San Diego: King's Fish House

Let's Eat by Kitty Kaufman, photos by The Thin Man

photo courtesy of King's

king King's Fish House is part of King Seafood Company's SoCal dining family. From Laguna to Orange and over to Tempe, AZ and Henderson, NV they are cooking. King's has been in the business of fish for three generations. Current owners Sam and Jeff King set out to make their fish houses quirky and homey. From the chalk boards to the high-mounted exotic catches to the throwback signage and odd number prices, it's all part of their master plan. You can imagine how relieved I am that this is their intent.

king salmon The Thin Man's been here so we're tooling down from La Jolla on his recommendation. It looks like rain. Actually, my whole visit it looked like rain and it did rain. So much for sunny California. We are here in time to take in Queen Charlotte Island coho salmon, which, they tell me, are caught off British Columbia. If it's in season, it's a sure bet. I pass on entrées and opt for the salmon cakes appetizer. What you see next to it is grain mustard. Does it need mustard? Not at all; maybe lemon, maybe not. It turns out salmon cakes bear little resemblance to crab cakes other than they're both round. Salmon is darker and deeply flavored, exactly what the server says it will be in the best of all possible months on the West Coast.

king's sushi As for maki, respectfully they work better in an Asian setting. I had a number of rolls on this visit and what I learn is, at least in San Diego, sushi chefs turn what you think will be fish into fish salad, and it's different. Where in Boston you get crab in a California maki, here you get crab salad. I will say it does hold together better. The menu describes all sushi as "hand cut." As opposed to what, I wonder?

thin man dinner The Thin Man is having Idaho trout amandine. Adding almonds to fish can be spelled three ways: amandine, amondine and almondine. Trout comes with baked potato and grilled zucchini. Where I would be stunned by a plate this big set in front of me, The Thin Man is simply thrilled. He tells me the baked potato is really baked, zucchini is really grilled and trout is boned to a tee. He asks the server to keep sauce on the side. It doesn't need it and the potato's so good it doesn't need sour cream. I need sour cream, however.

kitchen King's service is exemplary. Servers, in cool gingham shirts, are cheerful and know the kitchen. When they tell you to order salmon, pay attention. And when I ask if I can peek in the kitchen, our server brings manager Jennifer Farris over and she says, of course. Both of them are quick to say 'watch out for the floor.' I step into the kitchen with my new camera. Restaurant kitchens are amazing. That they are able to turn out so much in small spaces is spectacular. Anyway, I watch these guys and that's it. The floor is slippery and not wanting to make a scene, as in a bad scene, I back out. But still, aren't you thrilled when someone says yes, you can? I love restaurant kitchens. I love them even more when someone else is cooking the dinner and the dinner turns out to be mine.

Their menu is gigantic. It starts with oysters, Long Island clams, shrimp, Peruvian and eastern shore scallops, South African and Maine lobster; crab from Maryland, Santa Barbara and Alaska, and mussels from Washington State. There's pasta, small hot plates, sushi, meat that's grilled, small salads, big salads, soup, and a New England clam bake. Take in the bar where there's the biggest display of hot sauces I've ever seen. Booths in the main dining room seat 6, 8 and 10 so you can bring 219 of your closest friends and they'll fit. And if you like slogans: "It's time to eat fish," "Fish for thought," and their signature: "Welcome to the house that seafood built." It's all part of the history that's chronicled in the black and white photos that are everywhere.

king's humor As a rule, servers setting down big plates simply freak me out. Even though I know I don't have to eat it and even though I know they will pack up what's left, for me, less is more. However, at King's, where there's something for everyone, I think about more. As for more, they say that since 1996 they've served more than 16 million oysters.

On the menu they also say: "We cheerfully accept responsibility for your meal no matter how you order it." That's guts. Here is worldwide fish brought to you on a platter just the way you want it. Have a beer, or two, and eat up.

King's Fish House
825 Camino de la Reina
San Diego, CA 92108
619. 574. 1230

© August 13, 2015. Kitty Kaufman is a Boston writer who lives to eat. The Thin Man eats to live. See more of their SoCal adventures at Corporate Edge and follow Kitty on Twitter. The Thin Man does not tweet.
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