It’s been a rough year for the fried fish fast food game in these parts. Not only did the Long John Silver’s on West Broad Street close after 30 years but just up Route 29, the Fairfax Circle Arthur Treacher’s – the last remaining Virginia location of the 46-year old fish-and-chips chain – also shut up shop after more than three decades in business earlier this year.
Is this the end of fish and chips? Has the demand for battered-and-deep-fried seafood been supplanted by healthier options?
While the Falls Church Long John’s still sits vacant, the former Treacher’s space is back in business – now as ABC Canteen – and the new occupant is continuing its predecessor’s three-decade tradition but with a new twist. The familiar scent of fried batter is still there but now there’s something different – something more fragrant, something spicier – in the air: tacos.
More than a menu-filler, the soft tacos might just be the best things available at the new restaurant. Wrapped in housemade, made-to-order corn tortillas, five fillings are available for the stuffing with the succulent carnitas and the spicy chorizo our favorite of the bunch. All the tacos come undressed but a well-stocked condiment bar at the front counter contains all the necessary toppings – diced jalapeno, onions, cilantro, tomatoes, lime and a trio of salsas – and allows for near-endless customization. And at $2.50 a piece, the authentic street-style tacos are a steal.
When it comes to the fried stuff, ABC Canteen is also firing on all cylinders. But rather than the gut bombs served by the building’s former tenant, ABC’s beer-battered cod avoids the grease trap and delivers a crunchy, flaky bite without being too heavy. The strips of fish are available by themselves, alongside fries, as a sandwich and as tacos but our favorite cod creation is the croquette appetizer. Like crispy, fried pillows, the balls of fish are incredibly light – not an easy feat when it comes to anything deep fried – and served with a generous serving of garlic aioli so good we considered ordering more food just to use it all up.
Sandwiches include the fried cod along with a chicken club and a steak mojo sandwich, though the Sriracha mayo-topped steak was lacking in both flavor and heat. Also on the menu are wings, nachos, a selection of salads and several more Mexican dishes: flautas, tamales and a quesadilla.
The prices at ABC Canteen are incredibly affordable. Nothing on the menu is in the double digits and in addition to the cheap tacos, meal combos pairing fish and chips, tacos, tamales or sandwiches with a drink are all under 10 bucks. In an era of $15 burgers, ABC is a welcome addition.
Of note, ABC Canteen won’t win any beauty contests, at least from the outside. The building – a plain white box topped by a green awning with block letters – is the definition of generic. But what it lacks in style, it more than makes up for in taste. Don’t miss it.
ABC Canteen | 9528 Lee Highway | Fairfax | 703-865-0377 | abccanteen.com
Hours: Monday – Sunday: 11 a.m. – 9 p.m.