The best things about a trip to the Alabama Gulf Coast are the sparkling white sand beaches and the stunning evening sunsets.
But the fresh Gulf seafood is right up there, too.
Gulf Shores and Orange Beach and the surrounding area have so many great dining options from which to choose that you might want to tack a couple of extra days and nights onto your vacation to sample them all.
Here are a few of our suggestions, based on our experiences and recommendations from some of the local experts:
28099 Perdido Beach Blvd., Orange Beach
Go ahead and splurge a little while you take in spectacular views of the bay at this upscale but casual restaurant under the Perdido Key Bridge in Orange Beach. Start with barbecued Gulf shrimp sauteed in a Creole butter sauce for your appetizer, the bronzed Gulf grouper served with Parmesan risotto and topped with sauteed blue crab for your main course, and finish with a slice of the Creole cheesecake with roasted pecan crust and pecan praline.
25753 Canal Road, Orange Beach
Whether you choose to dine inside or on the deck, Cosmo’s Restaurant & Bar is a fun and relaxing Orange Beach gem that’s famous for its signature firecracker shrimp appetizer and banana-leaf-wrapped Chilean sea bass, which is one of the Alabama Tourism Department’s “100 Dishes to Eat in Alabama Before You Die.”
26009 Perdido Beach Blvd., Orange Beach
Open since 1985, Cotton’s Restaurant is one of the oldest restaurants on Pleasure Island, an Orange Beach original with an inviting menu that includes crab queso, fish tacos, seared tuna, crab cakes, stuffed shrimp and fried oysters. The spacious second-floor dining room offers plenty of seating, so bring the whole beach gang.
138 W 1st Ave., Gulf Shores
Yes, the name says DeSoto’s Seafood Kitchen, but you’ll find lots more on the menu at this Gulf Shores treasure, which has been a favorite of both tourists and locals since it opened in 2000. Besides shrimp, coconut shrimp, oysters, crab claws and a fresh catch of the day, the menu has plenty of choices to satisfy even the pickiest landlubber, including Jamaican jerk chicken, a Hawaiian ribeye and fettuccini Alfredo.
27075 Marina Road #300, Orange Beach
Chef Bill Briand, a five-time James Beard Award semifinalist who honed his culinary skills working alongside legendary New Orleans restaurateurs Emeril Lagasse and Donald Link, has been turning heads with his creative Southern coastal cuisine almost from the day he and his business partner Johnny Fisher opened Fisher’s at Orange Beach Marina around eight years ago. Fisher’s is actually two restaurants in one spot. The second-floor Fisher’s Upstairs, the fancier of the two, features an ambitious fine-dining menu that includes crawfish beignets, stuffed quail, scallops and grilled swordfish. The ground-level Fisher’s Dockside is more of a shorts-and-sandals kind of place, with a casual menu that includes a smoked tuna dip, a fried grouper sandwich and the Fisher Burger, with pimento cheese and bacon. Upstairs or Dockside, you can’t go wrong. In fact, you should do both – Dockside for lunch and Upstairs for dinner.
101 E. Beach Blvd., Gulf Shores
Vacationers have been hanging out at The Hangout since the late 1950s and early 1960s, when the original surfside shack was a teen hot spot with a snack bar, beach gear and arcade games. Rebuilt after Hurricane Ivan in 2004, The Hangout is now a sprawling, family-friendly entertainment complex that includes live music, cold drinks and open-air dining. The casual menu features peel-and-eat shrimp, chicken wings, a shrimp po’ boy and The Hangout’s signature Alabama Wagyu burger.
14770 Oak St., Magnolia Springs
If you’re up for a little drive, Jesse’s Restaurant, which is nestled along Oak Street in picturesque Magnolia Springs, is one of the finest dining destinations along the Alabama Gulf Coast. The dining room is cozy and elegant, and the Creole-influenced menu, which changes daily, features a selection of steaks and seafood dishes. Also, Jesse’s famous Magnolia River Green Tomatoes – fried green tomatoes with goat cheese, remoulade, Gulf shrimp and corn relish – come highly recommended.
1137 Gulf Shores Parkway, Gulf Shores
A favorite of snowbirds, King Neptune’s is a budget-friendly joint with a bounty of fresh Gulf seafood options. The best way to sample a little of everything is to order the popular Steamed Combo seafood platter with oysters on the half shell, crab legs, shrimp and royal reds – all served with red potatoes and corn on the cob. Plan on sharing – or bringing an extra-large appetite.
701 Highway 59, Gulf Shores Parkway, Gulf Shores
A Gulf Shores mainstay for nearly four decades, the Original Oyster House sat just 60 people when it opened in 1983, and now, after three expansions, it has room for five times that many guests. They’re doing something right, in other words. In addition to raw, fried and baked oysters, the menu features crab cakes, grilled butter-pecan Mahi, blackened shrimp and grits, and crab-stuffed flounder. Our sources tell us the fried oyster po’ boy is a local favorite.
200 E. 25th Ave., Gulf Shores
No trip to Gulf Shores is complete without a visit to Lucy Buffett’s vacation paradise LuLu’s, which overlooks the Intracoastal Waterway. Get started with the L.A. (Lower Alabama) Caviar, a LuLu’s original with black-eyed peas in a balsamic vinaigrette. Then dive into the Big Fry Seafood platter (with shrimp, oysters, fish and crab claws served grilled, blackened or fried) or wrap your hands around the “Pa-Menna” Cheeseburger (with pimento cheese, bacon and a fried green tomato). And be sure to save room for the Krispy Kreme Bread Pudding for dessert, which is every bit as indulgent as it sounds.
100 E. 2nd Ave., Gulf Shores
For a blast from the past, the Sunliner Diner is a “Happy Days’’ throwback to the 1950s, with turquoise-and-white padded booths, waitresses with red lipstick, two vintage Ford Sunliners out front, and Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis on the jukebox. But you came for the food, right? The restaurant features such diner classics as meatloaf, country-fried steak, a Reuben and a BLT, as well as milkshakes, sundaes, banana splits and apple pie. Breakfast is also available all day long, with omelets, pancakes, waffles and French toast.
6232 Bon Secour Highway, Bon Secour
Far off the beaten path but well worth the drive, Tin Top Restaurant & Oyster bar is tucked away in the little Baldwin County fishing village of Bon Secour, where owners Bob and Patty Hallmark serve some of the freshest oysters and juiciest steaks along the Gulf Coast. The Tender Fenton, a 10-ounce tenderloin topped with the restaurant’s signature Oysters Fenton, is the best of both worlds.