There's no better place to try the fresh catch of the day then in the St. Petersburg/Clearwater area on the west coast of Florida. Not only do these waterfront cities boast a coveted location directly on the Gulf of Mexico, there's a burgeoning food scene for locals and travelers alike. Offering great options for any budget, you'll find a combination of new upscale restaurants and laid-back beachfront mainstays.
Some of the more luxurious dining locales feature well-renowned chefs at the helm and an impressive wine list to accompany a seasonal menu touting organic local ingredients. And others on this list offer down-home seafood dishes prepared simply and deliciously with added bonuses like a waterfront backdrop, great service and live music to sweeten the deal.
Well-known restaurants located in popular hotels are top dining destinations, but many of the best restaurants are stand alone locales in gulf front locations like Clearwater Beach, Dunedin and Tierra Verde.
Whether you're looking for fresh oysters, coconut shrimp, tuna tartare, lobster, crispy calamari or finely prepared grouper, dining options run the gamut along the shore. And be sure to mark your calendar for Florida Stone Crab season, which runs from mid-October to mid-May -- the best time of the year to try this highly sought after local delicacy.
Frenchy's Rockaway Grill
If you're looking for a laid back beach bar with great food and live music, Frenchy's Rockaway Grill in Clearwater Beach is the perfect place for you. This open-air beachfront joint specalizes in locally caught grilled fish, has two bars and live bands play daily. It's one of several Frenchy's locations in the Clearwater area, but this one is particularly special because of it's location right on the sand. A favorite for both locals and visitors alike, sip on cold cocktails and order the grouper sandwich. Outdoor seating, pool tables, and sports-viewing on the TVs provide other distractions. It's a great neighborhood hangout. (727-446-4844)
Guy Harvey's RumFish Grill & Bar
Guy Harvey's RumFish Grill & Bar at Guy Harvey Outpost, a TradeWinds Beach Resort, is located on the island of St. Pete Beach. And while visitors come for the food, the restaurant's main attraction is a 33,500-gallon aquarium built by Wayde Kine and Brett Raymer of Animal Planet's hit series, "Tanked." Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, RumFish offers both indoor and outdoor seating areas. The menu includes a wide variety of appetizers, soups, salads, sandwiches and entrees. Standout starters include peppered Ahi tacos, Caribbean Ceviche and duck confit flat bread. Larger entrees range from pan seared local Grouper picatta and clam capellini to a dry rubbed rib eye and chicken tortellini. (844-786-3474)
Billy's Stone Crab Seafood & Steaks
Spectacular seafood awaits visitors at this down-home restaurant's waterfront locale on the island of Tierre Verde, located just north of Fort De Soto State Park. Florida natives and tourists alike relish the view of Hurricane Hole harbor as you enjoy award-winning, regionally trapped Florida stone crab, which is available seasonly. Offering reasonably priced menu items for children and adults, Billy's Stone Crab Seafood and Steaks marks the perfect destination for memorable seafood dining against a gorgeous aquatic backdrop. Stand out menu items include grouper nuggets, fried oysters, buffalo shrimp, crab cakes, oysters on the half shell, fried calamari, coconut shrimp and the Billy's Dang-Bang Shrimp. ((727) 866 - 2115)
Olde Bay Cafe & Dunedin Fish Market
No reservations necessary for this waterfront gem located in laid back Dunedin, located north of the Clearwater area. It was originally a 1930s wooden shack with a loading dock where local fisherman unloaded their daily catches.
Walt Wickman transformed the old structure into Olde Bay Cafe -- a fish market meets casual eatery. Not only is the food fantastic and fresh, the sunset views overlooking the marina are breathtaking.
Specializing in the freshest seafood on the coast, Wickman has served under six James Beard award-winning chefs and will tantalize your tastebuds with everything from Florida stone crabs and peel n' eat shrimp to his take on the Cuban sandwich. (727-733-2542)
Birch & Vine, The Birchwood
Located on Beach Drive in laid back downtown St. Petersburg, Birch & Vine offers globally inspired fine dining dishes crafted by Chef Jason Cline.
The restaurant's main dining room is situated inside The Birchwood, a boutique hotel in a historic building. Garden and terrace seating options overlook the Banyan trees of North Straub Park and stunning water views of Tampa Bay.
Chef Cline is working hard to put St. Pete on the culinary map. He was featured on the Cooking Channel's "Emeril's Florida." And in 2014, he was chosen as one of six chefs nationwide to participate in the Niman Ranch farmer appreciation dinner, where he cooked for more than 400 farmers in a unique farm to table event. (727-896-1080)
Carreta on the Gulf
Located on Clearwater Beach, Caretta on the Gulf is Sandpearl Resort's AAA four-diamond restaurant. Perched above the sand, this elegant eatery offers indoor/outdoor seating and a private dining room. The restaurant also features a ceviche bar, private wine room, lounge and bar. Named for the Loggerhead Sea Turtle, the restaurant specializes in seasonal seafood and traditional American fare. Try the Ratatouille Zucchini Boxes with olive tapenade, cannelloni beans and roasted yellow tomato vinaigrette or a fresh catch of the day served with organic vegetables and potato souffl. For a special occasion, sample the chef's Dinner Tasting Menu with specialty selected wine pairings and dessert. (727-674-4171)
Marchand's Bar & Grill
A fitting complement to the glorious Vinoy, this celebrated dining room embodies elegance, with its frescoes, bay views, and accents of marble and mahogany. Its cuisine is in perfect keeping with the refined setting. A menu swayed by Mediterranean and Italian sensibilities features roasted fish, beautifully dressed pastas, wonderful wines, and grilled meats. Robust flavors enliven main courses and accompaniments, and desserts are a foray into decadence, courtesy of chocolate, cream, and pastry. Sushi is hand rolled Tuesday through Saturday evenings and features local creations such as the St. Pete roll and Vinoy Volcano.
And the Sunday Bloody Mary Bar during brunch offers spicy options to create the perfect one-of-a-kind cocktail. (727-894-1000, 727-824-8072)
Executive Chef Kenny Hunsberger and Chef de Cuisine Gavin Pera blend contemporary American cuisine with fresh from the sea selections. While the menu varies weekly, stand-out menu options include marmalade-roasted red snapper, Pacific halibut with baby clams and lobster broth, Florida stone crab and poached scallops. And now, the restaurant has introduced a new St. Pete Farmers Market Tasting Menu, featuring items that include locally sourced produce and dairy products. And most dishes are accented with root vegetables and produce from local farms, too, including Worden Farms, Little Pond Farm, Hammock Hallow, Prevatt Farms, Eden's Nectar, Larry Evans and Faithful Farms. Sip wine and enjoy the chic atmosphere, complete with dazzling salt water aquarium. For a truly unique experience, book the Chef's Table and enjoy the show by Maritana's culinary team. (727-360-1882)
Sea Salt St. Pete
Located in downtown St. Pete in the Sundial shopping center, Sea Salt features an expansive raw bar, fresh Florida seafood, creative cocktails and 6,000 bottles of wine. With a menu of more than 40 varieties of oysters, this seafood hotspot has one of the largest selections of oysters in the area. Owners Chef Fabrizio Aielli and his wife Ingrid even employ an oyster sommelier on staff to help you pick the perfect mollusk to accompany your meal. The menu changes seasonly throughout the year depending on regional weather and availability, so there will always be a wide variety of options or new preparations for you to try. (727-873-7964)
Locale Market and FarmTable Kitchen
Located in downtown St. Petersburg, Locale Market was started by celebrity chefs Michael Mina and Don Pintabona. There's a culinary marketplace offering fresh artisanal foods, hand-selected ingredients and fine produce, meat and seafood with an emphasis on the local region.
Spanning nearly 20,000 square-feet, Locale Market is modeled after the great markets of Europe. Most ingredients are fresh from the farm and straight from the boat to ensure the highest quality offerings.
Choose from a wide abundance of meats, seafood, fruits, vegetables, wine, fine cheeses and charcuterie. There's also a wine bar, coffee bar and bakery stocked with sweet and savory treats prepared daily.
Located on the second floor at the market, FarmTable Kitchen offers a private dining experience inside an eight-seat room, designed to resemble the welcoming atmosphere of a farm house kitchen. (727.523.6300)
About Kara Franker
A purveyor of the coastal life and a self-admitted beach addict, Kara is a travel writer obsessed with all things Florida. A former NFL cheerleader turned lawyer, Kara ditched the courtroom for the opportunity to write and travel.
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