PICTURED: Mahi mahi tacos with a side of hand-dipped onion rings.

Harbor Cove Cafe
1867 Spinnaker Drive, Ventura

Waterside dining is one of the great pleasures of living on the coast, and at Ventura Harbor, there are many restaurants where one can enjoy a drink and a meal while watching the boats go by. Harbor Cove Cafe is worthy of inclusion among these options.

Next door to the Channel Islands Visitor Center, this casual eatery is set apart from the densely packed Ventura Harbor Village. Boaters, Island Packers excursionists and locals have been frequenting the breakfast and lunch place for years. Word has been getting around, and with extended hours during the summer (as well as live music on the weekends), Harbor Cove Café’s circle of friends has recently expanded.

My first time here was on a beautiful Sunday morning, too lovely to spend over a skillet. At 10 a.m., it was already hopping, and the choicest seats on the shady patio — as well as dog-friendly picnic benches on the lawn — were already occupied. We resigned ourselves to a table inside, but it was no compromise: There’s not a bad seat in the house. Thanks to a configuration facing the water, every table inside or out includes a lovely view of the harbor.

Orders are placed at the counter and servers bring food to your table. The full menu is available on the chalkboard above the register, although you might seek out the laminated menus for full details. Breakfast is served until 11 a.m. and includes egg dishes, breakfast sandwiches and burritos, coffee drinks and pancakes. For lunch, there are hot and cold sandwiches, burgers and seafood favorites like fish and chips, fish tacos and calamari.

Our breakfast order was simple but satisfying: a wonderful burrito with eggs, potatoes, cheese and chorizo that was almost big enough for two, and a breakfast platter with one large, tender pancake, softly scrambled eggs and a generous pile of wonderfully crisp bacon. It was by no means earth shattering, but we loved every bite . . . and found ourselves contemplating the lunchtime offerings (available after 11:30 a.m.).

Thus, we returned a week later, arriving just in time to place an order before closing time at 2:30 p.m. This visit, we gave the fried shrimp basket and fish and chips a try, plus a cheeseburger, fish tacos with a side of onion rings and a bowl of clam chowder.

The standout was the fish tacos, made with hunks of grilled mahi mahi deliciously seasoned with a chipotle spice mixture, fresh cabbage, avocado and a drizzle of spicy crema. They were fantastic: fresh, a little spicy, crunchy and creamy — everything I look for in a fish taco. The onion rings (enormous and wonderfully crisp) did not disappoint, either. The fried shrimp was also quite good: battered and fried to crisp perfection, with the meat inside still pink, plump and juicy.

Harbor Cove’s fish and chips can be made with cod or mahi mahi, and you can choose how many pieces you want. We went with three pieces of cod, dipped in that same tasty batter. No complaints on flavor, but the filets were a touch soggy — maybe another minute or two in the fryer was required. The burger was simple but tasty — a perfectly prepared patty with cheese, lettuce, tomato and red onion. A lunch basic done right.

The whole family shared the bowl of clam chowder, and it got high marks across the board for its good flavor, and the hunks of celery, carrot and potato. The cheese, green onions and fried bacon bits on top definitely added to the dish. My one modest suggestion: It’s improved by a pinch salt. 

Harbor Cove Cafe isn’t trying to break any culinary barriers. It’s a cute and casual little place by the sea with a nice patio serving standard, but good, lunch and breakfast fare. No muss, no fuss — just good eats and great views. Waterside dining at its best.