The Palm Cafe Food Court in Irvine might be the ugliest place to eat in Orange County: a large hall with inexplicably high ceilings, rickety tables sitting on ugly carpet, and a design scheme dating back to the Reagan administration. There's more life to sitting on a milk crate next to a curb than having lunch at this sad excuse for an eating arena, and most of the vendors here serve little better than glop, knowing the city's office drones will scarf down anything just so they can say they walked here as a form of exercise.
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But two oases exist here: Franco's Cucina (which we'll address in detail in a future column) and the Chippy Fish & Chips, a seafood joint with clam chowder that can combat any gloom, hush puppies straight from the bayou, and a grilled chicken sandwich that's actually memorable. But don't stray too far from the name: Edwin Goei called it the best fish and chips in Orange County last year, and eating an order just out of the fryer reminds you why he's the best food critic in Orange County. The owners make a version of the fried British standard that not only stands above the sea of greasy slabs found countywide, but also approaches the ethereal: a golden cloud of batter almost approaching the fatty glory of a chicharrón encasing fresh fish that's never frozen, withstanding the dip into oil and retaining its briny beauty. The fish is stacked atop fat fries that soak up all the vinegar, Sriracha and tartar sauce you'll inevitably drown your meal in, fries you actually want to finish—and will. And even though you'll have consumed enough oil to run a biodiesel car, it all sits well inside your gut at the end.
These fish and chips are the best in Orange County, yet that's not my favorite meal at the Chippy. The shrimp po' boy is spectacular, one of the better sandwiches in the county: a massive meal, simple in that all it contains are popcorn shrimp, tomatoes, lettuce and a fantastic remoulade—but oh, the nuances. The shrimp crunch as though they were Pop Rocks; the tomato adds vegetal freshness; the mini-baguette lends heartiness. And the remoulade is sweet, yet a tad spicy, worthy of showcasing in some fancier place than this. The Chippy does a brisk business, but it deserves a better spot than the downtrodden Palm Cafe Food Court. Maybe if enough of ustedes flock to this place, that'll catapult it into better digs.
This column appeared in print as "Office Park Fish Fry."