Sea Ranger Seafood Station
2950 Johnson Drive, suite 131B, Ventura

One does not simply waltz into a fish and chips shop expecting vegan fare; but, woomp, there it is in East Ventura situated in a strip mall that’s quickly becoming a veggie-friendly hot spot.

Let’s get the basics out of the way first: Sea Ranger is not a vegan-only joint. Rather, on my visit, prep cooks were readying filets of cod to be dipped into the batter and fried, so before you panic about “where’s muh meat,” it’s there. Alongside those items on the menu, highlighted in green, are several vegan options.

Your standard array of fish and chips, shrimp and chips, and even whole fish are on offer to be slathered in batter and deep-fried to your heart’s desire, served alongside what are more like French fries, and I should know, having just returned from the United Kingdom, where the chips are as thick as tree branches.

Vegan tuna melt

I cannot speak for the actual fish, as the green menu items were what lured (get it) us in to begin with.

To approach Sea Ranger is to enter a hall of contradictions. To the left is Just Barbecue, steadily busy, with all manner of farm animal on the menu, and on the right is Thai Star. Sandwiched in the middle are Sea Ranger and Norte Sur, sister restaurants having both been established by the same entrepreneur. It’s no surprise that Norte Sur, which specializes in traditional Mexican fare, also serves a slew of vegan-friendly options.

The space resembles one-half of a mall food court, with tables aplenty and restaurants with simple, flat facades. Items are served on trays cafeteria-style; and utensils, condiments and what-have-you are all self-serve.

We decided to run the gamut and order as many of the vegan options as we could. The vegan fish and chips was a no-brainer. Served with vegan coleslaw and fresh-cut fries, the entree comes in two- to four-piece varieties, of which we chose the latter ($12). The vegan shrimp and chips intrigued me but, alas, were not available. As it turned out on that particular Saturday, the crew at Sea Ranger was scouring every port for the ingredient and we’d have to check in later.

Vegan clam chowder

Alternatively, we chose the vegan tuna melt ($9) served on sourdough bread with grilled onions, mustard, pickles and vegan cheese, as well as the chef’s special vegan crab cakes dinner ($12) served with rice pilaf, grilled veggies and garlic bread, plus a side of Head Ranger’s Secret Sauce.

To top it off, two cups of vegan seafood chowder ($4) and a vegan strawberry shake ($6). This proved to be more than enough for the three of us, and our tray resembled diet cheat day at the Ventura County Fair.

As previously mentioned, having returned from the land of salt and vinegar (England), I doused my “fish” in malt vinegar and dipped it into the vegan tartar sauce (presumably utilizing vegan mayonnaise). Excellent. The filets could prove worthy facsimile and most would be hard-pressed to tell the difference, flavor and all, if doing so in a blind tasting. In fact, they looked suspiciously like the Gardein-brand fishless filets; not a bad thing.

The crab cakes on the other hand, appeared well homemade, somewhat thinner than their traditional counterpart but just as flavorful. The crabby essence melted in my mouth and visions of a crab Benedict floated through my mind. Thoroughly impressed, I bit into the tuna melt and then returned to the crab cakes. While the melt wasn’t bad, per se, the crab cakes were just that much better.

Just as important were the fries, which proved to be so numerous that they became my breakfast the following day. They were fried to perfection and, when dipped in the Head Ranger’s Secret Sauce, proved hard to resist. The coleslaw had a clearly fruity flavor, somewhat like an apple, and met the standards of the crunch test, a worthy accompaniment.

Almost an afterthought, the seafood chowder, like most chowders I have ever encountered, was somewhat ignored, though not for a lack of flavor. In fact, it was delicious, but like a Jackson Pollock painting, our table had become a warzone of sight and flavors fighting for attention. In the end, we may have finished the chowder? To this day, I am uncertain.

Norte Sur offers up vegan taquitos, and though I had planned on snagging an order on our visit, lunch at Sea Ranger left me a whale of a patron. No worries; I’ll be returning, and I imagine most of the county’s vegans and vegetarians will be visiting as well — though you don’t have to be either. (You could be Paleo, even; Sea Ranger has got you covered.) If Sea Ranger can pump out top quality vegan-friendly fare, it’s safe to say that those inclined to try the rest of the menu will be pleased as well.