South Beach Bar & Grille: Sampling Seafood Tacos by the Beach

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Restaurant San Diego

South Beach Bar & Grille has been a great Ocean Beach hangout.

Newport Avenue is a three-block stretch that features a treasure trove of cheap, interesting eats. In addition to Hodad’s, which might serve the greatest bacon cheeseburger on the planet, there’s a barbecue house, a top-level smoothie bar and a lunch counter that melds Chinese and Greek food. I’d probably walked past South Beach Bar & Grille a dozen times, but never thought to enter until reading this year’s Bon Appetit Restaurant Issue, which selected the eatery as one of the three best spots in the nation to eat fish tacos. Who knew?

Apparently a lot of people. The bar & grill was packed. Every seat at the counter and every table were full. I was able to cadge some information from manager Tim Lloyd. Apparently chef-owner John Thompson grew up fishing with his brother and opened South Beach in 1992. The bar & grill started on the corner, but proved so popular that Thompson expanded next door into a deli.

The eatery got its name by being situated on the southernmost point of Ocean Beach. This was our view right out the front door. As Larry David would say, “Pretty…pretty good.”

Restaurant San Diego

South Beach was decorated with NFL banners, a row of microbrew draught handles, and enough TVs to display every game on the schedule twice. There are clearly plenty of reasons to visit South Beach. Just ask our neighbors, who were already on their ass drunk by 2 PM, with no tacos in sight.

South Beach offers burgers, tostadas, quesadillas, and more. The long row of microbrews on draft was tempting, but after observing our sloppy neighbors, we stuck with solids. The menu imprinted with a mermaid offered 13 varieties of tacos, 8 grilled and five fried. We sampled every grilled sea creature on the menu.

Tacos San Diego

Although South Beach has been producing mahi mahi tacos ($2.95) for all 16 years, marinating the flaky white fish with a tantalizing mix of pineapple and teriyaki, I still preferred smoky shark ($3.25). Shrimp tacos ($3.95) featured snap-fresh crustaceans. Every taco was served on a flour tortilla and topped with red cabbage, salsa fresca and “white sauce,” aka ranch dressing. The deft melding of flavors showed a lot of thought went into the toppings.

Tacos San Diego

Second-rate Pacific spicy lobsters don’t have claws, so we were limited to tail meat. Not that I’m complaining. Two curled lobster tails for $4.25, plus accoutrements, were quite a bargain. Wahoo ($2.95) was the only fish I wouldn’t repeat. Not that it mattered. Four of our five tacos were un-put-downable.

Restaurant San Diego

What beachside bar serving seafood would be complete without taxidermied sportfish on the wall?

Until recently, there was no doubt Ocean Beach was all about Hodad’s. My next trip to Ocean Beach will be the first time I’ll face an eating dilemma. Grilled fish tacos or bacon cheeseburgers? Hmm.


Joshua Lurie

Joshua Lurie founded FoodGPS in 2005. Read about him here.

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