Above: A seafood spread from Driftwood Kitchen in Laguna Beach
Photographs by Mariah Tauger; Illustrations by Justine Wong


STARTERS

Baked Oysters

Five craggy, oven‑hot shells brimming with a creamy mix of prized blue crab, oysters, and Champagne‑tarragon butter are the ideal opener at Olea. Bacon sneaks in salty smoke notes, so does this qualify as surf and turf? Perfect with a flute of brut bubbly. $17.50. 2001 Westcliff Drive, Newport Beach, 949‑287‑6807, oleanewportbeach.com

Fluke Kumquat

Heading up the seafood starters at Sushi Roku with fluke might seem like … a fluke. It’s not. Delicate Asajime fluke from Korea, rind‑flecked kumquat jam, yuzu vinaigrette, and black lava salt make for an altogether pretty plate—and a perfect preamble to anything that follows. $19.50. Fashion Island, 949‑706‑3622, innovativedining.com

Swordfish Carpaccio

A judicious drizzle of buttery, top‑shelf olive oil showcases the firm texture and delicate side of thinly sliced, blush‑colored raw swordfish. Sliced fresh artichokes add to this elegant dish at Canaletto Ristorante Veneto. $21. Fashion Island, 949-640‑0900, ilfornaio.com

Crab Cakes

Reliable old‑school crab cakes should be easier to find, but Santa Monica Seafood Cafe is a lock if you’re partial to crispy flash‑fried patties crammed with Dungeness crab and not shy on Old Bay seasoning. House spicy mustard sauce and organic greens come with them. $6 for one at happy hour, 3 to 6 p.m. daily; $15 for two otherwise. 154 E. 17th St., Costa Mesa, 949‑574‑0274, smseafoodmarket.com

Erizos Con Huevo

Eggstravaganza! Scrambled eggs topped with sea urchin eggs topped with paddlefish eggs—all provocatively presented in the sea urchin shell alongside miso‑buttered toast. It’s a tapas calling card at Amar Santana’s Vaca. Add sturgeon eggs (caviar) for an additional fee. $16. 695 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa, 714‑463‑6060, vacarestaurant.com

Seared Octopus

It’s a master class in contrasts. Old Vine Café balances custard‑soft octopus with toasty sourdough crumbs; aromatic celery is diced and sauteed, but also curled in wide raw ribbon; fruity Meyer lemon emulsion brightens the ivory flesh’s subtle flavor; and dribbles of lush EVOO hint at infused garlic. $18.50. 2937 Bristol St., Costa Mesa, 714‑545‑1411, oldvinecafe.com

Ciambella Di Crudi

Over the top and all over the map! The sushi “doughnut,” an Instagram darling, goes upscale at Italian steakhouse Anaheim White House, reopened and fresco‑filled after a fire. Crab‑stuffed rice is topped with a pinwheel of ahi tuna, salmon, yellowtail, tobiko, sesame, and radish, and drizzled with eel sauce. Buon appetito! $12.50. 887 S. Anaheim Blvd., Anaheim, 714‑772‑1381, anaheimwhitehouse.com

 

Red and Black Rice at LSXO // All photographs by Mariah Tauger

 

TOWERS & PLATTERS

Red and Black Rice

Modern rap meets 1974 Saigon at LSXO, chef Tin Vuong’s highly personal take on Viet fare. This hissing‑hot iron platter yields a riot of colors, textures, and seafood—mussels, heads‑on prawns, scallops—laced with savory sausage and pork confit on a bed of crispy‑tender red and black rice. $31. 21016 Pacific Coast Highway, Huntington Beach, 714‑374‑0083, dinebluegold.com/lsxo

Cast‑Iron Shellfish Platter

The wood‑fire oven at Bourbon Steak broils magical red miso butter into meaty gulf shrimp, oysters, half lobster, and cracked king crab. The show begins when the server splashes lemongrass tea on the scalding iron and the platter’s hot rock salt unleashes a hissing blast of steam. $85. Monarch Beach Resort & Spa, Dana Point, 949‑234‑3318, michaelmina.net

Seafood Tower

Flowing tendrils of dry‑ice vapor turn heads whenever a seafood tower reaches the table at posh Mastro’s Ocean Club. Unlock your dreams, and wallet, with a bespoke creation of faultless crab claws, oysters, colossal shrimp, lobster, and caviar nestled like jewels on a crushed‑ice mountain. Market price. 8112 E. Coast Highway, Newport Beach, 949‑376‑6990, mastrosrestaurants.com

SIDES

Lobster Mashed Potatoes

With sides like this, who needs mains? Delivered to the table by white‑jacketed servers, this special‑occasion dish combines immaculate lobster adrift in smooth-as‑silk potatoes, melted butter, shallots, tomato, and garlic. It dials up the already sumptuous steaks and surf and turf at Mastro’s Steakhouse. $38. 633 Anton Blvd., Costa Mesa, 714‑546‑7405, mastrosrestaurants.com

Crab Fried Rice

Smooth operator Wildfish—now Eddie V’s Prime Seafood—does its namesake proud. We can’t get enough of the tender fried rice, so heavy with lump crabmeat it should be listed as a shellfish dish. Gentle soy seasoning, sliced shiitake mushrooms, egg bits, and plenty of fresh scallions keep monotony at bay. $14. 1370 Bison Ave., Newport Beach, 949‑720‑9925, eddiev.com

Manila Clam Salad

Quan Hop slivers its tender Manila clams so thin they almost disappear in the vibrant salad of chopped herbs, red peppers, and supple banana blossoms, but their sea‑sweet flavor stands right up to spirited vinaigrette with fermented fish sauce. Shrimp puffs supply crunchy notes of starch and salt. $8, small; $12, large. 15640 Brookhurst St., Westminster, 714‑689‑0555

All illustrations by Justine Wong


SANDWICHES

Lobster Roll

More than a pound of lobster claws and tail—butter poached to tender perfection, dressed in lemon‑Old Bay aioli, and topped with chives and microcelery—crowns a top‑split, gorgeously burnished butter bun at The Cannery. It’s in a class of its own. The fries beguile, too. $32. 3010 Lafayette ave., Newport Beach, 949‑566‑0060, cannerynewport.com

Tuna Veggie

Sandwiches are piled high in a display case at Moulin. House‑made soft bread, as streamlined as a UFO, barely conceals tuna prepared with shallot‑chive mayo and topped with slices of hard‑boiled egg, red onion, and kalamata olives. $9. 248 Forest Ave., Laguna Beach, 949‑715‑6990; 1000 N. Bristol St., Newport Beach, 949‑474‑0920, moulin.com

The Clobster Grilled Cheese

Cholesterol hell—or heaven! Thanks to lots and lots of lobster, copious chopped crab, monumental mozzarella, and a buttery grilled brioche, this Slapfish ode to grilled cheese attacks arteries with gleeful abandon. Natural‑cut fries are liberally dusted with an Old Bay‑paprika mix and served with tangy vinaigrette “fry sauce.” $15. six O.C. locations; slapfishrestaurant.com

Soft‑Shell‑Crab Slider

A beautifully crisped soft‑shell crab, a diminutive Portuguese bun, and the outsized flavors of a togarashi aioli make for an irresistible experience at Hatch in Union Market. It’s even better with reverently mixed tiki drinks. Bonus points for the tiki‑wallpaper art. $8. 2493 Park Ave., Tustin, 657‑208‑2088, eathatch.com

SHELLFISH

Oysters on the Half Shell

The oyster bar is Water Grill’s centerpiece.
Oyster shells are embedded in the bar top, and the chandelier—made entirely of hanging strings of oyster shells—never gets old. The oysters—delicate Kumamoto from Humboldt Bay, huge Shakespeare Creek from British Columbia, intense Island Creek from Massachusetts—are always an adventure. $2.85 to $3.45 each; $31.20 to $38.40 for a dozen. 3300 Bristol St., Costa Mesa, 949‑208‑7060, watergrill.com

Mussels

Bowls brim with Prince Edward Island black mussels at intimate Pescadou Bistro, now in its 20th oh‑so‑French year. Choice of broths includes the popular white wine, shallots, and garlic; also tomato, herbs, and anise; and cream and saffron. All are prime for post‑mussel sopping. $11 to $15, small; $18 to $22, large. 3325 Newport Blvd., Newport Beach, 949‑675‑6990, pescadoubistro.com

Newport-Style Gigantic Lobster

“You want a small one?” We nod our ascent, then realize it’s an inside joke: There are no small lobsters at Tan Cang Newport Seafood, which has served its signature dish for 30 years. There’s a behemoth in buttery secret sauce at every table. Garlic noodles bring gargantuan pleasure. Market price. 4411 W. First St., Santa Ana, 714‑531‑5146, tancangnewportseafood.com

Alaskan Red King Crab

A kitschy life‑size sea captain and decor that includes a large wall hanging of a crab sets the tone at Captain Jack’s. Launched in 1965 and overlooking a canal, the spot serves as much as 1,500 pounds of crab a week, six large legs to an order, each split for easy access to the sweet, ample meat. Market price. 16812 Pacific Coast Highway, Sunset Beach, 562‑592‑2514, captainjackssunsetbeach.com

SOUPS & STEWS

Lobster Soup

A Thai‑style lobster broth with a rich rust hue, vibrant with ginger, lemongrass, garlic, shallots, and red curry, and finished with coconut milk, is a new mainstay at Mix Mix Kitchen + Bar. Perched rim‑to‑rim for dipping is a crispy spring roll filled with whole crab. $8. 300 N. Main St., Santa Ana, 714‑836‑5158, mixmixkitchenbar.com

Pan Roast

There’s no pan and no roast in this opulent soup, with roots in 1913 NYC and updated with O.C.’s love for Cajun‑spiced shellfish. The Oyster Bar SKC loads its creamy tomato version with shrimp, clams, crab, and lobster and adds a dome of jasmine rice. Like it fiery? You can call the spice level here. $23. 2626 E. Katella Ave., Anaheim, 714‑602‑7994, theoysterbarskc.com

Clam Chowder

Veteran chef Julio Hawkins never overcooks the chopped clams, leeks, Nueske bacon, and tender potatoes in his creamy New England‑style soup at the boardwalk’s cozy Fly‑N‑Fish. Summer visitors slurp up 10 gallons of the liquid comfort daily. It’s an ideal choice when the marine layer rolls in. $7 for a cup; $10 for a bowl; $11 for the sourdough bowl. 2304 W. Oceanfront, Newport Beach, 949‑673‑8400,  flynfishoysterbar.com

Bouillabaisse

French‑inspired, filtered through a love of American seafood, chef Mike Ritter’s hearty tomato‑based soup at Ritter’s Steam Kettle Cooking is redolent of fennel, leeks, Pernod, and the essential saffron. Steam cooking protects the sweet flavors of shrimp, king crab, whitefish, mussels, and clams. $24.50. 1421 W. MacArthur Blvd., Santa Ana, 714‑850‑1380; 180 Fifth St., Huntington Beach, 714‑536‑7733, rittersskc.com

MAINS

Fish And Chips

Model ships abound, British soccer games show on-screen, and the Wi-Fi password is “spotteddick” at The Olde Ship. Choose beer‑battered Icelandic cod—tall, firm, and flaky ($13)—or haddock, tender and about a foot long ($18), or both ($25). Set sail with spicy curry sauce ($3). 1120 W. 17th St., Santa Ana, 714‑550‑6700; 709 N. Harbor Blvd., Fullerton, 714‑871‑7447, theoldeship.com

Gulf Shrimp and Grits

Indoor‑outdoor whiskey mecca Bosscat Kitchen presents about a dozen small but delectable shrimp in a cast‑iron pan, served with a just‑spicy‑enough Creole sauce atop Antebellum coarse white grits that are made super‑smooth with creamy Gouda cheese. $20. 4647 MacArthur Blvd., Newport Beach, 949‑333‑0917, bosscatkitchen.com

Hokkaido Scallops

Marché Moderne chef and co‑owner Florent Marneau sources the world’s sweetest, firmest scallops from the uniquely nourishing waters off Japan’s northernmost island. Impeccably seared to an amber crust, the pristine flesh sparkles anew against zingy yuzu jus. Earthy charred leeks lend a smoky edge to the flawless risotto. $36. 7862 E. Coast Highway, Newport Beach, 714‑434‑7900, marchemoderne.net

Balsamic Grilled Salmon

The cold, tempestuous waters of Antarctica yield this lush, flavor‑dense pristine salmon that outshines rivals. At Taps Fish House & Brewery, it’s faintly glazed and set atop a terrific mix of crispy Brussels sprouts, orange segments, bacon, red onion, and cotija cheese. $29. Irvine menu only. 13390 Jamboree Road, Irvine, 714‑619‑0404, tapsfishhouse.com

WHOLE FISH

Sweet‑and‑Sour Rockfish

Sichuan showstoppers abound at Meizhou Dongpo. This one is described as “black porgy” on the menu, “squirrelfish” on the restaurant’s Instagram, and “tilapia” by servers. No matter, the fish is spectacularly sculpted like a pine cone, fried like a funnel cake, and served with peas and pine nuts in an addictive tomato‑based sweet‑and‑sour sauce. $48. 15363 Culver Drive, Irvine, 949‑433‑5686

Crispy Snapper

So firm, so succulent! The delicately battered snapper for two at the chic and chill, airy and artsy Pacific Hideaway comes with green‑papaya slaw, spicy bang‑bang cucumbers, green‑apple kimchi, vermicelli noodles, butter lettuce, and herbs. Frida Kahlo looks on from a vibrant mural painted on a brick wall. $49. 500 Pacific Coast Highway, Huntington Beach, 714‑965‑4448, pacifichideawayhb.com

Texas Redfish

The server parades this crisply fried, 6‑pound fish around Driftwood Kitchen’s dining room and other diners take photos when it arrives. The mild and flaky fish is served beneath a mountain of grilled shishito peppers and large bonito flakes, and it feeds at least five. Note: It’s off-menu and must be ordered a day ahead. $125. 619 Sleepy Hollow Lane, Laguna Beach, 949‑715‑7700, driftwoodkitchen.com

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