My wife and I were visiting our older son and his family in Sunnyvale last weekend, and, on Friday they took us to Moss Landing, a wetlands/wharf/inlet mélange on the coast highway about fifteen miles north of Monterey, It’s home to several marine research centers, a hotel or two, several hundred fishing vessels, and a few restaurants. It began its modern life as a whaling port sometime in the 19th century, and its general look is somewhere between funky and unkempt depending, I suppose, on the generation of the viewer. I wish we’d had more time to explore its many curiosities, but our destination was Phil’s Fish Market and Eatery, an altogether remarkable restaurant and fish market.
The road to it is not very well marked, parking is sparse at best, its look is as funky and unkempt as that of Moss Landing itself, and lines of customers can be long … but … the menu offerings go on and on and every one of them features fish and seafood so fresh they can only have come from those Moss Landing fishing boats within the last couple of hours or so. You grab a menu from a stack of them that awaits you as you enter, decide what you want to eat as you stand in line reading that menu or one of the many blackboards offering still more daily specials, give your order to the person at the cash register, pay up, and take your table number to wherever you’re going to sit and await the arrival of whatever you ordered. For starters I ordered a special the of four large Pacific oysters gently poached in a Champagne and cream sauce. It was little short of glorious, as were my fresh halibut tacos to follow. What is truly dispiriting is that there are so many other dishes on that menu you just have to try but cannot … portion sizes are beyond generous and you have only one stomach. Oh, Phil’s is famous for its Cioppino and, if you call ahead by a hour or so, you can bring your own pot and have them fill it to take home. I believe that Phil’s Cioppino bested Bobby Flay’s in his one-season TV show “Bobby Flay’s Throwdown.”
There’s a bar there for beer and wine with your meal or anything else you have in mind, and the adjacent fish market is but another adventure in freshness. Yes, this place is out of the way, but, if any eatery ever deserved to be known as a “destination” restaurant, this is it.
A local trick: when you get to Phil’s, have one of your party decide what to eat while still in line, and then nail down a table while the rest of you make your way toward the cash register. However long the wait … just wait.