Dining--Beach Burgers to Prime Seafood
The Emerald Coast is blessed with an array of dining choices that fit any budget and taste. Panama City Beach boasts two of the classic old-style Florida restaurants (huge dining rooms and big crowds). Both have good food. Capt. Anderson's (a perennial Southern Living Readers' Choice Awards winner) overlooks the fishing fleet on the sunset side of St. Andrews Bay. Angelo's Steak Pit (my favorite big steak house in Florida), located on Front Beach Road, has a landmark larger than life: A steer named Big Gus proudly stands out front. Everything here is cooked over an open fire. Any steak is great, but the hamburger steak, which tastes more like a T-bone, is my usual choice, and it's also the cheapest menu item.
Port St. Joe and Mexico Beach are dotted with mom-and-pop restaurants, but two that stand out are the Dockside Café (Cajun shrimp steamed or batterless fried is popular here) in the marina at Port St. Joe and Half Shells (noted for their tasty steamed shrimp as well) in Mexico Beach.
The most exciting dining area in this part of Florida has to be along 30A, which harbors about any type of food you might desire. For fried and fresh, head to Nick's on the Beach (their cocktail sauce is a favorite of mine). Nearby sits the restaurant that started it all in this area--Criolla's, preferred by our Executive Editor of Foods, Susan Dosier. Owned by Johnny Earles, Criolla's captures the sunny flavors and ingredients of the Caribbean, yet their dishes are served with a Louisiana accent. Café Thirty-A in Seagrove Beach, Bud & Alley's Restaurant in Seaside, and Fish Out of Water at the WaterColor Inn and Resort all have good food and great settings. Like Criolla's, though, they're some of the area's priciest options.
The Red Bar in Grayton Beach is known for its scallops at night and great fish sandwiches during the day. Café Sublime in Gulf Place serves excellent Tuscan-roasted snapper. And if you tire of Florida fare, saunter over to Trattoria Borago for upscale Italian. My friends George and Kaye Adams, knowledgeable food folks who have a condo in the area, swear by the tomato-basil soup here. We also like one small restaurant with two names, Summer Kitchen Café (by day) and Blue By Night Bistro (for dinner) at Rosemary Beach. They create good salads and rollups for lunch, while the evening menu dishes out excellent fresh fish and steak.
Less than a mile from Rosemary Beach is Inlet Beach. It is at the end of 30A, back on U.S. 98. Here you'll find The Terrace Restaurant. It's not much to look at (I zoomed by 20 times before giving it a shot), but they offer fantastic food with an elegant touch. Two other eateries around the Phillip's Inlet Bridge with simple, inexpensive, and tasty food are Spicy Noodle (pasta and pizza) and Jolly Roger Grill (seafood and gumbo).
Dining in Destin can be as hit-and-miss as at any other beach destination. One spot not to skip is the great breakfast place and bakery, The Donut Hole. There are two locations--one in Santa Rosa Beach and one in downtown Destin. Be sure to try the crabmeat Benedict. A new area in Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort called The Village of Baytowne Wharf is full of restaurants (get a pass at the resort gate on the bay side, and ask for directions). If you try only one eatery here, make sure it's the Acme Oyster House, which serves up delicious grilled oysters and huge po'boys with sweet potato fries.