Alibi V.27 No.24 • June 14-20, 2018

Restaurant Review

Seafood, but Not Evil

SlapFish makes quality seafood from sustainable sources

The fresh and filling ultimate fish taco.
The fresh and filling ultimate fish taco.

Eating seafood in the desert sketches me out, and it should probably sketch you out too. We live in a desert city many hundreds of miles away from the nearest coast, and overfishing has decimated populations of now-endangered fish species. As much as I love fish, I tend to stay away from eating it for these reasons.

Nevertheless, I decided to go out on a limb and try SlapFish after I read good things on their website about their sustainable sourcing. The fast-casual seafood chain, which has had enormous growth since their food truck origins in 2011, opened their Albuquerque location in October of last year. The place was opened by Albuquerque native Eric Wilson, who has more than 15 years experience as a chef, and his wife, Kendra.

SlapFish Albuquerque lives in a small spot off Paseo del Norte and I-25. Both times I visited I was greeted immediately upon walking in even though there’s no host stand—SlapFish is somewhere between counter service and full service, like many new fast casual joints. The walk up to the counter to order features an illustrated sign with “Choose Healthy Fish” across the top—it lists 17 fish that are healthy for people and healthy for the ocean to eat (as in, species that aren’t known to be contaminated and are present in large populations in the wild). “Know your sources. Give dwindling populations a chance to recover. Choose fish in abundant supply,” it says at the bottom. I appreciated that they took the time to educate their diners and let them make the choice in what fish they order.

Right by the counter is a mounted roll of butcher paper that displays the fish of the day: five to eight different fish or shellfish that were delivered that day. In addition to what species they are, they list details like where it’s from, whether it was farmed or caught wild, what its diet was and what the meat tastes like. To go to all this effort to prove their ethical practices, especially in a casual spot like SlapFish, is pretty impressive. This is no doubt due in large part to SlapFish founder Andrew Gruel’s previous position as Director of Seafood for the Future, a program of the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach that promotes sustainable fish farming practices and helps fish consumers make environmentally sound choices. Now, a team at Seafood for the Future reviews the SlapFish menu to make sure each dish is made with fish sourced from farmers and fishers who use the best practices to ensure the ongoing health of that fish population. Can you tell yet that I’m pretty into the whole sustainability thing?

So, onto the food. The menu has a kind of West Coast/East Coast divide down the middle: There’s fish tacos and grilled fish salads and poké bowls, as well as plenty of lobster dishes. On my first visit I went outside the coasts altogether and got fish and chips, because what’s better than good fish and chips? They’ll ask if you want it grilled or fried, (it wouldn’t be fish and chips if it wasn’t fried, in my opinion) and then if you want one or two pieces ($9 or $13, respectively) and one is more than enough for a decent lunch—these aren’t little frozen filets they’re serving up. At the counter I was also pleased to see that they offer bottles of beer and single-serving wine, including a couple local brews—wine from Gruet, beers from La Cumbre. I chose the Colette Farmhouse Ale from Great Divide Brewing, because an ale and anything fried are made to go together.

The place clearly caters to a lunch break crowd—I was certainly not the only person there eating on my own, but everyone else was dressed nicer. The inside is clean and modern-looking, with a definite surf vibe going on. There’s a nice patio on the side as well that’s a little removed from the car traffic in the parking lot.

My fish and chips came out on a metal tray with a little cup of tartar sauce and a generous sprinkle of chili-based seasoning on everything. The fries were deliciously crispy and cut thick, and especially addictive when dipped in their house tartar sauce, which is tangy and full of chopped herbs. The fish (which I ordered beer-battered) came out steaming hot. The batter was light and bubbly without being overly greasy, and the fish was fall-apart flaky inside. I asked for seconds of the tartar sauce to soak every bite.

On a second visit I ordered the ultimate fish taco ($7), which the menu boasts is a “two-hander.” I ordered it grilled instead of fried. This came out with fresh green cabbage, pickled red onion, fresh radish and green onion on top, along with a sweet mayo-based sauce and a mild hot sauce. The fish was coated in the same seasoning used on the fish and chips and a squeeze of lemon juice. It was perhaps a little overcooked but still tender, and certainly fresh. I added a dash of one of SlapFish’s house hot sauces (the sriracha lager sauce) and upped the heat factor just a notch. And they weren’t lying about the two-handed thing. It’s kind of a messy affair to eat but entirely worth it.

Besides the food being very tasty, the other stand-out factors at SlapFish are the reasonable prices and the staff. You expect to pay a pretty penny for sustainably farmed seafood out in the desert, but all the “catch of the day” dishes are $12, and all the other dishes (besides lobster) are cheaper than that. There are some benefits to franchising and producing at a large scale, I guess.

At a largely counter-service restaurant it almost doesn’t matter if your staff is friendly or not, since their interactions with customers are pretty limited. Nevertheless, everyone I spoke with at SlapFish went out of their way to answer my questions, and, even wilder, they legitimately seemed to not hate their jobs (not a joke—food service is hard work). Another part of sustainable business practices is having good employees, after all.

On future visits I’d love to come for the happy hour (Sunday-Thursday, 3-5pm and 8-9pm), which has some pretty great deals like fish tacos for $5 and chowder fries for $3. It would be a pleasant spot to wind down with some drinks and snacks after work, and their drink selection isn’t anything to sneeze at.

It’s still undeniably weird to eat fish in the middle of the desert, but we live in a brave new world and you can kind of get anything anywhere now. If you’re missing the taste of the ocean but also care about the health of the ocean, you’ve really got to check out SlapFish.

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6400 Holly Ave. NE
slapfishrestaurant.com
505-503-1645

Hours: Mon-Sat 11am-9pm, Sun 11am-8pm
Vibe: Casual, modern and surfy
Alibi Recommends: Fish and chips, ultimate fish taco and whatever’s the catch of the day