It's easy to get cheap seafood in San Diego. A basket of fried shrimp or a platter of fish and chips are on lots of menus but are more than likely to be the frozen, pre-battered kind. Finding inexpensive, fresh and delicious seafood in San Diego is a little more difficult, especially if you'd like to be close to-or possibly even looking at-the ocean while you eat. Most seafood restaurants with a view charge premium prices for that waterfront seat and some of these fancier restaurants seem to spend so much on rent that there's not much left to invest in the food.
Some of the more affordable places are a little too overexposed. Point Loma Seafood used to be a nice place to grab some crunchy fish taquitos or a tender calamari sandwich, but since it was featured on the Food Network by perky Rachel Ray, there's a line of cars waiting for a parking space at peak meal times. It's not such a go-to place for me anymore.
Neither is Anthony's Fishette, the casual outpost next to the Star of India. Its fish and chips are great, and the outdoor deck is sunny and lovely, but good luck scoring a table at lunchtime when throngs of people pour out of the adjacent cruise ships and swarm the space.
So where do you go for bargains on tasty ocean treats and sea views? Here are two of my favorite spots where you can get great deals on seafood feasts and only have to contend with a few seagulls. Please enjoy, but don't tell the tourists:
The freshest catch is at Sportmen's Seafood, a no-frills joint on Mission Bay frequented by local fishermen and boat-dwellers. It's situated steps away from a sport-fishing landing, so a continuous supply of new seafood is always coming in. Almost everything on the menu is above-par, including the clam chowder, which is loaded with bits of sweet clams and has a lighter texture than other pasty, potato-filled renditions. A large bowl of chowder is only $2.60.
The sandwiches, stuffed with house-made smoked fish, shrimp, tuna and more, all come in at less than $5 and are served with fries. The fried seafood platter is $7.95 and also comes with fries and a salad. It's piled with lightly breaded fish filets, clams, calamari and shrimp. A half-dozen freshly shucked Carlsbad oysters, usually a rare indulgence, are an affordable treat at $5.50. Local lobster, when in season, doesn't get more affordable anywhere else.
At these prices, it's easy to get carried away and happily end up with smorgasbord of undersea delights. Place your order at the window inside the market/restaurant and then try to grab a table on the small outdoor patio overlooking the bay where you can admire the boats in the marina.
For an even closer waterside vantage point with your meal, take a stroll down the Ocean Beach Pier and stop at the café located a little more than halfway down the stretch. The walk takes a few minutes, but you can ogle at surfers and check out what local fisherman have caught on their line while you work up an appetite. The rustic café's nautical-themed dining room juts over the water, but the prime seat is on one of the outdoor bar stools that belly up to the edge of the pier and provide unadulterated views of the water. Try to time your visit with sunset for a vision that will renew your affection for San Diego.
Best bets here are the lobster tacos, fat with yummy chunks of sautéed lobster and heaped with pico de gallo, shredded cabbage and tangy white sauce. One of these oversized tacos makes for a messy and completely satisfying meal, but at a little more than $4 each, you can afford to have two.
These two seafood shacks may not have cloth napkins or fine china, but neither will you find high prices, pretentious servers or long waits for a table. If you want simple, honest food and an ocean breeze, then check out these places, tie on a bib and just dig in.
Sportsmen's Seafood is located at 1617 Quivira Road in Mission Bay, 619-224-3551. Hours are 11 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. daily. Ocean Beach Pier Café is located at 5091 Niagara Ave., in Ocean Beach, 619-226-2262. Hours are 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday and Sundays, 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday.