What makes a destination truly special? I believe the truth lies in the holy trinity: food, wine, and the best dessert in town. You can tell so much about a place from the establishments that support the community. I learned the Gulf Coast call to arms was “Give me seafood or give me death!”
Once I arrived in Gulf Shores, I immediately started looking for restaurants, food markets, shops, cafes, wine bars, and beach side grills. Because I was on the beach I was determined to take full advantage of the fresh Gulf seafood! Fried shrimp, boiled shrimp, baked shrimp, shrimp gumbo….Sorry, I couldn’t resist the classic Bubba monologue. It was required!
Below is a list of Gulf Shores restaurants that I think any foodie will love.
King Neptune’s Seafood Restaurant
After driving 12 hours, the first place I went to eat was King Neptune’s. Featured on Bobby Flay’s Food Nation, I knew I had to try their seafood. King Neptune’s is known for “royal red” shrimp. The small restaurant was completely packed when I arrived, but the service was excellent. I ordered a plate of grilled mahi-mahi, shrimp, rice, and toast along with two glasses of wine for about $30. The seafood was outstanding!
The Original Oyster House
The Original Oyster House was featured on Man vs. Food, but it was around the corner from the condo so I thought I would try it. The restaurant is located in a small boardwalk area overlooking a lagoon. My parents and I went to lunch very early so the place was empty. I ordered a broiled seafood platter featuring shrimp, oysters, small crab claws, and flounder for $13. My parents ordered fried shrimp baskets for $11. Overall, the food was very good, but I should have stuck with oysters since that was their specialty. Good drinks and very friendly wait staff!
Bahama Bob’s Beach Side Cafe
Bahama Bob’s sits on the Gulf Shore beach front and was about a quarter-mile from our rental. It looks like a typical beach side cafe–relaxed and unobtrusive. Nothing fancy on the outside, but good food on the inside. Bahama Bob’s offers a small seating area inside with surfboards on the ceiling and an outside patio. Still on my seafood kick, I ordered coconut shrimp and my Dad had a cheeseburger. I have to say that was the best shrimp I had the entire trip. The breading was light and crispy without being too greasy. It was served with a sweet and spicy pineapple dipping sauce. Yum, yum, yum! Both lunches with drinks cost about $20.
I wasn’t able to visit Hope’s storefront, but I had the original cheesecake at Nolan’s restaurant. Most restaurants that I visited in Gulf Shores offered Hope’s cheesecake for dessert. It was wonderful! I love cheesecake, but sometimes it is over cooked, chunky, or too sour. I thought Hope’s was a perfect combination of smooth, creamy texture and light sweetness.
Nolan’s Steakhouse is considered one of Gulf Shore’s fine dining establishments offering steak and seafood. The main dining room was spacious and seemed to be on par with Bob’s Steakhouse in Austin. Because I was by myself, I opted to sit in the lounge at the bar and chat. Nolan’s is definitely the happenin’ place for retirees. I was, by far, the youngest person in the restaurant besides the wait staff! Boy, can they boogie!
Nolan’s has a decent wine list and offers a “Captain’s List” of reserve wines. I ordered the filet mignon which was served with sautéed veggies and a side of pasta for $30. The entrée, dessert, and three glasses of wine was $78. Overall, I thought they had good food and would visit again.
The Sunset Cork Room
The Sunset Cork Room is a wine bar/restaurant/wine store located in Gulf Shores. They feature a more eclectic menu using locally sourced produce, cheese, and seafood. Sunset also features weekly farm-to-table menus. The small bar seats about 20 people and offered a nice wine selection. My sister ordered a local cheese plate and I opted for the grilled lamb lollipops. Because I was drinking Cabernet and my sister wanted Riesling, we ended up with six glasses of wine and food for about $120. I would consider Sunset a fine dining establishment for this area, but it is quiet, cozy, with good food and wine.
There are an abundance of seafood markets in the area. If going out to eat isn’t your thing or you just need a break, go to a local market and grab some peel-and-eat shrimp, crab claws, or fish. Blalock’s and S&S Market offer fresh and cooked seafood, wine, and all the fixings. I made shrimp and saffron risotto!Cosmo’s
Unfortunately, I was not able to try Cosmo’s, but it got great reviews online and I heard several locals talking about the restaurant. The Orange Beach Wine Festival is also hosted by Cosmo’s (as well as Sunset Cork Room). The menu offers traditional items with a twist such as banana leaf wrapped fish, duck and sausage gumbo, and BBQ crab claws. Prices are very reasonable at $10-$20 per entrée and they have an extensive wine list. I will make sure to try Cosmo’s next trip!
Flora-Bama Lounge and Oyster Bar
If fancy dining doesn’t float your boat, why not try a biker bar? Flora-Bama is located on the Florida/Alabama state line and offers a no-frills dining experience. Just beach, burgers, oysters, and beer. My whole family went for burgers and the food was excellent! Cheap drinks too! The crowd was more family oriented during the day, but it gets more diverse in the evenings. I would like to go back when they have live music.
For those that have been to the Gulf Coast, what is your local favorite?