Sometimes, the best thing to do, after lounging on the beach all day or surfing, is to grab food and drinks at Fisherman’s Restaurant & Bar on the San Clemente Pier.
San Clemente Times readers certainly think so. Ever since the inception of the Best of San Clemente “People’s Choice Ole Awards,” readers have voted for Fisherman’s in various categories each year, so much so that the iconic seafood spot has won the most overall awards to date—68, to be exact, with four of those earned for 2022.
“It makes me really proud. I’ve been working for Fisherman’s for over 35 years,” says Mark Esparza, director of operations. “It says a lot about how the community feels about our restaurant, and tourists, as well. Not only do we offer great food, but service and great ambience, as well. People keep coming here year after year.”
Seats at Fisherman’s offer a literal beachside view. Sometimes, over lunch, you might be lucky enough to see surfers catching waves. Even if there are no boards out, you can still enjoy the ocean view and sunshine in the warmer months—and, after eating, feel free to watch some actual fishing happen further down on the pier.
As a testament to the restaurant’s popularity, customers sometimes have to wait before being seated—but the waits are never time-consuming, a sign of Fisherman’s efficient service.
“Because I’ve been here so long, I consistently see people who come in from different parts of the country,” Esparza says. “They visit here, even (from) Canada, as well. They make it a point to say hi to me. A lot of repeat customers.”
The restaurant has been in operation since 1981—though as owner and founder Hal Griffith explains, work on the restaurant dates back to the late 1970s, after the City of San Clemente wanted something else to go in the current pier space besides rowboat storage and a clubhouse.
Fisherman’s made a proposal to the city and was selected to be not just a new restaurant for the pier, but the very first one there.
“There was nothing there at the pier. There was no food or beverage before we got there, besides snacks,” Griffith says. “There was no restaurant.”
Griffith says he is proud of the restaurant, which is a personal endeavor for him. He recalls his wife taking their kids to play on the beach while the restaurant was under construction before opening.
Being a seafood restaurant on the pier, Fisherman’s—naturally—offers a variety of fish with fresh daily specials, which can include salmon, swordfish and scallops. Breakfast offerings include omelets and pancakes; for lunch, soft shell crab sandwiches and calamari steak; and for dinner, fish and chips and a Fisherman’s burger made with angus beef are among the many tasty options.
There’s also an oyster bar across from the restaurant space, which has its own menu. Esparza describes that as casual dining and another option if the restaurant side is busy.
“(Customers) know it’s going to be consistent. It’s going to be the same as it’s been for years,” Esparza says. “It’s family-style dining for two or more people. We have, let’s say, a halibut feast. That starts off with a bucket of clams, then soup, then salad, and then halibut. It gives people a wide variety.”
Griffith says while they do add different items to the menu as time goes on, they stick to the basic concept of fish and seafood. Part of that core focus is cooking fish in a “wholesome, natural way” that doesn’t take away flavor by using excessive sauce or spice, Griffith notes.
“Everything is essentially cooked and served in the most natural way,” Griffith says.
For the happy hour crowd, Esparza touts that part of Fisherman’s if you want to stop in for a drink after work.
“That’s every day of the week, Monday through Friday, between 4 and 7 (p.m.),” Esparza says. “That’s really popular.”
When asked how Fisherman’s has evolved over the years, Griffith says there have been numerous remodels as current demand grew. Some of that has entailed expanding the deck, because the outdoor seating is popular.
Other aspects have largely remained the same, though, including the indoor seating and Fisherman’s relationship with the City of San Clemente.
Griffith says the partnership with the city is one the restaurant has maintained for more than 40 years.
“That’s a good relationship,” Griffith says.
Another aspect that’s stood the test of time is the staff, some of whom have worked at Fisherman’s for many years and—in some cases—since the restaurant opened. Griffith is in and out of town, but he says he relies on the staff to maintain quality, which in turn attracts customers. Esparza backs up that claim by noting some customers return to see veteran employees.
Griffith attributes Fisherman’s success and community standing to the excellence exhibited by his staff, as well as staying up to date with renovations over the years.
“I’m sure that has something to do with why we got the awards,” Griffith says. “We try to maintain (the restaurant) in a quality way.”
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