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. 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, M.M. 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
Julia Mae’s, Carrabelle
What to expect: The money this dive saves on wall décor (mostly spiny lobsters) goes into its delicately fried and grilled seafood. The shrimp Creole boats more fresh, divinely seasoned shrimp than you can count―let alone eat.
Check it out: 1558 Highway 98 West; 850/697-3791
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 Blvd. S.; 727/343-5774
Killer Seafood, Mexico Beach
What to expect: Messy but delicious fish tacos.
Check it out: 820 U.S. 98; 850/ 648-6565 or killerseafood.net
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 or boondocksrestaurant.com
Louie’s Florida Grill, Panama City Beach
What to expect: 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.
Check it out: 17140 Front Beach Road; 850/234-0582 or louiesfloridagrill.com
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 mariniaoysterbar.com
The Original Point Restaurant, Perdido Key
What to expect: Locals love the fresh mullet and shrimp-and-crab bisque.
Check it out: 14340 Innerarity Point Road; 850/492-3577
Posey’s Oyster Bar, St. Marks
What to expect: Apalachicola oysters dominate the menu year-round. Most customers eat them raw. We like them baked with cheddar or Parmesan cheese, butter, bacon bits, or garlic.
Check it out: 55 Riverside Drive; 850/925-6172
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 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 Grill, 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 Deck & 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 marinajacks.com/olearys.htm
Phillippi Creek Village Restaurant & Oyster Bar, Sarasota
What to expect: Creek Combo Pots provide divine steamed seafood for two.
Check it out: 5353 S. Tamiami Trail; 941/925-4444 or creekseafood.com
Star Fish Company, Cortez
What to excpect: A waterside joint with a tasty blackene-grouper sandwich.
Check it out: 12306 46th Ave. West; 941/794-1243 or starfishcompany.com
Wolf Bay Lodge, Elberta
What to expect: It’s hard to find; call for directions to mountainous portions of seafood.
Check it out: 9050 Pinewood Avenue; 251/987-5129 or wolf-bay-lodge.com
Fly Creek Café, Fairhope
What to expect: 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.”
Check it out: 831 N. Section Street; 251/990-0902 or flycreekcafe.com
Gulf Shores Steamer, Gulf Shores
What to expect: Gigantic servings of steamed seafood. The vast combination platters (steamed only; nothing’s fried here) can easily feed a family.
Check it out: 124 West First Avenue; 251/948-6344 or gulfshoressteamer.com
King Neptune’s Seafood Restaurant, Gulf Shores
What to expect: The many loyal regulars know that the kitchen buys good, fresh seafood and knows how to cook it.
Check it out: 1137 Gulf Shores Parkway; 251/968-5464 or kingneptuneseafoodrestaurant.com
LuLu’s at Homeport Marina, Gulf Shores
What to expect: 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.
Check it out: 200 E. 25th Ave; 251/967-5858 or lulubuffett.com
Nan Seas Restaurant, Mobile
What to expect: This waterfront restaurant does a fine job with fried seafood, notably shrimp and oysters. Soothing vistas of Mobile Bay, particularly at dusk, and solicitous service elevate it to the status of locals’ favorite.
Check it out: 4170 Bay Front Road; 351/479-9132
Wintzell’s Oyster House, Mobile
What to expect: Oysters “fried, stewed, and nude” and gumbo with soul. So rich and complex is the seafood gumbo, it’s like tasting this city’s entire history with each spoonful. Diners can peruse thousands of jokes covering the walls and reflecting the bygone-era humor of the restaurant’s late founder, Oliver Wintzell. Wintzell’s is now a five-outlet mini-chain, but purists prefer the downtown-Mobile original.
Check it out: 605 Dauphin Street (original location); 251/432-4605 or wintzellsoysterhouse.com
Tacky Jacks, Orange Beach
What to expect: Drive up in your car or boat. Known for breakfasts, fried seafood baskets, seafood sandwiches, and po’boys.
Check it out: 27206 Safe Harbor Drive; 251/981-4144 or tackyjacks.com
Pelican Pointe Grill, Point Clear
What to expect: Sunsets never looked better than from the dining porch of this Key West-style seafood shack. An ample fillet of grilled grouper is served fabulously fresh, and a chunky smoked tuna dip is a must for nibbling.
Check it out: 10299 Highway 1; 251/928-1747
Blue Gill Restaurant, Spanish Fort
What to expect: Renowned for hosting shrimp boils for politicians.
Check it out: 3775 Battleship Parkway; 251/625-1998 or bluegillrestaurant.com
Original Oyster House, Spanish Fort
What to expect: Have it your way: fried, steamed, grilled, or blackened.
Check it out: 3733 Battleship Parkway (on the U.S. 90/98 Mobile Bay causeway); 251/626-2188 or originaloysterhouse.com; also 701 State 59 (Bayou Village), Gulf Shores; 251/948-2445