Fish and chips is ubiquitous in Los Angeles County – but it isn’t always tasty. I have visited pubs that have all but given up the ghost, and have become unconscionably indifferent in their willingness to serve lackluster food. These establishments offer nothing more than fish that is tasteless and under-seasoned, along with soggy batter and chips that betray a bad fry in lukewarm oil and a minimum of ten minutes under a hot lamp – only furthering the “bad” British food stereotype.
Then there are the places that actually try. These eateries serve good quality fish in a decent batter with a good fry; but for some reason, everything is under-seasoned. Beyond these are the winners. To be fair, there are a couple of places that deserve fair mention for serving outstanding versions of the dish. These are usually gastropubs (I’ll be writing about my favorite soon.), or newly opened pubs or chip shops with zealous owners trying to make a good first impression. (Batterfish in Encino is very good, and they serve a deep-fried Mars Bar that is worth an occasional indulgence.)
You would think that the best fish and chips in Southern California is served in a city with a heavy British demographic – like Santa Monica or San Diego – or even Los Angeles, right? Wrong. The city that’s killing it above all others? Beautiful downtown… Alhambra??? That’s right. To get the best version of this British staple, you have to drive to the San Gabriel Valley – the land of dim sum, ramen, and amazing Southeast Asian eateries. Hot Red Bus is a fairly new chip shop (opened in October, 2012) that boasts a fairly eclectic, very affordable British-Indian menu.
The first thing one notices upon arrival is the difference in the decor between this place and any other British eatery. It is obviously owned by a Brit-Indian.
The decor is really fun and entertaining to look at while you’re chomping on your fare.
The Indian elements of the menu come from the fact that the owner, Sonny Sehmi, is of British-Indian descent. Sonny has infused the menu with lots of Indian flavors, along with vegetarian offerings. (Sonny’s Texas-born wife, Sage, is a vegetarian.) Sehmi made sure to put dishes like Madras chicken, bhaji, samosas, chicken tikka on the menu to stay true to his culture. I saw the chicken and chips and the Doner and chips (lamb and beef) going out to other customers: these reminded me of a sort of Brindian version of poutine. Not shown on the menu: HRB also offers balti bowls, Indian-flavored wrap sandwiches, and something called the Full English with Fries. This involves a burger layered with egg, bacon, and all other kinds of madness. It looks good…and dangerous.
But the first time around, we just needed to try unadulterated fish and chips.
My family and I tried the buttery swai, and the moist, sweet cod in our fish and chips orders. All three of us were extremely happy with our food. I was trying to decide which I loved better, but it was almost impossible to choose. I preferred the swai, but I would order either one again and again. I love spicy, flavorful sauces, so I asked the gentleman behind the counter what he suggests for dipping. He brought me three sauces: hot chili, yoghurt mint, and tangy tamarind. I also used some malt vinegar, because, well…duh. I tried the sauces on their own, and I mixed a few together. Every sauce and every combination was phenomenal. The chips (fries) were crispy, flavorful, and substantial enough to dip in the sauces. They are fried twice, which eliminate the mealy, under-cooked texture that a thicker chip sometimes has. It also imparts a wonderful crunch when bitten into.
Hot Red Bus is worth the trip, no matter where you are driving from. It would make any Brit (or Brindian) happy…and homesick. #catchthebus
Hot Red Bus is located at: 31 E Main St. Alhambra, CA 91801. The phone number is: 626:576-2877
They are closed Mondays.
Their hours are: Tues-Thurs, 11am – 9:3opm; Fri-Sat, 11am – 10pm; Sat, 11am-9pm