There’s something unusual at the Source’s food court in Buena Park, a mall that already trades in unusual food. It’s called Ocean Snack, and it serves burgers and hot dogs, but nothing like you’ve ever seen at an American ballpark. The meat inside the buns is made of wild Alaskan pollock, puréed into paste and formed into shapes that not only function as the protein for these sandwiches, but also emulate fried pork cutlets in curry rice bowls, get skewered onto sticks for something called kkochi, and are wrapped around seaweed with blocks of rice for musubis.
Although this entire mall-food-court concept is centered on this product—trademarked as AlFi, a portmanteau of Alaskan Fish—the place can also be thought of as a culinary portmanteau in and of itself, as it’s a blend of an American fast-food joint and a Korean street-hawker stall. The burgers and hot dogs it offers are shown in food-styled glamour shots on a menu marquee worthy of McDonald’s. But at the counter, next to the register, there are wire racks stocked with golden-fried morsels of the mystery meat in all sizes and shapes—the kind you’d randomly encounter at an Asian night market.
No matter what you end up having here, it will involve AlFi, which is really just Korean fish cake reconfigured in Willy Wonka ways. In the hot dog, the AlFi recipe has onions, mushrooms, green onions and bell peppers mixed into it. Extruded into a tube, fried and tucked inside a bun as if it were a Hebrew National, the hot dog can then be zigzagged with an array of ketchups, mustards and mayos from plastic squeeze bottles. For a nominal fee, you could have it topped with diced kimchi and something called “seaweed crunch,” battered and deep-fried swatches of nori that are the closest thing to a fish chicharrón. You could also opt for a combo deal in which two of the hot dogs are paired with a drink and seaweed crunch on the side as chips.
When you eat the hot dog, you’ll find it springy, with a texture that registers as some sort of sausage in your mouth. The flavor, however, is distinctly of fish, or at least an umami-packed fish product. Topped with the kimchi as its sauerkraut, you can imagine it as a foodstuff from a Bizarro World where pigs, chickens and cows don’t exist.
The panko-breaded AlFi patty that floats atop the katsu curry bowl is more discreet in its fishiness. Perhaps it’s because any protein paired with Japanese-style curry—the same kind that moistens and flavors the rice and protein at every restaurant that serves it—ends up playing a secondary role. The bowl has the curry smothering a generous mound of rice that fills you up before you can get through even half of it.
If you’re not hungry enough for a full meal, you could choose something to nibble on from the display counter of fried food that’s officially called “Hot Barz.” There’s at least a dozen different options to choose from, including a golden-fried wedge that suspiciously resembles a slice of pizza. Bite into it, and cheese oozes out from between two sandwiching layers of AlFi. There’s even a version of a danger dog, in which a fish dog is swaddled in bacon before being deep-fried.
All of it is probably better than the kkochi. These skewers of fish cake—here shaped into balls, cubes and floppy sheets—are served in a cup of broth in which it was simmered in a bigger pot and already surrendered all of its flavor to hours ago. It’s still a good alternative if you want something that isn’t a hot dog or deep-fried. Since it’s essentially a portable form of the Japanese dish oden, the broth sips and soothes like a good stock.
There are distinctly Korean dishes here, too, such as a tteok-bokki, those tubular rice cakes with a forever chew that’s kept warm with a gochujang-based sauce in a crock pot. And if you’re wondering what the colorful “Haecho” bowl is all about, the word means “seaweed.” So when you order one, it will most definitely include a good portion of the same kind of marinated seaweed you see at sushi bars, but also all the vegetables from refrigerated trays that’s there for exactly this purpose.
From fast-food staples to a veggie-laden bowl that’s virtually health food, Ocean Snack has it all—so long as you’re not craving meat from something that moos, oinks or clucks.
Ocean Snack, 6924 Beach Blvd., Ste. K333, Buena Park, (714) 690-1458; alfisnack.com. Open daily, 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Meals, $2.99-$8.99. No alcohol.
Before becoming an award-winning restaurant critic for OC Weekly in 2007, Edwin Goei went by the alias “elmomonster” on his blog Monster Munching, in which he once wrote a whole review in haiku.