If you’re looking for a spot with an endless summer vibe, just catch a wave through the doors of Rocca’s Surf Shack.
With a great view of Morro Rock and the harbor, this sunny spot on the Embarcadero sports all manner of surf and island décor — from boards to bamboo to beach towels. An upbeat soundtrack adds to the festive and family-friendly ambiance, as does the continuous surf video on the flat screen above the counter where you order.
“That’s all local surfing footage that someone brought in for us,” said owner Todd Collins, adding that patrons often see themselves or surfers they know on the screen.
Collins opened Rocca’s with his family in December 2011, but the Vegas native is no stranger to the restaurant industry. He landed his first job in high school at the snack bar of Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino on the Strip, and then steadily worked his way up through the ranks — including executive chef and food and beverage director — before becoming general manager.
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His original connection to the Central Coast dates to the sixth grade, when his family began regularly vacationing here. Collins realized that he wanted to eventually relocate to Morro Bay, and even had his eye specifically on the Rocca’s location. As luck would have it, that restaurant space became available just as he was seriously contemplating the move from Vegas.
“I guess it’s a case of being careful what you wish for,” he quipped, “and people thought we were crazy to open when we did, but this job is more fun than I’ve ever had.”
In carving out the eatery’s concept and menu, Collins knew that “people want seafood when they’re this close to the water, but I didn’t want to do what everyone else was doing.”
Ultimately, he pipelined into the surfing theme, which allowed Rocca’s to hang loose with the atmosphere and have fun with names such as “Gnarlatious Fish and Chips,” the “Maverick Hamburger,” and “Grommet Picks” for kids (“grommet” is surf slang for young surfers).
As befitting a place with this kind of view, appetizers on the Rocca’s menu include clam chowder, fried calamari, and steamed mussels and/or clams.
From there, you can go with a lobster and avocado salad or a seared ahi salad, fish tacos or a fish sandwich, a Hula chicken sandwich with pineapple or any of the fried seafood and chips options. A few combos are also available, including the Cowabunga with fried fish, shrimp, calamari and clam strips and served with fries or housemade potato chips.
In addition to the hand-cut chips, the Rocca’s crew makes the salsas from scratch, as well as the cilantro/wasabi salad dressing used on the ahi salad and grilled fish tacos.
Collins also noted that “we’re doing little things like getting par-baked tortillas and finishing them up on the grill, and using 100 percent Black Angus beef for our burgers — my grandmother taught me that a lot of problems go away if you start with the very best.”