America's Best Seafood Dives 2012

It's the 15th anniversary of our annual celebration of the best seafood dives. To celebrate, fried-food guru Steve Millburg takes us on a tour of the 50 best ever.

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America's Best Seafood Dives 2012: California
Writer: Steve Millburg, Illustrations: Matt Caserta

California

Malibu Seafood Fresh Fish Market & Patio Café, Malibu
Enjoy the sun and the salt air along with your ahi tuna burger on the elevated, uncovered patio. Or take your order across the highway for a picnic on the beach. 310/456-3430 or malibuseafood.com

Swan Oyster Depot, San Francisco
Nineteen rickety stools line up at the scarred old marble bar. Simple preparations show off the flavors of the fresh seafood. Service is the friendliest ever, anywhere. 415/673-2757

Spud Point Crab, Bodega Bay
Here, across the street from Spud Point Marina, you'll find my favorite clam chowder: rich, creamy, generously laced with clams, and dancing with herb flavors. 707/875-9472 or spudpointcrab.com

Ruddell's Smokehouse, Cayucos
In quirky Cayucos—half beachy, half Old West—look for the hut on the waterfront that serves "the ultimate tuna sandwich." It combines perfectly smoked tuna with a generous salad. Ultimate, indeed. 805/995-5028 or smokerjim.com

Barbara's Fishtrap, Princeton-by-the-Sea
Retro charm, with fishing nets hanging from the ceiling, and nice water views. I like the clam chowder and fried seafood, especially the fish-and-chips. Cash or checks only. 650/728-7049

Splash Café, Pismo Beach
Join the surfers at this colorful diner in a laid-back beach town. Everybody orders the chowder in a sourdough bread bowl. Follow with fish-and-chips or steamed clams. 805/773-4653 or splashcafe.com
* Order the chowder (with or without the bread bowl!) online.

South Beach Bar & Grille, Ocean Beach
South Beach—loud, crowded, and fun—claims to serve the world's best fish tacos. I haven't found any better. Try the grilled mahi mahi. Cash only. 619/226-4577 or southbeachob.com

Phil's Fish Market & Eatery, Moss Landing
A lot of the dishes at Phil's are tempting. But no one can resist the cioppino, a tomato-broth seafood stew that's a West Coast specialty. Phil's makes one of the best. 831/633-2152 or philsfishmarket.com

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