If you’re looking for a nibble with a view, it’s hard to find a better one than at Pete’s Pierside Café and Fish Market.
Perched on the Harford Pier in Avila, Pete’s offers a stunning panorama of Avila Beach, the Port San Luis Harbor, the southern side of Point San Luis, and the Pacific Ocean.
However, this is no white tablecloth establishment. Pete’s is a funky, fun, fish shack — and therein lies its charm.
This is a place to hang out, crack a crab claw, sip on a cold one and even enjoy a little reggae on summer Sundays.
Yes, those seagulls are chattering pretty close, and those sea lions are bellowing just a few yards below your feet, and the historic wooden pier creaks as cars go by. That’s Pete’s, and that’s the point.
Another key aspect of Pete’s Pierside is that “it’s also a fish market,” explained owner Courtney Carden. “That’s a big thing, and often we’re buying fish directly off the boats — you can’t get any fresher than that.”
In season and when available, Carden will source local halibut, lingcod and Dungeness crab, and Pete’s signature dish is the fresh local rock crab that’s available all year round (which you can also get cooked to go).
“We do a lot of daily specials,” said Carden. “Our tostada plate always depends on what kind of fresh fish we have, and we’ll do things like tuna takaki, salmon or mahi mahi tacos, or maybe a grilled salmon salad.”
Other recent specials also included an octopus salad, steamers and oyster shooters.
When the rainy season hits, those in the know flock to Pete’s for a different kind of local delicacy: the crab and mushroom enchiladas made with chanterelles foraged from the surrounding hillsides.
The regular menu at Pete’s Pierside nets you a lot of choices as well. Fish or shrimp tacos are popular favorites, as are the shrimp cocktails, fish and chips, clam chowder, or the crab enchiladas served with rice and black beans.
If seafood isn’t your thing, Pete’s also serves up beef tacos, a hearty chile verde burrito, and even an Angus chipotle burger with housemade red potato fries.
Those handcut fries are “made every day,” said Carden, adding that the sauces, chowders and desserts such as mini mango cheesecakes are also made from scratch.
“We do a lot of prep, especially for such a little kitchen, because we don’t want to compromise.”
Carden learned that approach from none other than “Pete” himself.
Pete Kelley launched very popular restaurants in Avila (Pete’s Seaside) and San Luis Obispo (Pete’s Southside Café) before dropping anchor on the pier in 2001. Carden wound up working at Pete’s Pierside in part because she went to Morro Bay High School with Kelley’s daughter.
“I learned to cook here at age 18,” she recalled. “I stayed a couple of years, left to go to culinary school, and came back.”
When Kelley started thinking about selling, “he wanted to give his employees first dibs,” said Carden. “He really wanted someone to get it that would keep the same vibe.”
Carden agreed, and took over Pete’s Pierside about four years ago. Besides putting an aluminum roof over the outdoor eating area, she’s changed very little about the restaurant.
Other than ramping up the repertoire of daily specials, she’s wisely taken the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” approach to the menu, noting that “some of these recipes — like the shrimp enchiladas and black beans — they’re 30 years old, people expect them.”