Spotlight- Wing Lam of Wahoo’s Fish Tacos
The Newport Beach culinary scene is as diverse as the local community, and this month we take some time to chat with local resident Wing Lam to find out what his Dine Newport Beach looks like. The famed Co-Founder of Wahoo’s Fish Tacos and Philanthropic icon of Orange County, gives his insights into his favorite dining spots in Newport Beach.
DNB: Many of us know the your restaurant roots started at the Shanghai Pine Garden Restaurant on Balboa Island, which your parent’s own. However, most don’t know how it really all started. Can you share some insights with us?
Wing Lam: Well, this is where it all started for our family in America in 1970. My old man had a crazy dream that life would be better here, and he couldn’t have picked a better place to open a Chinese restaurant than Balboa Island. Looking back, it’s been all about real simple traditional Mandarin and Szechwan dishes that been served for over 40 years. It started with my Dad, and now a new group of talented chefs oversee the kitchen. The restaurant recently enjoyed a complete makeover and the food is better than ever. You just want to make sure to leave a little room for some frozen bananas or a nice balboa bar along Marine Avenue!
DNB: Is there an iconic restaurant that you and your family have as the “go to” spot when you want head out?
WL: When we feel like some great cocktails and a place that has that “old school ambience,” yet stills feels really hip, we head to A Restaurant on PCH. I love the Chicken Pot Pie on Friday nights. They also have amazing steaks, and a great seasonal menu by the new chef, Jon Blackford. If I happen to stop in on Tuesday’s, I am pleasantly surprised as most of the wines are 50% off. Can’t beat that. My favorite drink to order at A Restaurant? Hmmm…that depends on what I have ordered— a great glass of Pinot, the Boss made with 1942, or True Grit made with Duke Bourbon .
DNB: Where to you go to celebrate a birthday or special occasion with the family?
WL: A Restaurant’s private back room, Mozza’s patio, or at The Winery—- upstairs outside deck overlooking the bay. Just can’t beat that view.
DNB: Is there a casual spot you enjoy hanging out at in Newport?
WL: Well, it kind of depends if we are walking, riding our bikes or driving to dinner . We walk to Mama D’s. That is super easy for us. They have great traditional Italian pastas and the most amazing garlic bread that just keep on coming. One of my favorite dishes is Alondra’s Broccoli Al Pesto with gluten free pasta, and with some shrimp. We will ride our bikes over to Sabatino’s for dinner, or their brunch for Spicy Sausage Stuffed Bell Peppers and their After Dark In A Blanket dessert (however we have to share that one). We tend to drive to Pizzeria Mozza. What can I say about Mozza’s thin crust Meatball Pizza? It’s suburb! My wife’s favorite is the chicken and she orders that with their baby kale salad. To start the evening off just right, we order a Burrata Cheese appetizer, with some fresh baked bread.
DNB: So this convinces me you and your family love Italian food, but we’re in Newport, so I have to ask you what about seafood—especially given your company’s name? Do you have a favorite spot for enjoying seafood here in Newport Beach?
WL: I would have to say pretty much our favorite seafood place is the Crab Cooker. This was the first place that I ever had Clam Chowder. It’s always fun to start the night with some Smoked Albacore or Salmon. We love their Fresh Fish selection with a side of slaw and their Cheesy Mashed Potatoes. We also like the King Crab and the real sweet Steamed Spotted Shrimp in the shell—-when I feel like man-handling my food. And sometimes we just place an order “to go” and take a loaf of bread with some Chowder, and Smoked Fish to go watch the sunset on the beach, or chill on the couch at home.
DNB: So when you need a “wake me up” do you have a favorite morning where we might find you sipping on some java?
WL: That would have to be Charlie’s Chili at the pier, or Alta Coffee Company on 31st Street.
DNB: Any favorite spots to listen to live music?
WL: I would have to say the Blue Beet near the Newport Pier. They have live music every night of the week. It dates back to 1912, so it’s an icon here in Newport.
DNB: What is the one of the “must have” menu items in Wing Lam’s world that you just cannot live without?
WL: I would have to say the Crab Cooker’s Clam Chowder. It’s just the best!
DNB: Which local chefs would you say you admire the most?
WL: Alain Greeley from The Golden Truffle, and Yvon Goetz from The Winery.
DNB: And what about when the clock strikes 5:00…. do you have a favorite Happy Hour spot?
WL: (Chuckles…) I wish I was home early enough to enjoy it, but I hear that Billy’s and The Cannery have a great one.
DNB: Do you own a Duffy boat?
WL: It’s better to have friends with a Duffy Boat. When we go out on one with our friends, we tend to pop in to visit Bluewater Grill with docks right there in Cannery Village, and Buddha’s Favorite for sushi on Lido Park Drive. We always have a relaxing time out on the water—that is for sure!
About Wahoo’s Fish Taco – Wahoo’s was founded in Costa Mesa, California in 1988 by Chinese-Brazilian brothers Eduardo Lee, Mingo Lee and Wing Lam, who mixed traditional Chinese and Brazilian flavors with dishes they encountered while traveling in Mexico. Wahoo’s has expanded across California, Colorado, Hawaii, New York, Nebraska, Texas, Nevada, and Pennsylvania. The corporate headquarters are in Santa Ana, California. They offer many vegetarian and even vegan options, such as tofu, banzai veggies and brown rice. The restaurant chain also offers a kid’s meal menu. Wahoo’s first international restaurant was opened in Japan in time to celebrate their 25 year anniversary.