Malibu Eatery’s fishy claim

Featuring LA’s best fish sandwich, with a qualifier

Dinner from Malibu Eatery after being decanted from the to-go boxes: from upper left, burger, fish sandwich, chowder, and crabcakes. Photo by Richard Foss

“Great boasts deserve great scrutiny,” said someone wise. I’m not sure who that was, because I overheard someone attributing the saying to an obscure Victorian author without saying which one. Pithy wisdom may be valued regardless of the source, and this maxim is equally useful for political assertions and restaurant menus.

That maxim was what motivated me to visit Malibu Eatery, because they claim to serve “LA’s Best Fish Sandwich.” This is a mighty assertion – I’ve had pretty fantastic fish sandwiches at Connie & Ted’s in West Hollywood and Little Jewel of New Orleans in Chinatown, among other places. If they had just boasted that they had the best fish sandwich in Redondo Beach I would have still been skeptical, because I have had fine ones at various local haunts.

Given that Malibu is famed for high style and ocean views, the restaurant’s name might lead you to expect a smart casual place specializing in seafood. Instead the restaurant on Pacific Coast Highway, at Catalina Avenue, is a neat counter service place that serves tacos, sandwiches, and other standard fare. There’s a health and fitness vibe that does fit the name, so you can get an egg white breakfast bowl, “vegan dream” tacos, and other items made with organic ingredients. It’s what people in the Midwest probably think of as California fast food, and a pretty respectable selection of it.

In three visits I’ve found most items to have the virtue of simplicity when it comes to flavor. The avocado toast used good multigrain bread and was wholesome, though made with cherry tomatoes that didn’t contribute as much as fruitier varieties might. Great heirloom tomatoes are hard to find in early March, and would probably be too expensive for a seven-dollar sandwich anyway. A dusting of black sesame seeds and a bit of sea salt helped, and it was a good effort for a modest price. In summer when ripe local tomatoes are in season this will be better, but that’s the case everywhere.

Another breakfast item that hit the spot was their steak and egg breakfast burrito, though the name is somewhat misleading. Steak usually refers to chunks of meat, rather than very flavorful shredded beef that had been cooked with bell pepper and spices. That steak and chunks of avocado dominated the flavor, with black beans in the background. Though tomato salsa and Monterey jack cheese were allegedly inside that whole wheat tortilla somewhere, they made no impression. The flavor was different from the standard cheesy and spicy item, but successful.

The quality of the grass-fed beef elevated their burger above fast-food standard too, and it had an agreeable hint of smokiness from the grill. The thousand island-style sauce can be on the side for to go orders so I could add it myself, so the bun wasn’t soggy on arrival at home. A chicken skewer that was ordered as a side had some of that smokiness too, along with a citrusy herbal flavor from the marinade. Whoever was running the grill knows their job, because the chicken wasn’t dried out, as can happen if the cook isn’t attentive. The clam chowder was above average for a fast-food version too, the broth creamy and buttery, with plenty of chunks of clam and potato. A sprinkling of herbs on top made it aromatic, as did the mild garlic bread that came with it.

I was less impressed by the crabcake, which had a lot of filler, along with finely shredded crab that was then breaded and deep fried. The crisp exterior was fine, but the interior was somewhat mushy and the seasoning bland. It was fine as a vehicle for the tangy baja-style dipping sauce, but just wasn’t my style of crabcake. A breakfast taco left no real impression, not surprising given that it was just egg, cheese, beans, and a very mild salsa.

I have gotten this far without mentioning the item that brought us here, the “LA’s best fish sandwich.” Bottom line: it’s good, a generous portion of fish nicely fried and served on a bun with the usual pickles, cole slaw, and tomato, but best in LA it is not. I will note that at eleven dollars it’s somewhat less expensive than any of the other competitors I can think of, so if they change it to “LA’s best inexpensive fish sandwich, I’d reconsider their claim.

Though it doesn’t live up to their boast, it is emblematic of what they do here in a positive way. Malibu Eatery serves unusually good food for their price point. It should be a point of pride for this two-location operation, because people on a budget or in a hurry deserve to eat well too.

Malibu Eatery is at 725 N. Pacific Coast Hwy., Redondo Beach. Open 11 a.m. – 8 p.m. daily. Small parking lot. Outdoor dining. Beer and wine served. Some vegan items. (310) 798-2800. Malibueatery.com. ER

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Written by: Richard Foss

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