When it comes to great seafood restaurants, Los Angeles leads the way. With its miles of beaches and views of the ocean from every inland high-rise building, it's no wonder that Angelenos love their crustaceans, molluscs, fish and roe -- and are willing to travel to find the best. Ironically, much of the seafood served up here is imported from places like Alaska, Maine, and beyond (think New Zealand), for while there's a lot of water in plain sight, not that much is pulled from our local (often polluted) waters. But the quality found in the local eateries is top notch, particularly in the high-end restaurants like the famed Water Grill (both the newer outpost in Santa Monica and the original downtown) or Chef Thomas Keller's Bouchon in Beverly Hills. And there's nothing like sitting down at the Santa Monica Seafood Cafe, a part of the renowned Santa Monica Seafood Market, which has been supplying fresh seafood to restaurants and consumers since 1939. That's also a place to learn about responsibly sourced seafood and sustainability, for they work with the Monterey Bay Aquarium using their Seafood Watch system to indicate the fish and crustaceans that are the best choices, caught or farmed with the least amount of impact on the environment. Happily, many of L.A.'s top restaurants buy their fish here, and are conscious of choosing the best alternatives for their diners.
The sleepy little beach town of Playa del Rey has been awakened by the husband-and-wife culinary team of Brooke Wiliamson (a "Top Chef" runner up) and Nick Roberts, whose Playa Provisions four-in-one restaurant complex is drawing crowds. Dockside is the spot there for seafood; that fine-dining restaurant dedicated to seasonal seafood and is open for lunch and dinner, with food served until at least 11 p.m. every night. Be sure to try the wonderful Ceviche and the Clam and Diver Casino for starters, then move on to the Salt Cod Clam Chowder (enhanced with bacon). Entrees include a decadent, spicy scallops dish with cornbread pudding and popcorn sauce and a classic Seafood Louis Salad. It's all good here, which is why seats are at a premium. Consider sitting at the bar for dinner if the wait is too long. (310-683-5019)
Connie and Ted's
With its roots firmly entrenched in New England, Connie and Ted's is as close to a true blue East Coast crab shack as you can find in California. Their menu is simple, extensive, and straight forward, offering all the dishes of the sea, starting with an oyster and clam raw bar and moving on to offer three kinds of clam "chowda," crab cakes, grilled or fried calamari and more. And those are just the appetizers; entrees range from an old-school New England Boiled Dinner to Fish and Chips, Portuguese Fish Stew and the Catch of the Day. Chefs Michael Cimarusti (of Providence fame) and Sam Baxter must be doing something right here, as this is one of the most popular seafood places in town. (323-848-2722)
Los Angeles is where it all began for Nobu Matsuhisa, the acknowledged king of Japanese cuisine, who now has high-end eateries all over the world. His first restaurant, Matsuhisa, is a tiny place on La Cienega Boulevard; Nobu Los Angeles is further north up that same street; and the prettiest of them all, Nobu Malibu, is perched right on the sand on Pacific Coast Highway in the heart of that posh beach community. Malibu gets our vote for the best of three solely on location, for the gorgeous ocean views and sleek restaurant design somehow make Nobu's signature dishes like Black Cod Miso and Yellowtail with Jalapeno seem even more delicious when eaten there (and they are seriously fantastic no matter where you taste them). (310-317-9140)
Bouchon - Beverly Hills
Top tocque Thomas Keller made his name with the French Laundry in the Napa Valley, but here in L.A., you can sample his fine dining at Bouchon Beverly Hills. It's a classic French bistro, with a lively ambiance, an extensive wine list (with only French and American wines served here) and an especially satisfying menu for seafood lovers. There's a full "Fruits de Mer" raw bar that features oysters, clams and even Sturgeon caviar if you're in the mood; classic mussels steamed in white wine is served as a main dish; and a variety of fish entrees round out your exemplary seafood dining experience here. (310-271-9910)
Tipple & Brine
When Tipple & Brine opened its doors in April 2014, denizens of the San Fernando Valley rejoiced. For this casual, slightly rustic restaurant has brought a seafood sanctuary to Ventura Boulevard, serving fresh, sustainable choices from every corner of the ocean. Their raw oyster bar rotates choices daily (bivalves from Virginia, Mexico, Canada and Washington were on the board the night we visited), and the rest of the menu is seasonally and locally sourced whenever possible. If the Fried Octopus paired with eggplant and shishito peppers is available, grab it and you'll discover a spicy, crunchy cephalopod that melts in your mouth. The Crispy Oysters are another winner and the unique melding of their Sea Urchin Toast (urchin served with avocado mousse) is definitely worth a taste. Note that the dish they describe is exactly what you get; the menu states in bold that "modifications and substitutions are politely declined." (818-528-2550)
Kincaid's Redondo Beach
Overlooking the Pacific Ocean on Redondo Beach Pier, Kincaid's has the perfect setting for a seafood feast. Sit out on the patio and listen to the waves crash in while you sample their signature Seafood Etouffee. That's a down-home delight, delicately seasoned and jam packed with prawns, mussels, scallops and -- in true New Orleans style -- andouille sausage, and all served over a pile of melt-in-your-mouth cheese grits. That dish alone makes Kincaid's one of the best seafood places in the L.A. area; add in their wonderful Seafood Gumbo, the Oven Roasted Oysters Rockefeller, Lobster Bisque and Asiago-Almond Crusted Scallops and it's a slam dunk. Kincaid's also has a full prime rib and steak side of the menu -- their Char Grilled Filet Mignon & Petite Lobster Tail is a classically prepared and presented surf and turf. (310-318-6080)
Fishing with Dynamite
You'll find some of Southern California's best seafood at Fishing with Dynamite, Chef David LeFevre's tiny jewelbox eatery in Manhattan Beach. With seating for only 35 guests, getting a table can be tough; but the food is definitely worth the wait. Order a tower of seafood from the Raw Bar section of the menu -- everything from oysters, Peruvian scallops, sea urchin, king crab legs, lobster and more -- and start dipping into the assorted sauces and that may be all you need to be sated. But don't miss the chef's seasonal offerings, especially if the whole New Zealand Tai snapper happens to be listed. It's "First Dibbs!" for a reason, and a crunchy delight. The finger-licking good, plump grilled prawns are soaked in garlic, and save room for the pretzel and chocolate bread pudding served with house made ice cream, a dessert the likes of which you've never tasted. (310-893-6299)
Chef Helene An's huge Dungeness crab roasted in secret spices may just be the best single seafood dish in Los Angeles. That secret recipe is so closely guarded that she's even got a secret kitchen-within-the-kitchen where she prepares that delicacy. Her garlic noodles with prawns are divine and also a must have. And she serves up numerous hot and cold tapas from the sea, including a spicy Ahi taco and a uniquely presented lobster lollipop. Meat lovers will find plenty to try, too: celebrate the 100th anniversary of Beverly Hills with An's Centennial Wagyu Beef served with a sweet secret glaze. Plus, the place itself is a work of interior-design art, with a fish tank built into the floor, so be sure to look down as you enter. (310-205-8990)
Santa Monica Seafood Cafe
This renowned seafood market and restaurant, a local landmark since 1939, has earned a well-deserved reputation as "the cathedral of seafood." A family-owned business with a history dating back to nineteenth-century Italy, Santa Monica Seafood is the city's go-to for the freshest catch, boasting the largest selection of fresh seafood in the Pacific Southwest. At the charmingly casual cafe, diners swoon over smooth, sweet oysters and decadent clam chowder followed by roasted whitefish drizzled with lemon oil or a rich, satisfying bowl of cioppino stew. The café is a perfect place to grab a quick lunch: try the spicy salmon burger or mahi mahi sliders and get a zing in every bite. (310-393-5244)
Water Grill Santa Monica
Like its older sibling of the same name in downtown L.A., the Water Grill in Santa Monica is a seafood lover's paradise. Huge towers of raw and chilled shellfish are par for the course, served up in a large convivial space dominated by wood and leather. And there are plenty of other delicious cooked choices on the menu, ranging from crab cakes and fish tacos to a wild king salmon entree presented with snap peas and heirloom tomatoes, for $42. Swordfish, sea bass, halibut, tuna, squid; you name it and the Water Grill probably has it on the menu. They'll grill it to perfection, oven roast it or combine it into a tangy Cioppino, whatever your heart's desire. Be sure to taste some of their spectacular sides, too: the mac & cheese is grandly gooey and the braised kale with Greek yogurt and hazelnuts is seriously good stuff. (310-394-5669)
About Jenny Peters
Jenny Peters – aka Jet Set Jen – is a Los Angeles-based freelance journalist, editor and party columnist specializing in travel, entertainment, film, food, wine, fashion and the other good things in life. She is a founding/voting member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association, who present the Critics’ Choice Movie Awards every January. Her favorite places to be are on the beach in Southern California playing volleyball, scuba diving with the sharks in warm tropical waters or strolling the streets and soaking in the atmosphere of one of the world's great cities (New Orleans and Florence are her favorites).
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