Are you looking for fresh mackerel? How about sushi-grade tuna, whole salted bacalao, live spot prawns, house-made smoked salmon or Santa Barbara uni? Well, L.A. has it all, from the hard-to-find to the uber-fresh and even the terribly exotic. You just have to know where to look for it. If you're having a hard time finding a certain fish that a recipe calls for, are having a craving from something specific, or are just looking for the best fresh fish the city has to offer, these are the fish shops and markets where you can find everything under the sea, literally and figuratively.
Santa Monica Seafood: The fresh and expected one-stop shop
This Westside staple comes complete with all your basic seafood needs. Beautiful fresh local and imported fish include salmon in its various varieties, swordfish, monkfish, all the tunas, varieties of sole, live lobster and crab, as well as a selection of oysters, clams, mussels and whole fish ranging from snapper to sea bass. While the most exotic fresh seafood you'll likely find at Santa Monica Seafood are Santa Barbara spot prawns, soft shell crab or eel, when in season, they do have a bit more of a frozen selection, where you can find things like frozen octopus or langoustines. The beauty of Santa Monica Seafood isn't that it's providing anything overly exotic, but it always has all the basics covered and then some — and you can be sure the quality of the fish will be good. On your way out, you can pick up wine, cheese and basically anything else you need to complete dinner from the produce section. And if you're too hungry to cook, there's even a pretty solid little cafe inside where you can feast on cioppino, ahi tuna sliders, crabcakes, fish and chips and local oysters. Hit up the bar on weekday afternoons for the delicious, freshly shucked oyster happy hour.
1000 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica; (310) 393-5244, santamonicaseafood.com.
Wild Local Seafood Co.: The sustainable, local catch
You'll find this local seafood purveyor at different farmers markets around Los Angeles depending on the day of the week. With a strict focus on seafood caught using sustainable practices, captain Ben Hyman of the aptly named vessel Always Grinding brings L.A. some of the freshest, sustainable local catch there is. Offerings include California-caught halibut, seabass caught in Santa Barbara, hook-and-line vermillion (aka local snapper) and unwasted and delicious bycatch like dogfish. You can be sure that the distance from the ocean to your plate has been kept at an absolute minimum.
Various locations; wildlocalseafood.com.
Dory Fleet: The hard-to-find local catch
This early-morning fish market, located just north of Newport Pier on the beach, is the perfect place to go if you're looking for local seafood that's a bit harder to find. Local fishermen sell their catch: rock crabs, spiny lobster, whelks (sea snails), spot prawns, spider crab, live sea urchin and endless amounts of locally caught fish, depending on the season. The only catch is, you'll have to get there early. The market opens at 6:30 a.m. Wednesday through Friday and closes by noon, or more likely when they sell out. The best day to visit, however, is Saturday morning, when there is the most selection by far and you can start your day with some Santa Barbara uni from urchin diver Stephanie Mutz, cracked right in front of you and slurped from its spiny shell. That beats brunch any day, if you ask us.
2111 W. Oceanfront, Newport Beach; (949) 632-5939, doryfleet.com.
Cape Seafood & Provisions: The special and exotic, chef-curated catch
Chef and seafood whisperer Michael Cimarusti's latest venture takes the form of Cape Seafood & Provisions, the beautifully curated fish shop of your dreams. With fish such as fresh Japanese mackerel and sardines, live spot prawns, geoduck, Dover sole, yellowtail snapper, oysters, clams, uni and a rotating seasonally driven selection of wild, fresh fish, you'll be hard-pressed to find a place with better quality and selection all under one roof.
801 N. Fairfax Ave., Fairfax; (323) 556-2525, cape-seafood.com.
Guidi Marcello: European-style cured, salted and otherwise preserved fish
It's pretty easy to drive unawares past this Italian importer, housed in an industrial section off Santa Monica's Olympic Boulevard, but it just so happens that the nondescript shop is home to some of the best products straight from Italy. And that includes some pretty hard-to-find cured, salted and otherwise preserved seafood items that you may require to make the perfect dish. Head to the coolers at the back wall and you'll find them stockpiled with such delicious seafood offerings as European white anchovies packed in tins of olive oil, beautiful slices of tuna belly marinated inside glass jars, salted sardines, the whole (feet-long) salted cod, or bacalao, such as you'll find in Europe, and a selection of some of the best bottarga, a cured fish roe, ranging from (the cheaper) tuna to (the super pricey) mullet. It's a heavenly place for those who like their fish preserved.
1649 10th St., Santa Monica; (310) 452-6277, guidimarcello.com.
Mitsuwa Market: The sashimi-grade and Japanese fish product stop
This Japanese chain market has locations throughout Southern California and is the perfect stop if you're looking for sushi-grade seafood and beyond. Whether you're looking to get your hands on some chu-toro Japanese sanma or saba mackerel or need to find some really good katsuobushi or kombu, Mitsuwa has all the Japanese varieties and cuts of fish to complete any recipe, at pretty affordable prices.
Various locations; mitsuwa.com.
99 Ranch Market: The wild card
This Chinese chain market has a pretty thorough selection of fish and seafood, both live and on ice, but you don't always know what it's going to have. You can almost always rely on a pretty solid selection of perch and cod, and an ample sampling of fish you've possibly never heard of, so if you're looking for something exotic, like scorpion fish, and you've tried everywhere else, you'll probably hit the jackpot here. But that said, the selection can be hit-and-miss in terms of what you're getting (and occasionally quality), but what's missing in uncertainty is made up for in prices: Everything's pretty damn affordable.
Various locations; 99ranch.com.