Restaurant News & Reviews

Dining Out: Hooked on Avila

Evoking the best of the Central Coast’s unique beauty and charm, Olde Port Inn sits on the end of the Port San Luis Pier in Avila Beach.

This old-fashioned fish house is both inviting and rustic, reminiscent of what Avila once was —a quaint fishing village.

The Old Port Inn is a charming place with cabin architecture yet linen tablecloths. It’s especially romantic at night when candles illuminate the room.

And despite today’s emphasis on nouvelle cuisines, the restaurant has remained close to its roots, serving up fresh and fried seafood specialties including calamari, fish stews and daily catches for nearly 40 years.

The walk from the parking lot to the restaurant sets the tone. Pier planks groan with each step, and vendors sell live fish, crab and abalone from small tanks along the way.

Inside the restaurant, framed black-and-white vintage photographs show what the pier, built in 1873, looked like when it was constructed by John Harford to facilitate trading and mail delivery.

From our table, we had ample views of the turquoise waters below. Chances are, a weary fisherman or two will be sitting at the long wooden bar.

On a recent day, it was windy when I visited for lunch, but the sun was shining as boats tugged on their moorings. Even when fog blankets other beaches in the county, Avila is often clear and sunny, making it a good place to take out-of-town visitors.

Plenty of seafood choices

Daily catch offerings are constantly changing, but regular items include fried seafood, soups, crab, lobster, fish and shrimp.

The Dungeness crab and bay shrimp salad was hard to resist, although at market price ($20), a bit of splurge. An ample mound of mixed greens, hard-boiled egg, bacon bits and crumbled feta cheese came topped with shredded crab-meat and poached bay shrimp.

The salad, tossed with house-made mustard vinaigrette, was crisp and delicious—a refreshing way to have seafood on a warm day without ordering a plate of hot food.

The daily King Salmon special ($20) was an Asian-inspired dish, the rich pink fish char-grilled and glazed with a balsamic-soy sauce. The salmon was moist and flakey with a thick crispy exterior, although a little too charred on the edges for my taste. Sauteed vegetables, a mix of snap peas, carrots and broccoli, completed the dish.

The clam chowder ($5) is a specialty here. It’s thick with fresh clams, crab and potatoes. The creamy soup has an almost gelatinous texture, but it was tasty with a little cracked pepper and dash of Tabasco.

Other options

For nonseafood eaters, there are options such as chicken tacos, quesadillas and burgers. The house burger ($10) is a half-pounder, a juicy patty topped with thick-cut bacon and two kinds of cheese. Served with skinny fries, it was huge and filling, and the price was not bad considering the portion size and setting.

Fall is often the best time of year for coastal weather, so there is still plenty of time to enjoy a sunny lunch as the days grow shorter.

Seafood costs have risen dramatically in the past few years, meaning prices at Olde Port are a bit high compared to nonseafood restaurants, but its views and extensive menu make a visit an experience as well as a meal.

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