O Capt’n! ¡Mi Capitan!
Sometimes, I wonder what life was like in Orange County before the Reconquista, specifically in the areas now completely overrun by Mexicans. Are the claims of Know Nothings true? Was life better back then? What restaurants did gabachos enjoy? Was there no poverty, no crime before the Mexican came? I thought about this alternate universe recently while enjoying lunch at Capt’n Mike’s Fish Fry & Chicken Restaurant in Costa Mesa’s Westside. It’s in the part of the town long-targeted by the migra-loving city council and pendejo bloggers with police raids, gentrification rhetoric and other general anti-Mexican efforts. Despite such efforts, though, Latinos continue to take over businesses in this area, one by one by one.
Capt’n Mike’s strikes the happy ethnic medium. It was a seafood restaurant in a previous generation, as evidenced by faux-wooden walls meant to re-create a New England clam house for working-class whites. Fish and chips remain on the menu, and they do the job: soft flesh, crispy exterior, not oily at all, fat fries that can scoop up chunks of tartar sauce like a spoon. But most of the eaters in the restaurant are Mexicans, and the advertised special is fish and chips . . . with pinto beans and rice.
Does the culinary mash-up work? I say yes. The creamy refried frijoles make a great dip for the fish, while the rice isn’t stale—the best possible compliment for Mexican rice. Order a side of corn tortillas, and you can construct monster fish tacos that are part-British, part-Mexican and all-Orange County, baby. Most of the eaters gobble up this special, including the stray old white guys who don’t mind the flat-screen television tuned to soccer or the Spanish spoken at their longtime dive.
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But even old battleships need to change with the times, so Capt’n Mike’s now sells charbroiled chicken. It isn’t better than the Surfin’ Chicken or even Costa Mesa’s Super Pollo, but the hen is worth a drive: crispy skin, buttery flesh, cheap. Don’t bother with its accompanying pico de gallo; drench your meal instead in Tapatío or—more bizarrely—Sriracha (the latter hot sauce actually works better on chicken than Tapatío due to its tartness). Can’t decide between the old and the new? Order the two-piece special: a drumstick and a breast of chicken, plus two fish filets.
Other items dot Capt’n Mike’s faded marquee menu: fried mozzarella sticks, fried zucchini, enough fried things to make a trip to the Orange County Fair seem unnecessary. And on tap, as in any Mexican restaurant selling charbroiled chicken, is Orange Bang!—a drink long-enjoyed by whites but ceded hace años to Mexicans.
Capt’n Mike’s Fish Fry & Chicken Restaurant, 815 W. 19th St., Costa Mesa, (949) 645-2875.