Florida Keys and Gulf Seafood Dives

FLORIDA KEYS

B.O.'s Fish Wagon, 801 Caroline St., Key West, FL; 305/294-9272. The freshest fish sandwiches in Key West from a trailer with open-air seating. (2001)

Lazy Days Oceanfront Bar & Seafood Grille, Overseas Highway, M.M. 79.9 Islamorada, FL; 305/664-5256. Bring your own catch to be cooked, or try the cracked conch with Key lime butter. (1997)


FLORIDA GULF

Boon Docks Restaurant, 14854 Bay View Circle, Panama City Beach, FL; 850/230-0005. 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. (2007)

Cahills Beachside Bar & Grill, 5519 Shore Blvd. S., Gulfport, FL; 727/343-5774. Nothing fancy here, just a casual joint with good fried shrimp and an open-wall deck across the street from the beach. (2007)

Crab Shack Restaurant, 11400 Gandy Blvd., St. Petersburg, FL; 727/576-7813 or crabshack.com . Try the steamed blue crab, smoked mullet, or whole fish corvina, a Costa Rican specialty. (1997)

Fish Tales Seafood House, Harborage Marina, 1500 Second St. S., St. Petersburg, FL; 727/821-3474 or fishtalesseafoodhouse.com . 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. (2006)

Louie's Florida Grill, 17140 Front Beach Parkway, Panama City Beach, FL; 850/234-0582 or louiesfloridagrill.com . The best fried grouper sandwich in the Florida Panhandle awaits in a flamingo-pink shack blocks from the bright blue and green Gulf waters. Those who enjoy a water view should visit owner Louie Gigis' latest venture, Louie's Harborside Restaurant & Lounge in nearby Panama City (850/763-2660 or louiesseafoodrestaurant.com). It features the same menu. (2006)

Marina Oyster Barn, 505 Bayou Blvd., Pensacola, FL; 850/433-0511. "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. (2005)

The Old Salty Dog, 1601 Ken Thompson Parkway, Sarasota, FL; 941/388-4311. Get the fresh fish-of-the-day sandwich and watch the boats at this renovated but still super-relaxed place on City Island. (1999)

O'Leary's Deck & Grill, 5 Bayfront Dr., Sarasota, FL; 941/953-7505. 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. (2004)

The Original Point Restaurant, 14340 Innerarity Point Rd., Perdido Key, FL; 850/492-3577 or point-restaurant.com. Locals love the fresh mullet and shrimp-and-crab bisque. (1997)

Phillippi Creek Village Restaurant & Oyster Bar, 5353 S. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, FL; 941/925-4444 or creekseafood.com . Creek Combo Pots provide divine steamed seafood for two. (2002)

ALABAMA

Blue Gill Restaurant, 3775 Battleship Parkway, Spanish Fort, AL; 251/625-1998 or bluegillrestaurant.com . Renowned for hosting shrimp boils for politicians. (1997)

Fly Creek Café, 831 N. Section St., Fairhope, AL; 251/990-0902 or flycreekcafe.com . Mobile Bay fishermen take their beer-and-po'boy breaks here. Crawfish season (usually March till October) means live music and $2 Bloody Marys. Fly Creek makes everything to order, so locals call it their "slow-food hangout." (2006)

Gulf Shores Steamer, 124 W. First Ave., Gulf Shores, AL; 251/948-6344 or gulfshoressteamer.com . The vast combination platters (steamed only; nothing's fried here) can easily feed a family. (1999) Note: Rebuilt after being destroyed by Hurricane Ivan.

King Neptune's Seafood Restaurant, 1137 Gulf Shores Parkway, Gulf Shores, AL; 251/968-5464 or kingneptuneseafoodrestaurant.com . The many loyal regulars know that the kitchen buys good, fresh seafood and knows how to cook it. (2007)

LuLu's at Homeport Marina, 200 E. 25th Ave. Gulf Shores, AL; 251/967-5858 or lulubuffett.com. Lucy Buffett (Jimmy's little sister) barged her former LuLu's Sunset Grill to this new location. Much bigger space, same open-air feel, same great seafood. (update from 2000)

Original Oyster House, 3733 Battleship Parkway, Spanish Fort, AL; 251/626-2188 or www.originaloysterhouse.com . Rebuilt a couple of miles from its old location after batterings by hurricanes Ivan and Katrina, it still serves the same wonderful fried, steamed, grilled, or blackened seafood. (updated in 2005)

Tacky Jacks, 27206 Safe Harbor Dr., Orange Beach, AL; 251/981-4144. Drive up in your car or boat. Known for breakfasts, fried seafood baskets, seafood sandwiches, and po'boys. (2001)

Wolf Bay Lodge, 9050 Pinewood Ave., Elberta, AL; 251/987-5129. It's hard to find; call for directions to mountainous portions of seafood. (1998)

MISSISSIPPI

Harbor View Café, 19099 Pineville Rd., Suite 105, Long Beach, MS; 228/867-8949. Hurricane Katrina destroyed the original location across from the harbor in Pass Christian. The new location lacks the water view but retains the excellent fried seafood and the superfriendly service. (updated in 2008)

Lil' Ray's, 500 A Courthouse Rd., Gulfport, MS; 228/896-9601. No need to stray from the house specialty: the po'boy, a French bread sandwich filled with fried oysters, fried shrimp, or something equally delicious. (2007)

Ole Biloxi Schooner, 871 Howard Ave., Biloxi, MS; 228/435-8071. Hurricane Katrina destroyed this local institution, but it has reopened a few blocks west of its original location―still serving great po'boys, gumbo, and Barq's root beer. (updated in 2006)

LOUISIANA

Acme Oyster House, 724 Iberville St., New Orleans, LA; 504/522-5973 or acmeoyster.com . Great raw oysters, and try the oyster po'boy and shrimp Gumbo Poopa, too. (1998)

Casamento's Restaurant, 4330 Magazine St., New Orleans, LA; 504/895-9761 or casamentosrestaurant.com . This 1919-vintage favorite serves wonderful oysters and other great seafood from its original, tiled-inside-and-out Uptown storefront. Unfortunately, Casamento's closes during the warmest months (June through August). Cash only. (2007)

Middendorf's Seafood Restaurant, I-55N, Exit 15, Manchac, LA; 985/386-6666. Signature thin fried catfish, plus excellent gumbo, fried shrimp, and fried oysters. (2000)

TEXAS

The Boiling Pot, 201 S. Fulton Beach Rd., Rockport, TX; 361/729-6972. Mounds of boiled seafood dumped on your table. (1997)

Dolphin Cove Oyster Bar, Isla Blanca Park, South Padre Island, TX; 956/761-2850 or spisland.com/dolphincove . Garage-door walls roll up, providing breezy views of boat traffic. The menu includes only three seafood items, but they're outstanding: oysters, shrimp, and seviche (fish and veggies marinated in spiced lime juice). (2006)

Executive Surf Club, 309 N. Water St., Corpus Christi, TX; 361/884-7873 or executivesurfclub.com . Surfboards for tables and a nice shrimp burger. (2000)

Gilhooley's Restaurant, 222 Ninth St., San Leon, TX; 281/339-3813. Interesting combinations, such as the Shrimp Hooley's―barbecued oysters with shrimp and a garlic sauce. Nice gumbo, too. (2001)

Marchan's White Sands Restaurant, 418 W. Highway 100, Port Isabel, TX; 956/943-2414 or the-white-sands.com . Nothing fancy, just fresh, well-prepared, plentifully portioned seafood and lots of local fans. (2002)

Pier 99, 2822 N. Shoreline Blvd., Corpus Christi, TX; 361/887-0764. The big deck out back overlooks Corpus Christi Bay and, more impressively, the aircraft carrier museum ship Lexington. We like the fried calamari, gumbo, clam chowder, and shrimp. (2004)

Snoopy's Pier, 13313 S. Padre Island Dr., Corpus Christi, TX; 361/949-8815. Great fried seafood in a bright blue building under the bridge to Padre Island. (1999)

The Spot, 14th and Jefferson streets, Port O'Connor, TX; 361/983-2775. Enjoy the grilled flounder, or bring your own catch. The Spot will fry it, grill it, or blacken it for you. (2005)

Topwater Grill, 815 Avenue O, San Leon, TX; 281/339-1232. This restaurant-bar overlooks an obscure patch of Galveston Bay southeast of Houston. Go for the locally harvested items, such as shrimp, oysters, crab, and black drum. And don't overlook the thick, spicy crab-and-corn chowder. (2007)

Wanna Wanna Beach Bar & Grill, 5100 Gulf Blvd., South Padre Island, TX, 956/761-7677 or islandinnpadre.com . A beach tiki hut with good fried shrimp and cold beer. (2003)

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