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