We came here for fish, but not this sort of fish.
872 Eastlake Parkway, #510, Chula Vista
Hank brought his rod to this totally cute little pond surrounded by houses. The lake that gives Eastlake its name, he says. But what he’s just heard ain’t so great: you can’t actually go and fish there, unless you’re a resident living around the pond, and have a resident’s membership card. And even then, it’s mandatory catch and release. And, rubbing salt in the wound: Hank says his friend spotted a huge, smug-looking catfish looking up at him from the bottom.
So while we’re out here, we’re doing the next-best thing: retreating to this fish place Hank had noticed: Hooked On Crab. It’s one of the many eateries in this cute Euro-village-type mall, Village Walk at Eastlake. “Mabuhay,” says a sign on one of the double doors. “Welcome,” says the door beside it.
“So we know they’re pitching to Filipino customers,” says Hank. “Filipinos probably eat more seafood than anybody.”
We head into a big space filled with planky wooden tables, and plenty of stuffed mega fishes swimming through the air, a long counter bobbing with colored glass ball net buoys, and artifacts such as ships’ wheels strewn around the place. I see people eating by hand, except they’re all wearing plastic throwaway gloves. They’re tearing at crab claws, slurping oysters, sliding cheese-topped baked scallops into their maws, leaning back, taking giant breaths, then lunging in again.
Only thing is, when you decide you’re gonna get hooked on crab, you’d better look at the prices. Mamma mia! The crab combos start at $45.99 and rocket up to $112.69.
“No way, dude,” I say.
Hank hesitates, keeps reading. “Way!” he says finally. “See? Monday Special: One pound of snow crab, $17.99. Mondays only. Today! Split that, nine bucks each.”
“Like, crab, and nothing but crab, for lunch?” I say. I know I’d like crab, but too much of a good thing?
“Alright... hey! Lunch specials!”
And he points to a separate page in a plastic pocket.
Seafood pasta is only $8.99 for a plate. Vegetable pasta is $7.99. Shrimp garlic noodle goes for $8.99, and hey, a half sandwich combo with cajun fries is $9.99. And you have a choice with this: a half po’ boy stuffed with langoustine lobster or shrimp, plus you get a small cup of clam chowder or a Caesar kale salad. Boy. This looks like the one.
Except, our server Romelyn — “my father’s name is Romeo, my mom’s Caroline” — comes by to the table next door where four guys are sitting. She’s carrying a plate of baked scallops, another of chicken wings, and then a plate of garlic-smelling pasta with every kind of seafood peaking through, like a kind of paella, but with noodles.
“What’s that?” I ask Romelyn.
“Seafood pasta,” she says.
“Eight-ninety-nine,” says Hank.
So forget the crab. Forget the lobsters. Now we’re having the half-lobster langoustine po’ boy, and the seafood pasta.
“We’re splitting this, right?” says Hank.
“OK. I want the salmon too. See?”
He’s pointing to the blackboard above the bar. A 7-ounce chunk of skin-blackened salmon with veggies and red potatoes goes for $13.99.
Once we get eating, I know I have to be on my best game: Henry’s a fast eater. The one chunk of his salmon that I get to is totally delicious, specially with the house sauce of a cheese-tomato fondue.
But the real stuff of this place is in all the shellfish and crabs. The pasta tastes of pesto, and the calamari, the scallops, the shrimp, the mussels — plus the toasted bread — make for one sexy combination. It has that “from the sea” background taste, but nicely garlicky and subtle. And at $8.99, a really good deal.
Now I bite into the half po’ boy stuffed with langoustine lobster (And don’t even ask about how lobster and langoustine are related. All I know is, “langostinos” often come from the deeps off Chile, and restaurants often use them as cheaper stand-ins for lobster). Whatever, this is one delicious li’l sandwich, bolstered by the chowder that helps it all go down smoothly. Bread, too: it’s crispy-toasted but feathery delicate. Usually, I like my breads more robust and grainy, but this is perfect for helping to palliate the langoustine.
“Louisiana-Style seafood,” says this sign. Me, I’m looking at a table a mother and her grown daughters have just abandoned. It is a royal mess. “But that’s how it is supposed to be,” says Romelyn. “Like in the crab combos, you get everything from giant claws to crack open, king crab, snow crab, plus clams, shrimp, mussels and crawfish. One combo has a pound of each. You also get corn, potato, sausage or meatball, and our special sauce with Cajun spices. That’s why we give gloves. People should be messy.”
We’re a couple of hours too early, but they have a happy hour, too: apart from the usual fries/Brussels sprouts deals, they have a pound of clams for $6.99. Incredible. Or a pound of shrimp for $11.99. Comes with that house sauce, of course, at whatever spicy level you want.
Whew. Back out in the wintry sun. I like it here. This “mall” is more like a piazza, with plenty of eateries and tons of sauntering space. Have a feeling that, come warm weather, we’ll be lazily lunching on langoustines outside under these trees. The developers and the East Lakers they’ve brought along with them have created a nice community feel. I can see Hooked on Crab is a place to bring your business buddies for a big-time treat, but it’s good to see they still have deals to entice the rest of us in.
- The Place: Hooked On Crab, 872 Eastlake Parkway, #510, Chula Vista, 619-737-9117
- Hours: 11 am - 10 pm daily
- Prices: 1 pound of clams, $6.99 (Happy Hour price); grilled street corn, $3.50 (HH); all-day snow crab, $17.99/lb, Mondays only; seafood pasta, $8.99 (lunchtimes only, Monday-Thursday 11 am-3 pm), $15.99 (dinner price); baked scallops, $11.49; 1/2 sandwich combo w/cajun fries (langoustine lobster or shrimp plus clam chowder or salad), $9.99; baked mussels, $9.19; vegetable pasta, $7.99; shrimp garlic noodles, $8.99; Hooked On Crab family combo deals, from $45.99 to $112.69
- Bus: 707
- Nearest Bus Stop: Miller Drive and Eastlake Parkway