Malibu Eats for the Leather and Lycra Clad
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because it’s where bikers and cyclists (and celebs) get their grease on in SoCal.
By Robert Earle Howells
Upscale Malibu’s most enduring institution? A biker hangout where pigeons and seagulls lurk hungrily amid throngs of customers devouring fried-seafood platters — all on a car-commercial-perfect stretch of California’s Pacific Coast Highway just over the Ventura County line. Across PCH from Neptune’s Net is County Line Beach, a south-facing strand popular with surfers and kiters. Rising behind it are the highest rocky ridges of the Santa Monica Mountains. It’s a glorious setting for a cheap al fresco meal on the ocean.
The Net has occupied this choice location since 1956. Befitting its status as revered local landmark, it has changed little over the years — or at least, its changes have been subtle. I frequented it in the late ’70s and early ’80s, usually as the turnaround goal of coast-hugging bicycle rides, and I’m hard-pressed to tell you today what’s different. The website says that the seafood side is now separate from the restaurant side, meaning you can select and order live shellfish and chowder to go from one queue and fish-and-chips, burgers and fish tacos from the other.
Its timbers rattle with the roar of every Harley that pulls up to or away from the strip of motorcycle-only parking.
What hasn’t changed at all is a refreshing lack of preciousness. It’s a dive, a shack. Its timbers rattle with the roar of every Harley that pulls up to or away from the strip of motorcycle-only parking that forms a high-cc showcase between the restaurant and the highway. (Fittingly, a scene from the original The Fast and the Furious was shot here.) Apart from a few fully enclosed tables deep inside, seating is covered but open to the breeze. Open to the pigeons too, which everyone simply shoos away. No waiters or waitresses. Everyone lines up to order, and that can take awhile, but the food comes quickly. I recently refreshed my memory with a lunch order of fish-and-chips. “Encrusted with panko crumbs” sounded a bit au courant to me, but the effect was just as I remembered: a pair of flaky whitefish strips, nicely crunchy on the outside, just-right greasiness quotient, on a bed of fries, all served in a cardboard carton ($10.45). I snagged one (OK, two) of my wife’s grilled-fish tacos ($12.25), generously fishy and deftly piquant, thanks to pico de gallo salsa and a kicky avocado sauce.
The current owners of Neptune’s Net, Chong and Michelle Lee and their daughter Margaret, maintain their charge with dutiful reverence, as they have since 1991. “We feel a huge responsibility to keep it as a cultural and historical landmark,” says Margaret. “And we take a lot of pride in picking the best seafood,” even if most servings are deep-fried. The most popular order is a sampler of fried calamari, scallops, shrimp, clam strips, crab cake and whitefish. “The best crab cakes anywhere,” Greg Evans tells me as he dismounts his 1130cc Indian Scout. He’s been coming here for nearly 30 years.
On summer weekends and warm-weather holidays, the Net serves “thousands and thousands” of customers, according to Margaret. This being Malibu, celebrity sightings are common; recent patrons include Chris Pratt, Anna Faris, Peter Dinklage and Andy Garcia. I’ve never seen it not busy. Weekend warrior riders like Evans make it a regular stop on a coast-and-mountain circuit that includes PCH and winding routes through the Santa Monicas, such as Mulholland Highway and Decker Canyon Road. Roadie cyclists like me clunk around in cleats. Surfers dash in from across the highway wearing shorty wet suits. Everyone is happy to share a table. As it is with the best hangout joints, we’re all in it together.
- Robert Earle Howells, OZY Author Contact Robert Earle Howells