There are a lot of things I love about the Emerald Coast. The stunningly beautiful beaches, amazing shopping, fabulous spas, and enjoying time with friends and family.
But truly one of the things I love most is the wonderfully diverse number of restaurants. Casual, fancy, fresh seafood, delicious burgers and pizza, right on the beach with a gorgeous view of the sparkling white sand or tucked away in a quiet shopping area – restaurants in this location are everywhere.
And I am here to tell you that I have tried quite a number of them and enjoyed every single one. The great thing is that I can go to each one again and again, order something new, and enjoy it just as much as the first time. The even greater thing is that there are many, many restaurants I have not tried yet.
The very thought is exhilarating.
Why, yes. Some people might get exhilarated at climbing the tallest mountain but I get exhilarated at the thought of eating. What is your point exactly?
So, here you go. My pick of some of the best restaurants you can find in the area, keeping in mind that I might just find the most perfect one on my next visit. I will just have to eat out as much as humanly possible.
It’s the only way to be sure.
1. Best Restaurant for Family Fun: Uncle Bucks Fishbowl and Grill. I’m going to be honest, I only tried the appetizers at this location but that was enough to persuade me that I need to return and order a great deal more food, possibly everything on the menu. The appetizers were not your typical, heat-something-from-the-freezer appetizers but honest to God made from scratch deliciousness. Not only is the food amazing, the locale will quite literally knock your socks off or, at the very least, your shoes because you are going to want to lace up some bowling shoes at this astonishing place. The murals and amazing decorations will make you feel like you have stepped into the middle of an aquarium. Even the bowling balls are caught by eye-catching creatures!
Not only can you bowl a few games under the sea, Uncle Buck’s is located in Destin Commons, one of the truly undiscovered treasures in Destin. This beautiful shopping area is pedestrian friendly, has fountains and play areas for the kids, and plenty of truly wonderful shops.
2. Best Restaurant for a Romantic Evening Out: Cuvee Bistro. A whole lot of restaurants at the beach are super casual with wooden, beat up floors and an open view to the beach all of which are super. Cuvee Bistro is not like that. Cuvee Bistro is classy, classy, classy. This is the time to get out that little black dress you packed, your high-heeled sandals and some sparkly jewels because this restaurant is quite, quite lovely. They are so nice they will not blink an eye if you show up in cut off blue jean shorts but I wouldn’t. Our waiter was seriously so excited about working at Cuvee Bistro that he could barely contain himself. He told us in all seriousness that he often comes in on his day off just to eat the Smoked Tomato and Shrimp soup so of course we had to order that! And it was amazing.
I also strongly suggest that you order the Grouper Vince which is Pecan Crusted with Honey Worcestershire Sauce that was sweet and to die for and came with the Mashed Yukon Gold Potato Cake. The photo I took did not do it justice so you will have to take my word for it. Once we were all lolling back in our chairs in an over stuffed, culinary stupor, they bought out these darling sampler plate of desserts in which they had cheerfully stuck a sparkler. Does this place do it up right or what?
3. Best Restaurant for a Girls Night Out: The Beach Walk Cafe at the Henderson Park Inn. The Henderson Park Inn is truly one of my favorite places to stay, not just in Destin, but anywhere. One of the reasons is definitely the lovely Beach Walk Café which has not only an amazing view of some of the nicest beaches in the area but also amazingly good food. I have eaten there a couple of times and the food is equally good, no matter what you order. I’m not sure who Vince is and why grouper all over town is named after him, but they also have a Grouper Vince which is pecan crusted and served over a potato cake. It’s different from the one at Cuvee Bistro but equally good.
4. Best Restaurant for a Gourmet Experience: Bistro Bijoux. Located in Baytown Wharf in Sandestin, one of my very favorite resorts, this unassuming little restaurant is tucked away so you would never know how wonderful the food is until you try it. And you must do so as soon as humanly possible. The last time I was there I had these truly amazing little crab beignet appetizers. I wasn’t sure what to expect since the only beignets I had eaten previously were sweet and dusted with confectionary sugar but these were perfect in every way.
I’m pretty picky about my shrimp and grits and have ordered them at several different locations but Bistro Bijoux has the best, bar none.
5. Best Restaurant for Sushi: Jackacuda’s. First, I have to admit that I did not order the sushi when we ate here. I had mistakenly passed up fish tacos the day before and I was not about to let the opportunity pass me by again, so that’s what I had. And they were very good but kinda spicy so keep that in mind.
However, several people in our group ordered the sushi and, based on the moans of ecstasy which ensued, that is what I will get next time. They have these really unusual sushi bowls with several kinds of sushi and rice which looked amazing. Prior to my spicy fish tacos, I absolutely had to order an appetizer of the fried avocado because seriously? Who fries avocado? Well, Jackuda’s does and it’s amazing.
I also got an out of this world dessert but was so excited about eating it that I neglected to take a photo, which is a failing of mine. Let me just describe it so you can be suitably impressed and order it next time. Picture three small ice cream sandwiches made out homemade sugar cookies which had been filled with maple bacon ice cream. Which had tiny chunks of bacon in it. Yes. Now you have to have it, don’t you?
6. Best Restaurant for Fun: Aj’s Seafood and Oyster Bar. Aj’s was truly one of the most fun places I visited on our recent trip to the Emerald Coast. Located right on the bay in Harborwalk Village where there are plenty of kid-friendly activities including the Southern Star Dolphin Cruise, the restaurant has a great view of the bay and tons of kitschy decorations which include a variety of outboard boat motors scattered hither and yon. I’m quite ashamed to say that I did not take one single photo of what I ate but this may have been because I had a large and lovely drink called a Bushwhacker which is described as a creamy, chocolate pina colada but tasted like a milkshake. A milkshake with rum. You should totally go to Aj’s and order one. Get the grilled fish sandwich made with whatever the catch of the day is because it was delicious. Even though I have no photographic evidence.
7. Best Restaurant for Breakfast or Brunch: The Donut Hole. We were all astonished at the line snaking out the door of this place when we arrived for breakfast one morning. Seriously? What do all these people know that we don’t? Then we tasted the homemade doughnuts and we knew. This place does not even have a web site, so you can consider yourself really in the know so that you can check it out on your next visit. I took a photo of my lone Devil’s Food doughnut which I ordered since I was also getting an omelet. If I had known how good it would be, I would have said forget the omelet and just give me a dozen doughnuts to stuff in my face. They have every flavor you can possibly imagine including Key Lime Pie and they also have a bakery with cakes, pies, and breads which looked so good I was tempted to try to fit some in my suitcase. You have to wait in that long line to get a seat for a hot breakfast but if you are just getting doughnuts to go, you can walk right in. So I suggest that. Just get plenty because everyone in your family will be scarfing them down.
8. Best Restaurant for Italian Food: Mama Clemenza’s. This is one of those restaurants that are hidden away in a small shopping center and you might never know it is there. This would be a tragedy since you need to go here immediately. Run by the Clemenza family who take great pride in making everything from scratch, they also have a small demonstration kitchen where the host events and offer very popular cooking classes. Once you taste their food, you will realize why those classes are so popular. We went for breakfast but I have them on my list for lunch and dinner the next time I am in the area. When we arrived, they immediately brought out plates of fresh, Hazelnut Honey Madelines which were still warm. OMG. Soft, not too sweet, dusted with confectionary sugar, these were scrumptious.
Luckily, I was polite and didn’t immediately stuff five or six in my mouth because I needed room for my Cinnamon Apple Crepes which were fabulous in every way.
9. Best Restaurant for after the Gulfarium: Angler’s Beachside Grill. No family can visit the Emerald Coast without a trip to the Gulfarium which has been a family favorite since 1955. Located just a few steps from the Gulfarium at the entrance to Okaloosa Island Pier where you can rent fishing equipment and buy bait, the restaurant is casual, open to the Gulf breezes, and has wonderful, tasty seafood. Because we had a big breakfast and I was not hungry for a big seafood lunch, I ordered the Crab and Shrimp Parmesan Dip which was a great idea because it was not only the perfect amount of food, it was also hot, fresh, and delicious.
10. Best Restaurant for Coffee and Dessert: Tommy Bahama Restaurant and Bar. We have had some great desserts at the Emerald Coast but my favorite is still one I had at the Hawaii Tommy Bahama Restaurant and Bar for the first time several years ago. Their Pina Colada Cake is a Vanilla Cake made with Myers Dark Rum, Diced Pineapple, White Chocolate Mousse and Toasted Coconut sprinkled on top. Fair warning – it’s a huge piece of cake so you either want to share or take the rest home for later because God Forbid you throw any away. I actually took my leftover cake in Hawaii on the plane home with me and ate it with relish mid-flight, much to the annoyance of my fellow passengers who were just jealous, I’m sure. The restaurant on Grand Boulevard has a really nice patio for dining and there are plenty of interesting shops nearby, along with a movie theater.
So, there you go. Ten of my favorites. Now you have a list to refer to on your next visit to the gorgeous Emerald Coast. Although this is just a few of the hundreds of choices. I’ll be back there in a month and will see if I can find some other great ones to share with you. I will persevere in finding the best restaurants with the most amazing food.
It’s only my duty as a conscientious travel writer.