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El Segundo Fish Company in El Segundo

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Welcome back to Dining On A Dime a bi-weekly feature in which Lizbeth Scordo surveys LA's cheap eats—often obscure, ethnic, unsung restaurants—proving that dining on a dime is alive, well, and quite tasty in this here city. Where do you think she should go next? Drop us a line.

If you're heading to the El Segundo Fish Company with visions of an open-air seaside shack where you can hear the waves crashing and feel the ocean mist on your face, well, you might have to adjust your expectations slightly since the place is actually about a mile from the beach and shares a parking lot with a giant Rite Aid. Location aside, the large room with soaring ceilings is still nautical kitschy with hanging marlins, sea blue walls, weathered wood tables and chairs, and framed photos of happy fisherman. There's also a splash of industrial décor thrown in thanks to brushed nickel ceiling fans, concrete floors, and patches of corrugated metal near the kitchen. The menu offers old-school artery-cloggers like fried oysters, fried shrimp, and two kinds of fish and chips — traditional cod or halibut for two bucks more. Also on offer, a variety of grilled and blackened fish dishes, including sea bass, snapper, salmon and swordfish, and five different types of fish tacos. Though the sandwich choices are enticing, most of them are just existing menu items repurposed on a roll, so we decide to skip them our first visit.

Our server seems a bit frazzled, and after we ask one too many questions about the menu and his recommendations, he says he's going to have to come back to us and moves on to other tables. A few minutes later, when he spots me wandering around looking for a glass of water (after having requested it three times), he apologizes and explains the restaurant only recently implemented table service (a sign reading "Order Here" is actually still hanging above the counter). He's also the only server on duty after another waiter left due to an emergency, and other staffers are off catering a MySpace party. I can't blame him since the restaurant is somewhat crowded with a few groups of four or five and a bevy of couples taking up many of the room's two-tops. I tell him we're in no rush and besides, we've got access to a complimentary never-ending bowl of salted peanuts that diners can fill up themselves from a bucket near the front door. Later on he gives us free beer and wine refills to make up for the slow service, a gesture I like even better than the free nuts.

The place is known for their chowder and fish and chips, the waiter tells us, but he also recommends the night's specials: a pasta and a lamb chop dish, as well as the menu's New Zealand sea bass and the blackened swordfish. We pass on the specials, but take his recommendation on the chowder (really, just so my husband, who's probably consumed more chowder over the years than any human on Earth, can share his expert opinion), along with the swordfish and the "popular" popcorn shrimp appetizer. We also go for an order of grilled mahi-mahi tacos.

The starters disappoint. The chowder isn't all that remarkable, and my husband wishes the chef would go a little (or actually, a lot) heavier on the clams, and resist the urge to chop them to oblivion. And while I know I shouldn't expect lobster-sized prawns from a $7 popcorn shrimp appetizer, the bay shrimp are ridiculously miniscule and the dish is probably 85 percent breading — though a delicious, golden and crispy breading at that.

We have much better luck with the entrees. The blackened swordfish, which comes with two sides (we choose a tangy chopped cole slaw and plain-Jane steamed broccoli), is juicy and flavorful, and the blackening spices give the dish a nice kick without overpowering the fish.

We're relatively happy with the duo of tacos too. The lightly-seasoned mahi is moist and fresh and goes well with the smoky tomatillo salsa served alongside it. The dish's downfall is its dry grocery-store tortillas, but on a glass-half-full note I'd rather have great fish and bad tortillas than the other way around. Still, a minor tortilla upgrade would go a long way.

Since I'm still tempted by the fish and chips, I order a single piece (for $1.95) just to sample it. It's excellent, with a light tempura batter covering the flakey cod, and it rivals the swordfish as the best thing we've tasted tonight. There's more I'd love to try, of course: the steamed clams with garlic bread, the grilled sea bass, the oyster po' boy with a side of hush puppies, but we're pretty full, and we've missed last call anyway since the kitchen stops serving at 9PM. Now, if we can just find that MySpace party ?

Lunch and Dinner items: $2.95 - $15.95
310-648-7222; website
—Lizbeth Scordo

El Segundo Fish Company

210 East Grand Avenue, El Segundo, CA, 90245

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