San Diego: El Pescador

Let's Eat by Kitty Kaufman

shack El Pescador opened in 1974. Within a year, the market had added a kitchen. Today's Pearl Street location devotes half the space to selling fish and half to cooking it. It's informal with the occasional bare feet, so come as you are. It's La Jolla yes, but not that part. Here fish is cooked to your specs and you can park on the street, all of it blocks from beach and ocean. It's off the main drag but you can do the tourist part, just do it later.

We show up for lunch along with 50 others who have the same idea. The weather is less than grand. San Diego has rolled May gray into June gloom into July: "Where's the sun?" This is San Diego, for pete's sake. From what The Thin Man says, we're lucky it's overcast or we'd be fried. We are not close to being fried and neither are we needing sweatshirts, which is how San Diego is to me, more or less. It's hot with low overcast. The Thin Man takes all the comments in stride, and it could be worse, as in it rained two days ago, not enough to matter, but still.

h h

When it comes to lunch out, as in 'I don't have to make it,' we want sandwiches. Since the line where you wait to put in an order moves right along, you have to pick fast. The good part: all the fish comes three ways - on a sandwich, in a salad, or plated. Have snapper, calamari, swordfish, ahi, two kinds of halibut, sea bass, two salmons, thresher shark, trout, yellowtail. Sandwiches, on torta rolls, have sliced lettuce and tomatoes in season and onions. Salads are put together with romaine, cabbage, tomato and onions. Plates come with salad or grilled vegetables and rice. You will want dressings plus avocado and grilled jalapeños, since this is SoCal where avocados reign no matter where you eat. They don't miss a trick and better, there's no fry, it's the grill.

After ten seconds, The Thin Man orders yellowtail, Michele's having sea bass, there's a calamari steak and one snapper. Each one looks pretty much like another loaded up with lettuce and tomato. Dressing is called for: blue cheese, vinaigrette and 10,000 Isle. That's what is says: 9,000 more than you thought, right? Must be, since Guy Fieri, a calm talker with fiery hair, has a 10,000 Island recipe marrying eggs, dill pickles, Peppadew peppers, capers, chili sauce, scallions and mustard in a mayo base. Less would be more . . . Thousand Island is plenty.

Next: Table scrambling. You get a number when you order and they bring your plate but you're in charge of scouting seats. You're in charge of table accoutrements too. We have simple fish heaped with all the sides plus hot sauce. We're loving these summer in hand pile-ups with sandy kids and tall beers, wine and paper plates, plastic ware and bubbly sodas. But that's not all: there is a raw bar with oysters, crab and ceviche. The other side of the menu has the shrimp and crab sandwiches plus smoked salmon. There are burros of sea bass, squid and shrimp rolled up with yogurt sauce and black beans. Tacos, too, with shrimp, mussels, clams, poke and calamari, even a sashimi plate. Somehow, we missed it.

I'm no stranger to fish markets. It starts in Long Beach where, when you are old enough to write the shopping list, you are old enough to take it to market. My mother's telling Steve how she wants the lox sliced. He opens oysters and clams, packing the shells separately; before oysters were plat du jour. She assembles them at home for my dad. Lucky for him, we all don't know what we're missing and "ew." Anyway, as fish markets go, El Pescador is curated. Though I'm the only one snapping right now, since it's holiday busy, it must go on all the time.

branzino + trout lox

Beer on tap today: Ballast Point, a San Diego maker that brews Calico Amber; Coronado Pilsner, also brewed locally, and Saint Archer Ale made nearby. In bottles, I get as far as Negra Modelo, a lager from Mexico; Corona, Pacifico Balleria and Tecate in the can. Wines: Prosecco and a Brut Roederer, Pinot, a Chardonnay and Vermentino Sella.

There's a take-out counter and street parking looks easy. If you're nearby, you stop in. I would; it's how I spent my summer vacation. After, it's back to the shore walk to a museum dedicated to all things La Jolla that overlooks the Pacific and the seals.

shrimp octopus

El Pescador
634 Pearl Street
La Jolla, CA 92037
858. 456. 2526 (clam)

© September 15, 2015 Photos by The Thin Man. Michele Gross is a good sport. Kitty Kaufman is a Boston writer. See more of their SoCal adventures at Corporate Edge and Twitter. Michele and The Thin Man do not Tweet.
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