Like its free-spirited, ocean-faring namesake, Spike Africa’s Fresh Fish Grill & Bar — one of the top downtown San Diego restaurants — offers a culinary journey of fresh flavors, friendly people and even face-to-face encounters with the fish you’re about to eat. This San Diego restaurant honors the memory of the legendary sailor, Spike Africa, and the love he had for the ocean. Guests can vicariously experience the captain’s adventures through mementos from Spike’s travels as they enjoy a homey and unobtrusive atmosphere focusing on the food rather than distracting decorations.
Executive Chef Paul Rinaudo comments, “It’s a very personal restaurant. It’s come in, roll your sleeves up, dig into your fish and chips. Or come in, get your nice glass of wine and high-end scallops but the atmosphere in here definitely lends itself to beer drinking and good chats with your friends.”
Chef Rinaudo shares Captain Spike’s passion for the ocean and his non-fussy dishes feature ultra-fresh seafood from California and around the world. Getting new deliveries from local fishermen enliven him so much that he routinely walks through the dining room showing the latest catch.
“It got started because one day we just got this huge Alaskan albatross and I just got excited about it and thought I have to share this with somebody,” explains Chef Rinaudo. “Now, it’s something I do when we get something fresh from the butcher. A big beautiful fish we like to show people.”
On these dining room “fish tours” he may educate you about mahi mahi, have you to sample the oysters or give you an opportunity to kiss the yellowtail that will end up on your plate within the hour.
Paul’s love for the ocean and food began during childhood. On the shores of the Chesapeake Bay and Outer Banks of North Carolina he grew up crabbing and fishing. Paul’s Italian father and Scottish mother both loved to celebrate the cuisine and culinary traditions of their countries (and each other’s). As the now-chef loved cooking in the kitchen with his parents, he decided to enroll in culinary school at Johnson and Wales University after a tour in the army. The loss of his mother fueled his decision to become a chef, and his dishes capture some of his childhood nostalgia.
When it comes to preparing food, the Chef explains his approach,
“My culinary philosophy is to keep things fresh. Keep good ingredients in-house and don’t over-manipulate them too much so a chef’s job is to make sure you’re getting the best ingredients. He shouldn’t have to cover them up with strong sauces and heavy reductions. I like to keep them very simple.”
Unlike most chefs who have the fish butchered before the night of dining begins, the butcher works alongside the line cooks to ensure constant “sea-to-table” service. Paul considers himself a craftsman bringing out existing subtle, natural flavor in the fish, rather than a chef experimenting with new methods or unusual spices. He purposefully embraces classic techniques while maintaining extremely high standards for the quality and presentation of his dishes.
Beer And Seafood Pairing
Paul’s modest but meticulous attitude toward food coincides with the city’s atmosphere as a whole. San Diego’s laid-back lifestyle has attracted award-winning chefs from San Francisco and elsewhere, creating a place with its own culinary identity. The restaurant’s glass porch allows diners to look out at a place whose classy but causal attitude influences the food they eat.
Chef Paul also capitalizes on San Diego’s booming craft beer industry in his restaurant. With over 58 microbreweries in the county — famous for its barrel-aged beers like double IPAs — the city has been described as the “hoppiest place on Earth.” Southern California has a semi-arid climate and mild temperatures perfect for brewing quality Pale Ales and IPA’s in their garages, earning the area the informal accolade “the Napa of beer.” Spike Africa’s keeps local brews on tap, so you can find beers from the well known Karl Strauss and Stone Brewing Companies as well as smaller breweries.
To break the standard wine-seafood pairing, Paul offers popular beer-seafood dinners in partnership with local breweries, including Ballast, Modern Times and Mission Brewery.
“Pairing craft beer with seafood started with me loving the craft beer in San Diego,” explains Chef. “The craft beer in San Diego has done so much for the chefs and the hospitality industry in town. Many people come to San Diego just to drink beer and there’s a good reason why. There are some really nice beers here.”
For Chef, the pairing is a natural combination, as fishermen tend to drink beer when they’re trying to reel in the day’s fresh catch. When asked about how he plans the menus for these highly popular dinners, Chef has an open-minded attitude to seeing what works best. With new breweries constantly opening up around the city as side-projects from more established places it’s hard for him to keep up, but he loves to learn from the experts.
“I have some breweries that I’m really into”, he says. “But, I’m willing to try anything and learn anything from these guys. It’s kind of been a mushroom cloud… They are beer chefs. Learning from the masters then going off to do their own thing, just kind of building on it so I have beer I really like to drink but I’m willing to try all of them.”
For the first three beer and seafood dinners, he’s featured a brewery for the four-course meal. For the first, he chose Ballast Brewing Company and served dishes that featured the namesake fish in the beers. Diners began with a Longfish Lager. A pilsner malt from Germany gave this classic Helles-Style beer a bready taste that connected well with the roasted tomato bruschetta and albacore lettuce cups appetizer. For the first course, a crisp Wahoo Wheat beer accompanied a pistachio-crusted wahoo filet in a flaky puff pastry, shimmering with a mandarin orange butter sauce. Next, diners had the Yellowtail Pale Ale to wash down a mustard-glazed yellowtail collar with a side of beer-braised cabbage and German sausage. The final dinner course featured a pan-seared sculpin, caught on San Diego’s shores with an apricot risotto and wilted spinach. Inspired by its intimidating (but surprisingly tasty!) namesake fish’s stinging poisonous spikes, this IPA has a bite balanced by bright aromas of apricot, peach, mango and lemon, which Paul exaggerated with the risotto. For a perfect finish, the rich flavors of the Black Marlin porter resonated with the dark chocolate caramel tart made with Ballast Point’s Three Sheets Rum.
On an ordinary night, you can find simply prepared fish with seasonally changing accompaniments on the menu including dishes like pan-seared sea scallops with Italian sausage, navy beans, fennel and citrus sauce; and the Port Townsend Seafood Simmer featuring a mix of scallops, mussels, shrimp and fish in a tomato broth. This fall, the restaurant added diet-friendly menus with seventeen gluten-free items and eight dishes less than 600 calories that do not compromise on flavor. The “600 Club Menu” includes light and fruity grilled shrimp lettuce cups or grilled mahi-mahi served with black beans and pico de gallo. Special guests who know about his “secret menu” can ask for Thresher Shark burgers, Swordfish Prime Rib and Sea Urchin ceviche, which may not be listed but are usually available for those who request it.
For one of San Diego’s best happy hours specials, visit between 4 and 6:30 PM for half off all appetizers. Enjoy “a shuck for a buck” $1 oysters, harvested from the waters of Baja California Sur and Morro Bay. For a truly San Diegan oyster experience, try shellfish in a shot of local beer with the Oyster Shooter. If that leaves you wanting more beer, you’ll have a wide selection at their fully stocked bar. During lunch, you can make your own seafood-beer pairing by adding any 12-ounce draft beer or house wine to your entrée for just $3. If you prefer cocktails, their “Stay Classy San Diego” with Buffalo Trace bourbon, lemon, apricot brandy and vanilla or their house-made hibiscus sangria are delicious. On Taco Night Tuesdays, choose from blackened or crispy Mahi, fresh ceviche, shrimp, vegetarian, or ginger chicken tacos for less than $5 after 4 PM.
Spike Africa’s comfortable, sociable setting provides a place to enjoy high quality food with friends or colleagues. Executive Chef Paul Rinaudo’s passion for seafood, beer and creating memorable dining experiences will ensure you’ll leave the grill with a smile on your face, a bellyful of healthy food and potentially, a photo of you kissing a fish on your friend’s phone.
Address: 411 Broadway Ave, San Diego, CA 92101
Hours: Happy hour 4:00–6:30 p.m., Monday–Friday; regular hours 11:00 a.m.–10:00 p.m., Sunday–Thursday; till 11:00 p.m.