Red Mill Totem House: Fishy Prices, Awesome Burgers

In recasting Ballard's historic Totem House restaurant, Red Mill's brother and sister ownership team, Babe and John Shepherd, did something smart: They decided not to screw with the Native American carvings on the building's exterior. But they also did something surprising: Alongside their critically-acclaimed burgers, they decided to remain ultra-faithful to Totem House lore and serve fish 'n chips.

First, let's get the burgers out of the way. They're Red Mill Burgers. They're fantastic. And despite the fish on the menu, they're still the primary reason why there are lines out the door (and why the words "Kidd Valley" are rarely uttered when the topic of Seattle's best fast-food burger comes up nowadays).

As for the fish 'n chips, Red Mill's rendition is good enough to rival the finest quick-fry varieties in town as well. But its price--$7.49 for a one-piece basket with fries, $11.49 for three--is apt to give customers a case of sticker shock.

Red Mill Totem House is within crawling distance of some pretty stiff fish 'n chip competition in the Lockspot and the Sloop. The Lockspot charges $5.95 for a one-piece with fries ($9.95 for three-piece), while identical fare can be had at the Sloop for $4.50 ($8.75 for three-piece). Yet Babe Shepherd makes no apologies for Red Mill's prices, using the similarly-priced Spud ($6.40 for a one-piece, $11.30 for three filets) chain as her primary reference point.

"If you look at what Spud's charges, they give you about half the amount of fish," Shepherd claims. "My portions are around 2.5-3 ounces per fillet. Spud's butterfies theirs, and their breading is about as thick as their fish."

"I could cut my fish really thin and knock the price down, but I don't want to do that," she adds. "I think the price is fair. I have a lot of spices in my breading which are really expensive. I have a better product, and I believe I put more care and time into it."

You've got to admire Shepherd's passion for her pricing and product. And that product is damn good. But is it $2-$3 better per basket than what you'll eat down the street? Not quite.

Red Mill Totem House, 3058 NW 54th St, 784-1400, BALLARD

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