Have you ever ordered a meal only to have every hue in it be a crispy golden brown? Have you ever had so much deep fried batter that your gut begged you to stop and eat a salad? Have you ever eaten at a restaurant where the closest thing to salad is the cabbage inside of the deep fried egg roll?
I have. Because I went to to England Fish and Chips, a not-so-British strip mall fry-by somewhere between Wrigley and Bixby Knolls that serves a bizarre but delicious assortment of crispy seafood, vegetables and poultry with nods to fried traditions from around the world.
From the outside, the sun-damanged sign and sparsely decorated interior told me this place was either permanently closed or a front for a weed clinic. However, the sight of several lunchtime regulars sitting in plastic chairs at wooden tables, face deep in trays of deep-fried goodies, was exactly the sign of life I needed to finally lure me inside.
A perpetually grinning Korean man and his wife run the tiny cash-only place, and he greets you warmly and confidently at the counter, as if the '70s-era menu board above him wasn't smattered with a perplexingly random mix of Southern, Asian and British fried food options.
There are deep fried fruits and vegetables like zucchini, onions, pineapples and the ever-elusive mushrooms. On the seafood end, there are fried shrimp, clams, scallops and oysters. And for some reason, under the heading of "Liverpool," servings of fried chicken wings and egg rolls are offered. Then, of course, there are England Fish & Chips' namesake dish–battered spears of firm, white palla fish plopped atop a serving of shoestring fries–available in doses of one, two and three pieces (named "Snacker," "Englanddale," and "Englishman," respectively).
Just to get the full inauthentic experience, I first opted for the Combo B, a steal at $6.89, which gives you a piece of fish, a thick-gooey-skinned egg roll and two whole chicken wings, battered Southern-style with cornmeal and a hint of cayenne. I have never seen such disparate items stacked on top of one another in a street-food paper tray, but eating a fistful of the included fries in between bites somehow helped tie together the oily flavors in the three distinct cuisines represented.
On another visit, I ordered the Deluxe seafood combo, also good deal at $7.99. Now, this combo makes a lot more sense for the restaurant's fish-and-chips theme, with one piece of the fish, one jumbo shrimp and five pieces of scallops. The sturdy, non-flaky meat of the uncommon palla/hilsa/ilish fish is not traditional for fish and chips at all and its use here may make any Brit who comes in here weep with disgust (like we do at their "Mexican" food). However, once doused in the mayo-heavy house tartar sauce and drenched in malt vinegar, the palla makes for a nice respite from the soggy messes that most cod-based fried fish dinners bring.
An unlikely take on Long Beach's propensity for Southern-style fish-fry joints, England Fish & Chips is less an attempt to bring a legit wee bit o' Britain to the city and more an opportunity to get the most out of the tiny kitchen's double fryer, which pumps out enough calorie-coated variety to satisfy the whole diverse block.
When any attempt at eating healthy goes out the window and "everything fried forever" becomes my new life motto, this is the first place I'll be going to get my world-cuisine fix of sweet, sweet artery-clogging batter.
England Fish & Chips, 2614 Pacific Ave, Long Beach, 562) 426-7400