Jan. 30 2015 05:04 PM

Go for the less-traditional at this Oceanside fish house

An underwhelming crab-and-cheese dip
Photo by Jenny Montgomery

Winter in San Diego is gorgeous, with everything at its greenest and sunsets at their most vibrant. There's no pesky marine layer to play party-pooper, and the occasional rainfall makes for fluorescent clouds at sundown. The rooftop bar at Hello Betty Fish House in Oceanside is my new favorite place to gaze at the horizon and pretend that I totally saw the green flash—not to mention you're perched right over Kelly McGillis' house in Top Gun, so get ready to have your breath taken away.

But before heading to the roof, make sure to grab a meal in the actual restaurant (211 Mission Ave.). Hello Betty is a charmer. The dining room is funky and stylish without feeling forced, and, overall, it feels incredibly comfortable. There's a vast, open lot on the west side of the building (who knows how long that will last, alas), so the open-sided bar has gorgeous breezes slipping inside. Kids (both legit and overgrown) will love climbing all over the groovy dune buggy parked in the middle of the restaurant.

There are only so many new spins one can put on a fish taco, and in a region saturated by taco options, it can be difficult to stand out from the pack. Don't miss the smoked-fish taco, a great tweak on an old favorite. The basic fish-taco building blocks are there: cabbage, crumbly cheese and robust pico de gallo. Filling out the locally made tortilla are chunks of smoky whitefish, tender and flaky with the telltale punch of smoke not only hitting your tongue but wafting into your nose, as well. The crunchy freshness of the toppings worked as a perfect complement to the cured flavor. A creamy chipotle aioli adds a nice zing in lieu of the more mellowing, traditional crema.

You'll find a few raw items, from poke to oysters, but this fish house isn't a sushi joint. I did, however, enjoy the sushi-adjacent hamachi crudo. It's a pricey little appetizer, but quite a colorful and quirky plate. Wasabi "caviar" tops the paper-thin slices of fish, piled in vivid-green mounds of Technicolor heat. Crispy fried shallots add texture and crunch while a drizzle of citrus-soy reduction lends a bright and slightly sweet note.

Nothing disappointed me on the menu, but I did find the more-traditional offerings underwhelming. The albacore-tuna melt was aggressively fine, but a bit more of a mayo bomb than I want in a fresh-fish restaurant. Our hungry bellies couldn't wait to dig into the crab-and-cheese dip; it was pleasantly heavy on the crab but disappointingly short on gooey cheese.

Dragging children along while reviewing restaurants often means everyone deserves an ice-cream sundae. The cinnamon sopapilla sundae was just silly-good. Horchata ice cream? Yes, please. Mounds of fresh whipped cream? Sure, tiny toddler of mine, scoop that mess up like your life depends on it. Don't forget the sweet and crispy sopapillas—fried wedges of light dough dusted with cinnamon and sugar: a churro's sophisticated cousin.

Say hello to Betty. And maybe Goose and Maverick, too.

Write to jennym@sdcitybeat.com and editor@sdcitybeat.com. Follow Jenny on Twitter @jennymontyinsd.


See all events on Wednesday, Dec 7