For fried fish spiced Cajun style and a side dish of kitchen conversation--a combination rarely found in Orange County--Tippins Sea Food Connection in Santa Ana is the place to visit.
Mild to fiery dishes are personally delivered with boisterous greetings by owner Jim Tippins.
The no-frills atmosphere (paper plates and plastic utensils) and a relatively small staff contribute not only to affordable prices but to the intimacy of dining here.
Tippins prepares a "secret" blend of Louisiana spices that coats the fresh fish and draws hundreds of customers each week. His wife, Dolores, and two or three workers keep busy in the kitchen frying fish or preparing daily lunch specials such as Po' Boy sandwiches, your choice of oysters, shrimp or whiting with lettuce and tomato on a french roll.
Tippins opened the restaurant 16 years ago, a few years after moving to the area while he was stationed at the El Toro Marine Corps Air Station. The couple treat their restaurant as if it were the living room of their home. While Jim sometimes sits and chats with customers at the five picnic-style tables, Dolores merely shouts her greetings from the kitchen.
Tippins' fresh fish market is appropriately named the Sea Food Connection because he provides an informal forum for his customers, many of whom are African-American, to meet and discuss issues unique to them. African-American newspapers and literature line the lobby counter, and tickets to African-American events are often on sale here.
Though one could spend hours lingering at this informal meeting spot before and after eating, the food is the true draw.
From frog legs to Cajun catfish, Tippin's menu offers a good selection of fresh seafood brought in twice a week from Los Angeles.
Entrees are served in healthy portions and the most expensive item, the shrimp plate, costs $9.15. All meals come with two side orders: your choice of Louisiana rice, french fries, homemade hush puppies, cole slaw and potato salad.
Although the average patron won't have room for dessert, there isn't much to choose from anyway. Outside of special orders, sweet potato pie is the only offering.
A special menu is available on Thursday, Soul Food Night, when you might discover red beans and rice, smothered pork chops or chitterlings and greens. On Fridays, Tippins features a fish fry and stays open an hour later for the traditionally larger crowds.
Tippins Sea Food Connection, 1229 W. 5th St., Santa Ana. Open Tuesday through Thursday, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Friday, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Saturday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. (714) 542-5425.