Harbor Fish Cafè, Carlsbad
What to expect: Order the large plate of fish-and-chips―three pieces of lightly battered fish, a mound of fries, and homemade tartar sauce. It weighs about 5 pounds, but it’s worth every calorie-laden bite.
Check it out: 3179 Carlsbad Boulevard; 760/729-4161
Catalina Fish Kitchen and Seafood Deli, Costa Mesa
What to expect: A huge array of moderately priced seafood, prepared any way you can imagine, packs the menu. The tacos, gumbos, and chowders all draw rave reviews. The mixed seafood skewer deserves consideration, too.
Check it out: 670 West 17th Street; 949/645-8873 or catalinafishkitchen.com
Fat Face Fenner’s Fishack, Hermosa Beach
What to expect: Clam chowder, fish-and-chips, and messy but delicious blackened fish tacos with cilantro-lime salsa.
Check it out: 53 Pier Avenue; 310/379-5550 or fatfacefenners.com
The Crab Cooker, Newport Beach
What to expect: “World's best” clam chowder, according to the menu, and pretty good broiled seafood too.
Check it out: 2200 Newport Boulevard; 949/673-0100 or crabcooker.com
Duke’s Malibu, Malibu
What to expect: Concentrate on what stretches out in front of you: unobstructed views of the Pacific, and dish after dish of delicious island-inspired fare. From the chicken spring rolls to the coconut shrimp, the spicy Asian slaw, and the crisp, flavorful Baja fish tacos, Duke’s has freshness down pat.
Check it out: 21150 Pacific Coast Highway; 310/317-0777 or dukesmalibu.com
Malibu Seafood, Malibu
What to expect: Seafood market and takeout stand. Get what’s fresh and eat at picnic tables or across the highway on the beach.
Check it out: 25653 Pacific Coast Highway (State Route 1); 310/456-3430 or malibuseafood.com
Paradise Cove Beach Café, Malibu
What to expect: Wide-screen views of the Pacific. The clam chowder and crispy-skin salmon are well worth the trip down the mile-long access road.
Check it out: 28128 Pacific Coast Highway; 310/457-2503 or paradisecovemalibu.com
South Beach Bar & Grille, Ocean Beach
What to expect: Everyone―from business types in suits to surfers damp from the waves―converges here for fabulous fish tacos.
Check it out: 5059 Newport Avenue; 619/226-4577 or southbeachob.com
Harbor Fish & Chips, Oceanside
What to expect: Serves consistently good fish-and-chips and tasty if not overly clammy clam chowder on Oceanside Harbor.
Check it out: 276 Harbor Drive South; 760/722-4977 or harborfishandchips.net
Captain Kidd’s Fish Market and Restaurant, Redondo Beach
What to expect: A no-frills seafood market. They’ll cook whatever you buy however you like it.
Check it out: 209 North Harbor Drive; 310/372-7703 or captainkidds.com
The Green Flash, San Diego
What to expect: You just might glimpse that elusive moment that gave the restaurant its name―when the setting sun appears green for an instant. Delivering your heaping seafood platter, bowlful of steamed clams, or fat burger, your server will tell you to “look quick, it's awesome.”
Check it out: 701 Thomas Avenue; 858/270-7715 or greenflashrestaurant.com
Point Loma Seafoods, San Diego
What to expect: Lunchtime crowds favor the crab, tuna, and shrimp sandwiches, and the creamy and tomato-based chowders.
Check it out: 2805 Emerson Street; 619/223-1109 or pointlomaseafoods.com
Santa Barbara Shellfish Company, Santa Barbara
What to expect: Yummy serviche (seafood marinated in citrus juice) and cioppino nearly a half-mile into the Pacific on Stearns Warf.
Check it out: 230 Stearns Wharf; 805/966-6676 or sbfishhouse.com
Enterprise Fish Co., Santa Monica
What to expect: For more than a quarter-century, diners have thronged the airy brick building, a former trolley station just steps from the beach. The menu includes live lobsters and raw shellfish, but the focus is on fresh Pacific fish, prepared with a range of influences from Cajun to Asian, Italian, and all-American “golden fried.”
Check it out: 174 Kinney Street; 310/392-8366 enterprisefishco.com
Chez Jay, Santa Monica
What to expect: A quirky meeting place for longtime regulars, young hipsters, and the occasional celebrity. Excellent sautéed sand dabs almondine.
Check it out: 1657 Ocean Avenue; 310/395-1741 or chezjays.com
Stacky’s Seaside, Summerland
What to expect: Light, crisp fish-and-chips, plus fish burgers and crab melts.
Check it out: 2315 Lillie Avenue; 805/969-9908
Andria’s Seafood Restaurant and Market, Ventura
What to expect: A big variety of seafood―almost all of it fresh from the market half of the business―comes fried, charbroiled, or stir-fried. We love the fish-and-chips, especially the halibut.
Check it out: 1449 Spinnaker Drive; 805/654-0546 or andriasseafood.com
Pier Beach Grill, Ventura
What to expect: Pick up some chowder or fish-and-chips at this no-frills snack bar at the foot of the 1,958-foot Ventura Pier. Then enjoy the sea breeze, the cries of the gulls, and the rhythmic rush of the waves.
Check it out: 668 Harbor Boulevard; 805/648-3177
Wahoo’s Fish Taco, Southern California and Honolulu
What to expect: This regional chain has a surprisingly healthy Mexican-Brazilian-Asian-Californian menu. The casual surfer vibe adapts to each location, giving stores a neighborhood feel.
Check it out: Various coastal locations in Southern California and Honolulu, Hawaii; wahoos.com