It’s no surprise that a city bordered by ocean excels at serving seafood. San Diego’s seafood restaurants vary radically in ambiance, price and versatility, but all have one thing in common: high quality fish. Dishes are minimally-prepared in order to showcase the freshly caught seafood that is flown in daily or caught by local artisanal fishermen. Grilled, sauteed, seared, smoked, or raw--whichever you choose will send tastebuds over the edge.
Don’t let an unassuming, casual vibe fool you. Some of San Diego’s best seafood restaurants double as markets and seat a post-beach clientele, but are also critically acclaimed. For example, the uber-informal Blue Water Grill was highlighted on the famous Food Network show “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives.” On the other hand, upscale seafood restaurants such as Truluck's or Top of the Market, make for perfect date nights with impeccable service and artistically-plated dishes. Specialty cocktails and award-winning wines pair seamlessly with your order. Craving oysters? Ask the staff, if you’re overwhelmed by multiple varieties to choose from.
No time to dine-in? Hosting a party? Many of these restaurants, such as The Fishery, allow you to call in a to-go order. Their market also has an extensive catering menu including sushi platters, poached salmon and more to eliminate the need to cook for guests.
Where you go depends on what you’re in the mood for. Just remember that San Diego's signature dish is the fish taco, so you must eat at least one during your stay.
Blue Water Seafood
Guy Fieri of "Diners, Drive-ins and Dives" loves Blue Water Seafood and so will you. Absolutely nothing else is on offer other than fresh seafood cooked to order. Choose your fish or shrimp, pick a marinade, and ask for a sandwich, plate or tacos. It's that simple. The no-frills ambiance of this little Mission Hills gem lets the fresh, extremely reasonably-priced food speak for itself. Locals favor the fish tacos, oysters and the market for at-home preparation. Call in advance if you're placing a to-go order, as there can be a wait to order at peak times. It might be hard to find a table in the restaurant/market during peak times... it's that popular! ((619) 497-0914)
Point Loma Seafoods
Located in a new building, Point Loma Seafoods is better than ever. Fish is brought in and selected daily by the owners who also claim that there is also no better shrimp on the market than what they sell. Locals have favored this fish and chips place for years, and it's one of San Diego's best places for al fresco dining. Reasonably priced fresh seafood, party platters, and sushi (there's also a sushi deli should you want a few rolls while you're there) are on offer if you're entertaining at home. The ambiance is very casual as it's a combination eatery and seafood market. (619-223-1109)
El Pescador Fish Market
Small and unassuming, El Pescador Fish Market in La Jolla has been a local favorite for over 30 years. Place an order to-go, pick up some fresh fish from the market or dine in. El Pescador is known for it's fish sandwiches, with swordfish and calamari being the most popular. Or, pick a fish, decide if you want it char-grilled or sauteed, and then put it on a salad (all salad dressings are homemade) or order a full plate, which includes a small salad and steamed rice. Prices are reasonable, service is friendly and the quality superb. Leave your fancy clothes at home as the ambiance is beach-casual. ((858) 456-2526)
Blue Point Coastal Cuisine
Modeled after a San Francisco supper club, this award-winning upscale dining room offers steaks and seafood. Fresh ingredients, quality recipes, talented chefs and delightful presentation combine for the ideal dining experience. Try signature items like their griddle jumbo lump crab cakes and dill-crusted salmon. Superb service and a well-stocked bar also make this a Gaslamp Quarter must-try. Blue Point Coastal Cuisine is one of the first seafood restaurants to open in the area and remains a favorite of locals and tourists alike. The restaurant is open for dinner only though happy hour is from 5:00pm to 6:30pm. It's a member of the popular Cohn Group of restaurants. (619-233-6623)
Pacific Beach Fish Shop
Despite it's location and seriously casual ambiance, the quality of the food at Pacific Beach Fish Shop may surprise you. Pick a fish, select a marinade then decide if you'd like a taco, sandwich, salad or plate. Soak up the sun on the big patio, which also happens to be dog-friendly. Thirsty? They have a rather large selection of local craft beers. Locals rave about the fish and chips, lobster lumpia, tacos and more. Thursday is dollar oyster night and you may now order take-out in advance via their website. There is also now a kids menu and there's no fee for corkage if you want to BYO wine. ((858) 483-4746)
Oscar's Mexican Seafood
It hasn't been around that long but some are already claiming that Oscar's Mexican Seafood is the best Mexican in San Diego. A hole in the wall near a smoke shop and a dive bar, this gem is casual with a to-go atmosphere and very little seating. The tacos, which can be upgraded to a burrito for just $1 more, are worth the wait--and there is often a wait. Portions are huge with the tacos heaving with meat, cheese and avocados. Double the avocados if you like for just 50 cents and grab an agua fresca with free refills. Parking is usually OK on the street. ((858) 488-6392)
Oceanaire Seafood Room
Versatility and freshness set this seafood specialist apart. Combining a bountiful oyster bar with a fresh fish menu that changes daily, Oceanaire offers a changing selection that may include snapper, swordfish, grouper, mahi-mahi and blue marlin steak. Jumbo lump crab cakes and fish and chips are favorites as well. Savory sides range from sour cream and onion mashed potatoes to fried green tomatoes. The 1930's decor and an adjoining cocktail bar add to the appeal of the restaurant's large and lively dining room. Oceanaire has received numerous awards for being one of the best seafood restaurants in San Diego. Prices reflect the quality. (619-858-2277)
The Fishery is an unpretentious, restored vintage warehouse located 3 blocks from the beach in the Pacific Beach area. Part restaurant and part fish market, The Fishery supports local artisanal fishermen they call out by name. Chef Paul Arias perfects a seasonal menu that changes based on what is available locally. Wine on offer is designed to pair well with seafood. Favorites include the market fish and chips, swordfish tacos, clam chowder, sushi and more. The market has a catering menu and to-go orders can be placed and picked up within 15 minutes or so. Dress is casual and pets are welcome on the patio. (8582729985)
Top of the Market
Located upstairs from the more casual Fish Market, this refined venue offers views from Point Loma to the Coronado Bridge, along with cuisine that is nothing short of spectacular. An incredibly broad offering of seafood might include Norwegian salmon, Alaskan halibut, New Zealand mussels, or Chilean sea bass that is all flown in daily. The romantic setting features crisp linens, flickering candlelight, refined service, and exhibition-style cooking. Pasta and steaks are also served, along with an expanded wine list. Service is always attentive. The restaurant is considered one of the best in Southern California. The dress code is smart casual. (619-232-3474, 619-234-4867)
Truluck's Seafood Steak and Crab - La Jolla
Truluck's La Jolla has been recognized by many of San Diego's local publications for a good reason. Come hungry, because you'll want it all from crab claws to lobster bisque to perfectly-cooked prime cuts of steak with sauce choices such as chimichurri. Truly "a getaway for the senses," pull your car up to the valet at the Aventine, right in front of the restaurant, and stay for a leisurely meal.
The crab is fresh from Truluck's own fisheries. The restaurant is a champion of the sustainable seafood movement and does not serve seafood out of season. Hormone-free and all natural meats are sourced from U.S. family farms. The wine list is updated weekly and enjoy bottles at 50% off on Wednesdays. If you're feeling like something a bit stiffer, the cocktail list is lengthy with about 15 different specialty martinis on offer. (8584532583)
About Katie Dillon
Katie Dillon originally moved to the seaside community of La Jolla to attend UC San Diego. When the opportunity presented itself, she and her husband set off for a 7 year stint overseas as expats in London and Hong Kong. After traveling the world, they returned to the La Jolla sunshine, with a young daughter in tow.
Katie now writes a lifestyle site called La Jolla Mom and is the author of a book called, “Flying With Kids.” Her work can be seen on NBC San Diego, Red Tricycle, Yahoo! Shine and Have Family Will Travel, a Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts blog.
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