From its fabled Keys to slender barrier islands, from fishing villages to big culinary cities, the great state of Florida is practically lined with amazing seafood spots. Here are the best of the best.
New Smyrna Beach
Rambling wood building, dirt parking lot, light fixtures provided by beer companies, sign warning that untended children will be used for crab bait. Yes indeed, here stands a classic dive. Anything fried is good, and the steamed rock shrimp are great, as is the key lime pie; jbsfishcamp.com, 386-427-5747
Photo: Chris M. Rogers
Giant open windows provide expansive views of white sand and emerald green water. The Back Porch takes pride in popularizing amberjack, a firm white fish seldom found on menus before the restaurant began featuring it in sandwiches. (We like the "angry" version, with spicy mayo.) Also check out the fish-, shrimp-, and crabmeat-filled gumbo, and the tart Key lime pie; 850-837-2022, theback-porch.com.
Panama City Beach, Florida
Schooners's open-walled, right-on-the-sand, beach-party ambience and live music would ensure its popularity, but it also takes care with its Southern-flavored food—including excellent grits made with three cheeses. The creamy, smoky, spicy seafood gumbo starts a meal superbly. Also available are such surprises as seared crab cakes and grilled ahi tuna steak; 850-235-3555, schooners.com
Panama City Beach, Florida
Hidden on the back side of town at West Bay, under moss-draped live oaks, 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―yes―fried pickles; 850-230-0005, boondocksfl.com
Photo: Rob Culpepper
This classic Florida dive, with open-air rooms on pilings above the water, specializes in baked oysters with creative toppings; 850-653-9364
Proprietor Dewey Destin’s great-great-grandfather founded the town, but what readers can’t stop talking about is the fresh seafood. Try the catch of the day fried or grilled, and watch a sunset over the water; 850-837-7575, destinseafood.com.
This casual surfer hangout has roots in the 1950s, but some very 21st-century menu items (Shrimp Tacos, Fish Reuben and a Bloody Mary made with Sake) are stars of the show; www.snackjacks.com, 386-439-3344
Mexico Beach, Florida
Absolutely unpretentious and super friendly, with amazing—and totally messy—fish tacos. You'll be licking Killer Seafood Simmerin' Sauce from your fingers; 850-648-6565, killerseafood.net
Get the fresh fish-of-the-day sandwich—you decide whether it's going to be deep-fried, grilled, or blackened—and watch the boats from the waterside deck at this classic spot next to Longboat Key; 941-388-4311, theoldsaltydog.com
Photo: John Hill
Perdido Key, Florida
Here, they know the secret to fabulous fried seafood: Go light on the batter. Fresh mullet and shrimp-and-crab bisque bring in visitors and keep the locals coming back; 850-492-3577, point-restaurant.com
You could sit for hours at a Phillippi Creek picnic table, feasting on a steamed combo pot: your choice of a dozen steamed clams, one pound snow crab, stone crab claws, one pound Alaskan king crab or 1/2 pound sea scallops; plus two dozen unshucked steamed oysters, 1/2 pound peel-and-eat shrimp, two ears fresh corn on the cob, onions and celery, and fresh-baked garlic bread. See what we mean? 941-925-4444, creekseafood.com
Photo: Jeff Greenberg/Alamy
The fun starts before you even order here. First, give the person behind the window your thoughts on the question of the day (maybe your favorite television show or your favorite superhero). But remember your answer, because it will be the name of your order when it's bellowed over the loudspeaker. You'll claim a cafeteria-style tray filled with a trove of possibilities: stone crab soup, conch fritters, and other fresh catches from the Gulf and Florida Bay. And while you may not think seafood and sauerkraut are a perfect match, the "famous" lobster Reuben is sweet and tangy bliss; keysfisheries.com. 866-743-4353
Some of the best gumbo we've ever had: rich and with lots of shrimp. The charmingly ramshackle décor created from flotsam, jetsam, and ocean-borne treasures gathered from four years of sunrise jogging on Hollywood beach just enhances the vibe; theletub.com, 954-921-9425
Fort Lauderdale, Florida
From US 1, it’s hard to miss the vibrant orange-and-yellow, palm tree–studded sunset mural that decorates Ernie’s BBQ Lounge—and you wouldn’t want to. The Fort Lauderdale institution has been serving its “famous” conch chowder recipe for more than 50 years—a meal-worthy bowl of thick, spicy red broth, chock-full of tender bits of conch and chopped veggies and accompanied by a side of slightly sweet Bimini bread. While conch is the kitchen’s forte (the fritters and salad are equally delicious), don’t overlook the smoked fish dip, made fresh with mahi mahi and yellowfin tuna; 1843 South Federal Highway, 954-523-8636.