sunny weekends in los angeles are wonderful, but sometimes the heat can be a little more than one can take. one of my favourite weekend day escape is lunch on the waterfront in san pedro, at the ports o'call village, near the cruise ship terminal. as far as waterfronts go, the area isn't the most glamorous, but it's far from being rough and tumble. it is rustic, charming, and easygoing, despite its proximity to the shipping docks.
during the week, the plaza of restaurants on the north end of the village is pretty sleepy, catering to few locals and day fishermen; however, the weekends see it filled with families, packed onto the outdoor decks, enjoying a meal amongst roaming mariachi bands, bewildered tourists on their way to day cruises, and hungry seagulls. the ocean breezes and convivial atmosphere make the crowds bearable; waiting for a table to free up can take time. there are several restaurants to choose from--the majority of them serve inexpensive fresh seafood, cooked in a number of ways: steamed, grilled, and fried making up the majority of the dishes, but with a good variety; a few of the restaurants even have little markets where you can pick out your fish of choice, before sending it off to be cooked.
walk around to get an idea of what you want--everyone's tables seem to hold something tasty and delicious. one of the most popular items is a family-sized portion of fajitas, made with shrimp still in the shell or filleted fish (or a combination of both); the seafood is cooked on a large grill with onions, garlic, green peppers, and potatoes. the fajitas are heaped up onto a plastic school lunch tray, garnished with cut fresh lemons, a container of salsa, and served with a choice of either flour tortillas or large loaves of garlic bread. depending on your party's appetite, this can either serve a family of six, or three very hungry people. along with some beer or mexican sodas, this could be enough to fill you up for the rest of the day, but there are so many other dishes you could try instead, or heck, along side it.
i recently tried the restaurant called alaska seafood, which offers not only the standard grilled and fried items, but also a number of asian/korean-style dishes including hot and spicy soups, tempura, and even galbi and bulgogi. the sopa de siete mares--seven seafood soup--has a clear, spicy broth, accented with tomatoes, cilantro and cucumbers, and of course, the eponymous ingredients: squid, octopus, crab, mussels, and several types of firm fleshed fish. the soup was very good, due to the fresh seafood that makes up the stock along with what was added in; only the octopus seemed ever so slightly overcooked, mainly because the soup arrived scalding hot, and by the time it was cool enough to eat, the tentacles had been cooking for awhile. everything else was tender, with very clean flavours. alaska also does what they call oyster tempura, but is really breaded in panko bread crumbs and deep-fried. the oysters are freshly shucked though, quite large but still sweet and tender. i don't recall if they are served with a sauce, but they didn't really need it. they too have the ubiquitous fajitas, either just with shrimp, or a combination of seafood. their fajitas differ in that they are somewhat wet from an unknown strangely pinkish sauce and the addition of fresh tomatoes. i can't really say i care for their version, but they probably have the best cooked seafood in their fajitas; most of the other versions around the pier that i've tried tend to have overcooked their fish and/or prawns. unfortunately for alaska, the seasoning is a little off on theirs; it lacks the nice, piquant spiciness of its dryer counterparts. still, there are so many other items on the menu, you could give their version a pass.
i think my current favourite restaurant of the lot is the one my friends dave and bekki turned me on to, the crusty crab (isn't that a character on "the simpsons"?). it has an extensive fish market, with large iced vats of whole, gargantuan fish, shellfish, and a long refrigerated case of various filleted items. you pick out your seafood of choice, pay for it, then bring it to a grilling or frying station outside, where it will be cooked accordingly. i have yet to try anything deep-fried as i am addicted to the crazy delicious citrus and herb marinade that is used by the grilling guys. it's light, spicy, and zesty, complementing the vast slabs o' flaky, fresh fish grilled to perfection.
it does take a chunk of time before your fish will be ready, depending on its size and the crowds--45 minutes seems to be the minimum. so what do you do in the meantime? drink more beer, eat a little ceviche, and those fajitas make an excellent, albeit substantial starter. or, watch the boats out in the bay, count the thousands of shipping containers across the way, and enjoy your day.