Tucked away on Florida’s Emerald Coast, the town of Destin is home to cerulean waters that have earned it the moniker of “world’s luckiest fishing village.” The pristine waterfront has also attracted some of the restaurant industry’s top talent, who come here for the white-sand beaches, endless supply of fresh seafood, and, let’s face it, a damn good view. The entire 30A corridor has been turned into a foodie haven by the sea, er, gulf.
1. Vin’tij Wine Boutique and Bistro
It may be located in a nondescript strip mall, but Vin’tij Bistro is anything but ordinary, with a deliciously unexpected culinary lineup. Begin your meal with a bottle from the bistro’s impressive boutique. Then settle down in the dimly lit and eclectically designed dining area for dishes you won’t soon forget, like griddled crab cakes, masala grilled pork chops and more. With a focus on locally sourced ingredients that vary seasonally but can include tomatoes, strawberries, carrots, beets, watermelon radish and baby sweet potatoes, the menu is an ever-changing rotation of Southern classics with a twist.
2. Stinky’s Fish Camp
This come-as-you-are rustic seafood house is a local favorite. While the tongue-in-cheek name may imply nothing is taken too seriously here, the food begs to differ. With classics like baked oysters and crab legs, to the restaurant’s own version of a NOLA “peace maker” po’ boy (1/2 fried shrimp, 1/2 roast beef, grilled ham and provolone), this relaxed seafood establishment is a must-visit during any family vacation on the Gulf Coast.
3. V Seagrove
“V” is for …? Located inside Destin’s Hotel Viridian, V Seagrove will have you grasping for adjectives that do this seafood restaurant’s culinary (and visual) charms justice. With panoramic windows that offer amazing views of the Gulf of Mexico and a dining room that celebrates relaxed glamour with an open-show kitchen and touches of azure-colored tile work throughout the main dining area, this is the place to see and be seen. For those who prefer dining alfresco, V’s fountain-lined patio offers a whimsical, romantic retreat. Under chef David Cunningham, who cut his teeth behind the line at New Orleans’ legendary dining establishment, Commander’s Palace, expect the menu to be locally sourced with a Big Easy flair. “V” may very well be for vibrant … vivacious … and certainly versatile.
4. McGuire’s Irish Pub
Scott Beale, flickr
You may scoff when someone says, “You have to go to this Irish pub,” but trust me, you have to go to this Irish pub. With a sister location down the highway, in nearby Pensacola, McGuire’s is practically a tradition on the Gulf Coast. Celebrating “feasting, imbibery and debauchery,” the pub offers the ultimate brunch experience. The same holds true for dinner, with their smoked prime rib and potent Irish Wakes (think lots of Bacardi rum and freshly squeezed orange juice). Either way the setting, a turn-of-the-century New York Irish saloon with a little something extra (I won’t give it all away), is something you won’t soon forget.
While Sushimoto is reminiscent of the Cheers bar — come more than once and they’ll likely holler your name when you enter — it’s this restaurant’s amazingly creative sushi that puts them over the top. Try the “The Asian Persuasion,” filled with eel, shrimp tempura, seafood salad, avocado, cream cheese and garlic chips, or order off the menu by asking for the chef’s favorite “Cookie Monster”(a roll that’s deep-fried and then sliced). For those not into sushi, Sushimoto’s other specialties, like house-made yakisoba fried noodles or nabeyaki udon soup, do not disappoint. With dishes this good, Destin’s newest sushi restaurant may become a regular on the dining scene.
6. Cafe Thirty-A
Courtesy of Café Thirty-A
Recently honored with a Wine Spectator Award of Excellence, Cafe Thirty-A is always impeccably executed, yet unpretentious. Located in a breathtaking Florida-style home with vaulted ceilings and hand-painted chairs, this relaxed dining establishment exudes island sophistication. Not to be outdone is the menu, which focuses on fresh local seafood, like pan-seared snapper and roasted grouper, as well as pizzas, like their classic margherita with house-made mozzarella, cooked up in a wood-fired oven. Now if only picking out a martini from their expansive list was so simple; you’ll have your choice of over 20, with favorites like a pineapple cosmo and the “The James Bond” — “muddled not stirred,” of course.
7. The Red Bar
JR P, flickr
The music is loud, the menu is small and the parking is troublesome. However, a visit to The Red Bar is an experience that simply must be undertook when in the area. Fortify your senses (the building is an assault on one’s senses with literally thousands of tchotchkes) by having one of the bar’s spicy bloody marys and indulging in hearty specialties like blackened grouper with fried cheese grits or penne pasta with shrimp and crawfish. With nightly jazz performances and one hell of a devoted following, dining here should be a legal prerequisite to purchasing a 30A bumper sticker.