Nothing's Fishy about El Pescador

El Pescador - a popular fish market and eatery in La Jolla - has its roots in a fish market in Del Mar. Back in the 1970s, a 19-year-old surfer named Jeff Norris scrounged some refrigeration equipment for under a thousand dollars and began selling fresh seafood. It wasn't long before customers were clamoring for fish to eat on the spot, not just raw fish to take home and cook themselves.

The place took off like a rocket, and pretty soon Norris' market was a seafood and deli with a clientele that was always hungry for more. In 1978, Sean Shannon, a 16-year-old kid who gave up his paper route to take on the job of "El Pescador clean-up kid," came on board. Shannon fell in love with the enterprise and by the mid-'80s, was ready to go out on his own.

Shannon opened a funky little fish market on Pearl Street, and the rest is history. Shannon still sells the freshest fish available for both eating in and taking home - even after all those years. Not surprisingly, many of his customers have been with him from those early days.

The menu has increased to an array of char-grilled and sauteed seafood items - and the full service fish market is still a local favorite. Things are still done the old-fashioned way - with no food processors, and with everything cut and filleted right at the market. Everything is made fresh, when you place your order.

This unique fish market and seafood restaurant boasts a mixed bag of clientele -- from the surfer crowd (stopping in for a meal after a day at the beach) to typical La Jolla residents (taking home all the fixin's for a delicious fish dinner).

The informal eatery has two huge refrigerated display cases, full of fresh fish. You can select a slice or two or choose your favorite shellfish, and the cooks will prepare them for you on the spot. Otherwise, you can take the fish home and make it yourself. El Pescador will accommodate your special requests, even if the preparation is not listed on the menu.

Depending on the season, there are dozens of different types of fish. You can find everything from local red rock cod to Scottish salmon. The restaurant offers sashimi quality bluefin tuna, New Zealand salmon (a seasonal treat) and a variety of other delicious fresh fish.

If you love smoked salmon (a very special treat), try El Pescador's. The salmon is smoked locally and it's something special. Likewise for the smoked albacore. The albacore tuna is honey smoked, and it is truly delicious.

Although every fish on the menu can be ordered in sandwich form, in a salad and on a plate, the sandwich is No. 1 with the local crowd. Of course, the preparations are so outstanding, the lowly sandwich is raised to star status at El Pescador.

We tried the local swordfish sandwich ($8.95). It consisted of a thick steak, grilled with lemon and butter, and it was as juicy and flavorful as any you can find. You can also opt for calamari steak ($7.95), local sea bass ($8.95), Thrasher shark in a house marinade ($7.95), Mexican jumbo white shrimp ($12.95), or Alaskan or local halibut ($8.95) - just to name a few.

The same items served atop a salad (such as the Hawaiian ahi tuna) runs from about $9.50 to $10.95. A full plate of fish (served with fresh green salad and steamed rice) costs from $11.95 to $16.95. The salad dressings are home-made as well, and they're very good.

Just take a look at the appetizing array of fish in the cases, and choose one for a meal. Then you can decide whether you're hungry for a plate, or prefer a sandwich or a salad. You know everything is fresh - because it looks and smells so fresh. No fishy odors at El Pescador!

The saute and specialty items on the menu include fish tacos (served with cabbage salad) - which runs $8.95 for a plate, sauteed mussels with sourdough bread ($10.95), and a sashimi plate ($8.95). You can even get a Scottish salmon burger at El Pescador - and of course, you can get it in a sandwich ($8.95), in a salad ($10.95) or on a plate ($12.95).

Don't miss the clam chowder ($2.25 for eight ounces) or the tasty cioppino ($3.95 for eight ounces). These wonderful home-made soups can be taken home in huge quantities as well, so think of El Pescador's hearty soups if you're planning a party. You can get a 32-ounce container of chowder for $7.50 ($12.50 for cioppino).

The seafood cocktails are pretty special as well. Try the ceviche ($5.50) or a combo of Dungeness crab and bay shrimp ($6.25).

The restaurant prepares platters, such as the poached salmon that serves as a great buffet item for parties - and everything on the menu can be taken home for a crowd. Just give them a little notice, so they can get your order ready on time.

El Pescador still hasn't got much room for indoor dining - and there's nothing fancy about the surroundings. There are a few comfortable wooden tables and chairs scattered around the shop. And don't expect china or silverware at this popular eatery. You'll have to settle for paper plates and plastic wear. However, the food speaks for itself - and it says quality loud and clear!

   
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