Salads, wraps, burgers.
Reviewed restaurants can be found in Santa Rosa Beach, Seagrove Beach, Grayton Beach, Seaside, Northwest Florida, Emerald Coast, South Walton Beaches, SoWal Beaches, 30-A, Florida panhandle, Watercolor, Watersound, Rosemary Beach, Seacrest Beach.
No matter what you call your favorite part of it, this stretch of beach ranks in the top five in the world. The sugar-white squeaky-clean sand, the mystical dune lakes, the walkable neighborhoods and wide variety of eco-adventures draw repeat visitors back every season.
Annie and Louie don’t pretend to be sophisticated reviewers. They just know what they like. They like fresh food that tastes good with a little creativity thrown in every once in a while. And sometimes some Southern home-cooking that’s not so good for you, but tastes so good anyway. Here’s their take after spending five months sampling all Santa Rosa Beach had to offer.
Annie and Louie’s top 5 restaurants and more:
5) Cocoon’s. Go for breakfast – homemade biscuits with choice of eggs, bacon, sausage and cheese, cinnamon buns the size of three fists, slathered in icing. Favorite lunch sides include homemade potato salad, new potatoes cooked to just the right texture, large chunks of boiled eggs, celery, a toothy filling treat that tastes like Grandma made it. This is your go-to place for home-style cooked Southern food and take-out. Casual, deli-style counter. Perfect for families with children. The business also rents bikes and boards.
4) Hurricane Oyster Bar, also best oysters at happy hour and a favorite local hangout. Outdoor, covered seating with a view of a Monet water-lilied covered lake. Play ‘find the alligator’ while munching on peanuts in-between orders of oysters. He’s about three feet to four feet long, depending on who you ask. We named him Alex. Hurricane Bar in Grayton Beach favorites also include Creole-style authentic gumbo, savory burgers and great happy hour deals. Laid back, casual, perfect for after-the-beach.
3) Great Southern Cafe, best oysters at happy hour. Pair with delish Sauv Blanc. Pure sea heaven. Also one of the best breakfast/brunch spots. Arrive early. If there’s a wait, enjoy independent bookstore SunDog Books or check out the Mercantile nearby, which sports top-selling t-shirt, “I’m the Trophy Husband” as well as high-quality, high-fashion button down shirts for men and adorable beachwear for women. With kids? Try nearby Duckies for pre-dinner shopping.
2) Wine World, best cheese tray we’ve ever enjoyed. Plenty to share, French-styled cheese served at room temperature as it should be, half-price carafe specials, knowledgeable barkeeps and dining al fresco. An easy bike ride from most places in Watercolor, Seaside, Grayton Beach or Seagrove Beach.
1) Café 30-A, time and again this restaurant delivers, whether it’s steak, gourmet soups, pizza or seafood. Known for $5 martini nights Tuesdays and Thursdays and two-for-one entrees every day 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. In high season, arrive early. Valet parking – it’s just easier.
1) Café Tango. Yes, a tie for top restaurant. Make reservations because this spot is intimate and tiny – a converted cottage. Café Tango serves up world-class grilled and baked fish with exquisite sauces and impeccable service. This is what the French call “le repas de vacances,” or the “most special meal of the vacation.” Children would be bored here, so beg the grandparents to babysit or plan accordingly. Parking’s plentiful.
Annie and Louie’s Next Top 5 in Santa Rosa Beach:
5) Crush in Seaside. Friendly barkeeps, wide selection of wines, great happy hour deal. Crush also serves sushi, which was inconsistent during the past five months, but the wine’s worth the trip. Locals hint – jazz playing at Seaside? Arrive early at Crush and enjoy a seat and music.
5) Red Bar. Who doesn’t like the hippy vibe of Grayton Beach where Red Bar reigns? Ask barkeep Georgie, originally from Costa Rica, about her margaritas for locals – they will kick your butt. Jazz some nights, check the schedule. If Dread Clampitt’s playing, arrive early. Francophile’s will love the walls and ceilings plastered with old movie posters in French. Owners came from Belgium. Parking limited and challenging at times. Same menu for the last 10 years. Copious sized servings. The restaurant side’s okay for children early in the evening. The bar side, not so much.
4) Take-home ceviche from Goatfeathers. With lime Dorito chips, spiked with choice of hot sauce. Divine. Goatfeathers also steams shrimp and offers an excellent selection of fresh fish. Two locations – Seagrove Beach and Blue Mountain Beach.
4) Chanticleers for lunch. Tucked back into a nook in Grayton Beach, this one’s worth finding. Outdoor and indoor dining. Deli-style sandwiches, large variety of salads including an antipasto salad that’s plenty for two people. The owner’s charming and chatty. He launched this business after a dare from his students.
3) Cowgirl Kitchen in Rosemary Beach. Excellent omelets. Limited seating. Plan to park in the central lot and walk a few blocks. Kid-friendly.
2) The Perfect Pig. Don’t let the name fool you. This restaurant features plenty of healthy choices along with the pork. Indoor and outdoor dining, fit-for-foodie salads, brunch and breakfast egg dishes, as well as pork every way you can imagine – smoked, pulled, etc. Large parking lot out back and kid-friendly. An easy bike ride from many locations.
1) Flip Flops Grill. Best burgers on the beach. Spicy, fresh chipotle chicken wraps, salads and more. This owner keeps the place immaculately clean. Hip vibe with flip flop décor in appropriate amounts that would make Goldilocks happy – just right. Perfect for kids. Indoor and outdoor dining. Very casual. Right next to The Perfect Pig. (Kids can get a burger; Mom can get a salad at The Perfect Pig – they share outdoor seating.)
1) Seagrove Village Market Cafe. Traditional favorite. Arrive. Park. Leave luggage in the car. Locals know – this is the best place for a grouper sandwich or fish tacos. For the best seats and hottest tacos, arrive as early as possible – 11 or 11:15. This place doesn’t look like a restaurant. Enter the souvenir-styled store and head straight back to the order counter on the right. Indoor seating and outdoor seating. Don’t expect to linger, it’s a turn-the-tables kind of place that satisfies the craving for fresh seafood on a bun.
Best place on the beach for sunset: Grayton Beach, where one of the freshwater dune lakes spills into the Gulf, creating double reflections, a perfect place for kids to play in shallow water. Locals can drive on the beach with the appropriate sticker, so don’t be surprised if part of the beach looks like the tailgate at a ball game. What’s cool about Grayton Beach – the pristine view into Grayton Beach State Park, where no homes or high rises destroy the view, herons fish and dunes are protected.
Best local website with local forum: SoWal.com. Great for finding long-term rentals (better than Craig’slist) and overall information about the area. The owners are super nice and knowledgeable.
Best coffee house: Amavida.
Also worth a mention are the solid lunch deals found at Pizza by the Sea in Watercolor, next to the Publix, Bruno’s Pizza in Watersound and the smoked chicken salad sandwich found in the heart of Seaside from one of the Airstream trailer food trucks. Angelina’s, a family-run restaurant for more than 20 years, prepared a delightful pasta with asparagus and alfredo sauce and also features pizzas and traditional spaghetti.
Bookstores: Sundog Books in Seaside and The Hidden Lantern in Rosemary Beach.
Also good to know: no happy hour specials at Bud and Alley’s, but perfect for sunset. The restaurant food is pricey because it’s one of the few restaurants with a beach view. La Cocina Mexican restaurant in Rosemary Beach is worth the drive, no matter where you’re staying. In Rosemary Beach, Havana Club in The Pearl Hotel features a swanky bar and dressed-up dining atmosphere. Annie and Louie often didn’t meet the dress code for V or Vue so we skipped those. Borago’s upscale Italian fare rates high and Joy, the barkeep, makes a mean martini. In the winter, one night when the bridge froze over, Borago’s was one of the few open and we were happy to find it. Basmati’s features reasonably priced Asian-styled lunches and excellent service. Whiskey Bravo features rooftop seating with a partial view of the ocean and a view of several-story homes under construction. Friendly service and happy hour prices on wine and beer. No children permitted on the roof. Indoor and outdoor dining.
Please feel free to add your own favorites in our comments section. If your restaurant was not reviewed we either did not visit or we were too nice to say anything. We would be happy to review any new restaurants that opened since May 2014.
UPDATE: We meant to include #hibiscuscafe in Grayton Beach and #summerkitchen in Rosemary Beach. Also excellent dining choices. Great burger and creative evening fare at Summer Kitchen. Hibiscus Cafe serves a delightful Sunday brunch, which we enjoyed on Easter Sunday while listening to Cody Copeland. If Cody Copeland’s playing while you’re in the area, go listen. He’s talented, a real find. And that’s from a picky listener with Nashville roots.
Addresses or websites where available:
Wine World in Watercolor
Great Southern Cafe in Seaside
Hurricane Bar in Grayton Beach
Coccon’s – 4101 E County Highway 30A, Santa Rosa Beach, FL
Seagrove Village MarketCafe
Flip Flops Grill
The Perfect Pig 30A
Cowgirl Kitchen in Rosemary Beach
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