One of my neighborhood friends would vacation there annually with his family, renting a beach house for two weeks. My brother and I were dropped off for a weekend to experience the beach, but more importantly to get out of our parents' hair for 48 hours.
One dinner was at the Old Spaghetti Factory, the other was at the Crab Cooker. Both were heaven to a 14-year-old boy, but it was the Crab Cooker that stuck with me.
It is a timeless wonder. It was started in 1951 by Bob Roubian, who returned home from World War II to fulfill a lifelong dream to serve fish to the public. The restaurant is a staple for families and anyone who enjoys simple, inexpensive but fresh seafood.
The red building on the corner of Newport Boulevard and 22nd Avenue has become an institution in Newport Beach for more than 50 years. Its success facilitated the opening of a second venue in Tustin.
The success of the Crab Cooker is built on a simple premise: Give customers the freshest seafood possible. The restaurant always delivers. This has been the site for many meals with friends, and I have not had a bad lunch or dinner yet.
Don't expect frills at the Crab Cooker. That would go against the nature of the place. Plastic utensils, paper drink cups and rickety wooden chairs are all part of the charm.
While the menu is limited, the same items that are served for dinner are available for a few dollars less during lunch, albeit the portions are smaller.
The skewers of scallops wrapped in bacon is a great dish, as is the salmon fillet. The crab and lobster are entrees I have always enjoyed. When in season, the oysters on a skewer with bacon are also a favorite.
Fresh fish selections change daily, but I have had mahi mahi and halibut there and have enjoyed both.
Lunch to me is more appealing because it is less crowded. Anyone who has tried to eat dinner at the Crab Cooker in the summer knows the wait can stretch to an hour or more.
Of course, a meal could be made of the appetizers. Go to the counter where there is a wide variety of fresh fish to purchase and get a cup of Manhattan-style clam chowder. The red chowder has a bite to it and is really good with a couple of bread balls in it. Finish it off with a crab, shrimp or combination cocktail and you have a meal that you didn't have to wait an hour to get.
Then again, the wait is definitely worth it.
THE CRAB COOKER
Address: 2200 Newport Blvd., Newport Beach
Phone: (949) 673-0100
Specialty dish: Alaskan king crab legs
Alcohol served: beer and wine
Dress: very casual
Family friendly: yes
Credit cards accepted: Visa, MasterCard, American Express
Rating: 4 stars
JOHN REGER is the Pilot's restaurant critic. His reviews run Thursdays.