Ella Mae's Cuisine in Compton

Fish burger
Fish burger
A. Simmons

Usually, when a "fish burger" appears on a menu, it's actually just a fish sandwich. At Ella Mae's Cuisine in Compton, however, every component save the fish itself -- chewy, well-seasoned planks of tilapia -- is burger-like. Unless you request otherwise, it even comes with cheese. From the waxed paper wrapping, to the sweet, drippy pickles, to the raw onion slices, to the puddle of mayonnaise, to the brown-topped bun speckled with sesame seeds, the sandwich's accouterments scream, "Would you like fries with that?"

The thing is, we would.

They're excellent: little yellow twigs dusted faintly with seasoned salt. A nest arrives with our fish burger and, dipped into ketchup dosed with Red Rooster hot sauce, they disappear between bites of the sandwich. The sandwich gets better with each chomp, by the way. As with a decent drive-through burger, the interior starts to deteriorate, the pickles melting into mayo, the fish falling apart. As textures become muddled, the flavors integrate, and once the translucent, grease-slicked sheath is naked, no regrets accompany the crumbs. Unless, of course, there is no room left for dessert. No, we are not speaking of the two-year-old restaurant's estimable peach cobbler. We're talking greens, specifically collards, semi-liquified, chile-spiked, and crowned with shreds of smoked meat.

Ella Mae's Cuisine serves breakfast all day -- along with fried chicken, pork chops, fish, shrimp, and a plethora of side dishes -- but weekend nights may be the time to pay a visit. Then, the spacious dining room -- lots of black and red, mirrors stretching from ceiling to floor, a framed picture of Barack Obama, and several wooden pianos -- transforms into a makeshift venue for jazz bands and benefits, a place for dancing and fellowship as well as serious sustenance.

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