Skip to content

Some of our favorite Destin Restaurants

by Renee Taliaferro on January 3rd, 2009

It’s so easy to eat great food in Destin. If you’re here once or twice a year for a vacation, that’s great news! For us frequent visitors, the temptation to simply head out to a great restaurant is always, literally, right around the corner. So we often take advantage of the opportunities. We love to dine on delectably fresh seafood while enjoying the gorgeous ocean and harbor views.

For the view and a fun, party atmosphere, you can’t beat AJ’s Seafood restaurant on Destin Harbor. During the busy season, we make sure to head that way before the dinner crowds arrive. There’s always a band playing lively beach music. When it’s time to order, most people in our group love the seafood gumbo — it‘s full of plump, fresh seafood, okra and rice. AJ’s also serves a fantastic grilled grouper sandwich. Their fried shrimp is some of the best we’ve had in Destin. For children, the chicken fingers are excellent — not too heavily breaded. I usually try to avoid the fries, but they’re always freshly prepared, lightly fried, and so tasty. Some favorites of our friends’ teenagers include the strawberry daiquiries (without alcohol)– almost a meal in themselves — and the cheeseburgers. The inside menu has a greater variety, and although the seating is indoors the water views are also spectacular.

Callahan’s is another restaurant in Destin that we could not do without. It’s located just off Hwy. 98, one block east of Main Street (last year it was located on Holiday Isle). There’s no view, but they don’t need one because the food is consistently some of the best in Destin, or really anywhere. There are so many great options. My favorite is the steak Caesar salad. It’s a huge portion, so we usually split an order, or have another meal leftover. Their fried shrimp is excellent, also the Reuben sandwiches, vegetables, the hot dogs, any of their ever-changing specials, including the fried seafood platter. And their shrimp salad is perfect — we always order some to go for sandwiches the next day. Other items displayed in a long case at the front of the restaurnant include deli meats and cheeses, fabulous steaks, salads and scrumptious desserts. Actually, everything we’ve ever ordered there has been fabulous — and the menu is extensive. Every day the chef offers a dozen or more specials. To avoid waiting, plan to arrive a little early or late for lunch or dinner — this is a popular restaurant — and you’ll see why after just one meal.

We often go to Pepitos for Mexican food, also located just off Hwy. 98 East a couple of blocks past Main Street. We usually go for lunch, but last week, between Christmas and New Year‘s, we headed there for dinner around 6:30 and were surprised to find it packed, especially since Destin is not normally so crowded during December. My daughter loves their soft tacos and refried beans — also the chips and salsa. Prices are very reasonable on the children’s menu and the regular menu. I’m always amazed at the variety of their menu, and they’ve done a great job of featuring many of the entrees in photographs on the menu. The chips and salsa are among the best of any Mexican restaurant we’ve visited. The chips are always fresh out of the oven and the homemade salsa is so good we really would go there just for a few bowls of that. My husband always orders a combination platter that includes his favorite item — Chile Rellenos. I’ve always enjoyed the fajitas — especially the shrimp fajitas. The shrimp quesadillas are also excellent. This time I tried something new — the grilled fish served over finely chopped, seasoned vegetables with lettuce and beans on the side. Everything was delicious. Despite the large crowd, we waited only briefly at our table for the salsa to arrive. Service is always excellent. We also enjoyed a fantastic Margarita — neither too sweet nor too sour, it was just right. (The Top Shelf Margarita is worth the extra couple of dollars.)

For fine dining options, we have several favorites. Marina Café is located on the harbor and is always a favorite because they have a great upscale menu, lovely ambience, and a convenient location — on Hwy 98 just 5 minutes from our Holiday Isle location. My favorite menu item is the redfish. It’s one of their signature dishes that they’ve kept on the menu for years. Their salads are consistently great. Dinner is pricey, but reasonable and worth it. However, they do have some great specials. We love to go to there Sunday-Thursday 5-7 pm for half-price sushi rolls or gourmet pizza (we usually have enough of a crowd to have both) and half-priced drinks, including wine, beer and mixed and specialty drinks. (We’d go just for the martinis — I love the classic dry martini, but they have a huge list to suit any taste. Until at least the end of Janury this bar special is also available weekends.) I’ve enjoyed every meal I’ve ever had there, but some friends report occasional disappointments. Still, I recommend this place highly and I always want to go there when we have a babysitter available. It’s not recommended for children.

My absolute favorite dining experience is Café Provence. It’s not in Destin, but close enough. It’s located on Hwy. 98 just before the turn to Hwy. 30A, if you’re heading there from Destin. Every time we’ve been the whole evening has been fabulous. The French chef/owner and his wife usually greet their guests during the meal. The atmosphere is relaxed, quiet and casually elegant. On our first visit there, I ordered the grouper entrée, and it was so tender and flakey and tasty and fresh that I’ve ordered it every time we return. My husband always orders something different, either lamb or beef and he’s always been delighted.

Last summer the much-anticipated Commander’s Palace opened in Destin. We went a couple of times, once with our daughter for the jazz brunch. She declared shortly after arriving that this is her favorite place and she wants to come here all the time. It is fancy and the view and décor stand out even among the other great Destin establishments. “Well, that’s nice,” we said, “but this is a special occasion place” — even for brunch it was a pricey outing, but definitely worth the splurge. We enjoyed everything about the whole experience, from the delightful cocktails to the beautiful views of the East Pass, Gulf of Mexico and Destin Harbor to the charming jazz musicians who visit each table and take requests.

Some of our other favorites are Hog’s Breath — not just barbeque and ribs — their seafood is awesome. However, back to barbeque — we always order a pound each of the pulled chicken and pulled pork, plus a few sides, such as coleslaw and potato salad, to keep in the fridge while we’re in town. (Be sure to get plenty of sauce, especially the white sauce for the chicken. )We don’t usually order ribs unless we’re entertaining guests, but they have the best fall-off-the-bone, tender juicy ribs. And we love their Brunswick stew. All their sides are big crowd-pleasers as well, including the slaw (we’re picky about slaw and this passes the test — it’s not too sweet), the potato salad and the baked beans.

A few other Destin restaurants we highly recommend, and will visit again soon (and write about here), include Louisianna Lagniappe, Harbor Docks, Harry T’s, Ocean Club, Zampieri’s, Dewey Destin’s, The Boathouse, La Paz, The Crab Trap, Gourmet Entrees to Go, Gugliemo’s, and Beach Walk Café. We also regularly visit Staff’s in Fort Walton, and we’ll drive to Hwy 30A for many of their great restaurants, including Basmati’s, Bud & Alley’s, Café 331, and the famous Red Bar in Grayton Beach — among others.

From → Destin

No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Note: XHTML is allowed. Your email address will never be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS