Last time I visited sunny San Diego, it rained; but fortunately I wasn’t there for the weather. My goal was to explore this port city’s seaside food culture to discover whether sourcing and eating fish remains sustainable. What I learned: Chefs here care. “I grew up with the beach, on an island,” says Jamaica native Jason Knibb, award-winning chef at Nine-Ten in La Jolla’s historic Grande Colonial hotel. “Here in San Diego, it’s a day-to-day lifestyle with a respect for the ocean. We have to take care of our own.”
San Diego chefs share a dedication to sustainable choices— you’ll be hard-pressed to find Chilean sea bass or monkfish on their menus. “Anyone can make a difference, but because 67 percent of seafood eaten in the United States is in restaurants, chefs can change a lot,” says Andrew Spurgin, cofounder of passionfish.org, which fosters dialogue about oceanic solutions. From urging local fishermen to harvest sardines (an underused eco-catch) to proudly showcasing local specialties like seasonal spiny lobster and sea urchin, these tastemakers combine commerce and conservation.
Tuna, Ginger, and “Screaming Rooster” Poke. This fresh appetizer, scooped up with corn chips, is best served within an hour of making it, says chef Brian Malarkey of Searsucker in San Diego. Asian hot sauces such as Sriracha (also called rooster sauce for the bottle’s logo) typically are smoother and sweeter than American hot sauces. View Recipe
Scallop Crudo. A beautiful and easy first course from chef Brian Malarkey. Look for preserved lemons in gourmet shops and olive bars. The Lemonilla Dressing is also outstanding drizzled over cooked fish or salads. View Recipe
Sardine Spread with Beet-Pickled Onions. An unusual and savory dip from Sea Rocket Bistro in San Diego’s North Park neighborhood. Serve with crostini or crackers. View Recipe
Fennel Pollen–Crusted Albacore with Piperade. This hearty recipe comes from chef Christian Graves at Jsix in San Diego. It’s a classic Basque stew of peppers topped with tuna dusted with fennel pollen, a unique and out-of-this-world spice available in specialty shops. View Recipe
San Diego Seafood Stew.Chef Jason Knibb of Nine-Ten restaurant in La Jolla, California, created this mélange of local fish, which combine for a delicious, bread-dipping stew. Berbere is a classic Ethiopian seasoning of garlic, red pepper, cardamom, coriander, and other spices; look for it in specialty shops, or substitute a blend of paprika, garlic, and cayenne pepper. View Recipe
Sushi "Tacos" with Spicy Lime Mayo. These “inside out” tacos from chef Trey Foshee are a must-have menu item at George’s at the Cove in La Jolla, California. The fried avocado slices are a decadent treat! View Recipe