Our Favorite Seafood Dives

We take our annual plunge into the world of casual coastal joints, and find some keepers.

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 SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA 

 El Indio Mexican Restaurant 
 3695 India Street
San Diego, California
619/299-0333
 
 el-indio.com 
Messy, heavenly fish tacos come wrapped in two just-made corn tortillas. The combination plate (two tacos, beans, and rice) plus a soft drink adds up to a wonderful, plentiful meal for less than $10. In nice weather (which in San Diego means nearly all the time), some diners prefer the outdoor patio, where the whoosh of I-5 traffic provides background music.

 Andria's Seafood Restaurant and Market 
 1449 Spinnaker Drive
Ventura, California
805/654-0546
 andriasseafood.com
 
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, which arrives as five big, moist pieces. (Andria's prides itself on generous portions.) The views show off the harbor and mountains.

 CENTRAL CALIFORNIA 

 Zelda's Restaurant 
 203 Esplanade
Capitola, California
831/475-4900
 
OK, the service is slow. Amiable, but slow. Still, you're sitting outdoors, right on the beach, in a historic and charming resort town. You can people-watch, gaze at the pier and the Pacific Ocean, and admire the quaint, pastel-painted architecture of the Venetian Court apartments just across Soquel Creek. Fortunately, the clam chowder and fried calamari reveal a kitchen that lavishes some care on what could otherwise have been standard bar food.

 NORTHERN CALIFORNIA 

 Sushi Sam's Edomata 
 218 East Third Avenue
San Mateo, California
650/344-0888
 sushisams.com
 
Surprisingly innovative nigiri (raw fish pressed onto a pad of rice) lies just a half-hour south of San Francisco. Grab a seat at the sushi bar, request the chef's choice, and watch Sam create his daily specials: an assortment of sublimely fresh fish highlighted with eye-opening sauces and topped with crunchy bits of almonds or garlic. Take this adventurous, yet pricier, route (approximately $50 for a 10-piece dinner, including tea and dessert); or simply order a couple of pieces from the specials board to supplement regular menu items. - Susan C. Kim

 Pier 23 Café 
 Pier 23
On the Embarcadero
San Francisco, California
415/362-5125
 pier23cafe.com
 
The food holds its own here. That's saying a lot-it competes with water views, live music, and party-hearty atmosphere. The crab cocktail gets down to basics: crabmeat accompanied only by hot sauce. Steamed mussels pair well with Anchor Steam beer.

 Sharon's by the Sea 
 32096 North Harbor Drive
Fort Bragg, California
707/962-0680
 sharonsbythesea.com
 
You'd expect a great dive in gritty Fort Bragg. You wouldn't expect a restaurant with produce so fresh you'd bet there was a farm next door. Sharon's surprises with its large wine list and filling seafood salads. Try the crab Louie, a seemingly bottomless bowl of asparagus spears, tomatoes, and cucumbers topped with mounds of sweet crab. Ask for a seat by the bay window or on the patio for a view of Noyo Harbor. - Sarah Brueggemann

 PACIFIC NORTHWEST 

 Scampi's Fish Wagon 
 16333 Lower Harbor Road
Harbor, Oregon
541/412-9530
 
The sign says, "No shirt, no shoes, no problem." It also could have noted, "No restaurant." A trailer-turned-kitchen huddles in a corner of an insurance agency parking lot. A couple of tents and three picnic tables make up the "dining rooms." The fried fish, most of it caught that morning, comes lightly battered, nongreasy, and delicious. Fried mushrooms and fried zucchini add a nice touch. The menu also includes an excellent chowder and various seafood tacos. A small, furry dog acts as if he owns the place-which he more or less does. He's Scampi.

 Ivar's Salmon House 
 401 Northeast Northlake Way
Seattle, Washington
206/632-0767
 ivars.net
 
Taking in the grand vista of passing scullers, kayakers, seaplanes, and waterfowl kills time until the aromatic alder-smoked trio of king, sockeye, and keta salmon arrives. Among its salmon selections, this 35-year-old landmark serves only wild Pacific Northwest species-no farmed varieties. The menu includes an array of other fish choices, meats, salads, and desserts, and wine lovers will be pleased. Replicating an American Indian longhouse, the restaurant and its lobby showcase an extraordinary collection of historic black-and-white photos chronicling this region's Indian heritage. - Susan Haynes

 ALASKA 

 The Hangar on the Wharf 
 2 Marine Way
Juneau, Alaska
907/586-5018
 hangaronthewharf.com
 
Originally an actual hangar, the building still holds the spirit of brave bush pilots who brought commercial aviation to Alaska in the 1930s. The menu features "Hangar Wraps" encasing king crab and other fixin's; "Pre-flight Snacks" of steamers, crab dip, and the like; and "Water Landings" for halibut, salmon, and crab. The expansive view looks across Gastineau Channel to Douglas Island. "Occasionally we'll see an iceberg float by when a glacier breaks up," says bartender Todd Maclay. - Susan Haynes

 HAWAII 

 Paia Fish Market and Restaurant 
 100 Hana Highway
Paia, Maui, Hawaii
808/579-8030
 
A sign on the door mandates shirts, but a bikini top apparently comes close enough-or sometimes, for guys at least, just a really good tan. Sea breezes through the screened sides provide the air-conditioning. Windsurfers dock here for the fresh fish (several varieties, several preparation choices), then grab a place at one of seven picnic tables. Nice touches include a light-on-the-dressing coleslaw and excellent dill tartar sauce.

 GREAT LAKES 

 Jolly Roger Seafood Restaurant 
 1737 East Perry Street
Port Clinton, Ohio
419/732-3382
 
"Lake Erie's finest perch & walleye," claims a sign at this otherwise modest little place in the Lake Erie Islands summer resort area. We won't disagree. Locals line up out the door for tender, juicy fried perch and walleye, which come with excellent waffle-cut fries. In nice weather, skip the fast food-style booths in favor of the two outdoor patios or an impromptu seat alongside the lake itself, just a Frisbee's throw away.

What's your favorite dive? Write Steve Millburg, Coastal Living, 2100 Lakeshore Drive, Birmingham, AL 35209. Or e-mail steve_millburg@timeinc.com.

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