A Short List of 10 Great Dining Experiences for Real Florida Flavor
By Rachelle Lucas
Florida is a great destination for foodies, offering locally caught seafood, farm-fresh produce and plenty of exciting new dining experiences on the rise.
There are literally hundreds of top restaurants in Florida and unique foods to try, from historic classics to cozy beach shacks with a view.
If you’re looking for a short list to guide you, here are some bucket-list eating experiences, each worth planning an entire road trip around.
A dozen fresh raw Apalachicola oysters at the Hole in the Wall (Apalachicola)
People say you find the best food at little mom-and-pop hole-in-the-wall places, and this small seafood shack named itself just that. Known for having some of the best oysters in Apalachicola, Hole in the Wall Raw Bar is a great place to order up a dozen plump raw oysters on the shell with a side of horseradish.
A grouper sandwich at Frenchy’s Rockaway Grill (Clearwater Beach)
Frenchy’s Rockaway Grill is an open-air beach shack right on the sand overlooking the ocean in Clearwater Beach and is a popular spot for watching a game of beach volleyball or celebrating the sunset. They’re famous for their grouper sandwich, and since they have their own fishing company, you know it’s going to be right-off-the-boat fresh.
Stone crab claws at Joe’s Stone Crab (Miami Beach)
What started out in 1913 as a little lunch counter on the beach has grown to be one of the most legendary seafood restaurants not only in Miami Beach but the world. Joe was one of the first chefs to try cooking stone crabs back then you could get a handful of them for only 75 cents. Today, they cost quite a bit more, but it’s worth splurging on this Florida seafood delicacy because they’re only in season October through May.
Dinner at two of Tampa’s legendary treasures. (Tampa)
Tampa has a reputation as a foodie destination and two historically important restaurants are not to miss — Bern’s Steakhouse and Columbia Restaurant. Bern’s has the largest wine collection in the world and a legendary dessert room where you can dine while seated in a repurposed redwood wine barrel. The Columbia is Florida’s oldest restaurant, open since 1905 as a small Cuban cafe and now offering award-winning Spanish cuisine and nightly flamenco dance shows.
Web: bernssteakhouse.com and columbiarestaurant.com
Shrimp Rolls right on the beach at Shrimp Shack (Seaside)
If you dream of sitting right on the beach with your toes in the sand and devouring a bucket of shrimp and a cold beer, Shrimp Shack is your place. Located in the idyllic town of Seaside, this compact little restaurant offers some of the freshest, most mouthwatering seafood in the state.
A “Fully Loaded Hot Dog” at The Old Salty Dog (City Island)
The Old Salty Dog near Sarasota ad serves English pub grub with a Florida twist. They offer grouper sandwiches, conch fritters, and buckets of peel-and-eat shrimp, but what they’re best known for is their legendary Salty Dog. The perfect cure for too much sun and sand, it’s a beer-battered, deep-fried, foot-long hot dog topped with onions, mushrooms, sauerkraut, bacon, and a variety of cheeses.
Deep Pressure-Fried Chicken and at Yoder’s Amish Restaurant (Sarasota)
Hands down, this is the best fried chicken you’ll ever have in your life. Yoder’s hand-breads chicken and then fries it in a deep-pressure cooker to seal in all the juices and give it a real crispy texture. Save room for dessert, though, because their baked-from-scratch handmade pies (try the banana or peanut butter) are also legendary.
Artisan-crafted ice with Florida distilled spirits at Ice Plant Bar (St. Augustine)
Located in a historic St. Augustine ice plant building with exposed brick walls and the original ice crane (on rails) that would pick up huge blocks of ice and slide them onto railway cars back in the 1920’s, Ice Plant Bar has the sort of atmosphere that makes you feel like you’ve stepped back in time. They offer craft cocktails made with Florida-distilled spirits, farm-to-table fare, and bar bites so good that you won’t want to share them. Sip their Florida Mule with St. Augustine Vodka, ginger, lime, soda, and mint.
Fried alligator tail at Lone Cabbage Fish Camp (Cocoa)
When in Florida, you have to taste a bit of gator, and there’s no better place to do that than in the middle of Florida swampland. Located in Cocoa midway between Orlando and the coast, Lone Cabbage Fish Camp is surrounded by wetlands framed with tall reeds and cattails that are the perfect hiding spot for alligators. After trying a basket of fried gator tail, you can go see gators in the wild aboard one of the restaurant’s airboat rides.
A slice of key lime pie from The Florida Key Lime Pie Company (Cocoa)
As the official state dessert, you can’t visit Florida without having a slice of key lime pie. The Florida Key Lime Pie Company in Cocoa makes the perfect pie, with a custardy middle, the perfect balance between tangy and creamy, and just a hint of cinnamon in the graham cracker crust. They’re featured in top restaurants in Florida, but you can always visit their store to pick up a whole pie to take home.