The small town of Avalon on Catalina Island may seem an unlikely place for fine cuisine, but the popular tourist destination has so many fantastic restaurants it can be fun for dining alone even if you aren’t the seafaring type.
Antonio’s Original Pizzeria is a little red checker tablecloth joint that’s been around for 30 years. You can order slices through a take-out window like the old beach-front places. Or hang out in the little dining room throwing peanut shells on the floor and rocking out to the retro 50s tabletop jukeboxes. Besides the pizza, they make delicious pastas like Mama’s Day-old spaghetti, which is cooked, chilled, sauteed and finally topped with mozzarella cheese and baked. But the main reason I return is for the addictive cheese crisp, a pizza crust brushed with garlic butter and topped with 5 cheeses and pepperoncini. Go all out and dip it in Ranch sauce, with always makes everything better. Antonio’s also serves beer and wine. Don’t confuse it with Antonio’s Pizzeria and Cabaret by the water.
Steve’s Steakhouse is our special occasion restaurant on the island. Call ahead to request a window table for a romantic view of the harbor. The menu is typical surf and turf. We recommend the enormous, juicy steaks. The bone-in ribeye on special one night was exceptional. They recently opened a sister restaurant, Maggie’s Blue Rose, which serves up Mexican specialties.
From the outside, El Galleon looks like an nice classic Italian restaurant. Inside, it has a crazy hodge podge of a decor marrying New Orleans and Tiki Room with a nautical flair. Mardi Gras beads, winches, glass floats and fishing nets hang from the ceiling. But the brick walls gave the room a warm feeling, and the old-fashioned wooden booths are both comfortable and comforting. El Galleon’s current owners bought the restaurant in 1993, but its actual age is unclear from the printed history, which seems to imply it has been around since the days of William Wrigley.
The menu is not Italian, but a combination of seafood steakhouse and Hawaiian barbecue. There are also some Asian touches sprinkled in, such as Panko crumbs and Jasmine rice. El Galleon is a good place for fresh fish, live lobster and aged steaks. But the menu also has some interesting twists like applewood smoked ribs. A scalone sandwich (combination of scallops and abalone) and a delicious burnt ends sandwich comprised of tri tip and ham sauteed in a plum BBQ sauce are offered only at lunch. The fried artichoke hearts are spectacular. Sprinkled with capers, they rest in a lake of melted butter. You can taste the high quality of the olive oil in which they are fried. The scallop chowder looks enticing but is much more bland than clam chowder. Cioppino is piled high with fresh fish, Alaskan king crab, clams, shrimp and bay scallops. It’s impossible for one person to finish.
As the sun sets, El Galleon starts jumping. It is the main hotspot for karaoke on the island, and has an extensive drink menu offering immense cocktails you can barely lift.
Original Jack’s occupies the space that was once home to The Pancake Cottage. The pink ruffly curtains are gone and the decor is standard retro diner. On a Saturday morning the room is crowded with over a 20 minute wait. They proudly pour Kona coffee and the bakery next door keeps them supplied with fresh croissants and desserts. The beef is Neiman Ranch, the chicken is Jidori and the eggs are free range. The popular eggs benedict and variations are blanketed in a rich lemony hollandaise sauce. They are famous for their French toast made with Portuguese bread. The Hawaiian Special tops the Portuguese french toast with macadamia nuts and coconut syrup. The Portuguese sausage served on the side is a little bland and fatty, but the french toast is pure heaven. Lunch is your typical burger and sandwich menu with the addition of Mexican tortas.
The Lobster Trap is a bar/restaurant serving some of the best seafood on the island. The owner has his own fishing boat and brings in a local catch including sand dabs and yellowtail. When it’s in season, he also brings spiny lobsters fresh to the table. Even if you miss out on the local lobster, the kitchen still serves up some fine lobster tacos.
Hidden amongst a wide selection of appetizers like ceviche and coconut shrimp, is The Lobster Trap’s specialty — the memorably dubbed “Monkey Balls” which is a nice chunk of ahi stuffed into a mushroom cap and fried in tempura batter. Not to be missed. The clam chowder is rich and creamy without any grit. Pastas are served with your choice of marinara, pink sauce, or garlic butter and olive oil. The seafood pasta with shrimp, scallops, clams, and fresh fish iss delicious paired with the creamy pink sauce. It is definitely a dish worth returning for. There is a wide selection of fresh fish and an even wider selection of ways you can have it prepared — with a crisp macadamia crust, blackened, in a special house marinade, etc.
If anywhere on this touristy isle resembles a “locals” hangout, this is it. Service is noticeably friendlier than at most other restaurants. It would be a nice place to while away a few hours telling fish tales while drinking Lost Coast Brews.
The Pancake Cottage has moved into a larger space on the waterfront since the last time we visited Avalon. As always, the fruit pancakes feature fresh fruit at its peak. The extensive menu has something to please everyone. Flaky biscuits are topped with a ham gravy instead of the usual sausage. There is an endless combination of make-your-own-omelettes. I went for Jack, bacon, avocado and sour cream. The room is bustling and noisy on a weekend morning, but the service is still on-spot.