Monday, June 1, 2009

Skid Row Fish Fry

This spring an article came out in a magazine called Coastal Living, featuring the Best Seafood Dives, 2009. The Southern California section listed a lot of places I've been too. They list one along the beach in Malibu that I enjoy quite a lot. And they also list a couple of places that are pretty touristy and not-so-great.

They left out one of the best seafood dives in L.A. But I think I know why. Because this seafood dive is a real dive. This seafood dive is in Skid Row.

Fisherman's Outlet is on Central Avenue in downtown Los Angeles, in the wholesale district, which is between San Pedro and Alameda Streets and includes cold storage facilities, wholesale produce distributors, and wholesale seafood distributors. It also includes many homeless shelters, missions, and social services providers, and it is not uncommon to see folks who are down on their luck on the street here.


Fisherman's Outlet is a low, red-brick building set among parking lots in a wedge-shaped block bordered by Central, Sixth, and Ceres Streets. The challenges of the neighborhood are made clear by the wrought iron fences and gates that ring the store and its patio dining area. It's only open during the day for lunch - Skid Row is not a place to venture after dark.

There are two entries - one to the "restaurant" side and one to the "market" side. On the restaurant side, the line often stretches out the door. Savvy customers know there's a second line that feeds through the market side. If the restaurant side line gets too long, the staff will let you in on the secret.

The market side - much less crazy than the fried counter

When we went there the first time, the line stretched out into the dining area. As we stood there, we could hear an incredible din from inside - shouts back and forth and voices rising. For a moment I wondered what was going on. But soon I heard the laughter and good spirits and realized - that's just how it is here.


The line moves pretty fast, and it's actually good to be in it if you have to decide what you want. When it's your turn, you better know what you want - the countermen are impatient. Orders are taken with lightning speed, and the food is placed on your orange cafeteria tray in seconds. You can buy an American soda, an Orange Bang, or a beer to drink with your meal.

It's cash only, too - no credit cards. But they do have an ATM onsite. For $9 each we got a fried combo - I got fish and shrimp, [The Man I Love] got shrimp and scallops. If you prefer healthier seafood, you can get grilled or broiled selections, chowders, seafood bisque, salads and ceviche. They serve rice, if you prefer healthier sides.

But at a seafood joint like this, I like me some fried fish. Portions are generous, and it comes with french fries, a cup of cole slaw, a lemon wedge and tubs of tartar sauce and cocktail sauce.

The food was perfect. Fresh fish and shrimp, piping hot and fried to perfection, not a bit greasy. The shrimp were succulent and lovely. The fish itself was juicy and flaked perfectly cooked. the french fries were the skinny kind, crisp.

You can sit under the umbrellas outside at a stone table. The place is always full, and signs encourage you to share your table. You'll rub elbows with all kinds of downtown workers during the week, and lots of families on Saturdays.

We struck up a conversation with a couple next to us. He was a mechanic, and she worked for the school district. They've been regulars for years. They were having a bite of lunch, and picking up some fresh shrimp from the market side to take home for later.

The prices are pretty good, too, since it's in the wholesale district. And the quality is superb. Our friends said that despite the appearance of chaos in the kitchen, the countermen never get your order wrong.

Fisherman's Outlet has been around since 1961, and it has the feel of a place with traditions. Since going there, I've mentioned it to friends who are long-time Angelenos, and many of them remember going there as a kid with a dad or an uncle.

Even though downtown is starting to become gentrified, the wholesale district is still a little too raw for hipness. Fisherman's Outlet is the kind of place you'd never see a tourist. When you meet someone else who knows about it, their eyes light up, like you're members of a secret club. And because they remember that first delicious taste of crispy fried fish.

If you're a brave adventurer, next time you're in L.A. - come on down to Skid Row for the tastiest seafood in town!

23 comments:

mo.stoneskin said...

I'll pay them a visit once they start taking card!

Gilly said...

You got that lot for $9?? Looks like good value, even if I can't work out the exchange rate!!

Often these "ordinary" places are fat better than the Michelin-starred, very upmarket places. I'd rather go to a clean, basic place, with good cooking and fair prices than a really posh place.

What sort of fish did you have??

Tristan Robin Blakeman said...

we have a wonderful fish fry near us - but nothing available for $9 that resembles that!

Crystal said...

Wow! You just made someone who doesn't like seafood want to check out Fisherman's Outlet. :)

You have a couple awards waiting for you at my blog!

Woman in a Window said...

This is the place where a book of short stories could be born. I love that it's only open for lunch, that it's such a tradition, that there's a secret back line which really isn't very secret at all. Wouldn't it be great to hang out there for a week and people watch and then write it all out? Very cool. OH, and looks delicious, too.

kcinnova said...

Yum!

And I'm wondering how it compares to Ivar's fish bar down on Lake Union.

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