Photo by Jeanne RiceDining in downtown Huntington Beach has long been a dicey proposition. From its wild oil-town days as Southern California's Sodom and Gomorrah through its beach-rat heyday and its current tourist-mall incarnation, downtown HB was a handy spot for a surfer brunch, but I've had too many gastronomic belly flops there to regard Main Street as a dinner destination.
Of late, that has been changing, thanks to outposts of excellent county-bred chains like Wahoo's and Inka Grill and to a couple of HB-born eateries we'll soon be assaying here.
One such joint is Gallagher's: from the outside, it appears to be a noisy Irish pub. Inside, though, you'll find it's a noisy Irish pub with really good food.
I've never eaten in a pub in Ireland, but the English pubs I've supped in somehow took bland, artery-plugging, overcooked English cuisine and made it worse. I would be terrified to see what they'd do with a curry.
Gallagher's, however, makes a fine chicken curry, a sort of mild variant on a Thai curry that tastes as if it had hung out in Ireland just long enough to acquire a lilt. It's served with a solid mango chutney and an overly chewy but nicely garlicky naan bread.
Gallagher's does even better with food from the old sod. Their "honest and true Irish stew" is a very serviceable lamb stew, not as splendid as Skosh Monahan's, but very rich and mom-ish, with lots of carrots and potatoes. Their corned beef and cabbage comes with generous, thick rib-eye slices of the Hustler-pink beef, with both horseradish sauce and a tangy hot Bushmill's mustard as embellishments. It is also served with a hefty helping of mashed potatoes and gravy.
Their Irish bangers are excellent. Ordered as sausage rolls wrapped in puff pastry, they are wonderfully mushy, flavorful things. If that's not mushy enough for you, when you order them as an entrée, they also come with mushy peas.
You can also have them as an appetizer—four for $4.95—which is a far better call than the $5.95 Cornish pasties. Those meat-and-veggie pies were a staple of Welsh miners, which is why you can find splendid examples of them still served in Sierra Nevada gold-mining towns such as Nevada City. The sole problem with the pasties at Gallagher's is that, at such a small size, the ratio of crust to filling is overwhelming.
The night we dined there, one of the specials was a steak smothered in peanut sauce. Sounds like a nice way to ruin a steak, doesn't it? But here, the sauce was a light, unobtrusive adjunct to the delicious, perfectly prepared steak.
Regulars assure me that the fish and chips are choice and not too oily and that Gallagher's makes the best turkey burger in the county. In between those poles of British and California cuisine, the extensive menu offerings include shepherd's pie, teriyaki, Philly-cheesesteak sandwiches, Caribbean burgers, French dip, and a breakfast menu that includes a full Irish breakfast with eggs, banger, sautéed mushrooms, grilled tomatoes, baked beans, potatoes, toast and an Irish white pudding for $7.95.
The five-year-old pub is owned by brothers Ciaran and Eugene Gallagher. Eugene used to tend bar at the Harp in Costa Mesa, but their shamrock credentials go back a bit farther than that, to their County Derry birthplace in North Ireland, where their parents operated pubs.
The place has a clean, dark, comfy pub décor—with kelly green surfaces and reddish-brown wood paneling—offering no hint that you're a block from the beach. Along with live entertainment at night, the speakers typically blare Brit rock, from the Beatles to Sabbath, at an enveloping volume that ensures you'll make every word of your conversation count.
Gallagher's Pub and Grill, located at 300 Pacific Coast Hwy. (facing Walnut Street), Huntington Beach, is open Mon.-Fri., 11:30 a.m.-2 a.m.; Sat.-Sun., 9 a.m.-2 a.m. (714) 536-2422. Dinner for two, $12-$45, food only. Full bar. AmEx, MC and Visa accepted.
Get the Food & Drink Newsletter
Our weekly guide to Orange County dining includes food news and reviews, as well as dining events and interviews with chefs and restaurant owners.