GENERAL COMMENT: At last a seafood bar in the heart of Santa Monica. And a fish market in the same space so you can take dinner home with you.

NAME: Santa Monica Seafood Restaurant

WHERE: 1000 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica. Tel: (310) 393-5244. Parking in back.

WHEN: 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., 7 days a week (closes at 8 p.m. on Sundays).

BEST DISHES: The spicy salmon burger is something different and quite good. My favorite sandwich is the mahi mahi on flatbread. All the fish is fresh, and you can select what you want and have it cooked just for you. The choppino looked great. There are just too many great looking dishes to name. Did I mention the delicious crab cakes?

BEST FEATURE: Really fresh fish, lots of choices, big menu.

WORST FEATURE: Way too small, too crowded, too long a wait, too loud. Of course this will improve in time. On the other hand, at these prices, it could stay busy for a long time.

WHAT TO DRINK: There is a perfectly adequate selection of inexpensive wines on the board. In fact, this is one of the few places in town where you can find a $6-$8 glass of good wine.

PRICES: You can eat really well here for $10-$15. Oysters at $2.50 each are no bargain, but everything else seems very well priced.

BOTTOM LINE: A great selection of wonderful seafood at very reasonable prices in a small, overcrowded space with inadequate tables. But worth the wait.

Merv Hecht, the food and wine critic for the Santa Monica Daily Press, is a wine buyer and consultant to a number of national and international food and wine companies. He can be reached at mervynhecht@yahoo.com

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