Food & Drink

Ivar's Versus Ethan Stowell

The Fish 'n' Chips Face-Off

Ivar's Versus Ethan Stowell

Kelly O

OLD-SCHOOL VERSUS NEW BALLARD Ivar’s, the Seattle classic, above; Chippy’s, new from Ethan Stowell, below. Which one looks better?


Ivar Haglund: Once staged an octopus prizefight, made pancakes at his Acres of Clams when a thousand gallons of syrup spilled on the waterfront, is dead (1905–1985).

Motto: "Keep clam"

Fish 'n' chips found at: Pier 54 on the Seattle waterfront, founded 1938, plus 22 more Washington locations (

Atmosphere: Sidewalk-adjacent counter with assorted shouting (counterpeople exhorting people in line to order, people in line yelling at their kids, loudspeaker blaring about orders up). Seating at metal tables on pier above sparkling Sound, with aggressive seagulls bigger than some Thanksgiving turkeys being fed french fries by children, businesspeople, and an old guy in an orange shirt. General mayhem, lots of photos being taken.

Service: Friendly, fast, extremely appreciative of cash in tip jar (no line item given for tip on credit-card receipts).

Alcohol: BYOB (and be subtle).

Fish: Ivar's classic four-piece fish 'n' chips is made with true cod; it costs $9.49 and is served in a sturdy gray cardboard boat. The fish comes in the irregular oblongs typical of the genre, and four pieces are probably more than a person should eat in one sitting, but the thin, golden-colored batter is probably lighter-tasting than you remember, and definitely less greasy. (Maybe Ivar reformatted for the modern appetite? According to the menu above the counter, the four-piece is 610 calories, which isn't completely horrifying.) The cod is snowy white, and the larger pieces have a good, un-overcooked, moist flake to them, while the thinner ones have a slight dryness that may remind you pleasantly of childhood (especially if you grew up around here, eating at Ivar's). You can also get oysters, salmon, or halibut 'n' chips, ranging from $9.29 to $13.99 (taking you close to Ethan Stowell fish 'n' chips prices).

Chips: Ivar's fries are neither thin nor thick, and they have a variegation of color from pale yellow to honey-blond to golden-brown. They have skin still on here and there and are crispy rather than floppy. They're not twice-fried from-France-style french fries, but picture a good version of a typical American french fry, and you've got it.

The verdict: Ivar's is a Seattle standby. Ethan Stowell ate at Ivar's growing up and says he thinks it's great. (In fact, he actually lived in Ivar's house on Portage Bay, after it got turned into a triplex. It had a pool and a hot tub.) And the simultaneous terror and joy of the seagulls at Ivar's on the waterfront lets you know you're truly alive.

Kelly O


Ethan Stowell: Likes to wear funny socks, owns a clear bowling ball with a Budweiser bottle embedded in it, is a four-time James Beard award nominee, and was named Food & Wine Best New Chef in 2008 and Food & Wine Best New Chefs All-Star in 2013.

Motto: "A Great Plaice to Eat!"

Fish 'n' chips found at: Chippy's Fish and Drink, founded May 2014 (with almost a dozen sibling restaurants not serving fish 'n' chips,

Atmosphere: Combo of exposed brick walls and newly installed sleek bar, with neon sign reading "fish" as primary decorative element. Dad-rock soundtrack (Traveling Wilburys, Peter Gabriel, Led Zeppelin). Couples on dates, four dudes talking about six degrees of Kevin Bacon. Adjacent to Stowell's Staple & Fancy, Renee Erickson's the Walrus and the Carpenter and Barnacle. Upscale/contemporary New Ballard sedate enjoyment.

Service: Friendly, possessed of excellent timing, clearly experienced; barman wears old-timey apron.

Alcohol: Impressive list of beers from near and far, wine by the glass $8 to $10, full bar with lots of Scotch.

Fish: At Chippy's, it's $15 for a huge plank of true cod encased in a burnished-brown, not-too-salty shell of batter that is remarkably ungreasy and notably crunchy. The secret to the batter: It's made with lots of vodka, which evaporates quickly for added crunch, and rice flour. And beer. The fish itself is snowy white, fresh-tasting, and firm but flaky; it's obviously of higher quality than your usual fish 'n' chips specimens. A friend opined that the batter was a little too thick; I disagreed. Sauces are house-made, and the malt vinegar mayo is a nice innovation. Other fish options include oysters, East Coast clams, rockfish, and salmon, running from $14 to $18; yes, it is a lot of money for fish 'n' chips, but you get table service and portions so big, you might want to share (and then you can also share Chippy's excellent crab roll, and you'll feel less like you need to lie down immediately afterward).

Chips: Chippy's chips are my least favorite kind of fries. They're uniformly pale, more soft than crisp, and have a texture that resembles wide American steak fries rather than French frites. No extra-crunchy small fries hiding in there either. But other people seem to like them! You probably will! They're fries!

The verdict: Chippy's fish 'n' chips are different than others you've tried—the fish is super-fresh, and the batter is something special. The research and development process, Ethan Stowell says, was an arduous one; he ate a lot of deep-fried fish trying to get it just right. If you like fish 'n' chips, Chippy's is definitely worth trying. recommended

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Comments (32) RSS

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freesandbags 1
I'm hungry!
Posted by freesandbags on August 26, 2014 at 6:46 PM · Report this
It's either been Ivar's on Pier 54 or Spud Fish 'n' Chips on Greenlake, traditionally, for me. Oh, the memories!
*sigh* I can no longer eat deep fried foods for health reasons, but everybody enjoy some killer fish 'n' chips and tartar sauce for me!
Then go to Haggen-Dazs afterwards.
Posted by auntie grizelda on August 26, 2014 at 7:30 PM · Report this
nikoniko 3
Ok, here's the thing. Nowhere serves just one piece of fish with fish and chips. Much less for $15! Two pieces is stingy, one is a slap in the face. But all that might be forgivable if those fries weren't the worst kind of pre-frozen red robin steak fries. Uuuuuuuugh. Ethan Stowell, I'm a fan, but no. Not acceptable.
Skip it and go for the lobster roll.
Posted by nikoniko on August 26, 2014 at 8:58 PM · Report this
The price reflects the use of fresh fish - I think this may the only fish and chips place in town that doesn't use frozen stuff. Also, I think the commenter above has it backwards - most of us prefer pre-frozen fries, as they tend to come out crispier - the ones at Chippy's are obviously made from fresh potatoes.
Posted by Garçon! on August 27, 2014 at 1:14 PM · Report this
Sue Frause 5
I've lived on Whidbey Island since 1975, so chewing on fish 'n chips in the Mukilteo ferry line has been a big pastime. Always liked them. Prior to Whidbey, I lived at Green Lake, near Spuds -- and I loved that place. I've yet to try Ethan's new chip joint in Ballard, but it's on my list. As far as pricing, my husband and I just returned from Scandinavia, and for lunch we say down by the waterfront in Oslo and ordered two fish 'n chips and two beers at a very un-fancy outdoor food stand with picnic tables. Price? $100 US! Everything seems quite cheap since returning home earlier this week. Chip on, Ethan and Ivar!
Posted by Sue Frause on August 27, 2014 at 1:22 PM · Report this
Any review (nay, competetion!) of fish and chips MUST include whther the fish is breaded or battered. Even though the review of Ivar's says "batter," I know it's breaded. While the picture makes Chippy's choice fairly obvious, I think it's important distinction that should not be missed.
I recently heard this distinction described as NW Style vs English style. It's true. Most F&C in the northwest is abysmally breaded, and my heart sings with joy when I see decently battered fich & chips. Chippy's, get in my belly.
Posted by MissBrittany on August 27, 2014 at 1:50 PM · Report this
tdalec 7
And no mention of malt vinegar?!? It's not fish 'n chips without malt vinegar. If I have to ask for it, I'm not going back.
Posted by tdalec on August 27, 2014 at 1:52 PM · Report this
This ad looked almost like a real article.
Posted by HappyHippie on August 27, 2014 at 2:58 PM · Report this
HandlebarWallace 9
Doesn't seem fair to compare a walk up window to an expensive sit down. Ivar's even? Have you been to Seattle?
@1- Laughed. Bottom line, food is good. I've been wanting to try Chippy's.
Posted by HandlebarWallace on August 28, 2014 at 6:57 AM · Report this
@HappyHippie: YOU'RE A MORON.

Anyways, been to both but Ivar's is the reliable standard. Long after Ethan Stowell has moved on from Seattle ascends the Chef Ladder, Ivar's will still be here pumping out great fried fish.

Posted by Arthur Zifferelli on August 28, 2014 at 9:21 AM · Report this
Simple 11
Atlantic Crossing in Roosevelt for the best fish n chips. Big portion, hand cut, plus booze and beer. 20 times better than Spuds, which is awful and expensive. I like Ivars okay. Have not tried hipsters, I mean chipsters or whatever.
Posted by Simple on August 28, 2014 at 10:41 AM · Report this

Only in Seattle.

Posted by Arthur Zifferelli on August 28, 2014 at 2:38 PM · Report this
Sunfish on Alki. Seriously.
Posted by MLM on August 28, 2014 at 3:41 PM · Report this
As a Brit, I much prefer large, soggy chips to "fries". Fries go with a burger, soggy chips go with battered fish.
Posted by originalcinner on August 28, 2014 at 3:47 PM · Report this
Posted by LetoAtreidesII on August 28, 2014 at 3:52 PM · Report this
Max Solomon 16
@10: except it will be closing for 9 months in September.
Posted by Max Solomon on August 28, 2014 at 3:58 PM · Report this
Pike Place Chowder has the best. I understand the sentimental attachment everyone has to Ivar's, but really, PPC has much better fish 'n' chips and much, much, MUCH MUCH MUCH better chowder.
Posted by Kim Fu on August 28, 2014 at 4:01 PM · Report this
Hello!!? Bait Shop?!!?
Posted by Cap Hill Partisan on August 28, 2014 at 4:02 PM · Report this
Fnarf 19
@6 is exactly right: battered, NOT BREADED.

The George and Dragon does a good one. Soggy chips are essential, but quality fish is not, particularly.

And the presence of "dad rock" will keep me from ever going inside. If I ran the world it would be illegal to play Led Zeppelin in a public place.
Posted by Fnarf on August 28, 2014 at 4:34 PM · Report this
Dougsf 20
@6 Excellent point about breaded vs. battered. I worked at Spud (no "s" everyone) during high school, and as weird as it sounds actually delighted in battering the fish (the puns are working against me here). Breaded is for jerks.

@17 Love that place, glad to know it's still there.
Posted by Dougsf on August 28, 2014 at 4:35 PM · Report this
Dougsf 21
@17 and myself.. waaaaaaaait, is Pike Place Chowder that dirty little spot opposite the Market entrance that's basically a bar around a deep fryer? That's the place I like, whatever that place is. My research isn't serving my terrible memory well.

Also, I'm not sure "delighted" is the word I'm looking for in working fast food, possible "enjoyed more than other things I did there" is more accurate.
Posted by Dougsf on August 28, 2014 at 4:46 PM · Report this
Fnarf 22
@21, how many years did it take for the fry oil smell to come out of your hair after you quit?
Posted by Fnarf on August 28, 2014 at 5:16 PM · Report this
Dougsf 23
@22 - I did actually shave off my long hair shortly after quitting. I thought I was just tired of it, but my subconscious might have been telling me something my olfactory had become numb too.
Posted by Dougsf on August 28, 2014 at 6:37 PM · Report this
Chippys is great. The fish is fresh and the batter is light and crispy, NOT BREADED. God how I hate the panko crusted abominations that call themselves "fried fish" in the PNW. The fries do need work though, and I would like a larger portion of tarter. I mean the slab of fish is so large there, a little more tarter woudl go a long way. Also - excellent beer selection.
Posted by derpyderpington on August 28, 2014 at 6:46 PM · Report this
JonnoN 25
Spuds! I also enjoy the Ivars on Aurora

Also had some excellent fish n chips at The Virginia Inn last week :)
Posted by JonnoN on August 28, 2014 at 8:05 PM · Report this
Ugh. Part of the joy of fish and chips is the goddamn covering (battered over breaded yes, but something and not too thick). One big honkin' piece of cod no matter how good means less covering. Give me three or four pieces of Ivar's anyday over one huge slab'o'cod.
Posted by gnossos on August 28, 2014 at 9:26 PM · Report this
Fnarf 27
@26, you can actually get a lot of joy from stray globs of batter that get fried with no fish in them at all. But yeah, small pieces = more yummy batter.
Posted by Fnarf on August 28, 2014 at 10:08 PM · Report this
@27 oh I agree. My issue is with a couple of places around town where they layer the batter on really thick and don't cook it properly. If they properly fry it, I'm a damn happy camper.
Posted by gnossos on August 28, 2014 at 10:38 PM · Report this
@ #6 Scotsman chiming in here. For the uninitiated supper if you order a "fish supper" in Scotland(don't know about the rest of the UK)you will get battered fish and chip. If you order a "dressed fish supper" you will get breaded fish and chips. Both will likely be made with haddock not cod and are equally tasty but the dressed fish supper is often seen as being a bit hoity-toity...
Posted by Pickled Onion on August 29, 2014 at 8:48 AM · Report this

For the best Fish and Chips, I think you should go to Bys on Fourth Ave South across the street from the Elephant Super Car Wash. You can follow the garbage trucks heading for the dump next door. Despite the gritty locale and the unpretentious character of By's, the Fish at Bys is both excellent and unique in seattle, the chips are not as exceptional as the Fish but they are good enough. They also hand make the best milkshakes I have had lately, served with straws that don't plug up with fruit chunks. The aptmosphere is plain old industrial worker lunch joint. It is a well worn one of a kind family owned burger joint that just happens to have exceptional Fish and Chips for a lot less than Ethan Stowell. When I want to feed Seagulls I go to Ivars. When I want Fish and chips to eat, I go to Bys They have the best fish in Seattle.
Posted by George Robertson on August 29, 2014 at 2:12 PM · Report this
Damnit, woman! No mention of the most important thing - TARTAR SAUCE. Look, I have been known to bring my own tartar sauce in my fucking purse if a place has great fish but lousy tartar sauce (the Only Seafoods in Vancouver was one of those). Is it more dilly or more lemony? Is it too smooth (abomination!)? We need to know!
Posted by teamcanada'sforgottenpassword on August 29, 2014 at 7:27 PM · Report this
@6, Miss Britt, right on! I thought Ivar's looked breaded too. Batter is better!
BTW, if you find yourself in East Sacramento jonesing for F&C, hit Cape Cod Fish and Chips on Fulsom. They do some crazy tempura batter and HUGE planks of fish.
Posted by portland scribe on September 3, 2014 at 10:10 PM · Report this

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