If you love culinary adventures, the Alabama Gulf Coast is a delicious slice of sweet home Alabama! In both Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, the two cities that comprise the area, you can find everything to suit your particular gastronomic taste and desire.
One of the wonderful things about the culinary scene here is that there are scores of outstanding places to eat and you literally couldn’t go wrong, whether you prefer fine dining, beachside bistros, family joints, intimate hideaways, or anything in between.
Among some of the longest standing local and visitor favorites are places like Lucy Buffett’s LuLu's, a Caribbean-style utopia complete with nightly entertainment, a great bar and fun activities for the entire family; Cobalt,serving fine, upscale coastal cuisine; The Hangout, known for their burgers, seafood and lively bar and entertainment; Tacky Jack's, a fave for their amazing Poboys, seafood, and platters (they have locations in Orange Beach, Gulf Shores and Fort Morgan); and Moe’s Original BBQ, described as “a Southern soul food revival” serving a wide range of fish, seafood, barbecued and non-barbecued meat dishes and platters.
The rub with naming names is that there are so many awesome places to eat you hate to leave any out. Nevertheless, for this particular visit, these are some of my top picks:
Locally-owned and voted the best lunch and dinner spot for over 10 years in a row, DeSoto’s Seafood Kitchen is an award winning family restaurant featuring fresh, made to order dishes. Great starters include crab cakes, oysters on the half shell, crab and shrimp bisque, seafood gumbo and fried crab claws, just to name a few. For your main meal, choose from an extensive assortment of seafood platters and entrée dishes prepared as you like it: fried, blackened, broiled, grilled, Cajun style or steamed. And for the half dozen or so daily fresh catch options opt for it to be seasoned in the DeSoto house favorite Pecan Encrusted Style, Mediterranean, New Orleans or Caribbean.
Whether you like fish or seafood, ham, chicken, steak, shrimp, crab cakes, or pasta—most all dishes accompanied by two of their 12 homemade side dishes: hush puppies, fried green tomatoes, yellow rice, baked potato, sweet potato casserole, French fries and others—you will find a combination to suit you here. And 55+ diners will find a wide array of options in the same portion size, at a discount price beginning at 3pm.
Want to explore a wide variety of authentic Asian dishes where no passport is required? Then head on over to Aji Sai Asian Cuisine. The menu is quite diverse, encompassing modern interpretations of classic Chinese, Japanese, Thai and Malaysian dishes made to order using high quality fresh ingredients.
Thai Spice Crispy Calamari, Wok fried rices, Singapore Mei Fun and five different kinds of curries are just part of the offerings here. And if you’re a sushi fan, you will be overjoyed, as Aji Sai serves up an extensive array of sushi and sashimi entrees, and classic, premium and chef’s special rolls.
There are a lot of fabulous Mexican restaurants in town, and among them is Cactus Cantina (in addition to locations in Gulf Shores and Orange Beach there are other restaurants in Pensacola, Fairhope and Perdido Beach).
Menu options here include the customary Mexican dishes, plus an array of specialties with a twist like their Cactus Grits, taken up a notch with tomatoes, spices, and a little jalapeño; the Spinach and Mushroom Quesadilla, a flour tortilla stuffed with melted cheese, sautéed spinach and mushrooms with a side of sour cream, lettuce and tomatoes; the Gringo Tacos, juicy grilled chicken tacos with fresh grilled pineapple and chorizo topped with raw onion and cilantro; and the Piña Fajitas, a cored pineapple half stuffed with grilled chicken, shrimp or steak on a bed of sautéed bell peppers and onions.
One of the newest additions to the culinary scene here is Picnic Beach, and there is plenty there to satisfy carnivores and herbivores alike with special attention paid to customer diet, preference, and allergy needs. On the meatier end, savor their award-winning barbecued smoked brisket, pork, wings, chicken, ribs and conecuh sausage. Think items like the Picnic Manwich - smoked pulled pork, pulled chicken or brisket piled high on a brioche bun with red cabbage and carrot coleslaw, and Alabama sweet bbq sauce, or the Picnic Rib Poboy, their signature smoked ribs topped with Korean bbq, house coleslaw, and crispy fried onions served on a toasted Poboy bun, just to name a few.
Those desiring healthier, plant-based dishes will find a large variety of vegetarian and vegan options including breakfast and lunch/dinner bowls, juices, and “snacks” like the Charred Cauliflower - house-seasoned and chargrilled with Alabama white bbq (which is fabulous!) and mustard bbq sauces, the Buffalo Cauliflower Wings, and the Plant Power Bowl made with organic plant sausage with broccoli, smoked cauliflower and squash, topped with roasted sweet potato, and sriracha BBQ sauce.
Salmon, shrimp (grilled, fried or steamed), Mahi Mahi, and/or tuna can be added to any dish, many of their dishes are or can be prepared gluten-free, and of the almost a dozen side dishes, most are vegan as well.
What makes Picnic Beach so fun is that it is designed to impart a true beachy ambiance with whitewashed indoor and outdoor picnic tables, picnic blankets and board and other family games. They also feature live music on Thursdays and Sundays.
So loosen those belts and warm up those taste buds, because the Alabama Gulf Coast is ready to take you on a gastronomic adventure you’ll remember for years to follow!
Looking for some great attractions while in town? Check out historic Fort Morgan and the new Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo!