Spring is in the air! What better way to to celebrate the season (whether you observe Lent or not) than by digging in to heaping platters of freshly fried fish at one of the various local, Southern-inspired "You Buy, We Fry" seafood shacks. Most shacks offer a display case of slabs of fish ready to sell by the pound for home preparation, or you can have your fish fillet fried to order and packed in to-go containers.
These humble-looking joints are inspired by the Southern fish fry shacks, formerly unique to Southern Louisiana, which came to Los Angeles during the "La. to L.A." migration around the 1930s.
Charlie's Fish Market
On a stretch of Pico dotted with auto shops and collision centers, Charlie's is proudly "family-owned and operated since 1993." It's a homespun joint with one table in the center and a couple of makeshift booths. The overhead TV may be curiously tuned to a German soap opera with English subtitles. However, the majority of its customers obviously get their fried fish fix to go. The eponymous Charlie, who presides over the register, likely will steer you to a fish that fits your fancy. The orange roughy, a few dollars more than the usual suspects, is a great choice, almost reminiscent of snow crab. Charlie also offers whiting, sand dabs and fillet of sole for frying, plus oysters by the jar. All meals come with crinkle-cut fries, slices of wheat bread and a green salad.
5677 W. Pico Blvd., Mid-Wilshire; (323) 935-6886.
Louisiana Best Seafood
This no-frills, deep blue shack in the middle of a parking lot serves up classic fried catfish in a distinctively Southern Louisiana–inspired cornmeal breading with ultra-crisp, mahogany-hued hush puppies. The lightly fried oysters pop with the brininess of the sea and pair perfectly with the bracing cocktail sauce, which is laced with minced horseradish. Louisiana also offers oysters by the jar and a few different packaged sweets, such as sweet potato and pecan pies. There are a handful of seats to wait until your order is called. But you will have to take your food elsewhere, since there are no tables or even a countertop. However, your Southern fried fish likely will not survive the drive home.
2400 Atlantic Ave., Long Beach; (562) 424-0298.
Plaza Fish Market
This fish market has been doling out fried fish for years in a mini-mall anchored by a Popeye's Fried Chicken. You can make out the unmistakable, ambrosial scent of fried fish from blocks away. A wide variety of fresh fish is displayed meticulously and lovingly over mounds of crushed ice for purchase by the pound, or just order your chosen fish fried to go. We recommend the combination plate of delicately seasoned fried catfish, oysters and jumbo shrimp. Each dinner plate comes with Wonder Bread, french fries and lightly sweet potato salad punched up with minced pimentos. The combination plate is more than enough food for two.
3282 Slauson Ave., Vernon; (323) 295-9368.
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Penguin Fish and Chips
Open more than 26 years, Penguin (the cute cartoon penguin on the menu can't quite conceal his excitement at biting into a whole fish) has a devoted clientele that has been coming for years to its tiny mini-mall corner location. Crisp red snapper fillets are breaded in a distinctive, light cornmeal dusting and paired with deep-fried hush puppies studded with corn kernels, plus crinkle-cut fries and a side of potato salad lightly sweetened with pickle juice. It's a satisfying, gargantuan plate of food. Lunch orders come with three hefty fillets, dinners with five pieces. The piquant house hot sauce goes well with the fried fish. Southern desserts from famed 27th St. Bakery are sold by the counter, including the lemon-frosted Sock It to Me Cake and individual ramekins of sweet potato pie. The takeout menu memorably proclaims its catchy slogan: "If you know fashion, you know taste, if you know taste, you know ... Penguin."
5292 W. Pico Blvd., Mid-Wilshire; (323) 933-7661.
New Orleans Fish Market
We had to include this market on our list even though it serves more than just fried seafood. Open since 1983, this Creole market was founded by a New Orleans expat, Bernard Ganier. The market sells packages of Camellia brand red kidney beans imported from the Big Easy, as well as containers of premade roux for the preparation of regional dishes. Oyster loaves, roughly a half-dozen oysters imported from the Gulf of Mexico and layered onto toasted, buttered French bread, are great. The fried fish plates are loaded with flakey fillets of red snapper or catfish, french fries, spicy red beans and rice and potato salad. It also offers a deep, murky seafood gumbo loaded with cracked Louisiana blue crab and chunks of andouille sausage; boiled shrimp by the pound; and a regional delicacy: the crawfish boil.
2212 W. Vernon Ave., Leimert Park; (323) 298-9738.