608 S. A St.

When it comes to dining out, the competition to improve upon old recipes and atmosphere is fierce. We see it everywhere, from modern fusion menus to sleek interiors and unusual themes and so on. But sometimes in the midst of searching for something new and improved, it’s not a bad idea to revisit something that has stood the test of time. And if there is any restaurant worthy of that title, it would be Otani’s, especially given that it has had a presence in Downtown Oxnard for over 100 years, and the restaurant itself just celebrated 65 years last year.

Mexican seafood cocktail
Photo by Sage Ford

When visiting this landmark, it’s important to set aside pretentiousness and welcome a long-standing tradition of good food. The humble interior, large and sparely furnished, features simple dining tables, clean but well-worn rugs and a non-operational refrigerated display case. The menu hangs above the kitchen window on white boards, but the counter staff will show you how the meals look on the smart tablet before placing orders. The server we met was especially helpful.

My companion, who grew up in Oxnard and remembered visiting the fish market in his younger years, ordered the fried combo plate with tempura-style fried clams, cod and shrimp, a dish he said he chose the last time he visited about a decade ago. The counter server remarked about one of Otani’s attributes being the consistency, “It’s great that it never changes.” I chose the teriyaki red snapper special and we split the Mexican seafood cocktail.

After checking out the wall near the back of the restaurant, a memorial to the past in pictures and a timeline of Otani’s, it didn’t take long for our orders to come, and the main courses were each a mound of food. The teriyaki red snapper was surprisingly delicious, given that I am not a fan of fried food. The dish included a thick, moist and flaky filet in a heavy batter, fried to an exact crisp, with sticky rice, doused in a very light teriyaki sauce that had no sweet flavor at all, a comforting savory choice. This side salad was simple.

Memory lane on the way to Otani’s market in the 1940s.

The companion moved through his meal posthaste. The two shrimps were plump, the shreds of clams were like crispy snack food, and the cod, a light yet filling portion. The fried tempura was a nice touch, not too heavy on the batter.  But the best part of the meal, besides the company, was the Mexican seafood cocktail. First impression, tangy and spicy! Yum! The rather soupy cocktail comprised diced avocado, crab, tomatoes, baby shrimp, shredded cabbage, spicy lemon juice and cilantro, and we ate it with a side of fresh-cooked chips. I even went so far as to drink the delicious citrusy juice. I was impressed, no doubt.

Order at the counter

As we wrapped up our meal (closing time most nights at Otani’s is by 7 p.m.), I thought about how restaurants manage to stay open so long without all the frills. My conclusion: If there is anything truly great about the past it’s good food that lasts.