You wouldn't go to a seafood restaurant to only eat the calamari. So why would we populate a list of seafood joints and only stick with the predictable, not to mention expensive, options?
So for this list, we've drizzled on a few food trucks, some Asian eateries, a fish and chip shop and a mariscos dive as if it were lemon juice and Tapatio--to add a little zing. Got your own to pile on top? Share 'em in the comments. Objections are, of course, also welcome.
10. Taps Fish House & Brewery
Meet the restaurant that single-handedly made Brea a destination. Good oysters at a dedicated oyster bar, well-prepared fish, but almost just as important: award-winning beer from expert brewers. There are eclectic pints such as the Portola Porter, a dark beer brewed in house with coffee from Jeff Duggan's Portola Coffee, to pair with your chosen and previously ocean-dwelling meal. 101 E. Imperial Highway, Brea, CA 92821, 714-257-0101, http://www.tapsfishhouse.com/
9 . Lobsta Truck
Though technically an LA-based truck, The Lobsta Truck devotes equal time to serving OC, and you needn't look further to realize that this whole food truck thing isn't about pinching pennies. Until a Foie Gras Truck debuts, The Lobsta Truck will probably be the most premium of all the premium-priced, new-age luxe loncheras you'll find rolling the streets.The lobster roll toll is $12 (at our last look). But look at the thing! There is what we estimate to be a half-pound of the costly crustacean stuffed in that bun. To expect them to charge any less is to be ignorant on how business works. Is it good? Well, yes. It's lobster, after all, soaked in butter, shoved into a griddle toasted torpedo-shaped roll---a vessel that does its due diligence as a transport device to get the meat into your mouth and nothing more. They also do a crab roll for about a buck cheaper and Whoopie Pies in their original packaging for you New England transplants. (626) 782-5562, http://lobstatruck.com/
8. The Chippy
If you think it's easy to find good, inexpensive fish and chips outside of seafood restaurants and pubs, go try it. Most often you'll end up at a take-out joint which uses the frozen, preformed stuff. It will rarely, if ever, come from whole fillets that's dipped by hand. In Orange County, The Chippy ends the drought. The glory of its fish starts with the crust. It's rippled, has ridges petrified into a gnarled crunch measuring only a few hairs thick and is just slightly heartier than tempura. Break into the golden crispy cocoon and a plume of steam billows out, revealing its virgin flesh -- a white, moist, milky meat, unmolested by machines that melts into supple flakes when you bite into it. And it doesn't end there: all manner of sea life get the same deep fryer love. Always provided is tartar sauce, lemon, and malt vinegar. Here, once and for all: great fast-food fish & chips where you don't have to tip a waitress or a bartender. 2222 Michelson Dr. Ste 216, Irvine, CA 92612, (949) 833-2322, http://www.thechippyfishnchips.com/
There's no better condiment at Andrew Gruel's seafood truck than the knowledge that it's all sustainable. The website touts that the "menu is reviewed by a team of experts and scientists in conservation and marine biology at the Aquarium of the Pacific's sustainable seafood program, Seafood for the Future". The most popular dish is a creation called "Major Crunchy", a fish burger of sorts with pan-seared sea bream packed under an artisan bun with pickles, lettuce, tomato, a whole mess of potato chips and slathered with a jalapeno-powered sauce. And there's the lobsticle--a pan-grilled lobster, yes, on a stick served with aioli, champagne vinaigrette and fresh chive. Time will tell if the stick will be tossed over the side when they finally settle down in their recently announced brick-and-mortar store, but their sustainable sourcing won't. (908) 963-4150, http://www.slapfishsocal.com
6. Mariscos Licenciado #2
Mariscos Licenciado has a floor that can conceivably be hosed down at the end of the night to make room for the ear-piercing wails of the banda sinaloense performances. The music will attract the hordes who come to just drink buckets of beer on Friday nights. While your hearing adjusts to the volume, get the cocteles frios, served to you in chalices as big as sports trophies. Scoop out the chunks of rubbery octopus, bloated shrimp and pristinely tender fish from the cold vortex of the liquid, then chug the invigorating vaguely V8-like broth and feel its freezing tingle travel up your throat and down your spine. For the aguachiles, a molcajete overflows with the still-raw squiggly flesh of shrimp. The searing, cold heat of citric acids will cook the crustaceans in front of your eyes like a science fair project. Then move on to the langostinos, perhaps the grandest dish you'll find at the place. Whole giant prawns are bifurcated lengthwise like miniature lobsters, fried and then steeped in a slowly separating slurry of melted butter and chile powder. The sauce shifts and pools like what comes out of a broken lava lamp and tastes almost like the concoction used by those Vietnamese Cajun crab shacks on their own critters. Just like at their cross-town Asian cousins, this sauce is best dribbled over rice. 1052 N. State College Blvd., Anaheim, CA 92806, (714) 776-3415
5. Capital Seafood
No, we're not talking about the new one at the Irvine Spectrum, nor the one at Diamond Jamboree. Both are fine and good, but give us the old school, the original gangsta of this Chinese-seafood-with-Vietnamese-accents chain--the one that's fed Garden Grove for ages before it decided to migrate to the tonier parts of OC. True, the place is so cramped you won't be able to squeeze yourself between the tables, but it's cheap, cheap, cheap--the benchmark to use before you go try the others. Their clams with mint will squeak of freshness and a wide-as-an-oar plank of deep fried fish will be served with two sauces, a thin-soy-sauce-based one and a spicy-sweet-and-sour red one. Lunch specials are still served with rice, a soup at the beginning and a che dessert at the end. 8851 Westminster Ave., Garden Grove, CA 92844, (714) 892-4182
4. House of Big Fish and Ice Cold Beer
Its name summarizes everything the restaurant is all about and everything it isn't. You know what it is: loud, crowded and the kind of place where alcohol flows as freely as the good times. You know what it isn't: expensive and pretentious. All are contrary to the fact House of Big Fish & Ice Cold Beer is located in Laguna Beach, where it's rare to find a full meal for $5 and rarer still to find one in a restaurant that serves seafood. If you get only one thing, let it be the spicy seafood stew, a cioppino-like dish served in vessel as big as a sink, boasting what looks to be about $20 worth of seafood but costing only $10. It's enough to warrant a new nickname: House of I Can't Believe How Little I Paid. 540 S Coast Hwy. Ste. 200, Laguna Beach, CA 92651, (949) 715-4500, http://www.houseofbigfish.com/
3. Fish Camp
Fish Camp is the new kid on the block among Sunset Beach's old-guard seafood joints. Like all those before it, trophy fish are mounted high, twisted and frozen in valiant poses. But this offspring of the King's Fish House chain is the most forward-looking of all the county's fish joints. Meals are ordered at the counter, drinks are self-serve, and there are homing-beacon devices on each table allowing the servers to bring you your food, no matter what corner of the restaurant you choose to sit. And you want this food: mussels served with a bowl of the dripped juices or peel-and-eat shrimp dusted in Old Bay--the kind of stuff you need a wet-nap for afterward. 16600 Pacific Coast Hwy., Huntington Beach, CA 92649, (562) 592-2267, http://www.samsfishcamp.com/
2. California Fish Grill
In these times of foreclosures, lost jobs and general economic malaise, why would you, in good conscience, spend major coin on seafood when you don't have to? Get thee to California Fish Grill where they somehow still manage to charge no more than $10 for meals that usually go for double everywhere else. Salmon, ahi, mahi mahi, swordfish and other Finding Nemo friends are fried or grilled, then served up with nutty rice or crisp fries and coleslaw. Tipping isn't compulsory, but you'll feel like a complete criminal if you don't drop at least some loose change in the jar. Multiple locations. Check http://www.cafishgrill.com/ for the one nearest you.
1. Boiling Crab
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Of all the food trends to hit OC in the past decade, the Vietnamese Cajun-crawfish restaurant has to be most underappreciated. We don't know about you, but we've become inured to all those frozen-yogurt shops. But the crawfish craze? We're still living it. And it's because of one place: the Boiling Crab. People endure waiting in line for hours, for the opportunity to suck on mudbug heads, feast on tails, chomp on andouille sausage and nibble on corn. All are boiled in plastic bags with a zingy butter/garlic/lemon/paprika hot sauce called "The Whole Shabang" done to various degrees of scorch. But if crawfish were the only thing served here, it wouldn't qualify as a seafood restaurant: Crawfish are freshwater creatures, kids! Good thing they also treat their Dungeness crab, shrimp and other critters from the briny deep to the same spicy bath. 13892 Brookhurst St., Garden Grove, CA 92843,(714) 636-4885. 14241 Euclid St., Garden Grove, CA 92842, (714) 265-272, http://www.theboilingcrab.com