There’s no shortage of restaurants along Alabama’s Gulf Coast to sate your appetite, and plenty of them are plenty good. But if you want to find the best places to eat in the Orange Beach/Gulf Shores area, look to the year-round residents and repeat visitors. The spots listed below draw locals and tourists in the know over and over again.
- Doc’s Seafood Shack & Oyster BarThe fried oyster basket at Doc’s Seafood Shack & Oyster Bar hits the right spot after a long day on the beach (photo by Jennifer Kornegay)This laidback eatery boasts “the best fried shrimp in the civilized world,” yet it’s the oysters that bring most people back. Proving that simple can be simply amazing, the fried oyster basket at this longtime favorite (with locations in Gulf Shores and Orange Beach) is packed with soft, briny bi-valves dunked in batter and cooked to crisp perfection in hot oil. They’re wearing a thicker coat of crunchy crust than oysters done with just cornmeal, but the texture and taste of the South’s most sought-after mollusk still shine. Crisp cole slaw with a hint of sugar, basic crinkle fries, and rust-colored hushpuppies complete the meal.
- Pirate’s Cove Do as Jimmy Buffet has done (or so they say) and eat a cheeseburger in paradise at Pirate’s Cove. It will make your taste buds sing. (Photo by Jennifer Kornegay)Is the pirate’s life for you? Take it for a test drive with a visit to Pirate’s Cove Yacht Club in Josephine. A ramshackle collection of decks surround a tin-topped shack with a Jolly Roger logo and signs reading, “Abandon hope all ye who enter here.” But don’t let the foreboding motif fool you. This special spot has been open for over half a century, fronting a small beach on Arnica Bay and welcoming a colorful cross section of society, everyone from college students, families with kids, grizzled old salts, leather-clad bikers, lots of locals, and at least twenty dogs. It is the marina of choice for most area sailboats (most folks arrive at Pirate’s Cove via boat, but you can get there in a car) as well as the place to dive into the finest cheeseburger you’ve ever stuffed in your mouth. In fact, local lore swears it is the famous “cheeseburger in paradise” immortalized in song by Alabama native Jimmy Buffett. Wash it down with a smooth, sweet, and always strong bushwhacker, a creamy concoction of vanilla ice cream and crème de coconut blended with coffee liqueur and dark rum.
- Fisher’s at Orange Beach Marina Roasted oysters on the half shell smothered in aromatic leek butter are just one example of the elevated coastal cuisine at Fisher’s Upstairs (photo by Jennifer Kornegay)Fronting Orange Beach Marina, this eatery boasts two personalities: a “flip-flops and cover-ups welcome” vibe greets you in the open-air downstairs that’s dockside and so close to the water and boats resting at the marina, one cocktail too many could lead to an unintentional swim. At Fisher’s Upstairs, the atmosphere is definitely more sophisticated (with soft colors and contemporary coastal chic décor) but still laidback. While both versions of Fisher’s are inviting, the menus featuring classic yet innovative takes on coastal cuisine are the real reasons to venture beyond the main beach road to find this place. The menu changes often and with the seasons (and what fresh catch is available), but offerings like fried Gulf fish and grits with black-eyed pea salad and a side of ham and green onion hush puppies are examples of the tasty time awaiting your tongue.
- Cosmo’s And they mean it—just about everyone else is here! (Photo courtesy of mobilefixture.com)Cosmo’s in Orange Beach sits off Canal Road, tucked beneath a sprawling canopy of mammoth live oaks. It stays pretty packed thanks to a neighborhood pub feeling and an expansive deck illuminated by fire pits and glowing string lights that’s usually all abuzz with happy chatter and, sometimes, singing and guitar strumming. The diverse menu has a little bit of everything, including (of course) fresh seafood and some of the area’s best sushi, but it has some delicious non-fish dishes as well, many prepared with Creole flavors and techniques.
- Lillian’s PizzaSometimes you just need a few slices of pizza, and Lillian’s is always happy to oblige (photo by Jennifer Kornegay)You really can have too much of good thing. Yes, even too much just-caught, premium quality seafood. So if you find yourself in that particular pickle down at the beach, you’re in luck. In Perdido Key, Florida (right over the Alabama/Florida state line at Orange Beach), Lillian’s Pizza is a family-owned-and-operated pizza joint that’s spinning out some of the tastiest pies, not just down on the coast but just about anywhere. Daily-made dough (from a secret recipe no less) and a superior sauce set the stage for a range of tempting topping options. Make sure you’re hungry when you go ’cause your mouth won’t want to stop, even if your stomach does. Pick from the Italian pan crust (thick and chewy) or the thin crust (super crisp). Either way, you’ll be satisfied, and you can tell Ms. Lillian herself how much you like her pizza; she’s often in the restaurant, overseeing every toss of the dough and sprinkle of cheese.
- Bravo Tacos Bravo Tacos offers a lengthy list of Tex-Mex options to choose from, but they all have one thing in common: super fresh ingredients (photo by Jennifer Kornegay)This unassuming spot in a strip mall dishes up ahh-mazing tacos, burritos, and nachos that rival those found in Tex-Mex hot spots like Austin, Texas. Start with a cup of queso fundido, molten smoked gouda and jack, in which chorizo sausage and caramelized onions are drowning. Add a scoop of house-made guacamole, and you could easily make a meal out of chips and dips alone. But don’t. Because then you’d miss the tacos. The pork carnitas tacos. The chicken tacos. The steak tacos. The chorizo tacos. And if you can’t, in good conscience, not order something that swims, go for the shrimp or fish tacos, both fine choices.