If it’s not the aquamarine eyes of the boy behind the counter that captures your attention, it’s probably the plethora of fish in the tank. Moving down the line at Bear Flag Fish Co. in Newport Beach, there are seafood deli items like tuna poke and calamari salad, juicy slabs of halibut and wild salmon, thick cuts of Ahi tuna, and gobs of raw shrimp beside other ocean life not often seen at the local market. Rest assured: you’ll find something to pique your fancy.
Bear Flag Fish Co. is on the corner of 31st and Newport. Tucked behind the parking lot for Ruby’s is a compact, single-level building with a glass façade. Inside, one will find a cozy interior, with long tables extending away from the windows and a plastic Marlin wall mount.
Before you walk away with only a pound of that succulent-looking $24.95 wild salmon, stop a minute and try the food. Thomas Carson didn’t open this shop a few years ago just to provide people with a better place for stocking up on fish. He added the long wooden tables and the shaded seats outside so you’d rest a minute and taste what the guys behind the counter can do with some of the stuff in that case.
If you ask for a specialty taco, you can choose any type of fish except for halibut. The halibut, they say, does not suit the taco, which may be just as well because it will be the wild salmon that calls out to you. On a generous portion of soft-corn tortilla, they’ll put a grilled cut of fish, tommy sauce, fresh cabbage and a scoop of juicy pico de gallo. You’d better eat it right away, otherwise, the juices from the fish and the tomatoes will quickly soak through the tortilla underneath and leave a broken, soggy mess.
The flavor is subtle because both the pico de gallo and the tommy sauce are mild. The tommy sauce is creamy with a slight tang.
Rightly so, the flavor that overpowers the rest is that of the salmon. The flesh is juicy and comes apart, so you know the fresh fish has been done perfectly. If you’re just hungry, you can probably get away with a couple of tacos and maybe an appetizer. You can’t go wrong with the tuna poke, especially when you’re this far away from Hawaii, or the Ciopinno — the misspelling of which we hope is accidental. If you’re famished, you might need something heartier, like a fish burrito.
When it comes to fish, these folks don’t mess around. If you’re only going to eat one item here, try the Yellowtail Burrito, in which you’ll find a liberal helping of flaky, perfectly grilled fish, rice, beans, some chopped lettuce, pico de gallo and tommy sauce — even avocado, if you like. Similar to the taco, the flavor is mild as well. This is a fish burrito in the purest sense because you will get the full flavor of fish. And, since it’s good quality fish, which Bear Flag Fish Co. promises, then your experience will be that much more enjoyable.
Should the flavors of tacos or burritos be too mild — which it might be for some — this place offers the perfect solution: hot sauce. There are various ways you can go: good ol’ spicy Sriracha, tangy Tabasco, sweet chili Sambal, a jerk-chili sauce, and a couple of others like Yucatero and Guacamaya.
A few drops of any of these on the burrito will create a perfect mouthful of flavor: sweet and spicy, salty and tangy. You can also add the hot sauce to kick the creamy clam chowder up a notch, or to the grilled seafood sandwiches, which are not bad. They also have seafood rice bowls and grilled seafood plates.
At the end of the day, you get what you pay for. You’re paying for quality, and this is what you will taste. The subtle flavors of each dish — even the salad — and of course, the quality fish, guarantee that this is a place that serves up a tasty meal.