Fish n’ Chips at Wally’s Chowder House (Des Moines, WA)

Fish and chips restaurants abound in the Pacific Northwest, not surprising when there’s nothing but the Pacific Ocean to the west. Perhaps the most well-known fish-n-chippery in the Seattle area is Ivar’s, once owned by Ivar Haglund whose image and personality in local circles rivaled those of Colonel Sanders. His corporation also used to fund a big fireworks show on July 4th in Elliott Bay, during its heyday one of two big shows (the other being on Lake Union). Less self-promotional and popular in the area is Spud Fish and Chips on Alki Point, though lately the quality of the Juanita franchise has definitely declined.

There are many opinions on what constitutes the best fish and chips. Some prefer thick batters, while others prefer a light coating. Should the batter be flour, cornmeal, cornstarch or a combination? Then, there’s the choice of fish. It goes without saying that the fish has to be fresh and it has to be adequately seasoned without being salty. My daughter and son-in-law swear by the version served by Nordstrom Grill (of department store fame) in Seattle, which I have yet to try. Otherwise, my wife and my favorite place is not in Seattle at all but in Christchurch, New Zealand (Coppell Place Seafood).

Last weekend, good friends of ours invited us to accompany them on their boat to the Quartermaster Yacht Club’s annual potluck, this year at the Des Moines Marina. A few of the club members mentioned Wally’s Chowder House, only a half-mile walk uptown, as an excellent place to get fish and chips. Waiting to get seated was common. When we went for lunch last Saturday, a hand-printed note at the entrance announced that Wally’s was again nominated in the Best Seafood category in the 2014 King 5 Best of Western Washington. Furthermore, a placard proudly proclaims that the fishing boat Golden Alaska catches and flash-freezes 50,000 pounds of arctic cod for Wally’s every year, which works out to be about 135 pounds daily. With this much brouhaha, why have I not heard of this place before?

On the specials board was fried razor clams, which gave us pause. But we were here to sample the fish and chowder, the two menu items that put Wally’s in the hearts and minds of followers.

The New England clam chowder (☆☆☆) could not have had better flavor but it was excessively thick. So much flour could almost have held up a spoon without moving.

New England clam chowder
New England clam chowder

On the recommendation of a couple of diners who were in our party, my wife and I split a one-piece large fillet with fries. When it arrived, I saw it was good advice. You can also order 2-, 3- or 6-piece quantities. There was likewise a good-sized portion of fries. It made no difference that they were in fact bottomless, because they were mealy (☆☆). Neither were we impressed with the fish (☆☆). It was dry and rubbery. I’ve never been fond of fish that had been previously frozen because it cooks, well, dry and rubbery. In addition, there was no discernible seasoning; the fish tasted flat. It might’ve been wiser to get the fresh local ling cod or halibut. We wondered what the fuss was all about regarding Wally’s. We won’t be returning.

Arctic cod fish n' chips
Arctic cod fish n’ chips

Wally’s Chowder House
22531 Marine View Dr S
Des Moines, Washington
(206) 878-8140

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