Holy Mackerel!

We came, we saw seafood, we ate it, we left

When you pick up your platter of Alaskan king crab legs from the counter at Zubies Dry Dock (sorry, no table service), it appears as if a hideous alien creature from a Ridley Scott flick has somehow landed on your plate. But no matter how long you wait for Ripley to come to the rescue, the dozen or so tentacle-like legs are going to randomly hang over the side of your plate until you muster your courage, grab the spiny sticks with your bare mitts and tear them open like Christmas presents. Your reward—steaming-hot slivers of succulent crab meat pointing at the melted butter—is so plentiful you'll be taking home leftovers for a crab omelet the next morning and a Crab Louie salad for lunch. Zubies Dry Dock, 9059 Adams Ave., Huntington Beach, (714) 963-6362. Alaskan king crab legs: $19.30. (MC)

Every night is amateur night at Captain Restaurant, a nightclub that happens to serve great seafood as wannabe singers take the stage with the one-man band to belt out some Thai favorites. Fortunately, the food is better than the talent. Fried crab balls and shrimp paste come with the sweet and hot honeyed dipping sauce commonly served with spring rolls. Shredded green papaya salad combines the tartness of marinated papaya with hot green chiles, lime juice and baby crabs marinated in brine. Talk about an assault of flavors—but it works. Captain Restaurant, 8552 Beach Blvd., Buena Park, (714) 995-1995. Fried crab balls and shrimp paste; shredded green papaya salad: call for prices. (EK)

There is nothing fancy about the Dungeness crab and avocado salad at the Olde Ship: it's raw carrots, broccoli, celery, red and green peppers, and sliced avocado atop a bed of lettuce with eight strips of crabmeat laid across the top. But considering that almost everything else on this authentic British pub's menu is authentic and British (read: fried and fatty)—and the real reason to eat at the Olde Ship is to soak in the authentic and British atmosphere (read: drink freely from among the 20 British draft beers)—this qualifies as nothing short of health food. The crab is very tasty and delivered just like Poseidon likes it: drawn fresh from the leg in all its salty, crabby glory. But we would be remiss if we did not suggest to the management at ye Olde Ship that some greens other than iceberg lettuce would be most appreciated. Then again, maybe it's in keeping with the nautical theme. The Olde Ship, 709 S. Harbor Blvd., Fullerton, (714) 871-7447. Dungeness crab and avocado salad: $10.95. (SCL)

Vien Dong serves the best in Northern Vietnamese food, including bun rieu, a fine soup with pillowy crab dumplings and tomatoes. Banh tom co ngu is an addictive dish of lightly fried shrimp and sweet potato coated in sweet-potato batter. As with many dishes, it comes with a plate loaded with mint leaves, lettuce and rice paper for rolling into burrito-like tubes. Vien Dong, 14271 Brookhurst St., Garden Grove, (714) 531-8253. Bun rieu; banh tom co ngu: call for prices. (EK)

Nostalgia for the homeland resides in all immigrants' minds, and O'Shine Café, which offers both Chinese cuisine and Chinese versions of Western dishes, is a hit among the Chinese diaspora in Orange County. Seafood items are not that common here, but one of the more intriguing—evoking remembrances of times past and childhood lost—is noodle soup with surprisingly soft cuttlefish (brought back to life, as it were, from its dehydrated state), slivers of black Chinese mushrooms and flavored with soy sauce. I also liked hearing familiar dialects spoken, reminding me once again how fast Orange County is changing. O'Shine Café, 14805 Jeffrey, Ste. H, Irvine, (949) 559-5888. Marinated cuttlefish in noodle soup: $5.50. (DCT)

Just as with Smuckers, with a name like Wahoo's, your fish tacos have got to be good. And no one does them better in Orange County than Wahoo's. Why? Some joints will give you a bazillion different kinds of seafood choices to wrap warm tortillas around. Wahoo's takes the opposite approach. Whatever the catch of the day is, that's your choice. This penchant for freshness carries over to the other ingredients: chunky salsa, shredded cabbage and grated Cheddar cheese. It also presents what would seem an oxymoron: healthy Mexican food. Wahoo's Fish Taco, 10 locations throughout Orange County and at least nine more elsewhere. The original: 1862 Placentia Ave., Costa Mesa, (949) 631-3433. Fish taco: $3.25. (MC)

Santa Monica Seafood serves up a plate of three tacos laden with rock shrimp and plenty of cabbage and cheese. Adding a healthy scoop of salsa to each taco relieves some of the shrimp's inherent dryness, which in itself is ironic, considering that shrimp spend their entire lives 200 feet underwater. The taco plate comes with wild rice, which is good, but it's in much too small a portion. Santa Monica Seafood, 154 E. 17th St., Costa Mesa, (949) 574-8862. Grilled rock shrimp tacos: $6.95. (AP)

It's a miracle the Catalina Fish Kitchen is still open. Located behind a group of Quonset huts in the industrial section of Costa Mesa, the Kitchen has managed to continue serving great fish for—what?—more than a year now. It's all good, but try the Cajun-seasoned mahi-mahi tacos. And no, mahi-mahi is not dolphin. Well, it is dolphin, but not torpedo-retrieving, Sea World-showing, Flipper dolphin. Those dolphins are mammals; these are fish. Two tacos come with white rice and black beans, both of which are utterly unremarkable. But then again, the place is called Catalina Fish Kitchen, not Catalina Rice and Beans Kitchen. Catalina Fish Kitchen, 670 W. 17th St., Costa Mesa, (949) 645-8873. Mahi-mahi taco plate: $8.50. (AP)

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