My server's answer surprised me, so when she walked away, I flagged down another waitress to ask for a second opinion. Which dish, off the entire dinner menu, did she recommend for someone after the restaurant's best entrée?
Her answer was the same: fish and chips.
211 Mission Avenue, Oceanside
I was sitting inside Hello Betty Fish House, the seafood restaurant affixed to the front corner of the Marriott hotel overlooking Oceanside pier. Taking a look around, the nautical rope and distressed wood décor reminded me I was, in fact, in a seafood spot. Surfer and beach cruiser imagery reminded me I was in a beach town. The actual beach buggy parked in the back corner of the restaurant? I think that's just meant to remind me to have fun.
Fish and chips are fun, I guess, but with the option to choose among several mesquite grilled fish entrées, a West Coast take on a seafood boil, and clams linguine, I'd have thought at least someone would suggest going for one of the menu items that cost over $20. But no. The number two pick of Server One was a fish sandwich; Server Two referred to one of several fried or grilled fish tacos.
So I went with the fish and chips, for 16 and change.
The place manages to look pretty decked out inside, without losing any casual flair, but the only real view of the ocean is through the long window behind the bar. The thing to do is visit on a warm evening, around sunset, and sit outside, on the spacious patio facing the beach. Or, if it's a weekend night and you're feeling more like drinks and snacks, upstairs on the rooftop deck, where a limited menu of appetizers will set you up with oysters, shrimp cocktails, and ceviche, plus a few of the tacos.
Now, it probably took you longer to read that last paragraph than it did for my fish and chips to come out. I wondered if the almost-no-time-at-all it takes for the kitchen to get that out has something to do with it being the staff's go-to recommendation? Not that I'm complaining — I did walk in hungry.
Served with a side of housemade tartar sauce, the deep-fried cod appeared in long strips, with standard cut fries, and both were pleasantly crispy. The fish batter, especially, had a perfect level of crunch, giving way to the flaky cod within. It was a wonderfully delightful, mild-mannered meal.
For all the decorative flair, this so-called signature dish could have used more seasoning. The tartar sauce offered that cooling mayo touch, but not enough flavor to liven things up. Perhaps she saw me starting to reach for the vinegar a little too often, but my server suggested I might prefer ranch dressing. That's hospitality in a nutshell.