San Diego is brimming with good seafood joints up and down the glistening Pacific coastline. Fish tacos, poke bowls, tuna sammys – you name it, we’ve got it. From innovative dishes to the classics and top-dollar sit downs to grab-and-go’s at local eateries, San Diego stacks up when it comes to seafood. Next time you find yourself stumbling through America’s Finest City looking for some fresh catch, fall into these must-visit seafood staples below.
Cruise up to North County and fall in love with one of Carlsbad’s gems: Land & Water Co. Some of the finest fish is sustainably sourced, sliced and served from this 1887 Queen Anne home-turned-restaurant. Owner and Executive Chef Rob Ruiz and his team are leaders in preserving overfished seafood and advocates of using locally sourced ingredients. Grab a seat at the sushi bar and post up. Check out the chef’s knife skills while you enjoy a glass of wine and some nigiri. In addition to sushi, the seasonal menu features dishes like “no waste” beets, pork schnitzel and meyer lemon goat cheese tarts. Try a few different dishes and hell, have a few different drinks. You won’t want to leave – and I don’t blame you. Landandwaterco.com
A Halibut sammy, cold beer and a view of the fishing fleet – now that’s what I’m talking about. This no-frills seafood joint is the local hot spot for fisherman who have just retired from their crack-of-dawn mornings out on the water. Located in Point Loma, Mitch’s specializes in serving locally caught and sustainable seafood. Decade-old photographs of fisherman hang inside, offering a historical view while guests stand in line debating between the steamed mussels with a baguette or beer battered fish and chips. Ah, screw it. Get both. Place your order, grab a number and your brew, and head out the backdoor. They keep the bar stools out there along with an epic view of the harbor. Watch out for the seagulls – word on the street is they’re suckers for great Halibut sammys. Mitchsseafood.com
Encinitas Fish Shop
Pick a fish, choose a marinate then plate it. Simple. Encinitas Fish Shop is another mellow neighborhood spot located in a sleepy beach town that’s surrounded by surf shops and boutiques. Swing by on a lazy afternoon and kill some time with good food and good beers. The fresh catch is displayed in the fish case, which you can scope out when you walk through the door. The staff is friendly as hell and the eats – unbeatable. The Fish Shop shrimp and a side of the seaweed salad is a must along with one (or seven) of their spicy dorado tacos. Pro tip: grab a bar seat on the back patio. It’s a nice place to sit on a sunny afternoon and you can easily eyeball their drafts. Love that. Thefishshopencinitas.com
San Diego’s sushi scene has elevated. And Executive Sushi Chef John Hong of Hidden Fish is at the helm of making the change. Opening the city’s first omakase-only sushi restaurant, he’s reeducating diners about the Japanese concept. Simply put? He decides what goes in your mouth (well, at least during the 50-minute or 90-minute timed dining session). Omakase, a phrase which translates directly to ‘I’ll leave it up to you,’ is a traditional Japanese style of dining where patrons place their full trust in the chef to present innovative and delicious dishes. Bluefin tuna with truffle, “toro” tartare and sea bream are just a few of the creatively executed options served at Hidden Fish, along with a rotating selection direct from Japan’s renowned Toyosu Fish Market. With such an intimate space and only 13 seats at the sushi bar, it’s highly recommended you make reservations in advance. Hiddenfishsushi.com
Why not grab a slab of fresh opah or a hunk of tuna and throw that bad boy on the grill yourself? Take a break from the restaurant scene and swing by the Tuna Harbor Dockside Market any Saturday morning from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. For breakfast and a show, watch some of San Diego’s finest local fisherman fileting fresh catch on the dock and breaking down giant sea monsters on their boats. For a morning snack, grab a locally caught sea urchin and a fork, and you’re good to go. These guys know all the secret tips and will share tasty recipes, so don’t shy away from asking. Thedocksidemarket.com
Cloak & Petal
Sure. Sitting under a beautifully crafted, giant cherry blossom tree while checking out décor reminiscent of an abandoned Tokyo subway will heighten any dining experience. It’s sexy. And your dinner will get even hotter when you add slices of yellowtail nigiri and bluefin toro belly sashimi to the mix. And those blistered shishitos – hot damn. Cool down with a cocktail. Or six because they’re that good. Cesar Vallin opened Cloak & Petal in Little Italy, offering a high-end Japanese social dining option to a neighborhood bustling with amazing restaurants. Glazed brick and subway tiles, graffiti and Japanese etiquette posters keep things edgy, while softer touches like the tan booths and flower petals offer romance. Go here, you’ll love it. Cloakandpetal.com
And don’t forget about our friends who are South of the boarder. The chefs in Baja California are doing amazing things. From the simple taco stand to fishmongers in Popotla, take your passport on your next trip to San Diego. Fresh seafood and cheap but fantastic tacos are a hop, skip and a jump across the good ‘ol border. Ahoy!
Written by: Paige Nordeen