Poppa’s Fresh Fish

It’s only fitting that my very first post will be about Poppa’s. I had visited him a few times. One night, at the Mira Mesa market, he introduced me to a few of his customers. We all started talking about me writing a blog soon and everyone started throwing out ideas. FayesFood? FayesFinds? Then one customer said ‘hey FayesFork!’. And the idea was born. Right then and there, at a Farmer’s Market on a Tues night.

I had seen this little vendor at farmer’s markets over the last two years or so. Never really paid much attention to the vendor b/c 1) he’s known for his live uni which I had never had in my life at that point and 2) well, he sold live uni and that wasn’t something I’ve never ever (and I mean EVER) wanted to try.

You know you have seen uni before. Perhaps not live and being scooped out. But at a Japanese restaurant. Did anyone else make fun of it when you were kids saying to your parents ‘that looks like pewp’.

Mark, the owner, one day started chatting with me. I was standing there alone, staring at all his customers eating these big fat live (still moving after being opened) uni and just mortified. He explained to me that what you’re eating (in an uni) is it’s gonads. Well. *THAT’S* just freakin’ great to hear ya know. *THAT* will SOOO make me wanna try it NOW. He saw my hesitation and encouraged me to try it. By then, there weren’t many people around so I felt pretty safe trying it for the first time.

I do not if I can 100% say what uni tastes like. Sis has recently been enjoying uni at Ota with her husband. She absolutely loves it but was unable to describe the taste as well. Then i remembered what Mark told me awhile ago. “It tastes like ocean custard”. Sis nodded in awe. “yessss…ocean custard! Exactly”. For me, it tastes like velvety sashimi. And I think truly, you either LOVE uni or you don’t.

If you have never had live uni before, I would suggest to try Poppa’s b/c 1) Mark won’t laugh at you if you panic at your first bite and choke and 2) it’s the most affordable place you’ll find to try live uni.

Suggestions, for queezy first time uni eaters, try it w/ the pico de gallo he has there. I think it costs extra but it’s well worth it if you aren’t able to try uni on its own your first time.

Abundant uni
Abundant uni

They look like porcupine critters don’t they?


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The mouth
Splitting open live uni
Splitting open live uni

This is how the open the uni. It’s a crank kind of contraption that’s inserted into the mouth of the uni.

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After rinsing and cleaning with water

I was surprised (and amazed) that they used bottled water to clean out each uni! But look at it – isn’t the color beautiful?


Fresh uni
Fresh uni
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The color always takes my breath away. I don’t know if you can see all the details of the uni but click on pic and it should give you a larger view (this is my first post so forgive me that I don’t know how to do all this photo stuff quite yet)

Pico de Gallo
Pico de Gallo – onions, tomatoes, cilantro
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Uni , Pico de gallo, and cocktail sauce
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A perfect bite –

This is Mark’s trademark in my opinion. He makes fresh pico de gallo and adds it to the uni (per request). A customer came up to me last week – she saw me eating this and taking a few pics. Her husband was nudging her to come up to me and ask me questions about uni. She whispered quietly to me ‘what’s it taste like?’. I could see the fear and apprehension in her face – reminded me of my first experience w/ uni too. She said her husband told her to ask me if she could try a bite of my uni. And I grinned and said ‘you shoulda asked me b/c I would have said yes!’. But we were laughing so hard b/c where else on earth would you come up to a RANDOM stranger and ask to try a bite of their dish. Come on. I told her the best way to start with uni (if you’re afraid) is to add the Pico. You’ll taste mostly the onion and the tomatoes but you will also be able to get a taste and ‘feel’ of the uni as well when you take a scoop of everything together. I usually add siracha sauce on top of the pico.

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The way I prefer to eat uni
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Kikkoman and Meyer – perfect duo for me for this uni

This is the way I prefer to eat my uni. With a squeeze of fresh lemon and splash of soy.

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This is a full size meyer lemon next to the cherrystone clam
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I’ve never seen such a large clam in my life. Holy moly.
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One of the guys opening my hand picked clam

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Poppa’s was the first place I tried raw clams (on a half shell). It’s definitely meatier than a raw oyster. And with the size of the cherrystones, it takes an extra bite to eat. If you’ve never had raw clams, this might be an issue b/c the feel and consistency of the raw clam can be off putting for some.

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How beautiful is this oyster
How beautiful is this oyster

Fresh shucked oyster. Me loves. I think it’s nice that you can literally pick out the oysters you want them to shuck. For OCD peeps like myself, this was much appreciated. But, when the crowds started forming, I noticed people just calling out how many oysters they wanted (reminded me of the Trading Floor at Wall street – a bunch of crazies shouting out numbers and some poor guy trying to write down numbers on a notepad – anyone else thinking of the movie Trading Places by now).

Fresh shucked oyster on left; fresh shucked cherrystone on right
Oyster on the Left; Cherrystone on the right.

This is how I like to eat raw shellfish. LOTS of horseradish, squeeze of lemon, and a bit of cocktail sauce. Total bliss.

I’ve visited Poppa’s at Mira Mesa, UTC, and Little Italy. UTC is probably my preferred location to visit Poppa’s as it tends to be less chaotic (even though the actual market is really small). But it’s a great place to visit and try fresh live shellfish (and then wander around the newly renovated UTC mall).

Poppa’s Fresh Fish

(619) 288-6450





12 thoughts on “Poppa’s Fresh Fish

  1. I love UNI… so much… the hubby has labeled my contact info on his phone as “Uni Uni”. I’ve had Poppa’s Uni at his Little Italy farmers market stand. It was fresh and amazing, and prefer to liken the experience of eating Uni to the following:

    …imagine standing at the edge of a cliff where the ocean waves are crashing against it… and your’re standing there, eyes closed, feeling the mist against your skin as the ocean waves crash against the cliff… and you take a breath, and breathe it all in… ahhhhhh.

    That is what it’s like for me EVERY SINGLE TIME I taste Uni.

  2. Faye’s Fork off and running!!! Congratulations!!! Thanks for making me the first post, I am humbled and honored!! and I love you as much as you love my uni!!!! uni = salty custard; sweet sea butter; the ice cream sundae of the sea; the foie gras of the ocean; etc, etc, etc.!!! It’s great, its killer, and it helps an ugly old guy like me, get to meet beautiful women like you!!

  3. Awesome blogging. Very informative and explained Uni and tips well.
    I have never had Uni, too scared. But you make me want to try it.
    Good job, can’t wait for your next post (:

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