You've spent a fun, active day on the water, and you’re sandy, sweaty—and ravenous. One of the the best perks of dining in a beach town is that there is no shortage of casual spots with beachside patios, quick, friendly service, and a flip flop vibe, not to mention the food: seafood right off the docks, plus hushpuppies, fries, and all the fixin's. Add in free-flowing sweet tea (or cold beer), and you've got a meal made in beach-lover heaven.
With no reservations, you can come straight off the beach or boat to any of this down-home joints. From Pensacola to Panama City, here are recommendations for the best spots for seafood in the Florida Panhandle.
Boon Docks, Panama City Beach
Finn’s Island Style Grub, Panama City Beach
For a no-frills meal with food served on paper trays and picnic tables serving as seats, the permanently parked food truck known as Finn’s Island Style Grub is perfect for grabbing a quick bite right off Panama City Beach. The sign dangling from the vehicle–“Will Work for Fish Tacos"—is a nod to the famous fish tacos, which most locals order blackened. But the shrimp or scallop ceviche, marinated in lime and tossed with housemade pico de gallo and coco-lime vinaigrette, is equally awesome and a refreshing choice on a hot day. Its Panama City Beach location only serves lunch (10 am to 3 pm), but the downtown St. Andrews location, in a beach shack, is open for dinner, too.
Dee’s Hang Out, Panama City Beach
Don’t be fooled by the strip mall façade: Dee’s Hang Out is always hoppin’ and has the lines to prove it. The wait is worth it for the tasty creations by owner Dee Brown: a fusion of Southern, seafood, and Cajun staples. Start out with the smoked tuna dip or the creamy she-crab soup, and depending on your hunger level, dig into a po’boy or shrimp etouffee, the most popular menu item. You can also order to-go online, so take your meal to the pier, just a mile west of the restaurant, and dig in with a view of the water.
The Back Porch Seafood and Oyster Bar, Destin and Panama City Beach
The original Back Porch in Destin traces its roots to 1974, when as a ramshackle A-frame wooden beachfront building it started a cult following for its fresh fish and right-off-the-beach vibe. More than 40 years later, it's a household name among locals and visitors who come back again and again for the solid seafood and fantastic beach views of the Gulf of Mexico. If it lives in the Gulf, it's likely on the menu here, and while grouper and snapper are among the most popular local catches, the restaurant claims to be the first in these parts to serve amberjack. Taste the tradition blackened, fried, bronzed, or chargrilled on a sandwich or as part of a platter.
Grayton Seafood Company, Grayton Beach
A new kid on the block in the Florida Panhandle is Grayton Seafood Company , which opened in November 2015 and serves only locally sourced seafood and Gulf shrimp. Flip flops are encouraged at this laid-back joint, whose cheery, nautical décor includes wood-planked walls. The menu offers a mix of everything from crab and oysters to shrimp and blackened fish dishes, all with hints of Cajun influence. Local-only craft beers are served on tap, from hometown breweries like Pensacola Bay Brewing, Grayton Beer, and Idyll Hounds. Can't choose? Order a flight of four.
Great Southern Cafe, Seaside
Located in the heart of charming Seaside, Great Southern Café has one of the largest covered patios around and has quickly become a go-to spot for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The latter feature creative takes on Southern classics like black-eyed pea hummus and collard and artichoke dip as irresistible starters, but be sure to save room for delectable, hearty dishes, many with Caribbean influence. Chef/owner Jim Shirley’s famous “Grits a Ya Ya”, made with blackened shrimp, applewood-smoked bacon, spinach, Portobello mushrooms, and cream on a bed of smoked Gouda cheese grits is a hands-down winner.
Stewby’s Seafood Shanty, Fort Walton Beach
A look at Stewby’s from the outside, with its drive-thru, walk-up window, and covered patio, reassures you this is a humble roadside spot. Seafood comes fresh from the docks of nearby Destin and surrounding areas. The family-run restaurant is based on Sam’s Oyster House, a popular seafood take-out spot from the 1960s, and still offers some of the same menu options. It's one of the only places in town that serves the special Atlantic sharpnose shark, which you can order grilled, fried, or as ceviche. Other specials vary based on the daily catch, but expect local mullet or mutton snapper as typical choices.
Stinky’s Fish Camp, Santa Rosa Beach
A favorite haunt for locals and visitors alike for nearly a decade, Stinky’s Fish Camp sits on a coastal dune lake on the west end of 30A. The South Walton classic still has 90-minute waits regularly, most likely due to its appearances on the Food Network and Cooking Channel . An undeniable favorite is “Stinky's Stew”, a hearty dish with shrimp, mussels, oysters, fish, and snow crab legs along with potatoes, corn, tomatoes simmered in a basil butter broth. If you have a love affair with oysters, the signature "Log” is calling your name, with 36 different varieties of oysters, including the Apalachicola oyster. It's perfect for sharing with a fellow bivalve-loving buddy (or two).