two goes to the swordfish. It had more complexity than the halibut, a bit steakier both in taste and texture, I felt the halibut just worked better in a fried format. Swordfish works better off the grill.

Which explains why I rated America’s most popular fish, salmon, the lowest of the bunch. Oilier than the other fish, salmon eats too heavy to fry. It wants something brighter and tangier than the cornmeal provides, or something herbal and aromatic, if you’re into dill. Like the swordfish, salmon much better candidate for one of the shop’s grilled fish sandwiches, tacos, or plates.

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If you don't eat meat the animals win.

Nov. 23, 2018

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From top to bottom: halibut, swordfish, cod, salmon.
From top to bottom: halibut, swordfish, cod, salmon.

Probably one of the most urban things about downtown San Diego is its motley accumulation of restaurants. Most of the press goes to well-financed, high-volume eateries with glossy interiors, PR representation, and “up and coming” chefs, which are statistically likely to close within a year or two of opening.

Place

Downtown Fish Joint

407 C St, San Diego

At the opposite end of the spectrum are a smattering of scrappy, low-brow eateries that plug away, year after year, surviving for decades by serving cheap eats with low overhead. Think pizza by the slice spots, back counter delis, and Chinese takeout.

Add Downtown Fish Joint to that list. Its physical menu consists of pieces of laminated printer paper taped to the wall behind the ordering counter. Its mostly fried seafood options are cooked in a little, open kitchen, and served on wood tables and chairs in a small dining room. Its sole decorative advantage may be large windows that provide a clear view of the trolley passing by out front, and surprisingly good light for those of us who photograph our food before eating it.

The Fish Joint can be super affordable, if you want it to be. Tacos run about five bucks, but they’re huge. An assortment of fish sandwiches, burritos, and fish-and-chip platters range between 10 and 15 dollars, depending which type of seafood and preparation you prefer. Fans of fried shellfish may choose among oysters, clams, scallops, and shrimp. I found myself more tempted by the assortment of regular fish: cod, swordfish, salmon, and halibut. In trying to choose, I was forced to wonder, which is my favorite?

Let’s dispense with the suspense: it’s halibut. But picking a second favorite would require some work. I ordered the $14.95, mixed fish and chips plate, which offers a portion of each, served with coleslaw, cocktail sauce, tartar sauce, and waffle-cut fries.

Those fries are a golden, crispy, salty thumbs up. The fish were each well-fried within a cornmeal crust: nothing fancy, but nothing you’re going to stop eating once you’ve started, either.

The cod tasted only slightly fishy; I’m not sure I’d have noticed if I weren’t eating it beside a relatively delicate and clean filet of halibut. As the default fish and chips option on the menu, priced at $11.95, cod would be my top choice for anyone interested in saving three bucks. But on this combo plate, it’s my third favorite.

Number two goes to the swordfish. It had more complexity than the halibut, a bit steakier both in taste and texture, I felt the halibut just worked better in a fried format. Swordfish works better off the grill.

Which explains why I rated America’s most popular fish, salmon, the lowest of the bunch. Oilier than the other fish, salmon eats too heavy to fry. It wants something brighter and tangier than the cornmeal provides, or something herbal and aromatic, if you’re into dill. Like the swordfish, salmon much better candidate for one of the shop’s grilled fish sandwiches, tacos, or plates.

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If you don't eat meat the animals win.

Nov. 23, 2018

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4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs
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