The Imperial Beach pier is home to The Tin Fish, with their other location in the Gaslamp next to the train tracks and the Convention Center. As you walk on the pier you get a spectacular view of the Coronado Islands, Mexico and to the north, Coronado.
The food is simple. You order at the counter, they call your number and you sit outside at tables or stools or inside. If you’re outside, watch that you aren’t sharing food with the greedy pigeons that pounce on your paper plate if you leave for even a minute. A half order of fish and chips (their most popular dish) brings three long pieces of cod fish, lightly breaded so much so that it reminded me of frozen fish sticks (they aren’t). They are good, along with hand cut, homemade, thick non-greasy crinkle fries and coleslaw with a vinegar-based dressing. Pier End, Imperial Beach, 619-628-1414
The T shaped Ocean Beach pier has my vote as a fabulous cheap date. Here you fish without a license, enjoy great views of the ocean and beach and just chill out from the city’s chatter. A bit more than midway to the T, stop at the Ocean Beach Pier Café owned since 1990 by the same family that owns the Fatboyz Pizza Mission Beach. This barely 20 seat wood and windowed room, outfitted with wood tables, captains chairs, a few patio chairs, and nautical pieces you can purchase, is just plain sweet. Sit at a window table and watch surfers below, or take in the coastline view north.
They open daily at 7 a.m. and serve breakfast all day. Don’t expect real plates, it’s paper and plastic all the way. Lobster fans will find an omelet and or taco, and the menu features a huge platter of nibbly nachos that two of us made a meal. Lemonade hits the spot in place of alcohol (it caused too much trouble on the pier) and white clam chowder comes in a bread bowl, (a smaller version comes in a small roll bowl). The rich chowder is creamy and filled with clams, potatoes and no thickener. Weekends, I’m told, there’s a wait for mango or blueberry pancakes. Scrambled eggs can be tricky if they are overcooked and dry. I had a single scrambled, perfectly cooked, egg with some really good homemade thickly sliced and cut crisp potatoes served with fresh salsa. Late in the day it made a perfect light dinner. Food can be ordered to go if you want to wander down to that T and watch the unobstructed sunset. 5091 Niagara, Ocean Beach, 619-226-3474.
Point Loma Seafoods, dockside in Point Loma (behind the Vagabond Motel) is the place for fresh fish and seafood. In this cash only casual place you’ll find retail cases with smoked fish, including albacore, salmon and local yellowtail, sushi made to order, live lobsters, shrimp, housemade tuna salad, oysters, mussels and an array of fresh fish.
The place loads up at lunch where the small menu features salads, fried combo plates and swell fish tacos. Two tacos, each wrapped in two corn tortillas, refried beans, fresh salsa on the side and a slightly vinegary white sauce, at $9.95, is a meal for two. A generous portion of lightly breaded Alaskan cod (though on my visit it was a tad dry) fills the tortillas, topped with crunchy green cabbage and a sprinkle of cheese. Sit outside, near the docked sport fishing boats, and eat with the gulls staring you down for a crumb. Cash only. 2805 Emerson St., Point Loma, 619-223-1109.
Downtown is Richard Walker’s Pancake House in the Pinnacle building on Front and Market Streets, next to the future Children’s Museum. This is the place for solid Midwest breakfasts and a few lunch items (they close at 2:30 p.m.). The restaurant seats 30 outside on Front Street, and another 50 inside a compact room. The contemporary design, high ceiling, wood trim and tall windows that face the street, give the place a comfortable open feeling. You’ll find a menu filled with omelets, waffles, flapjacks, as well as some more unusual griddle cakes of buckwheat, wheat germ or potato, German pancakes and more.
A substantial veggie omelet is light and fluffy. The eggs seal in the chopped tomatoes, sliced mushrooms and broccoli flowerets, all of which keep their shape and flavor by not being overcooked. The omelet is golden from a quick finish in the oven. Refreshingly, there’s a choice of cheese (Swiss, cheddar or jalapeno) that melds with, yet doesn’t overpower the vegetables. Even better is the choice of toast or pancakes, and in a pancake house, why not choose these? The three are light, flavorful and a happy respite from the usual potatoes found at many breakfast joints. There’s good Boyd coffee, though my coffee cup was empty each time before the refill, and service was efficient and cordial. Open daily from 6:30 a.m. 520 Front Street, San Diego, 619-231-7777, www.richardwalkers.com/san_diego.
Ocean Beach is fast becoming a hip spot for food and wine. One of my favorites for both is The 3rd Corner Wine Shop and Bistro. Owner Ed Moore’s concept is unique: retail wine store, full bar and short bistro menu.
Cruise the store for a bottle, pay a $5 corkage fee and order a bite to eat with your wine. Unfinished bottles are corked and bagged for you to take home (in the trunk of your car, of course). Best of all, you can sip and nibble long after most places close as the kitchen is open until 1 a.m.
The small bistro menu is what it is. Nothing fancy, nothing costing more than $13—just basics like an artisan cheese plate, olive and paté samplers, a smoked salmon plate and a very good classic whole-leaf Caesar that includes white anchovies and homemade garlic croutons with bread from Point Loma’s Con Pane bakery. Substantial dishes include well-flavored and tender short ribs with mashed potatoes, a fresh fish of the day and spicy pasta with fresh tomatoes, mushrooms and pesto all balanced with a squeeze of lemon. It hit my spot on a chilly afternoon.
The prime-time weekend wait for a table can stretch to an hour or more because of limited patio, sofa and banquette seating, and no reservations are accepted. But the service is knowledgeable and attentive. I particularly love that wine is served in proper glasses similar to the Spiegelaus that you can buy there for $35 (six in a box). 2265 Bacon St., Ocean Beach, 619-223-2700. Open from 11 a.m. to 1:30 a.m., closed Monday. www.the3rdcorner.com