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Cool, Happy, and Fun Gulf Coast Restaurants in the Southeast US • McCool Travel

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Cool, Happy, and Fun Gulf Coast Restaurants in the Southeast US • McCool Travel

From waterfront dining to relaxed upscale restaurants to amazing casual seafood shacks, here are some of our favorite US Gulf Coast restaurants. There are countless places to eat along the US Gulf Coast to fulfill any culinary urge but this article lists favorites that represent the local vibe.

The following restaurants along the Gulf Coast states are sorted by state and listed from east to west. Please leave comments with your favorite Gulf Coast restaurants and we will try to visit them on future US Gulf Coast trips.

US Gulf Coast Travel note: several of these US Gulf Coast restaurants are also include in our guide to the absolute

Florida Gulf Coast Restaurants

El Siboney Restaurant in Key West

Choose from more than a dozen Cuban restaurants in Key West, knowing you are within 100 miles of Havana. El Siboney is my favorite for two reasons—my Cuban friends (I grew up in South Florida) recommend El Siboney and the prices, quality, and location make you feel like you have found something special. Duval Street is close enough to walk to but far enough that most tourists do not realize this hidden gem is here.

For suggestions of things to do in Key West FL: see our favorite Key West Tips

21 Spices in Naples

Not only did I have amazing curry at 21 Spices in Naples, Florida but I met Chef Asif on the night before he beat Bobby Flay. Whatever entree(s) you choose—tandoori chicken and Chef Asif special seafood curry are suggestions—begin your dining experience with the phenomenal lobster mulligatawny.

Chicken Tandoori at 21 Spices in Naples FL
Chicken Tandoori at 21 Spices in Naples FL. Photo by 21 Spices.

See our suggested Naples FL restaurants: 8 Great Places to Eat in Naples Florida.

Peace River Seafood in Punta Gorda

Whatever I write will pale in comparison to this photo of my seafood platter at Peace River Seafood. Choose to sit outside under the magnificent oak trees when the weather is pleasant.

A fresh caught feast at Peace River Seafood in Punta Gorda FL
fresh seafood feast at Peace River Seafood in Punta Gorda FL

For suggestions of things to do in Punta Gorda FL: Fun Things to Do in Punta Gorda.

Farlow’s on the Water in Englewood

One of the top five seafood houses on the Florida Gulf Coast is Farlow’s on the Water. Farlow’s typically has 8-12 fresh species on hand every day. Their concept is fresh seafood and accompanying items with a Caribbean-Southern US twist. The crab berry salad is magnificent and the blueberry pie is truly remarkable.

crab berry salad at Farlows on the Water in Englewood Florida
crab berry salad at Farlows on the Water in Englewood Florida

Cabbage Key Inn & Restaurant

Parrothead legend is that Jimmy Buffett allegedly wrote Cheeseburger in Paradise after eating at the restaurant on Cabbage Key.  In addition to devouring a cheeseburger or a fresh fish dish, order a slice of key lime pie—prepared from Fern Butters original recipe from the 1930s. Bring a dollar bill (or many) to attach to the wooden walls.

dollar bills on walls of Cabbage Key, Florida
dollar bills on walls of Cabbage Key, Florida

For suggestions of things to do near Ft. Myers FL: Things to Do in Fort Myers Beach.

Beach Bistro in Holmes Beach (Anna Maria Island)

Enjoy a glorious #USGulfCoast sunset celebration on the sugar sand beach in front of Beach Bistro then stay for dinner. Beach Bistro is one of Zagat’s highest rated US restaurants and definitely has a Florida relaxed luxury beach vibe. Start with the magnificent lobster appetizers.

lobster appetizer
sublime lobster appetizer at Beach Bistro in Anna Maria Island

See also: Things to Do in Anna Maria Island and Best Anna Maria Island Restaurants.

Katch Twenty-Two in Lecanto

Richard Wiggins—former Executive Chef at the W in Washington DC—and his wife traded traffic jams and cold winters for the opportunity to operate their own place. Katch Twenty-Two is a small (make a reservation) off the beaten path hidden gem with amazing food.

Katch Twenty-Two Restaurant in Citrus County FL
Katch Twenty-Two Restaurant in Citrus County FL

For suggestions of things to do in Crystal River FL: Things to Do in Crystal River

Alabama Gulf Coast Restaurants

Southern National in Mobile

Note: unfortunately, Southern National has closed.

Locally sourced seafood, craft cocktails, upscale Southern cuisine are reasons most people venture to Southern National. When I saw a friend (chef Austin from White Pillars, see below) dining here the day prior to me, I asked what to order. Austin said to let Chef Duane run with it.

I dined with two local experts and frequent Southern National guests, so I did kind of sit back and enjoy the show. Knowing that James Beard Foundation has granted Chef Duane several Best Chef nominations additionally gave me confidence. Truly, it does not matter what you get here, everything is phenomenal (even the tater tots).

appetizer at Southern National in Mobile Alabama
amazing appetizer at Southern National in Mobile Alabama

The Noble South in Mobile

Two months later, I still fondly recall the deviled eggs at The Noble South. Their oh, so Southern (my term) lunch options include meatloaf or catfish with your choice of two sides. Please email me some deviled eggs!

deviled eggs at The Noble South in Mobile AL
deviled eggs at The Noble South in Mobile AL

Dauphins in Mobile

Visit Dauphin’s for the amazing view but stay for the magnificent Poke appetizer. The executive chef trained in Maui and won Poke contests against chefs from around the world.

tuna poke at Dauphin's is one of the best things in Mobile AL
try the amazing  tuna poke at Dauphin’s in Mobile AL
dark & stormy with a grand view at Dauphins in Mopbile Alabama
dark & stormy with a grand view at Dauphins in Mobile Alabama

Original Oyster House in Mobile or Gulf Shores

People flock to Original Oyster House for the po’ boys, seafood entrees, salad bar, fire-grilled oysters, and Royal red shrimp. Key lime pie and chocolate chip peanut butter pie are sold by the slice or whole pie. Their food is fresh and delicious but the community outreach and sustainability practices of Original Oyster House really impressed me.

Original Oyster House fire-grilled oysters are among the best things to eat in Mobile AL
order the fire-grilled oysters at Original Oyster House in Mobile AL

See also: Things to Do in Mobile and more Places to Eat in Mobile

Fisher’s in Orange Beach

On one #USGulfCoast road trip, two separate and unrelated people in Mobile recommended that I eat at Fisher’s at Orange Beach Marina so I knew it was a place to try. Chef Bill Briand has received James Beard top chef nominees for three straight years. Craft cocktails and fresh seafood dishes are the items to try at Fisher’s.

fresh oysters at Fisher's at Orange Beach Marina
fresh oysters at Fisher’s at Orange Beach Marina

See also 8 Great Restaurants in Orange Beach Alabama

Salt at San Roc Cay in Orange Beach

NOTE: Salt at San Roc Cay is now closed.

Chef Robert at Salt at San Roc Cay in Orange Beach told me their philosophy is the best local ingredients done simple. They do not intend to reinvent Southern cuisine but just want to make people happy. Well, having a spicy jalapeño margarita on the menu made me happy. Murder Point oysters made me happy. The US Prime Plus steak made my dinner partner happy.

Murder Point Oysters at Salt in Orange Beach
Murder Point Oysters at Salt in Orange Beach

Perch at The Lodge at Gulf State Park in Gulf Shores

A new, spectacular, world class sustainable The Lodge at Gulf State Park was imagined, designed, and created—after the original property was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. The culinary highlight of the property is Perch, a magnificent relaxed luxury waterfront restaurant utilizing local fishermen and farmers.

See also: Things to Do in Gulf Shores and our favorite place there The Lodge at Gulf State Park

Amazing Coastal Mississippi Restaurants

The Greenhouse on Porter in Ocean Springs

Note: Greenhouse on Porter is now an event venue but their nearby Greenhouse Biloxi location is the place to go for their amazing biscuits.

Start your day, every Coastal Mississippi day if possible, with the daily biscuits (one sweet, one savory) and a cup of tea or coffee at Greenhouse on Porter. Spend a few minutes in the greenhouse, plotting out your day, and hopefully distracted by Marigold (the resident cat with an nice Instagram presence). They also have live music on Thursday nights.

biscuits at Greenhouse on Porter, Ocean Springs
biscuits at Greenhouse on Porter, Ocean Springs

Vestige in Ocean Springs

I have had the utmost pleasure to dine at Vestige in Ocean Springs a few times. Each visit, Chef Alex Perry—a 2022 and 2019 Best Chef: South nominee from James Beard Foundation—raises the bar and heightens my senses as no other US Gulf Coast restaurant has or can. Combining highest quality proteins, local produce, and Asian and other international spices, Chef Alex creates extraordinary dishes that have me longing for the next visit to his exceptional Mississippi Gulf Coast restaurant.

colorful heirloom Mississippi tomatoes
fresh local heirloom tomatoes at Vestige in Ocean Springs, Mississippi

See more 71+ Sensational Mississippi Gulf Coast Restaurants

White Pillars in Biloxi

During a lunch at White Pillars—with Coastal Mississippi tourism superstar Anna Roy—Chef Austin Sumrall (nominated as a 2020 James Beard Foundation best chef in US South) gushed about the local oysters from French Hermit, harvested just a few miles away.

He said they can be served with two hours of leaving the water, resulting in an amazing fresh seafood experience. During two White Pillars visits, I have sampled—or more correctly entirely devoured—a dozen or so different offerings and all have been exceptional. A couple of White Pillars suggestions, besides the fresh oysters, are the pork belly, duck fat fries, shrimp & grits, and gumbo.

local French Hermit oysters at White Pillars in Biloxi MS
Mississippi Gulf oysters from French Hermit at White Pillars in Biloxi MS

Chef Sumrall beat Food Network star chef Alex Guarnaschelli and two other chefs in the Alex vs Southern Comfort battle.

See also the US Gulf Coast Travel article: Things To Do On The Mississippi Gulf Coast

Cool Louisiana Gulf Coast Restaurants

Places to Eat in New Orleans

New Orleans has hundreds of amazing restaurants, some of the best in the US and the world. I asked many food experts for suggestions and it was basically impossible for them to list “favorites.” There are the popular ones, like Commander’s Palace and Brennan’s, along with new, ethic, hidden gems, dive bars, and so on.

During my America’s Music Cities Collette tour, I explored New Orleans for a couple of days, enlisting help from others.

  • Anna Roy, former PR maven for Coastal Mississippi tourism, loves NoLA and recommended that I go to Manolito. I did and loved their Gulf shrimp ceviche and classic Cuban cocktails. Anna also recommends Meril, Cochon Butcher, Bacchanal, and Hot Tin rooftop bar.
  • Emily Gonzalez, former Marketing wiz for Visit Mobile Alabama, frequently visits New Orleans and suggests Bourbon House for oysters and Pelican Club for drinks.
  • Tiana Harris (former travel writer/influencer) married a guy from New Orleans and provided some musts, including gumbo at Petite Amelie, Parkway po boys, brunch at Willa Jean, and hurricanes at LaFittes. Find her at Power Couple Life.

Of course I had to visit the classic touristy spots Cafe du Monde and Central Grocery.

New Orleans restaurants suggested from 2FoodTrippers >>> 10 Cheap Eats in New Orleans.

See also our 15 Fun Day Trips From New Orleans

Places to Eat on the Texas Gulf Coast

F&B in South Padre Island

Their tagline Modern American With a Coastal Flare is accurate but does not begin to appropriately describe how remarkable F&B SPI (South Padre Island) is. Chef Walter Greenwood (and his fiancé Brandi Hackett) envisioned upscale, relaxed luxury cuisine in South Padre and just celebrated the restaurant’s one year anniversary.

F&B leverages the magnificent seafood bounty in southeast Texas (look for red snapper, Gulf shrimp, and grouper) and works with the highest quality area produce farms. Perhaps the truest accolade for F&B is that people are visiting South Padre Island SPECIFICALLY to dine there.

red grouper at F&B SPI South Padre Island
red grouper at F&B SPI South Padre Island

See also our favorite South Padre Island Restaurants

Larry’s French Market in Groves, TX

One of our favorite stops on the US Gulf Coast Seafood Trail is Larry’s French Market between Beaumont and Port Arthur. Their Louisiana crawfish boil dinners are exceptional. Also see our Beaumont Craft Beer places.

fun places to eat in Port Arthur Texas. Article and photo by Charles McCool for McCool Travel.
crawfish at Larry’s French Market

Until I have a chance to visit more Texas Gulf restaurants, I asked for suggestions from some local experts. Please note that the #USGulfCoast staff have not tried these restaurants but the information is provided by sources deemed to be reliable at time of publication.

  • Galveston: Willie G’s, The Grotto, and Home Cut Donuts — suggested by Kristina from Business Travel Life
  • Galveston: Le King’s Confectionary — suggested by Daniel from Upon Arriving
  • Galveston: Benno’s on the Beach, Gaidos Seafood, Hey Mikeys, and Miller’s Seawall Grill — suggested by Candess from Make Food Safe
  • Houston: Breakfast Klub, BOH Pasta, and Bubba’s Texas Burger Shack — suggested by Marissa from Houston Hot Spots
  • Houston: Les Givrals and Velvet Taco’s — suggested by Erika from Erika’s Travelventures
  • Port Aransas: Virginia’s on the Bay — suggested by Liz from Faveable

Phew, thank you for sticking with this list of cool, happy, and fun places to drink along the US Gulf Coast. By no means is this a comprehensive list. That would be a lifetime quest (any volunteers researchers?). Please, however, comment with your favorite US Gulf Coast restaurant. This #USGulfCoast article will be updated as needed!

Here is a map of cool, happy, and fun Gulf Coast restaurants.

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