When it comes to the Alabama Gulf Coast food scene, fresh gulf coast seafood—shrimp, oyster, and crab, intersect with southern specialties like grits and pimento cheese. Combine that with farm-to-table sustainable ingredients and you’ll find a food scene you won’t soon forget. Add to the food, the atmosphere with stunning sunset views over the waterfront, and you’ll be looking forward to returning for that next Gulf Coast gourmand experience. This Gourmand’s Guide to Gulf Shores will help you explore the island’s food scene A to Z.
Since both Gulf Shore and Orange Beach are so close in proximity, some of the restaurants mentioned in this post may technically be in Orange Beach.
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Thank you to Visit Gulf Shores & Orange Beach for hosting some of these gourmand experiences.
A is for Anchor Bar.
Located on Terry Cove, Anchor Bar far exceeds typical bar food. Some of the dishes, like the poke were truly gourmet. For those looking for seafood, the poke on offer looked delicious. Served in local artisan-made bowls, the presentation was beautiful. The poke started with gulf tuna and Alabama rum-cured Ora King salmon. The chef mixed in some creamy avocado, sweet onions, pickled mustard seeds, and wasabi tobiko. Then the dish had a bonus with the sesame crusted arancini. For the landlubbers, Chef Kastner doesn’t offer just any beef; it’s Louisiana Wagyu beef, in both his locally famous More in Than Out Burger and the brisket he used in The O.G. Brisket Tots and The Chopped Brisket Salad.
B is for BuzzCatz.
Whether you need some caffeine to kick off your day, breakfast is on your mind, or you want a snack, BuzzCatz will take care of it. The house-made pastries, one version similar to pop tarts, share the spotlight with BuzzCatz’s coffee. Late in the day, they offer happy hour pricing on baked goods.
Another B-word worth mentioning is the area’s bread pudding. The dessert is so popular on the island; they even have a Bread Pudding Trail. One of my favorites was the Krispy Kreme bread pudding at LuLu’s.
C is for Cosmos Restaurant and Bar.
My shuttle driver recommended Cosmos. He assured me this is where the locals go for that special meal. Since I get the best restaurant recommendations from drivers, I had to go. For lunch at Cosmos, I had the citrus-marinated Gulf shrimp skewered and grilled. They served them over Parmesan risotto, drizzled with criola tomato sauce for a satisfying lunch.
Cosmos featured at least two more mouthwatering C-words, crab and catfish. My friend choose the blue crab savory cheese cake accented with apple smoked bacon and spinach for the appetizer. Then they blended Parmesan cheese with cream cheese and eggs for a tasty bite. The chef topped the cheesecake with a meunière sauce. When you go Gulf Shores, be sure to investigate the Crab Trail for even more inspiration.
Cosmos’ menu featured baked andouille-crusted Alabama farm-raised catfish filet. The meunière sauce accented the catfish and the crushed Yukon gold potatoes. A vegetable medley completed the dish.
D is for Dip.
Smoked Tuna Dip is a popular appetizer at many Gulf Shores restaurants. LuLu’s served the dip with freshly fried tortilla chips. At the Hangout, they make their tuna dip from smoked gulf-caught fish and accompany it with carrots and celery, along with some crispy tortilla chips. The dip from Playa came with saltines and pickled peppers. No matter where you order it, the smoked tuna dip is a mighty tasty appetizer.
E is for Elberta Cheese.
The cheese dip at Cosmos featured locally made Sweet Home Farm Elberta Cheese. The silky blend of Parmesan and Swiss, came topped with crumbled feta and a slightly sweet roasted tomato relish. The dippers were house-baked pita chips. Sweet Home Farm Elberta Cheese is a natural hand-made cow’s milk cheese where the cows are pasture-raised.
F is for Firecracker Shrimp.
Tacky Jack’s offered these tasty morsels on their appetizer menu, lightly breaded and tossed in an Asian chili sauce. At Cosmos, they featured their Firecracker Shrimp as lightly dusted bay shrimp fried and tossed in spicy remoulade sauce. In either case, the firecracker refers to the spicy sauce they toss with the fried shrimp.
For those allergic to shrimp, at Cosmos, you can also get that same firecracker sauce on a chicken wrap. The sandwich consisted of fried chicken tenders tossed in the firecracker sauce, then topped with tomato, lettuce, and provolone cheese wrapped in an herb and garlic tortilla.
G is for Grits.
I tried the grits in several area restaurants and enjoyed those at LuLu’s in their shrimp and grits combination. They started the dish by mixing Andouille sausage and shrimp with tomato cream and Tasso ham sauce. Then they served it on top of Gouda grits. At Safari Club, they added three different kinds of cheese to their creamy stone grits, with jumbo shrimp, then added tomatoes, bacon lardons, and topped it with tomato gravy and scallions.
Playa’s served their crab cake appetizer over creamy sweet corn grits, topped with roasted pineapple and charred corn salsa, drizzled with spicy mayo. At Playa’s, their Gulf Shrimp and grits had that Cajun flavor with creole spiced Gulf shrimp over creamy sweet corn grits, Conecuh sausage, peppers and onions. A favorite add-in to the shrimp and grits is sausage. Being from Michigan, I’d never heard of Conecuh Sausage. Made in the southern Alabama county of Conecuh, the eponymous hickory-smoked sausage built on the shrimp and grits’ complexity.
H is for the Hangout.
Sometimes you want to get together with friends and just hang out. And the Hangout is the perfect place to do that. You won’t need your phone with the various collections to look at, from Pez dispensers and rubber duckies to lunch boxes. Frozen drinks spin in the machines along the back wall, just waiting for you. The menu featured shrimp or fresh catch Po’Boys, burgers, and even a seafood boil to accompany those icy concoctions.
I is for Ice Cream.
After a day at the beach, you’ll want to cool off with ice cream at The Yard Milkshake Bar. Their extravagant milkshakes and sundaes highlight toppings you’d find in a bakery, like cookies and brownies. Not just one baked item, they piled on several for an over-the-top experience. When you’ve consumed as much as you can, scrub your jar, and after a trip to the washing station, it becomes a Gulf Shores souvenir.
J is for Jalapeño.
Safari Club’s Blackened Shrimp Tacos highlight shrimp with a south of the border slaw tossed in a jalapeño mango aioli. Add some pickled onions, cotija cheese, and cilantro for a dish featuring local ingredients with an international twist. The tacos came with honey tequila braised plantains that will leave you wanting more.
K is for Key Lime.
Key limes are another Gulf Coast favorite. So much so they even have a Key Lime Pie Trail. Cosmos offers a traditional pie with real key lime juice. They serve it with strawberry coulis and whipped cream. At Safari Club, the key lime pie comes with a white macadamia nut, cookie dough crust, garnished with fresh whipped cream, and key lime sugar. The Yard Milkshake Bar offered a slight variation on key lime pie making it into key lime pie ice cream.
L is for LuLu’s.
Even if you’re not a Jimmy Buffett fan, be sure to check out his sister, Lucy Buffett’s place LuLu’s. You’ll find all the southern specialties you’re searching for, like fried green tomatoes and pimento cheese, along with a selection of fresh Gulf Coast seafood. Gourmands will want to check out the gift shop to purchase one of Lucy’s cookbooks to replicate that fantastic recipe at home. LuLu’s has an extensive allergy menu. They require a manager to take the order from those with allergies.
M is for Mile Marker 158 Dockside.
Located at The Wharf, Mile Marker 158 Dockside featured casual American cuisine and is part of a locally-owned restaurant family. Both their indoor and outdoor seating offer stunning views of The Wharf Marina.
N is for Niki’s Seafood and Thai.
While I’ve never been to Niki’s Seafood and Thai, a friend recommended Nikki’s, so I decided to include it here. Known for incorporating seafood into their Thai cuisine, it’s a place I’m going to try on my next visit.
O is for Oysters.
With a hint of the Gulf’s briny taste, the subtle aroma reminds you it is indeed all about the oysters — raw, roasted, or Rockefeller. While few restaurant menus are missing these Gulf Coast gems, one of my favorites versions was a Voyagers. The presentation was stunning, and you could have them in any style you want. In fact, Gulf Shores has a whole Oyster Trail, where you can find all varieties of everything oyster.
P is for Playa.
The beach inspires the menu and drinks at Playa. You’ll find Redfish on the Half Shell, an oven-roasted skin-on redfish with garlic and olive oil. They topped the fish with a mixture of ripe tomatoes, and creamy avocados tossed in a south of the border chimichurri sauce. If you’re looking for steak, you’ll find ribeye and filets also served with chimichurri. For a more international flair, try their tacos as grilled steak, fried mahi-mahi, or jerk roasted shrimp which came with roasted pineapple and charred corn salsa.
Q is for Quesadilla.
LuLu’s offers quesadillas with either grilled chicken, shrimp, or BBQ pork. Then they added on some sautéed peppers and onions, melt in the jack and cheddar cheese, and dipped it in some of LuLu’s Sassy Salsa.
R is for Royal Reds.
Once I hit Gulf Shores, this was the first thing I ordered. I’d never heard of them before, but my dinner companion said that these were special in Alabama, so I had to try them. So, what’s so special? Fishers find them in deeper water than other shrimp, so they taste like a combination of lobster and scallops. Tacky Jack’s served Royal Reds.
S is for Southern Grind Coffee House.
Southern Grind Coffee House serves more than coffee. You can accompany that coffee with breakfast, lunch, and dinner. If you’ve already eaten at the beach, you can go there for a cup of Joe and dessert.
T is for Tacky Jack’s.
Tacky Jack’s serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner with a view. My meal at Tacky Jack’s featured the Royal Reds . Be prepared to peel and devein them at the table. This makes for a bit more work, but the added flavor of being cooked with the shells on make it worth the effort.
U is for Umami.
One of the five basic tastes, sweet, sour, salt, bitter, and umami, you’ll find the savory taste throughout the food scene on Gulf shores. Look for it in meat, such as the dry-aged steaks, fresh fish, and seafood.
V is for Voyagers.
Voyagers at Perdido Beach Resort had a celebratory fine-dining atmosphere, with panoramic Gulf-front views and an award-winning wine list. Surf and turf are the stars of the show here, with authentic Gulf seafood and a dry-aged steak selection. At Voyagers, the chef takes traditional dishes and adds a twist. I’ve had gnocchi before but never purple sweet potato gnocchi. Carpaccio, sure, but never ostrich carpaccio. Yet you’ll find comforting old favorites, like the 35-day dry-aged steaks.
To quote “Top-Chef All-Stars” winner Chef Richard Blais on Food Network, “When in doubt, boys, and girls, put a quail egg on it. It automatically makes it fancy.” Thus is the Caesar Salad at Voyagers. With two quail eggs, the chef took an ordinary salad and made it upscale.
W is for Woodside Restaurant.
Woodside Restaurant located at Gulf State Park is the perfect place to start your day before heading off to explore the park. Woodside adds freshness to their menu with farm-to-table ingredients like hand-picked berries and local honey. They also make a great place to stop for lunch or end your day. They also have a fantastic outdoor area with a fire pit where you can roast the marshmallows that accompany the free s’mores.
Another W-word I have to mention is the Wagyu beef. I realize that not everyone loves seafood as much as I do. And while I’ve given the bounty of the sea a lot of attention in this post, another option you’ll find on Gulf Shores’ menus is the Wagu beef. You’ll find it at Anchor Bar and Grill in the More in Than Out Burger and as the brisket served with The O.G. Brisket Tots and The Chopped Brisket Salad.
X is for eXplore.
Alabama’s Gulf Coast food scene is vast. You’ll want to take time to explore the region’s fresh seafood. With all the variety, even if you stay a week, that’s only 21 meals, so you’ll want to spend a little less time than you originally planned at the beach and a bit more exploring the food scene.
Y is for Yellowfin Tuna.
At Cosmos, enjoy the filet of yellowfin tuna coated with sesame seeds and then seared. They serve it over a bed of house greens tossed with sun-dried cranberries, toasted sunflower seeds, topped with crispy noodles, and dressed in a ginger soy vinaigrette.
Z is for Zoo.
Yes, that’s right, this is Gourmand’s Guide, and I’m ending with the word zoo. Nope, I didn’t just run out of ideas. The Safari Club at Alabama’s Gulf Coast Zoo was Alabama’s first certified Green Restaurant. Start your meal with the Goat Cheese Tapas, which came with a sweet fig sauce and fresh berries. Then the internationally-inspired menu offered items like the Thai Beef Salad. Topped with crispy wontons and shallots, the salad featured wood-grilled citrus ponzu marinated steak and an Asian vegetable slaw dressed with a lime-soy vinaigrette. The good news is you don’t need to pay the zoo entrance fee to eat in the restaurant.
What’s your favorite place to eat in Gulf Shores? Let me know in the comments below.
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