Illustrator Matt Caserta
Florida Atlantic Coast
Sunset Waterfront Cafe & Bar, Cocoa Beach
What to expect: Most mingle in the tiled bar, open-air dining room, or dockside deck for the namesake setting and conviviality rather than the food. But no one leaves hungry (try the Sunset Seafood Platter) or thirsty (dare to finish the triple-rum Sunset Grabber).
Check it out: 500 West Cocoa Beach Causeway; 321/783-8485 or sunsetwaterfrontcafeandbar.com
Rustic Inn Crabhouse, Fort Lauderdale
What to expect: Famed for its garlic crabs. You can sit inside, on a screened porch, or on the glassed-in patio overlooking the Dania Cutoff Canal.
Check it out: 4331 Ravenswood Road; 954/584-1637 or rusticinn.com
Theo Thudpucker’s Raw Bar, Fort Pierce
What to expect: Great oyster stew.
Check it out: 2025 Seaway Drive; 772/465-1078
Bayside Hut Seafood, Key Biscayne
What to expect: A palm-camouflaged, open-air hideaway at a marina with views of the Miami skyline and a nice seafood platter of fish, shrimp, calamari, scallops, conch, and crab sautéed in garlic.
Check it out: 3501 Rickenbacker Causeway; 305/361-0808
Singleton’s Seafood Shack, Mayport
What to expect: Fresh grouper and Mayport white shrimp, and a room full of boat models made by the late owner, Capt. Ray Singleton.
Check it out: 4728 Ocean Street; 904/246-4442
Rusty’s Seafood & Oyster Bar, Port Canaveral
What to expect: Wonderful platter of steamed seafood. You get steamed oysters, clams, and shrimp, plus a big dish of tiny broiled scallops, each the size of a pencil eraser but still wonderfully tender, juicy, and flavorful.
Check it out: 628 Glen Cheek Drive; 321/783-2033 or rustysseafood.com
Oscar’s Old Florida Grill, St. Augustine
What to expect: The fried fish and vegetables are hard to beat, particularly the house specialty butternut grouper.
Check it out: 614 Euclid Avenue; 904/829-3794
Schooner’s Seafood House, St. Augustine
What to expect: The lightly fried seafood―especially the flounder and shrimp―keeps it going deliciously. Super-friendly service makes the experience well-nigh perfect.
Check it out: 3560 North Ponce de Leon Boulevard; 904/826-0233 or schooners-seafood.com
Island Grill, Islamorada
What to expect: The food here tastes more like fare you’d get at a five-star restaurant than at a bright green beach shack. Among the highfalutin offerings, the delectable tuna nachos feature sushi-grade ahi heaped on won ton crisps with sesame-flavor seaweed, drizzled with wasabi mayonnaise. And that’s just for starters.
Check it out: 85501 Overseas Highway (U.S. Route 1, Mile Marker 85.5); 305/664-8400 or keysislandgrill.com
Lazy Days Oceanfront Bar & Seafood Grille, Islamorada
What to expect: Bring your own catch to be cooked, or try the cracked conch with Key lime butter.
Check it out: 79867 Overseas Highway, Mile Marker 79.9; 305/664-5256 or keysdining.com/lazydays
B.O.’s Fish Wagon, Key West
What to expect: The freshest fish sandwiches in Key West from a trailer with open-air seating. Cash only.
Check it out: 801 Caroline Street; 305/294-9272
Florida Gulf Coast
Cahills Beachside Bar & Grill, Gulfport
What to expect: Nothing fancy here, just a casual joint with good fried shrimp and an open-wall deck across the street from the beach.
Check it out: 5519 Shore Boulevard South; 727/343-5774
Boon Docks Restaurant, Panama City Beach
What to expect: On the back side of town at West Bay, Boon Docks serves wonderfully fresh fried seafood, lightly breaded and seasoned. Even the fries get a touch of seasoning. Other specialties include po’boys, burgers, and fried pickles.
Check it out: 14854 Bay View Circle; 850/230-0005
Marina Oyster Barn, Pensacola
What to expect: “Best steamed oysters anywhere, bar none,” e-mails Texas reader Thom Driver. Pretty good shrimp and crab claws, too, and the gumbo features lots of shrimp in a spicy, savory roux.
Check it out: 505 Bayou Boulevard; 850/433-0511 or marinaoysterbarn.com
Crab Shack Restaurant, St. Petersburg
What to expect: Try the steamed blue crab, smoked mullet, or whole fish corvina, a Costa Rican specialty.
Check it out: 11400 Gandy Boulevard; 727/576-7813 or crabshack.com
Fish Tales Seafood & Steak House, St. Petersburg
What to expect: Boat parking? Sure. Bathing suits? Welcome. Outdoor seating? Plentiful. House specialty? “Skillets”―seafood and/or steak, broiled (and served) in cast-iron skillets. Fun? Guaranteed.
Check it out: Harborage Marina, 1500 Second Street South; 727/821-3474 or fishtalesseafoodhouse.com
New Pass Gril & Bait Shop, Sarasota
What to expect: Add fantastic fish-and-chips to the list of Sarasota attractions. The New Pass Grill serves the favorite “Old English style,” with three pieces of plump, battered cod over crisp fries. New Pass also offers award-winning burgers, shrimp baskets, beer, and wine. The 1929-vintage establishment on City Island, across the causeway from downtown, has a walk-up window and outdoor seating.
Check it out: 1505 Ken Thompson Parkway; 941/388-3050 or newpassgrill.com
The Old Salty Dog, Sarasota
What to expect: Get the fresh fish-of-the-day sandwich and watch the boats at this renovated but still super-relaxed place on City Island.
Check it out: 1601 Ken Thompson Parkway; 941/388-4311 or theoldsaltydog.com
O’Leary’s Tiki Bar & Grill, Sarasota
What to expect: A basic burgers-and-fried-seafood place south of the causeway in downtown Sarasota. The warped wooden picnic tables spill over from the outdoor deck onto the adjacent beach.
Check it out: 5 Bayfront Drive; 941/953-7505 or olearystikibar.com
Phillippi Creek Village Restaurant & Oyster Bar, Sarasota
What to expect: Creek Combo Pots provide divine steamed seafood for two.
Check it out: 5353 South Tamiami Trail; 941/925-4444 or creekseafood.com