10 Essential Fish Dishes in OC and Long Beach

Here fishy fishy fishy!
Here fishy fishy fishy!
Dustin Ames

Yes, it's the obligatory Lenten fish post. We kinda did one last year, and probably the year before that. But this is a new list, a roster of ten of the best fish dishes your humble food scribe discovered since I did that last list, with nothing repeated.

Included in this year's list are two poke joints, because judging by our page hits, y'all love the poke. But notice that there's no sushi, because that's a whole other category!

And yes, in this alphabetically ordered list, I include a few Long Beach joints. Even though we are called OC Weekly, we cover Long Beach. Always have. So deal.

Big Catch Seafood's Crispy Smelt
Basket case.
Basket case.
Dustin Ames

The chefs at Big Catch Seafood are wizards of the deep-fry. The crispy Brussels sprouts are faultless, served in cute little fry baskets. Fried catfish fingers are encased in a golden, greaseless, crunchy cocoon of batter as rigid as coral until your teeth breach the crust to find a creamy white flesh as clean as milk and without a trace of muddiness. The same batter gilds the $5 smelt, which may be the best fried dish of all, each length of fish locked in the golden amber, then served with a horseradish and lemon tartar sauce that cuts through its complex fishy soul of sweet and bitter.

Boathouse Collective's Grilled Swordfish in Coconut Curry
Fish out of curry.
Fish out of curry.
Edwin Goei

Garlands of lightbulbs crisscross overhead. And on long communal picnic tables, groups of people will eat, drink, take selfies and sing "Happy Birthday" in an asphalt courtyard with potted trees and an herb garden. If a joyous summer-night wedding banquet were ever to be held at a Home Depot Garden Center, it would probably look something like this. The chef is Mathieu Royer, once a cook at Pizzeria Ortica, Hinoki and the Bird, and Morimoto, now inventor of dishes that demonstrate the Japanese virtue of artistic restraint. His grilled swordfish is a lone hunk of snowy moistness floating atop a Thai coconut curry with waves of potatoes sliced long and thin. You don't get rice with it, but wished you did.

Eqeko's Ceviche
It's brisk, baby!
It's brisk, baby!
Edwin Goei

Eqeko's ceviche is real Peruvian ceviche, served with crunchy fried corn kernels of cancha and its original form called choclo. Most important, the fish in the dish is flawless, luminous, piled into an ivory mountain after being firmed up by a sluicing of lime juice. And when you bite into a cube, you discover it still has texture--it springs back at you before it melts into nothing. Each subsequent forkful is dragged through the electrified orange liquid flavored by ají rocoto, one of Peru's native peppers. And when your tongue begins to tingle from the hotness and your lips start to pucker from the acidity, you calm it all down with chunks of camote, boiled sweet potato.



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