When it comes to food and drink, San Diego has certainly grown up in the past decade, shedding its former reputation as a burger-fish taco-and-flip flops-only dining destination. Celebrated chefs, creative cocktails and craft beer characterize the culinary culture, along with a wealth of international cuisines and experiences ranging from toes-in-the-sand casual to world-class fine dining.
Serving the finest seafood cuisine with service and atmosphere the match, San Diego's fine dining restaurants celebrate the best of the region's bounty, combining locally grown produce and the seasonal catch of the day in unique and innovative dishes. From Yellowfin to Yellowtail, San Diego is serving it up fresh; here are a few to try:
- Top of the Market / The Fish Market , Downtown
Downstairs, the frenetic Fish Market offers an enormous selection of fresh seafood - broiled, fried, raw, seared, steamed, grilled, baked, they even have a sushi bar and oyster bar - to crowds of casually-dressed diners. On the second floor, Top of the Market offers an upscale approach with higher prices, dressier clientele, more peaceful atmosphere and more elegant presentations. Both levels offer remarkable views of the harbor and the Coronado Bridge.
- The Oceanaire Seafood Room , Downtown
Seafood flown in fresh from around the globe is the catch of the day at this very grown-up, Gaslamp hot spot. It's heaven for fish fans, with at least a dozen fresh selections offered nightly. Other highlights of the menu include several varieties of oysters, the city's best crab cakes and assorted seafood salads. Separate room available for private parties; good for special occasions, and walking distance from the Convention Center.
- Blue Point Coastal Cuisine , Downtown
Located downtown on a busy Gaslamp District corner, Blue Point offers world-class people watching, superb martinis, an oyster bar and consistently good fresh seafood. If just-shucked oysters, seared ahi and lobster bisque aren't your cup of chowder, the menu also features steaks, poultry and rack of lamb.
- Osetra Fishhouse , Downtown
Located in the heart of the Gaslamp District, Osetra Fishhouse not only offers great seafood and sushi but they also have an extensive wine list presented in a cool, three-story wine tower which dominates the room. Upscale but not stuffy, Osetra is a great choice for seafood lovers.
Casual Dining: Fish in a Taco
Although their origins are in Mexico, there's no doubt that fish tacos have been perfected here in San Diego. First served in the early 80s, both Las Olas Mexican Restaurant and Ralph Rubio, owner of the Rubio's Fresh Mexican Grill chain, claim to be the first to bring the fish taco north of the border. And while it is widely debated who has the best in town, here are a few of our favorites:
- The Brigantine (various locations)
This local San Diego chain of informal, family-owned restaurants specializes in fresh seafood, much of it from local waters. In addition to the catches of the day like Pacific swordfish and Hawaiian mahi mahi, The Brigantine serves award-winning fish tacos. Offering a spectacular view the Del Mar Fairgrounds, the Del Mar Brigantine is especially popular during the Del Mar summer racing season and the Holiday of Lights in December.
- Mama Testa Taqueria , Hillcrest
In 2009, Mama Testa's chef and owner Cesar Gonzalez faced Bobby Flay on The Food Network in a 'fish taco throwdown,' and won! Mama Testa has been serving authentic time-honored recipes straight from Mexico since 2004. The menu is filled with the different styles and flavors of tacos from across Mexico, all with no twist on the traditional recipes. Truly authentic!
- Las Olas Mexican Restaurant , Cardiff and Carlsbad
Opened in 1981, Las Olas claims that it "pioneered the now famous fish taco" at its beach side location in the heart of Cardiff-by-the-Sea. While still serving "the original" fish taco, Las Olas also offers healthy selections of fresh San Diego seafood and traditional Mexican favorites in a casual atmosphere with indoor and patio dining.
Dine in or Take out: Fish from a Market
If you're looking for great seafood right off the dock, many seafood restaurants also operate fish markets where you can buy their fresh ocean catch to take with you and cook elsewhere. Dine-in or fresh to go, here are several worth a try:
- Blue Water Seafood Market & Grill , Mission Hills
Dine in or take it home to cook yourself, either way this all-fish restaurant offers some of San Diego's freshest fish and shellfish. Featured on the Food Network's Diners, Drive-ins and Dives, the Blue Water menu offers all items prepared with the fish and marinade of your choosing.
- El Pescador Fish Market , La Jolla
This La Jolla fish market and seafood restaurant is popular among the local surfers as well as residents. With two refrigerated display cases stocked with locally caught fresh fish, patrons can select what they want and have it prepared to eat there or they can take their "catch" home to cook. Offering hot char-grilled and sauteed seafood items, sandwiches, plates, and salads, this fish market is a local favorite.
- Pelly's Fish Market , Carlsbad
Both a fish market and an eatery, Pelly's in San Diego's North County Coastal offers fresh seafood simply prepared at reasonable prices. House specialties include fish tacos, Ono salad and the clam chowder. The restaurant and take out fish is delivered daily and all locally caught.
- Point Loma Seafoods , Point Loma
This bustling little seafood market offers ultra-casual dining as well as a great selection of live shellfish, crabs and lobsters and fresh fish of all kinds, plus some of the city's best clam chowder as well as a variety of freshly smoked fish. The take-out menu includes fried seafood, assorted salads and sandwiches, terrific clam chowder and fish platters. The outdoor seating with harbor views makes this a favorite spot for families.
Standing Room Only: Fish from a Food Truck
If you don't mind standing and eating from a paper plate, then food trucks that specialize in fresh seafood offer a quick, easy way to please your palate. Here are a few that might be coming to a neighborhood near you:
- Marisco's German Taco Truck , Various Locations
With multiple trucks that have been around forever, Marisco's German is the no-frills answer to your fish taco dreams, serving up simple Mexican seafood dishes. Order the basic fish taco, a value at any price, the tacos gobernador featuring succulent sautÃ©ed shrimp topped with melted cheese, or any of the light, fresh ceviches that sing with the flavors of the sea.
Here are a few more options for gourmet food truck dining.
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