As benefits a coastal town, San Diego is full of seafood restaurants, from hole-in-the-wall fish taco places to black-tie affairs. I've already written on some of them earlier, but I recently had a chance to go to the two that were the highest rated on downtown - Point Loma Seafoods and Top of the Market.
Point Loma Seafoods is much away from the beaten restaurant track, serving salads, cocktails and fish plates amidst counters of fresh fish for sale. It was rated the number one in magazine reviews so I went there with high hopes and, well, came away very disappointed. The location seemed the only thing worth the effort; I wasn't impressed either with the quality of the fish or the cooking. Though the jetty next door gives the impression that the fish just came off the boat, many of the offerings at the counter had names starting with "Atlantic" and "farm raised". I tried their smoked fish, but its a very far cry from the stuff at, say, Katie's Smokehouse in Trinidad, CA (where the fish is actually off a nearby boat). This one was dry, a little too salty and quite chewy. The fish plate - batter fried Atlantic halibut - was overcooked, limp and unexciting. How it can be fresh off the Atlantic ocean in San Diego adds that edge of mystery.
I'm not being overly harsh; the food was not special at all. Go there if you like standing in line or want to sit and watch the boats, but eat at Red Lobster instead.
Back to the top two in San Diego. Fish Market (along with Top of the Market, its upstairs cousin) also features the theme of fish store and diner. Its also on a pier and its a kind of chain (there are nine of them) but dont let that fool you - the seafood is outstanding. While Point Loma Seafoods wilts at competition from the corner fish taco shop, Top of The Market can knock the white-tablecloth-crowd flat. It is, in my opinion, the best seafood restaurant in town, and one of the best in the USA.
Fish Market looks suspiciously like a SGBP restaurant (Simply Grilled Butter Pepper) but it is magically more. The halibut (at the Top of the Market) was indeed simply grilled, but the thick slab was juicy, flaky and perfectly done medium rare. What came with it wasn't a butter sauce; it was a tomato cilantro sauce so good that I dug every drop out with the sourdough bread. My second visit focused on the Idaho trout, again grilled but brushed with a teasing barbecue sauce that I just couldn't get enough of. In most restaurants, the simply-grilled school makes for a disappointing experience, the lingering feeling that you could have done this yourself with help from the local grocer, that all you're really paying for are the table cloths and napkins. Not so for Fish Market; the touch is light but very much the kind that you despair of recreating in your kitchen.
In short - avoid Point Loma and head for the Market.