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A Fishmonger’s View of San Diego

by Jon Alexis

Well East Coast seafood is fresh
I really dig the lobsters they prepare.
And that Southern Gulf fish like Pompano and Grouper
knocks me out when I’m down there.
The Pacific Northwest Wild Salmon is healthy
and delicious when grilled up right
and the big Great Lakes are full of Walleye and Whitefish
that keeps those northerners full all night.
I been all around this great big world
and I’ve eaten all kinds of fish
I couldn’t wait to back to some of the United States’
freshest seafood in the world
I wish they all could have Southern California
I wish they all could have Southern California
I wish they all could have Southern California’s seafood

It’s funny, when we think of the nation’s coasts, the ones with the worst weather tend to be the seafood stars. There is no surfing to distract us from Boston’s lobsters. Pike’s Place Market is cool, but would it be a tourism hub if Seattle had sunbathing beaches? If in LA, San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf would be the location of multimillion dollar movie star mansions.  

A friend’s wedding in San Diego gave me a convenient opportunity to get reacquainted with San Diego’s seafood scene – while not recognized as such, undoubtedly one of the best in the world.

Lunch the first day at ocean-front La Jolla establishment was seared Local Tuna Over Soba Noodles. Did you know that San Diego used to be the “Tuna Capitol of the World” – the world’s largest tuna fleet and home to StarKist, Bumble Bee and many other tuna processors? Today sustainable local tuna fleets have replaced the dolphin un-safe net crews and the local tuna is incredible. Soft, mild and don’t-have-to-chew-melt-in-your-mouth good.

My wife had Ancho Chile Shrimp Tacos. The fish taco was invented in San Diego and like Dallas street taco scene the city is full of amazing tacos. Although given they were fish, we did not do a tour of the best gas station stands.

From La Jolla we made our way to Pacific Beach’s The Fishery, an incredible seafood market and restaurant. Wild King Salmon. Local Yellowtail. Local Tuna. California Halibut. Local Swordfish. Glistening fresh seafood.

Here we found the first of what we’d later find out is a very common Southern California seafood treat – hardwood-smoked halibut. Much milder than salmon and or other smoked whitefish like sturgeon or sable, this changed our perception of what smoked fish can be.

When asking for restaurant recommendations in San Diego, we got one unanimous suggestion – Sushi Ota. Ota is on par with any of the country’s finest sushi establishments.

San Diego is America’s premier source for Uni (Sea Urchin)…naturally we had to order Uni Sashimi. This uni was so fresh – clean and mild, tasting faintly of the sea. You may not like Uni, but have it this fresh before you make a final judgment. Paired with local sustainably caught O-toro Bluefin sashimi? How do you describe such a combination without sounding like the superlative-happy “Best Thing I Ever Ate” crew? Some of the best ingredients the sea has to offer, presented in their simplest form.

A small selection of sushi including local amberjack was flawless. But the final dish was one of the most creative I’ve ever eaten…how could we pass up the “Fisherman’s Roll”? Tempura battered local rockfish topped with local yellowtail?


The next day we visited a wholesaler downtown and visited the aptly named “Fish Market” for some West Coast oysters. We can’t import Pacific oysters to Texas (stupid law, write your state senator) so we’d been jonesing for a briny fix.

Malaspinas from Vancouver Island and Chef’s Creeks from Baynes Sound (both BC) were both good. Personally I’m a Gulf and East Coast guy…West Coast oysters can be a little creamy for my taste. But no food on the planet is a product of its environment more than a raw oyster – no better way to get a local experience.

Dinner we found ourselves at a charming bistro call the Wine Vault. The star of the evening was Local Yellowtail. I love Yellowtail (Hamachi) raw, but I’ve never enjoyed cooked Yellowtail. The Wine Vault made me a believer. The fish was cooked medium rare with a great sear on the outside and sushi-like pink center. The contrast was perfect. Did mention that the vendor we met is a great source for bringing this kind of yellowtail to Dallas?

Oh yeah, we went to a wedding too and gorged on fresh made tortillas at Las Cuatros Milpas. But don’t let the sun and scenery distract from San Diego’s status as one of the world’s premier seafood sources.

Jon Alexis is the owner of TJ’s Fresh Seafood Market and one of the very few fishmongers in Dallas. He is also a regular contributer to craveDFW.

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