It's one thing when you get a tough cut of steak or a dry chicken breast at a restaurant, but it's a whole other kettle of fish (pardon the pun) when you're dealing with bad seafood. Metallic-tasting snapper. Green lobster. Catfish that smells like dirty socks. Yeah, we've had it all.
At one local Cajun seafood house that shall not be named, Chilean sea bass was chewier than a rubber band. Turns out it was still completely raw -- and frozen in the middle -- a fact that was camouflaged by the very dim lighting.
Arizona may be landlocked -- at least, until that whole "California falls in to the ocean" scenario comes to fruition -- but there's no reason why you can't get fresh seafood in the desert, if you know where to look. Here are five of our faves:
1. We were about to say The Fish Market, a California chain restaurant in the Arcadia district, until a friend reminded us they went belly-up in August. We'll see if the Newport Beach-based Blue Water Grill can live up to its predecessor when it takes over that spot.
In the meantime, we'll sub in another Valley favorite, Seafood Market & Restaurant at 3406 E. Baseline Rd. in Mesa. This small, family-owned joint is like the non-chain version of Red Lobster, with kitschy ocean decor and an extensive seafood menu. They deal in both line/net-caught and farmed fish. "Always fresh, never frozen" is their motto, and they've got the retail fresh fish counter to prove it.
2. Steamers Genuine Seafood at The Biltmore, 2576 E Camelback Rd. in Phoenix. Steamers has been our go-to place for oysters, and other fresh seafood, ever since we were introduced to the restaurant at a corporate party nearly a decade ago. They import fish from Boston and California daily, and Chef Jose lets the natural flavor shine by simply grilling the day's fresh selections with herb butter. Steamers also has one of the best oyster bars in town, which boasts clams, mussels and Blue Points on the half-shell.
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3. McCormick & Schmick's at 2575 E. Camelback Rd. in Phoenix and 8777 North Scottsdale Rd. in Scottsdale. Yes, it's a national chain. But we're in the land of chain stores and strip malls, so get over it! Because it's a chain, McCormick & Schmick's has the buying power to get fresh fish flown in throughout the day. The Fresh Catch menu is printed daily, and specials may change from lunch to dinnertime as new loads of seafood arrive. They also have a retail market if you're looking to stock your fridge.
4. Taggia at 4925 North Scottsdale Rd. in Scottsdale. If it sounds fishy to put an Italian restaurant on this list, that's probably because you haven't tried Taggia's coastal cuisine yet. They don't have the widest selection, but the sea scallops, shrimp and daily seasonal fish special are sure to be fresh, as Chef James Siao is big in the Slow Food movement.
5. If you want to cook the critters yourself, you can always get a permit to fish in Tempe Town Lake, where the AZ Game & Fish Dept. is due to stock rainbow trout soon. If that idea creeps you out as much as it does us (we remember seeing painted cardboard disintegrating in that water), rest assured Lee Lee Oriental Supermarket has a superb selection of live and fresh fish available every day. Cardboard not included.