This Hole-in-the-Wall Life
If you're wondering why the world's fishing stocks are nearing extinction, look no further than Malibu Fish Grill. This small chain with locations in Santa Ana (the good part) and Huntington Beach offers cheap, tasty seafood shipped in daily and sells it at outrageously cheap prices—seriously, $10 shouldn't be able to buy you a fillet, rice, pita bread and salad, but that's what passes for an expensive dinner here. And so the masses eat here again and again.
Funny how a great meal can make concerns about the oceans' decline disappear. Malibu Fish Grill offers almost every fish favored by Americans—trout, salmon, catfish, tuna, halibut, mahi-mahi (I wouldn't be surprised if they spike the soft drinks with cod liver oil—wait, yes I would). You can enjoy the fishes in various ways: smushed into patties, then stuffed into springy buns smeared with Malibu's homemade tartar sauce to create a great hamburger; mixed with rice and greens in wraps large enough to fuel a construction worker; in tacos, skewered, even spread on top of salads. Whichever fish you choose, order a side of grilled zucchini, smeared in olive oil, lemon and oregano—refreshing and a toasty side note to the seafood.
There are other, non-fish meals at Malibu Fish Grill as well. Bulky crab cakes impress; crispy shrimp are covered in a batter fried to a near-caramelized state; the clam chowder is passable. But the best way to enjoy Malibu Fish Grill is via its fillets. They keep de-boned fillets on ice, awaiting your selection. Once you choose, cooks slap it on a grill and dab it with the seasoning of your choice—garlic butter, Cajun or a peppery lemon oregano rub, it doesn't matter: they're all good. While the fish grills, the cooks prepare your side—the French fries are fine, but the side of plump, buttery rice is better. Then wait. Your order appears on a giant plate, with an unannounced side of pita squares and a refreshing salad.
It's really a bit excessive—really, there is no need for anyone to scarf down a whole fillet in one sitting. But the fillets are too delicious to save for leftovers, and so delicate you can effortlessly scoop off strips of fish as if it were a soup. Though grilled, each fish maintains its flavor—the ahi tuna is fatty and luscious; salmon is thick and rosy; halibut a bit gamy. I like the orange roughy, a slightly sweet fish from the deep seas that is increasingly popular in the United States even as its population plummets. Meh.
MALIBU FISH GRILL, 2321 E. FOURTH ST., SANTA ANA, (714) 550-9121; ALSO AT 17965 BEACH BLVD., HUNTINGTON BEACH, (714) 375-4861; WWW.MALIBUFISHGRILL.COM.
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.