As a lifelong Floridian, wife, mother of two, and proud theme park hater, I’ve done my fair share of trekking the back roads and off-the-beaten-path destinations in the real Florida, and no matter where our adventures take us, there is one rule that we eat by…NO FAST FOOD and NO CHAIN RESTAURANTS!
Simply put, whether we are on a day trip, a weekend getaway, or a week-long vacation, we steer clear of fast food and national chains. There is no better way of getting to know a town or people than by eating where the locals eat. Food defines us and we define our food, so we choose to eat in small dives, diners, and even shacks, and over the past few years, we’ve built a list of fabulous Florida seafood restaurants that guarantee a taste of the real Florida.
Are there plenty of great seafood restaurants in Florida that haven’t made my list? Absolutely! Are these the only seafood restaurants writing about? Definitely not! These just happen to be SOME of our favorites that have never failed to deliver fantastic date nights, as well as family friendly meals. Likewise, none of the restaurants on any of our lists will ever break the bank. Over the years, we’ve found that some of the best restaurants are the unpretentious and simple, serving fresh, affordable food.
Capt’n Cons Fish House
Near Fort Myers
Capt’n Cons hasn’t changed in the past 20+ years. It’s still a small house on the north end of Pine Island on the southwest coast of Florida, just over the bridge from Fort Myers, and it’s still serving some of the best, unpretentious Florida seafood. From the freshest local seafood to their famous fish chowder, this is one of our seafood favorites. This place is nothing fancy, worth the drive, and perfectly suited for the whole family.
Must Try: fried shrimp, fried grouper, fish chowder, 10 oz burger
The Fishery Restaurant
Between Englewood and Port Charlotte
The Fishery has changed owners a few times, but lucky for us, the food quality has stayed the same. When I was a kid, it was the restaurant in the back of the fish market. The fish market moved last year, but the restaurant is still there serving up insanely fresh local seafood. In true Florida fashion, you can arrive by boat as easily as you do car, and many people do just that…cruise in and tie up along the dock. When you visit The Fishery, there will be more locals than tourists, and whether they’re hanging out on the deck enjoying a rum runner or inside munching on seafood baskets, this place is worth several trips. Our kids LOVE going to The Fishery.
Must Try: fried shrimp, rum runners, seafood pastas…Sad to see that alligator is no longer on the menu 😥
Key Largo, FL
On the Card Sound Road route to Key Largo
Alabama Jack’s may be the quintessential dive bar/restaurant. Food is served on styrofoam plates with a roll of paper towels on the table. The tables are bare wood with resin patio furniture chairs. This place is beyond hole-in-the-wall status. However, don’t be alarmed by its “rustic” charm and dirt lot, and unless you arrive when they open, be prepared to wait for a seat. They fill up FAST! This place is famous for its lively atmosphere, drinks, music, fresh seafood, and off-the-beaten-path location.
Must Try: conch fritters, fried mahi
Frenchy’s Rockaway Grill
Clearwater Beach, FL
Frenchy’s is probably the most touristy places on my list, but it’s been a favorite long before it became famous. Frenchy’s is known for their Super Grouper Sandwich and for good reason. It’s huge, tender, crisp, fresh grouper, and don’t be surprised when no one at your table it talking…they’re too busy eating. The only downside to Frenchy’s is a Clearwater Beach issue. Parking is AWFUL! However, if you’re staying at a hotel in Clearwater Beach, leave your car and call one of the Florida Free Ride vehicles to take you.
Must Try: grouper sandwich
The Green Turtle Inn
The Green Turtle has been a Keys fixture since the 1940s, and its kitschy neon sign is hard to miss. We plan our trips to Key West around the Green Turtle’s hours. We’ve been there so many times that I can’t remember how we happened upon it so many years ago. Regardless of how we found it, one truth still remains–the food is phenomenal–and the only problem I have is deciding what to eat. This might be the only restaurant that I would consider eating from a buffet, just so that I could try everything on the menu!
Must Try: Shrimp & Grits (for breakfast), Keys Benedict (with CRAB!!), Turtle Chowder
North end heading toward Sarasota
We’ve been going to Howard’s since it was I was a teen and have been taking our kids there since they were little and the restaurant was in its original location near Beach Road. Howard’s is a bit of everything–fresh seafood, massive burgers, cocktail specials, unique salad bar, and even Mexican nights in the summer! Basically, Howard’s has something for everyone. Oh, and why did I mention Mexican specials in the summer? Simple. Last summer, we were having dinner and our uber-picky teenager poured over the menu and couldn’t make a decision, but when the waitress mentioned the Mexican specials, he jumped on the burrito. He LOVES Mexican, and the burrito at Howard’s delivered. In fact, it delivered so much that he couldn’t finish it…and he eats more than a grown man!