Sea Chest Oyster Bar and Seafood Restaurant, Cambria
What to expect: Rustic and very popular; go for the catch-of-the-day fish, with mango salsa on the side.
Check it out: 6216 Moonstone Beach Drive; 805/927-4514 or cambria-online.com/seachestrestaurantandoysterbar
Zelda’s On the Beach Restaurant, Capitola
What to expect: You can sit outdoors, right on the beach. The clam chowder and fried calamari reveal a kitchen that lavishes some care on what could otherwise have been standard bar food.
Check it out: 203 Esplanade; 831/475-4900 or zeldasonthebeach.com
Loulou’s Griddle in the Middle, Monterey
What to expect: The squid (or crab cake) and eggs reels in fishermen as early as 7 a.m. Ultra-rich clam chowder and flaky white sand dabs appear at lunch.
Check it out: Municipal Wharf Number 2; 831/372-0568
Totoya Japanese Restaurant, Monterey
What to expect: The sushi’s delectable at this tiny restaurant across from Monterey Bay Aquarium. A crew of three can sample as many sushi rolls and slices of ruby red tuna as they can hold, and still get out for less than $50.
Check it out: 867 Wave Street; 831/375-7024
Li’l Hut, Morro Bay
What to expect: At this oddball stand in the parking lot of the Harbor Hut restaurant, the thick and tasty clam chowder shines. This homemade creation finds delicious synergy with the sweet pineapple coleslaw.
Check it out: 1205 Embarcadero; 805/772-3488
Aldo’s Harbor Restaurant, Santa Cruz
What to expect: Aldo’s sits on the water in Santa Cruz. It’s a plain little box of a place with excellent calamari and great harbor and lighthouse views. A huge outdoor deck and lots of windows take full advantage of the setting.
Check it out: 616 Atlantic Avenue; 831/426-3736 or aldos-cruz.com
Ruddell’s Smokehouse, Cayucos
What to expect: Ruddell’s serves “the ultimate tuna sandwich.” Says so on the menu. And with a big, perfectly cooked piece of smoked albacore and what amounts to an entire salad all in an oversize roll, it really is. This hut, across the street from the beach, makes everything to order and even provides a guitar for customers to strum while they wait.
Check it out: 101 D St.; 805/995-5028 or smokerjim.com