Must-Try Florida Panhandle Seafood

Dine at these local faves on the Gulf Coast.
Related To:

One of the major draws of any vacation at the seashore is sampling the local cuisine which of course means seafood. The New England Coast is famous for its lobsters and clams, the Mid-Atlantic region is renowned for their crabs but along the Florida Panhandle it is the immense variety of Gulf fish (red snapper, grouper and mahi mahi to name just a few) and oysters, of course, that rule supreme on the restaurant menus.

A Broiled Seafood Platter

A Broiled Seafood Platter

Capt. Anderson's Restaurant and Waterfront Market in Panama City Beach, Florida offers a broiled seafood platter that includes one-half stuffed lobster, stuffed devil crab, shrimp, scallops and gulf fish.

Photo by: Capt. Anderson's, Panama City Beach, www.captanderson.com

Capt. Anderson's, Panama City Beach, www.captanderson.com

The following is just a sampling of some of the delicious options awaiting seafood lovers from the Fort Walton Beach-Destin area to Eastpoint, Florida. These include both high-end affairs and funky beach shacks where you can find the locals enjoying the bounty of the sea.

The oceanfront along the Gulf that runs from Fort Walton Beach to Destin is often referred to as the Emerald Coast because of the distinctive color of the sea and the sandy beaches which have always made it a popular destination for family vacations. The area is also justly famous for its seafood and you can enjoy it broiled, grilled, baked, poached, fried, in soups, on pizzas or as sushi.

Potato Crusted Red Snapper

Potato Crusted Red Snapper

One of the house specialty dishes at Brotula's Seafood House and Steamer in Destin, Florida is the Southern Red Snapper on a bed of potato-conecuh hash.

Photo by: Brotula's Seafood House & Steamer

Brotula's Seafood House & Steamer

If you’re looking for a romantic dining experience or a special occasion splurge, you have several classy options. The Bay Cafe (Fort Walton) is hard to beat with a diverse menu ranging from sautéed scallops in a ginger, sesame and teriyaki sauce to grouper Wellington (wrapped in puff pastry with lobster sauce) and a fine list of wines, beers and champagnes. Italian food fans will love the unique twists on seafood served up at Giovanni’s One89 (Fort Walton) which includes shrimp and salmon fettuccine and lobster ravioli. And Brotula’s Seafood House and Steamer (Destin) offers a delicious variation on shrimp and grits, a potato encrusted red snapper (a house speciality pictured above) and the option of building your own boil dinner of mussels, oysters, shrimp, crab or lobster in a cajun, beer or spicy crab boil.

The Back Porch, a seafood restaurant on the Florida Panhandle

The Back Porch, a seafood restaurant on the Florida Panhandle

The Back Porch is a locally owned seafood restaurant in Destin, Florida. It also open an additional restaurant in Panama City Beach.

Photo by: 30A Vibe

30A Vibe

The Back Porch (Destin) is one of the more famous institutions in the area and first started as a rustic A-frame in 1974 serving soft drinks, beer and fish sandwiches like their signature grilled amberjack. The operation has enjoyed a much more elaborate expansion since then with a sister restaurant in Panama City Beach and now offers local favorites like the firecracker shrimp, crab stuffed mahi mahi and grilled yellowfin tuna. Operating since 1995, the Old Bay Steamer (Fort Walton) is a crab lovers’ paradise serving king crabs, snow crabs and various steamer combinations of fresh gulf crustaceans. A more recent arrival in the area is Stewby’s Seafood Shanty (Fort Walton) which opened in 2011 and has since become the go-to place for outstanding fried seafood. The lightly battered and cooked-to-perfection oysters and soft shell crab are among the highlights but grilled options are also available. 

The Classic Surf and Turf combo

The Classic Surf and Turf combo

The Saltwater Grill in Panama City Beach offers the famous surf and turf entree - an 8 ounce filet and a 5 ounce lobster tail.

Photo by: The Saltwater Grill, Panama City Beach, www.saltwatergrillpcb.com

The Saltwater Grill, Panama City Beach, www.saltwatergrillpcb.com

Further to the east is Panama City Beach which has no shortage of excellent seafood restaurants. One of the most elegant is The Firefly with its romantic lighting and visually rich interiors. Not only are there specialized menus for martinis and sushi, for example, but unique in-house creations like the sweet wasabi crusted tuna with mango salsa and a soy and lime glaze. There are also plenty of choices for vegetarians and non-seafood lovers like the roasted beet salad or the pan roasted duck breast. Another top rated gourmet experience is the Saltwater Grill featuring redfish etouffe, a pretzel and andouille crusted grouper and the classic surf and turf (featured above).

Seared Crab Cakes

Seared Crab Cakes

Schooners in Panama City Beach offers the popular entree of seared crab cakes with Cajun remoulade.

Photo by: Schooners, Panama City Beach, www.schooners.com/

Schooners, Panama City Beach, www.schooners.com/

Celebrating its 49th year is Capt. Anderson’s restaurant, a landmark family-style favorite on Panama City’s waterfront. Some of their one-of-a-kind delicacies include she-crab pie, Greek style broiled pompano and their famous seafood platter. The restaurant closes for the season in November but reopens in February every year. Another local institution is Schooners which was originally called The Last Local Beach Club until 1985 when new management renamed it. It has since evolved from a funky beer and hamburger shack into a local hangout offering live music and a much more extensive menu with seared crab cakes (shown above), tuna medallions and their popular Dixie Oyster Salad. If you’re looking for a laid-back, no nonsense dining option where local residents go, try Billy’s Oyster Bar and Crab House where you can get steamed Florida blue crab, Louisiana crawfish and homemade gumbos and stews.

Grilled Mediterranean-style Mahi Mahi

Grilled Mediterranean-style Mahi Mahi

The Owl Cafe in Apalachicola, Florida serves up daily local fish specialities like their Mediterranean inspired Mahi Mahi recipe with mashed potatoes and steamed vegetables.

Photo by: Jeff Stafford

Jeff Stafford

If you tend to favor quieter, less populated areas along the Panhandle, travel further east to the beautifully preserved historic town of Apalachicola on the bay just off the Gulf of Mexico. It might look like a sleepy little fishing village but the town has a number of critically acclaimed restaurants. Foremost among them is The Owl Cafe which has a fiercely loyal clientele (reservations are highly recommended) due to their superb appetizers (fried oysters, below), entrees (grilled Mediterranean-style mahi mahi as shown above) and local craft beer from Oyster City Brewing Company and fine wines. If you can’t score a table at The Owl Cafe, you can usually get seated at their Tap Room on the bottom floor which offers a similar menu in a cosy pub setting.

An Appetizer Plate of Fried Oysters

An Appetizer Plate of Fried Oysters

Apalachicola, Florida is famous for their oysters and The Owl Cafe serves a delightfully crisp, non-greasy appetizer size version.

Photo by: Jeff Stafford

Jeff Stafford

Another top choice is Boss Oyster which has received raves from such publications as Food & Wine, Coastal Living and Saveur magazines and is the place to go to have your bivalves dressed the way you want them with more than 20 choices from bacon to mushrooms to jalapenos. Sporting a wonderful waterfront view from their open deck and enclosed dining room is Up the Creek Raw Bar which features grilled conch cakes, Apalach-style shrimp po'-boys and crab and lobster bisque.

Grilled Shrimp Salad

Grilled Shrimp Salad

Paddy's Raw Bar on St. George Island in Florida is a casual seafood cafe/bar that serves simple but delicious fare like raw, steamed or baked oysters and fresh salads like this grilled shrimp specialty.

Photo by: Jeff Stafford

Jeff Stafford

Just across the bay from Apalachiacola and linked to the mainland by a long causeway is St. George Island, a 28-mile stretch of lovely beaches that is the perfect getaway for fishermen, campers and families looking for a tranquil vacation spot far from more overdeveloped and congested beach towns. The island also offers several casual and affordable dining options where you can just hang out with the local residents such as The Blue Parrot. Directly situated on the beach alongside its thatched roof tiki bar, The Blue Parrot has something for everyone ranging from shrimp tacos to a mahi mahi reuben to a blackened grouper sandwich. Another popular choice is Paddy’s Raw Bar which is located on the bay side of the island and functions as a semi-outdoor sports bar/live music venue serving steamed or baked oysters (with spinach, crab meat or bacon), peel and eat shrimp and fresh salads like the grilled shrimp option above.

Steamed Oysters in Butter with Side Toppings

Steamed Oysters in Butter with Side Toppings

Lynn's Quality Oysters in Eastpoint, Florida serves up the local specialty - Apalachicola Bay oysters - as either raw or steamed platters with lemon and other condiments.

Photo by: Jeff Stafford

Jeff Stafford

Last but not least is the down-to-earth goodness and simple charm of Lynn’s Quality Oysters in Eastpoint on the Apalachicola Bay, just across from St. George Island. Lynn’s first opened in 1997 and is a full scale oyster harvesting operation which also oversees a retail market where you can take home their products or have them shipped. Whether you dine in the no-frills main room or on the back porch overlooking the bay, this is the place to sample the famous Apalachicola oysters. You can have them raw or steamed with butter (above) or various toppings - either way is a taste sensation - and don’t forget to try the smoked fish dip or homemade seafood gumbo (below).

A Bowl of Seafood Gumbo

A Bowl of Seafood Gumbo

The homemade seafood gumbo at Lynn's Quality Oysters in Eastpoint, Florida is a house specialty.

Photo by: Jeff Stafford

Jeff Stafford

Keep Reading

Next Up

4 Must-Try Portland Brunch Spots

Dishing up a lot more than just bacon and eggs.

4 Most Relaxing Beaches on Florida's Panhandle

From east to west, we've selected the Panhandle's most alluring and lesser-known locales.

Miami's Must-Try Cuban Restaurants

Sample the best Cuban food at these renowned restaurants in Miami.

Destin's Best Seafood

See our top picks for the best seafood in Destin, Florida.