Our Top 5: Fish and chips

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By Kelli Shiroma

1 - fishandchipscoverWhen it comes to fish and chips, my go-to was Brew Moon. The fish was always fresh and flaky, the batter perfectly crispy and the fries nice and salty. Imagine my dismay when the Ward Centre restaurant and microbrewery shuttered in 2009. I was still in college in California, so I didn’t get a chance to stop by for a proper farewell.

I’ve been on the hunt for a replacement ever since. And since we’re surrounded by fresh local fish, I figured no problem. Right?

So who has the best fish and chips? The dish that combines a good crunch with melt-in-your-mouth tenderness? With well-seasoned fries and a smooth, creamy tartar perfect for spreading and dunking? And just as important, who gives enough fish so the catch is worth the price without leaving you with a ton of lonely fries?

Here’s the “reel” deal: Our Top 5 fish and chips.

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No. 5: Pint + Jigger, Beer-battered fish and fries, $12

Gastropub = craft beer + good bar food. That usually includes fish and chips. Pint + Jigger’s version comes with a signature tartar sauce and house coleslaw.

The fresh fish changes daily; here it’s opah. Fresh? Check. Soft interior and crunchy crust? Yup. The salt-and-pepper seasoning on the skinny fries is good and the coleslaw is mild.

P+J’s fish is great. If only there were a little more of it. Three petite pieces of opah are overwhelmed by the fries. Since part of the joy of fish and chips is alternating bites, that lands this worthy dish at No. 5.

Pint + Jigger • 1936 S. King St. • McCully • 744-9593

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No. 4: REAL a gastropub, Fish and chips, $8

I’m not gonna lie, the first thing that caught my eye about REAL’s fish and chips was the price. Eight dollars? What can you get for $8?

The answer is three decent-size pieces of beer-battered marlin served with malt vinegar and a fish-to-fries ratio that’s filling and balanced. But while the crust is delectably crunchy, the fish can lack of flavor. As someone who loves fries without ketchup, I don’t mind blander things, but this is a little too bland.

But I relish that crisp crust with every bite. It’s easy to see why fish and chips is one of the most popular items at Real.

REAL a gastropub • 1020 Auahi St. • Ward • 596-2526

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No. 3: Stage Restaurant, Fish and chips, $15

First, let me say that I love chicken katsu. It’s probably my favorite local indulgence because of the crunchy, golden panko crust. The more panko, the better. So guess what Stage does with its fish and chips?

Stage delivers comfort food with a twist; in the fish and chips, every element has a twist. Instead of a beer-battered coating, Stage encrusts its catfish in panko. The coleslaw has a wasabi sting that pairs nicely with the fish. The BBQ fries are a little subtle but a welcome variation on traditional “chips.”

But let’s talk about that catfish. My mouth waters just remembering how good it is. I had my doubts when the server said that the catfish was from Indonesia. But it tastes fresh and is flaky and tender. And the crust is exactly like my beloved chicken katsu—just slightly saltier, which I love. The pieces are generous—I get full after two—and there are just enough fries to keep the fish company. It’s love at first bite.

Stage Restaurant • 1250 Kapiolani Blvd. • Ala Moana • 237-5429

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No. 2: BREW’d Craft Pub, Fish and chips, $11

Since BREW’d is the Kaimuki sister of REAL, I figured the fish and chips had to be just as good, if not better. I was right.

The three pieces of marlin (catch of the day) are beer-battered and come with tartar sauce and fries.

Now we’re talking: crispy, golden-brown crust on good-size chunks of succulent, flavorful fish. The tartar sauce is creamy and perfect for spreading, and better yet, they’re generous with it. The skinny fries are sprinkled with pepper and leave me wanting more. This is how fish and chips should be.

BREW’d Craft Pub • 3441 Waialae Ave. • Kaimuki • 732-2337

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No. 1: Nico’s Pier 38, Fish and Chips, $11.25

When I visit Nico’s, it’s a tossup between the fish and chips and the famous fish burger—which says a lot about the fish and chips. It’s no surprise that Nico’s takes the No. 1 spot.

The fresh fish (Nico’s is next door to the fish auction) is beer-battered and served with fries, malt vinegar and a ginger garlic cilantro dip. The lone big piece of fish is delicious, just like the crust. Nico’s fish always stands out because it’s so moist—but more on that in a bit.

The first time I ordered it, I was afraid the ginger would overpower the tartar sauce. But the zing is balanced by the garlic, and I love garlic. Dunking the fish produces a perfect bite. Nico’s gives about twice as much fries as fish, but I never mind because the fish is generous and the thick fries are exactly how I like them. Even when full I devour every last bit.

Now back to that fish: It’s always swordfish, because it stays moist. That tiny detail has incredible payoff. Juiciness is one of this fish and chips’ signature traits, a plus that sets it apart from all others. Great job, Nico’s. Way to get me hooked.

Nico’s Pier 38 • 1131 N. Nimitz Highway • Iwilei • 540-1377