Simple fish from the District:
PHOTO by ROSHEILA ROBLES
Somewhere between the restaurants that source their seafood from Tsukiji and those that shake loose a few filets from a cardboard box is a whole culinary gulf where the ocean isn’t even an option. This middle ground is a barren place populated by kitchens that would rather serve a dozen dull sliders than risk a single plate of fish. Long Beach Fish Grill, however, fills that void with ease, cooking up seafood so simple it’s borderline bold.
Long Beach Fish Grill’s concept isn’t an unfamiliar one—places like Orange County’s (and Gardena) mini-chain California Fish Grill operate on the same back-to-basics principles—but it’s still refreshing. The menu is nothing but seafood: about a half-dozen types of fish, plus shrimp and scallops, laid bare on a plate with a quick smear of Cajun seasoning, garlic butter or teriyaki sauce. Like Redondo Avenue neighbor Porky’s (which treats its meat with the same reverence), Long Beach Fish Grill understands that the best pieces of protein are those unencumbered by anything but a quick kiss of spice.
Inside, the restaurant is as basic as the menu: white walls, concrete floors stained an algal green and a bubbling blue aquarium at the back of the place. Because you order at the counter and your food ships out on plastic trays, Long Beach Fish Grill might be confused for fast food. It’s quick, but the place is no Long John Silver’s.
The quintessential plates here all originate on the grill. It’s there that the restaurant offers the greatest variety of fish, each option aimed at a different kind of diner. For fish first-timers, there’s trout, a couple of thin filets cooked to a flaky finish. (Halibut works just as well for entry-level eating.) A second or third stop might yield some sunset-colored salmon or firm blocks of mahi mahi, but consider basa instead, a cousin of the catfish found in the deep rivers and flooded forests of Southeast Asia.
The seasonings all play out as expected—the Cajun spices soak up smoke, and the teriyaki sauce keeps it sweet. Neither is overpowering, but the garlic butter is the best of the three, a subtle wash that doesn’t mask the fish’s flavor but rather clarifies it.
Aside from the assorted combination plates that sneak in batches of scallops and shrimp, Long Beach Fish Grill’s secondary focus is fish tacos. There are five permutations: grilled or fried white fish, blackened or battered shrimp and grilled salmon. Topped with a pile of cabbage, onions, tomato and a dollop of obligatory cream sauce, the tacos are good enough for a quick fix, but they don’t match up against restaurants that place the fish taco on its proper pedestal.
What you’ll remember most about Long Beach Fish Grill are the details dominating it. While sides suffer at other fish-centric kitchens, here they go beyond rice and fries—the restaurant also serves delicate strips of grilled zucchini to help keep its meals heart-healthy. Even the water—dispensed from an otherwise unremarkable spigoted plastic tub—is cucumber-infused. And although your fish will be plenty good with garlic butter alone, you can also slip in a smack of heat with house bottles of Sriracha and Mae Ploy.
Because of its stance on seafood simplicity, Long Beach Fish Grill doesn’t succumb to the over-saucing and overcooking that plagues even midlevel fish houses. Instead, the restaurant successfully manages each and every expectation: sandless scallops, shrimp clustered in taut, charred curls and fish nearly as naked and unadorned as those dying to escape San Pedro Bay.
LONG BEACH FISH GRILL 1201 REDONDO AVE | LONG BEACH 90804 | 562.986.6900 | OPEN MON-SAT 11AM-9PM | FOOD FOR TWO $15-25