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Chad's Fish & Chips (Willits, California)


by Michael Chu
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Tina and I have been wanting to recommend a particular restaurant to our friends for the last five years. The problem was we couldn't remember what town it was in or what it was called. All we knew was that it had the best fish and chips we had ever had, and it was somewhere in Northern California. This weekend we finally found it - it's Chad's Fish & Chips in Willits, California.

We were on our way up to Fort Bragg, California and cutting across to the coast on California State Route 20 from U.S. Highway 101 at Willits, California when I recognized the giant "Willits: Heart of Mendocino County" sign that spans Route 20. Immediately, it triggered the memory... "was this the place where we had the fish and chips?"

Since 2003, Tina and I had been trying to figure out where this legendary (to us) fish and chips shop was. We made a lot of trips in 2002 and 2003, so it wasn't easy to remember which one took us to an empty shop along a highway that served us the best fish and chips we ever tasted (prepared and presented to us by a talkative older man adorned with a few obvious tattoos - the most obvious of which informed you he was an Airborne Ranger). We knew it was on one of our Northward driving trips, but was it Lake Tahoe, Yosemite, Eureka, or Mendocino? I had practically given up the idea that we'd ever find the place again. It was one of two restaurants we wanted to tell people about, but could only do it by description. (The other is a German restaurant that serves game meats and real Weiner schnitzel that's only open for a few months of the year and is located near one of the entrances to Redwood National Park... oh wait, the magic of Google has revealed it to be Rolf's Park Cafe and Motel at 123664 Highway 101, Orick, CA. Now, as you will soon see, all my restaurant mysteries have been solved and I promise to take better notes from now on.)

Besides the Army Ranger behind the counter, his amazing fish and chips, and the stark (and empty) restaurant, I remembered little else except for a giant sign that spanned the road. Was it the Willits sign? We seemed so sure it was that we drove around and stuck our heads into likely shops to see if the restaurant had closed and been replaced with something else. Some of the shops looked like it might have been the old fish and chips place (converted into a bakery or a hair salon or a Hallmark store), but none were quite right. Forced to admit defeated we continued onto Fort Bragg to enjoy a four day trip visiting different restaurants, touring a culinary institute, and generally having a great time. On Sunday, we headed back from the coast along the same route and found ourselves in Willits again.

Having already given up the search (and fully believing the fish and chips were no more), we had already planned to go down to Santa Rosa for lunch. With another 1.5 hours to go, we popped into a convenience store for a bathroom break and picked up a new Nestle Rolo Ice Cream Bar. (The ice cream bar was pretty good, but I would have preferred a liquid or gooey caramel center. The bar had a strong caramel taste, but it was like eating a chocolate wrapped dulce de leche ice cream bar instead of a frozen Rolo.) Back to the car we went and I headed south on Highway 101 only to be stopped at the next red light. Tina said, "Chad's Fish and Chips" (just reading signs and not really thinking much about it - not hoping to believe we had found the place). I said, "Let's take a look" and turned left off the highway into the parking lot of the strip mall. Tina said she'd wait in the car, and I stepped out to take a quick look to satisfy my curiosity.

Standing inside Chad's, I was shocked. It was clearly a match to my memory of the place: brightly lit, white, and heavily decorated with an assortment of stuff that may or may not belong together. The only thing that didn't fit was that there was a couple sitting at one of the tables in the middle of the restaurant. They looked up at me, and I just stared. I stammered, "I've been looking for this place for five years... I've got to get my wife."


Unfortunately, having planned to eat lunch more than an hour later, neither Tina nor I were hungry. We decided to stay and eat some fish and chips to see if it was as good as we remembered. We were not disappointed.

The fish that Chad uses is exclusively Icelandic cod. That's actually fairly important as more and more Californian restaurants are serving halibut, snapper, and other white fish that in many cases taste muddy or overly fishy (sometimes a sign of the fish not being fresh, but also dependant on the variety of the fish). Chad's fish tasted clean, almost invisible, well-balanced against the fried batter (which was not oily - a sign of good oil temperature control, cooking time, and maintenance of the deep fryers). The fish was cooked just long enough for it to be tender and still moist, not dry and stringy or wet and gummy as many fried fish can be.


We also tried their fried scallops, oysters, and prawns. (Chad, who is as interesting as his food is delicious, joked that the restaurant was international since the fish is from Iceland and shrimp from Vietnam cooked by a redneck in an Okie town.) The scallops were even better than the cod. They were plump and firm under the fried batter and so juicy (with a fresh briny taste) that none of the homemade tartar or cocktail sauce was needed. The prawns were butterflied and breaded and were not the most flavorful we had ever tasted. (They were still a fine example of fried prawns and like the fish and scallops did not taste or feel oily.) The oysters were delicious as well, but oysters have such a distinctive and strong flavor that it's hard to differentiate great fried oysters from good - the oyster itself is the highlight and balance always goes out the window.

When he was asked by a upcoming new restaurateur where to get the lowest cost oil, Chad told her that wasn't how you run a restaurant. He said you have to get the best oil for the particular application (he's chosen to use 100% non-hydrogenated canola oil). He said when he started his fish and chips shop he felt that if he got the best ingredients and prepared the food well, then there's no way he could fail. (I could think of a few examples of how you could fail, but Chad's not a guy you want to be disagreeing with - anyway, it's much more fun to agree with him.) Sixteen years of serving fish and chips seems to be proving his theory correct, and I'm glad that I had a chance to rediscover his fish and chips.


Chad's Fish and Chips
1661 S. Main St, D
Willits, CA 95490


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Written by Michael Chu
Published on August 22, 2007 at 08:38 PM
24 comments on Chad's Fish & Chips (Willits, California):(Post a comment)

On August 23, 2007 at 07:59 AM, fergusg said...
Subject: Re-importing Fish & Chips
Sounds like we need to get Chad over here to teach us limeys how to do it. Fish'n'chips seem to be a forgotten art. Hardly anywhere can we get them better than cr*p, in my experience.

Fergus (Oxford, UK)


On August 23, 2007 at 08:01 AM, Michael Chu said...
Subject: Re: Re-importing Fish & Chips
fergusg wrote:
Sounds like we need to get Chad over here to teach us limeys how to do it. Fish'n'chips seem to be a forgotten art. Hardly anywhere can we get them better than cr*p, in my experience.

That reminded me, Chad's wife, Francis, told us that they had a Briton visiting the California coast who happened to eat at their place and said that he'd "been to a lot of fish and chips eateries and Chad's was the best". She said, coming from a Brit, it was very high praise.


On August 23, 2007 at 08:26 AM, fergusg said...
Subject: Brit Chips
My point was that, nowadays, praise from a Brit is no praise at all :)

The best chips I've ever had are ones I cooked myself (of course!). The recipe was from Heston Blumenthal's TV show "In Search of Perfection" and was a fantastically protracted 3 cooking-stage process:

1. Peel & cut Maris Pipers. Par-boil in water until surface just starts to break up.

2. Lay chips on a cooling rack in a single layer and place in fridge for at least 30 mins.

3. Cook in oil (I used groundnut) at medium temp until just starting to crisp.

4. Repeat cooling stage in fridge (30 mins).

5. Cook in hot oil to brown.

If you like chips, I recommend you give it a go. Not suitable for a quick fry up after work - probably the best part of 2 hours elapsed time! However, you can do everything up to and including stage 4 in advance.

(In case you don't know, Heston Blumenthal's "Fat Duck" restaurant was voted "Best Restaurant in the World" a while back. Famous for weird stuff like snail porridge.)


On August 23, 2007 at 06:18 PM, Michael Chu said...
Subject: Re: Brit Chips
fergusg wrote:
The best chips I've ever had are ones I cooked myself (of course!). The recipe was from Heston Blumenthal's TV show "In Search of Perfection" and was a fantastically protracted 3 cooking-stage process:

A two stage cooking method for potatoes is pretty common, but this is the first I've heard of a three stage fry. I'll have to try it the next time I decide to fry up some French fries (as well call them over here in California)


On August 23, 2007 at 06:51 PM, fergusg said...
Subject: Chips not FF
NO NO NO. Infidel! That recipe was for CHIPS. They should be around 1in thick. A medium spud cut into wedges is a good start.


On August 23, 2007 at 09:17 PM, Michael Chu said...
Subject: Re: Chips not FF
fergusg wrote:
NO NO NO. Infidel! That recipe was for CHIPS. They should be around 1in thick. A medium spud cut into wedges is a good start.

In the U.S., "french fries" doesn't always mean shoestring fries (like the ones that Chad's serves). They can come thick cut, in wedges, crosscut, or even curly. I myself prefer the thick cut fries where they've been fried to crispiness with a fluffy steaming inside. Around hear, "chips" usually means potato crisps (thin ~1mm slices that have been fired until completely crispy). But the dish "fish and chips" has retained it's name (although I have encounter a few cheap places that actually serve them with a handful of Ruffles potato chips).


On August 24, 2007 at 10:17 PM, Andrew (guest) said...
Subject: Heston
If you get a chance read the entire Heston Blumenthal Perfection book. He cooks from an engineering perspective. Some of the dishes are a little to complicated to make at home, but all in all it's one of the most interesting cook books I've ever read.


On August 25, 2007 at 01:54 AM, Mel (guest) said...
Subject: Rolf's Park Cafe and Motel
I'm afraid Rolf's seems to have closed. By the way, Willets' other claim to fame is that it is the resting place of Seabiscuit.


On August 25, 2007 at 06:49 AM, an anonymous reader said...
Please, for the sake of sanity, proofread the first paragraph and fix that terrifying first sentence.

(There's similar problems in the 4th and 5th paragraphs, but at least they aren't displaying on the front page.)


On August 25, 2007 at 08:56 AM, Michael Chu said...
Anonymous wrote:
Please, for the sake of sanity, proofread the first paragraph and fix that terrifying first sentence.

Oh, man. I just read that sentence and it was unbelievable! How was it possible to even craft a sentence like that?!? I rewrote it and updated the posting. I wrote the article in a few bursts - first writing down as many notes about what happened (how we found the place), some info on how the scallops tasted, and then fleshed out the rest. It usually takes me a week to write something, but this time I did it in one day - apparently without proofreading (I even remember making the decision not to read it out loud - if I don't read it out, then I tend to read things in skimming mode, especially if they words are ones that I wrote). That first sentence was the worst of the bunch (no doubt a product of several attempts at the sentence getting fused together in an unholy manner), and there are still several that don't read as well as I would hope.

Over all, I'm not entirely pleased with how this article came out... guess I shouldn't rush things in the future. Anyway, even if you're not convinced by the article, take my word for it, if you find yourself within 1 hour driving time of Willits, make a side trip over there and order the fried fish and scallops at Chad's.


On November 26, 2007 at 06:54 PM, Burr (guest) said...
Subject: Chad's Fish and Chips (Willits)
I also like fish and chips, very much. As my home is in Sonoma County, I will follow the lead to Chad's Fish and Chips in Willits, perhaps over the upcoming Xmas holidays.
BTW, I came across your site while searching for a Tiramisu recipe. Fantastic! I am a telecommunications engineer, and really appreciate the fusion of cooking artistry with engineering logic and precision.


On December 22, 2007 at 05:13 AM, JB (guest) said...
Subject: Really?
I live in Willits, know the people who own the restaurant (nice folks) and never really thought much of the food. Of course I've never had FishnChips from anywhere else before.

Maybe I need to go try some bad stuff to appreciate what I already have here?

It's good that people know the good sides of Willits, most know it for other things...


On January 16, 2008 at 03:15 AM, tahrey (guest) said...
Sounds like somewhere to visit if I'm ever on the other side of the world :) ... agree on the somewhat declining state of the traditional chippy - it came to something recently when taking F&C as the somewhat default choice for lunch in a chain pub of all places and finding the result to be amongst the best I'd had in years (description would be reminiscent of your article - it was an unexpected thing of beauty, for all of 3.50 including a beer), second only to painstakingly homemade ones (by which I mean made by my dad, as I lack the necessary kitchen equipment). Rather than the rather soggy, greasy efforts that the local takeaways seem to offer, where you can feel your face breaking out and intestines shutting down simultaneously before you're even halfway done.

In america, no, california of all places! :)

BTW, when you say fries come in all sizes.... the thick cut ones, would they be, e.g. "Steak house fries", as I've seen bags of frozen extra-large (oven) chips being sold in the local supermarkets? I imagine there must be various terms for them after all, just as we have crinkly chips and the like :)

....this captcha thing is getting me down btw, starting to wonder if i'm going crazy and forgetting how to count / the alphabet. 4SETF6 = 5TFSG7, right? It says no. 2IYIZR = 3JZJAS?


On January 16, 2008 at 04:09 AM, Michael Chu said...
tahrey wrote:
BTW, when you say fries come in all sizes.... the thick cut ones, would they be, e.g. "Steak house fries", as I've seen bags of frozen extra-large (oven) chips being sold in the local supermarkets? I imagine there must be various terms for them after all, just as we have crinkly chips and the like :)

Different companies and different regions use different names for thick cut fries. Steakhouse fries definitely makes me think that they are thick.

tahrey wrote:
....this captcha thing is getting me down btw, starting to wonder if i'm going crazy and forgetting how to count / the alphabet. 4SETF6 = 5TFSG7, right? It says no. 2IYIZR = 3JZJAS?

4SETF6 => 5TFUG7
2IYIZR does go to 3JZJAS as you say.

If you make an account, you don't have to use the CAPTCHA again after registration.


On March 02, 2008 at 03:00 PM, Patty said...
Subject: Chad's Fish & Chips in Willits
Well, I finally made it to Chad's Fish & Chips in Willits to try their Icelandic Cod. I agree Michael that it was really tasty and that the fish was cooked perfectly. The butterflied prawns were something that really impressed me because there was not a lot of batter, but plenty of prawn. Chad's wife, Francis, takes great pride in her homemade clam chowder and her homemade condiments. I have to admit that her tartar sauce is the best I have ever had. I am not sure if I enjoyed the seafood the most or whether it was getting acquainted with this warm and friendly couple. I went in just before closing on a Saturday night and they had probably cleaned up the kitchen and were ready to go home for the night, but they were more than happy to fix us a couple of meals. Thank you, Michael, for mentioning the place, otherwise, I may have continued to pass by there without noticing the place.


On March 16, 2008 at 12:24 AM, Patty said...
Subject: Chad's Fish & Chips (Willits, California)
I recently had my second visit to Chad's Fish & Chips in Willits. I live in Fort Bragg so it is only an hour's drive for me, plus I drive through Willits whenever I go out of town. The last time I ate there, I had his seafood basket which consisted of the Icelandic cod, prawns, scallops and coleslaw. The seafood was excellent, as were the condiments. This time, I had the fishwich sandwich with fries. The batter on the cod was unbelievably crunchy while leaving the fish very moist! The fries were the precut krinkle fries, but I didn't stop by there to eat the fries anyway! Thank you, Michael, for mentioning it on your website, or I may have continued to drive right past the place, as I have done for years. Fort Bragg has many terrific restaurants at which you can get great seafood, but Chad's is the only restaurant that I know of in the the area that serves the Icelandic cod and sometimes it is good to try something different. By the way, if you mention this website, you are certain to get a visit at your table by Chad himself.


On January 13, 2009 at 01:00 AM, mary (guest) said...
Subject: Fresh Fish
I am a little taken back by the statement that icelandic fish was used because halibut etc was muddy tasting. Obviously that restaurant has not samples the excellent halibut that come from Alaska. On the sme ocean..........

Try it you'll love it.. It's delicious. Buy American fool.


On January 13, 2009 at 01:11 AM, Michael Chu said...
Subject: Re: Fresh Fish
mary wrote:
I am a little taken back by the statement that icelandic fish was used because halibut etc was muddy tasting. Obviously that restaurant has not samples the excellent halibut that come from Alaska. On the sme ocean..........

I have had incredible halibut while in Alaska, but I have also had quite a lot of so-so tasting halibut outside of Alaska. I keep ordering it, hoping it'll be good (so I don't have to consider the expensive trip up to Anchorage every time I have a craving for halibut) but I have yet to find a restaurant that has served me halibut of the same quality I've had in Seward and Anchorage.


On July 11, 2009 at 02:26 AM, Liz (guest) said...
Subject: Chad's Fish & Chips
Can't wait to try Chad's Fish and Chips. In Shelter Cove (turn west at Garberville) the cafe/general store does a pretty good job of them, and was recommended in Foghorn's coastal Calif. guide, but I expect Chad's will be the best.

Say it ain't so about Rolf's. It was awesome, and always a destination on North Coast trips.


On July 16, 2010 at 10:16 AM, scrimshaw j machrihanish (guest) said...
Subject: fish n chips
I'm starving after read all that. Best fish and chips this side of Chads - and Harry Ramsden's of course - is at Smiles in Beaconsfield. Oh, they have a shop in Bourne End too. We have plenty of takeaways that do fish n chips in High Wycombe but always hop on to the M40 for a couple of junctions to go to Smiles. Well run, variety of fish but cod and haddock the favourites with me and the missus. And no, I don't work for them! So if you are visiting South Buckinghamshire in the UK, try them out.


On July 26, 2010 at 11:30 PM, an anonymous reader said...
Cool to read your article, mate. I actually grew up in Willits, and my father was responsible for supplying Chad's with all their kitchen equipment and food from when they opened until my father stopped working.

Growing up there, I always thought they made excellent fish 'n chips, but it wasn't until I got out and started sampling elsewhere that I realized how truly good a lot of the local spots were back home. Willits is kind of unique and fortunate in that a lot of the local eateries are just sublime: if you like Italian or Mexican, I could not say enough nice things about Mario's on 101 just north of Willits and both El Mexicano and Taqueria Bravo right across from each other in downtown. But hey, I could go on for paragraphs about the great restaurants throughout Mendocino county.

Anyway, all that aside, thanks for writing the article, man. Made me homesick.


On August 17, 2010 at 05:13 PM, drivinthru (guest) said...
Subject: Chads Fish and Chips
I am so glad there is an article about this place because my husband and I loved it. We were heading back from a 4 hour drive and were hungry but nothing sounded good. We were thinking we can get Burger King or Taco Bell anywhere so let's try something different. That's when we came across this place and boy were we glad we stopped. The quality of the food is amazing and the customer service is grade A....We were talking about making that a stop whenever were in that neck of the woods...thanks again for a great lunch

Rach from the Bay Area, CA


On November 30, 2010 at 03:17 AM, Don Turner's daughter (guest) said...
Subject: Still the best around
Chad's was a happy discovery for more than one reason. First time I stopped it was the best fish & chips ever. Second time I discovered that Chad knew and had worked with my father (now deceased) and told me some wonderful things about him I had not known. Stopped again last week and its still the best eats with the friendliest owner ever!


On December 30, 2013 at 10:29 PM, an anonymous reader said...
I hope to try the fish&chips here, though (being 85 years old), it's unlikely that I'll again be travelling up there from the Los Angeles area, and probably the best I can do will be to bring the place to the attention of Dian Crayne, who lives near there. I note that my first visit to the UK (about 13 years ago) left me marvelling that I could order, at any reasonably-good fish-and-chips place, a selection of three or four different kinds of fish that actually tasted, delightfully, like three or four different kinds of fish.

I Also note that the last time I was in the Robin Hood Pub on Burbank Blvd. in Burbank, CA their fish-and-chips (Icelandic cod, I think) had Absolutely The Best Crust I Have Ever Consumed In My Whole Life. From an Engineering standpoint -- contents & conditions -- I found it about as close as it's possible to get to Perfection. (The batter had Flavour, and Crispness, but so little oil that I recommended it to my cardiologist.)

--Don Fitch

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