The amount of amazing places to eat seafood on the Emerald Coast is one of the main reasons I loved the area so much. Seafood is my absolute favourite, and the food options in Destin and on Okaloosa Island gave me the opportunity to indulge in a few fishy dishes I hadn’t tried before.
I’ve travelled quite a bit of the USA now and to be honest, on my recent trip in California, I got sick of the same chain after chain when it came to food. On the Emerald Coast it’s not like that. There are chains, of course, but they’re a little more inconspicuous than in other parts of America. The likes of Maccy D’s, KFC and Subway don’t reappear every few blocks. On the Emerald Coast there’s a chance for the more unique places to eat to come through.
I’ve chosen the following as the 7 best places to eat seafood on the Emerald Coast, because, well… they’re the only places I ate. I didn’t have a bad meal at one of them, not even a bad part of a meal. Every dish was absolutely delicious.
And if you don’t like seafood all day and night, like me, there were plenty of meaty options at all of the restaurants below. I went all out Gulf to table though, seeing as most of the time I could see the sea from the restaurant windows.
7 Best Seafood Restaurants on the Emerald Coast
1. Crab Trap
The Crab Trap absolutely cannot be beaten for location. As soon as I turned into the car park and saw the beach I pulled in and excitedly jumped out of the car. I walked along the beach to the back entrance of the restaurant and was seriously losing it at how picture perfect the place was.
I was there in December so unfortunately the restaurant walls were down, but come summer and it opens out onto the beach from open to close.
And don’t just take my word for it. If you go on their website, Crab Trap has live beach cams. You can see exactly what’s going down outside the Destin and Fort Walton Beach and see just how beautiful the location is for yourself.
It’s not just the location. The food was epic. Clint Rogers, the General Manager, was telling me that sometimes in the summer there’s a two-hour wait on the food, but it’s all part of the adventure. People come to the Crab Trap for an experience, not just the meal.
They’ll order a few appetisers from the bar outside – popular year round with sunset lovers – and hang out on the sand. Kids play on the slides, while the beach is there for all.
So, I tried a few things here. There were three of us, promise. Crab dip with deep fried pita, yep yep to the dip, I got scared of the bread when he said it was deep-fried. There’s no way to get out of the US lighter than when you came in, I’m sure of it, especially the Emerald Coast. Might as well just go for it.
The crab cake was epic. Big chunks of real crab with bread and served surrounded with Andouille sausage and sweetcorn sauce. Absolutely delicious. Probably need one to myself next time.
We tried the crab from its shell – after a masterclass in cracking the legs – and I can honestly say, I’ve never had crab like it before, or since. So smooth, so soft and so flavoursome, I didn’t even want to dip it in the butter they served it with.
Introduction to the Emerald Coast
2. Black Pearl
Mmmm ceviche. And the ceviche here definitely didn’t disappoint.
The warm homemade bread was way too tempting though. I was trying not to eat it as I awaited the aforementioned ceviche, but no such luck when they served it with such a moreish oil, herb and balsamic vinegar mix.
I tried the grouper cheeks, yep, fish cheeks, which were recommended to me but decided they weren’t my favourite. Or maybe I was just full of the bread, and the delicious salty plantain chips they served with the ceviche.
Always room for dessert though. Second dessert stomach, right? I had the Samoa biscuit bread pudding option, promising myself I wouldn’t eat it all, it was just to try it.
Absolutely scrumptious, I scoffed the lot and would’ve licked the bowl too. All warm, and sweet and coconutty and bready – I can never learn how to make this. Too dangerous.
So, top recommendations for the Black Pearl – ceviche and bread pudding.
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This was a fun restaurant. Well I went by myself on a Thursday lunchtime but I can definitely see how it would be fun – if I had a friend, or two, and wasn’t restricted by driving.
The restaurant has its own private beach, with games and a view of the Spence Parkway Bridge too. I drove over that bridge, thinking it would make for a great timelapse, and then realised it was a toll bridge and there and back cost me $8. Oops.
Anyway, it was worth it, and I digress. Back to food.
I’m sounding like a broken record but the food here was deeee-licious too. They take part in the Fish Trax scheme, which I think is brilliant. Basically your fish is served with a QR code, so you can track:
- Who caught it
- Where they caught it
- When they caught it
- How it was processed
- Who cooked it
DON’T YOU THINK THAT’S AMAZING?!
I do. Absolutely fascinated.
I chose the Snapper Basket especially so that I could see the FishTrax in action, turned out to be a great choice. Came with fries and hush puppies (balls of deep fried cornflour) with some coleslaw on the side too.
Plus, there’s not one but two Lulu’s. There’s one on the Gulf Shores and one by Destin so your chances of trying this amazing place just doubled.
*NONE OF THIS POST IS HYPERBOLE,
BUT I WILL TRY NOT TO SAY ‘DELICIOUS’ AGAIN
4. Horizons Bar at the Henderson Beach Resort
The night here started with a cocktail, a Moscow Mule for me, which was drank too quickly. We were in the Horizons Bar, one of two restaurants in the newly opened (as in, three weeks previously) Henderson Beach Resort. Just a short walk from the Henderson Park Inn, it meant I could have a little drinky.
The five of us – two journalists from China, the hotel’s lovely PR lady and the owner – were sat round the huge table, designed like a compass. I was at North West.
We tried the ceviche starter between us – I tried not to take too much. You know what it’s like when you have to share with people you’ve never met before. ‘Did I take too much? Too little? But it’s so good. Is anyone going to eat that last bit?’ That kind of thing.
I just went for it. Waste not, want not.
I had a glass of the Riesling, my favourite white, and ordered the snapper for my main. It arrived, the perfect size. I get scared of portion size in America, instantly put off by a meal big enough for two on my plate, seeing as I can’t leave a grain of rice when I get started. This was perfect though, and so tender. I was definitely developing a taste for snapper, having never even tried it before.
And then between us, we tried the three most popular desserts – carrot cake, key lime pie and chocolate mousse. After I made a hash of the key lime pie, trying to divide it into four, it was clear that the carrot cake was the favourite. The plate barely had a crumb left.
Horizons Bar at the Henderson Beach Resort – the first 5-star resort in Destin – has an outside space overlooking the pool, a friendly bar area and the Primrose Restaurant next door, it’s one of the fanciest places to eat on the Emerald Coast.
I went to the Primrose Restaurant the next morning for breakfast, and can now confirm that the bagel and lox is a super strong choice.
5. Henderson Park Inn
Honestly, best tuna I’ve ever had. And I’ve had a LOT of tuna in my life. So succulent, so meaty, but with the soft texture of a freshly caught, expertly cooked, tuna fillet. Served up with a big plate of broccoli with bacon bits and some Asian fried veggies, it was YUM.
For my dinner starter I had Kim Yung fried prawns. Have you ever seen a prawn so big? To be honest, if the main wasn’t The Best Tuna Ever, I would’ve had to leave it thanks to this starter.
No dessert. I had to roll out of there as it was. Lucky I only lived about 10 steps away and there was an elevator.
Breakfast at the Henderson Park Inn was also special. I tried the porridge, the eggs benedict and the waffles during my three-day stay. I think my fellow customer summed it up well when I overheard him telling Chef Greg that he ‘never eats breakfast normally but he’d skipped dinner last night so he could eat even more’.
6. The Gulf
Otherwise known as The Gulf on Okaloosa Island, this had been sold to me as one of those restaurants made from shipping containers – I definitely didn’t expect it to be as fancy as it was. When I visited in December 2016, it had only been open two months
The staff here were lovely. If we’re going to get into the burden of comparison, I’d say these ladies were the best of all the Emerald Coast seafood restaurants. Sometimes I just need someone to tell me what to do, and as I was at a complete loss as to whether to choose the fried grouper sandwich or the swordfish and couscous, I admired the lady on the cash register for firmly telling me to just go for the swordfish. So I did.
That, along with half a dozen oysters, and a small glass of Charles + Charles wine, just because it’s dad’s name.
I wasn’t actually sure whether I liked swordfish, but turned out I did, very much so. I ate the lot and slurped down the fat, juicy oysters for afters. Served raw, with a squirt of lemon, touch of horseradish and dash of Tabasco, just the way they should be.
Eat or drink at The Gulf and you can enjoy a fire pit with chairs by night, a view of the Books Bridge and all its lights, and, in season, a buzzing atmosphere with the three bars, an indoor terrace and a little gift shop selling too many things to buy for my bulging, burgeoning suitcase.
A few years on since The Gulf opened and it seems it’s a firm favourite among locals and tourists. And it’s even opened a second location. The one I visited was on Fort Walton Beach and there’s a new one on Orange Beach now. I’ll need to get back and check it out.
7. Jackacuda’s Seafood and Sushi
With so much fresh seafood about it’d be rude not to indulge in what I’ve recently decided is my favourite food of all, sushi.
As many of my food stories begin: ‘I wasn’t going to eat but then…’ yeah, then I saw a sign for $5 hand rolls down at Jackacuda’s at the Harborwalk Village. Happy hour!
I sat at the sushi bar and ordered the spicy tuna with some edamame beans, seeing as they were half price too. I think it was the texture of this tuna, and the tuna at the Henderson, that made it some of the best I’ve tried outside of Japan.
I recently learned that Jackacuda’s now does home delivery via an app. This could potentially be dangerous if I were to visit again.
It’s a close call, but after the beaches of the Emerald Coast the seafood restaurants are Big Reason Number Two I’d recommend visiting the area. ASAP.
3 more restaurants in Destin to try
As much as I gave it a fair go, I by no means scratched the surface when it came to the area’s food scene. There were loads of places I admired from afar and wanted to try but didn’t get round to.
These are the restaurants in Destin that will be top of my list when I go back though.
1. Louisiana Lagniappe
I wanted to go here for the name alone.
Try saying that into an Alexa.
This creole restaurant in Sandpiper Cove has been around for decades and serves up yet more great seafood just with all the best flavours of Louisiana.
Dishes like jumbo lump crab meat and shrimp pot pie and shrimp and grits sound delicious, but apparently it’s all about Lagniappe’s hushpuppies. These are kind of like dough balls or croquettes made up of cornmeal, onions and buttermilk and deep fried.
Sound like another thing I wouldn’t be able to get enough of!
Right on the harbour, you get those amazing views if you’re sitting outside. Inside, you get a slightly fancier vibe with high-backed, white chairs and a fireplace.
2. The Back Porch Seafood & Oyster House
Another one that’s been serving up the seafood for decades, the Back Porch is right on the beach and looks like a huge, bright beach shack. It’s got a laid back diner vibe on the inside and a colourful summer vibe on the outside.
With loads of outdoor space, I’d say park up on the porch and watch the sunset as you slurp up a few oysters.
If you don’t fancy the oysters, try the amberjack (type of fish) sandwich.
Invented here, they say it’s one of the most popular dishes and best followed up with a slice of key lime pie.
Florida loves its key lime pies.
For gluten free folk, there’s even a complete separate menu, which you don’t see very often. Extra brownie points there.
Finally, you know it must be good when the store has its own gift shop complete with branded tees.
3. Cafe Thirty-A
This one is a little fancier so definitely put the flip flops away and pull out the fancy sandals. Cafe Thirty-A on Seagrove Beach has a plush white interior with those must-have beachside views.
You can get all your seafood staples but they also do pizzas, steaks and salads but with a little sophisticated twist. Think wild mushroom pizza, hydro butter lettuce and truffled mac ‘n’ cheese and crawfish.
Then there’s a lengthy cocktail and wine list to get through. Stop by on Tuesdays and Thursdays and it’s all about the martini with their Tini night menu.
4 Best Places for Desserts in Destin
Most of the Emerald Coast restaurants listed above have a few decent treats on their menus — Florida sunshine cake, coconut cream pie, bread pudding and of course key lime pie — meaning that you don’t need to move onto another place for dessert.
But, if you do fancy double dining in an evening (no judgement here) then there are a fair few places that are known for serving up the best desserts.
You know those retro ice cream parlours you’ve seen in the movies? Sprinkles is one of those.
Taking you right back to circa 1940, this place is all shiny surfaces, high top stools and and vintage decor. You’ll find it inside The Henderson opposite the Henderson Park Inn so you can hop right over after dinner.
Here you can choose from your favourite ice cream flavours or opt to go for a more traditional sundae or creamy milkshake instead. Only open 12pm-8pm, you’ll have to dash there quickly after dinner or else make it your afternoon sugar hit.
2. Shake’s Frozen Custard
Frozen custard is a bit of a weird concept for us Brits but I promise it tastes really good. It’s kind of like a thicker version of froyo just way sweeter and thicker.
Shake’s is known for being a bit of a pro when it comes to serving up the soft stuff and follow the original old fashioned processes of whipping it up so that it tastes nothing but delicious. You’ll find them in a colourful diner-like building with a neon sign off highway 98 in Destin.
This Destin desserts place could be right out of Grease.
Like every good ice cream place, you can choose from a variety of flavours, toppings and sizes.
Take it to go and you can enjoy it from the beach as you watch the sunset.
3. The Candymaker
Homemade fudge, praline pecans, chocolate dipped strawberries… this sweet shop has a crazy amount of treats to expand the waistline. All homemade, it’s a great place to stock up on gifts for folks back home but it’s an equally good place to pick up some after dinner treats.
It closes at 8pm so I’d stop by there during the day so that once you’re back in your room you’ve got your sweet fix ready to go.
The thing this place really specialises in though, is salt water taffy. In fact, that’s the whole reason the place came about. A guy named Tom Ehlke went all in on researching how to make it after sampling his friend’s own bad version and believing he could do better.
He was right. His store has been going strong since 1992.
4. Destination Little Donuts
No guessing what this place sells…
Donuts by the dozen in over 20 varieties of different flavours and fillings.
You can find all the traditional flavours like chocolate, vanilla and strawberry jam but then some more obscure ones like maple bacon, caramel apple pie and thin mint.
Then there are the ones with cool names like Miami Vice, ET and Crazy Monkey.
No idea what’s inside those but I want to try them all. While they make the donuts in batches throughout the day, they put on the topping of your choice while you wait so you’re not getting that slightly stale texture.
Fresh is best.
You can also combine a donut with ice cream, have it with a coffee or get it to go for a late night munch. The only issue here is working out exactly what to pick!