Blessed with year-round sunshine and the longest stretches of white sand in Texas, South Padre Island is rightfully the Lone Star State’s most prized beach destination. Just two square miles in size, South Padre Island is more laid-back and friendly than its spring break reputation suggests. Proof can be found in the local cuisine, which celebrates shrimp platters, Gulf oysters, and fresh-caught fish fry. From sprawling patios for sunset gazing to casual hangs where the day’s catch is king, here’s what to hit.Read More
11 Essential Restaurants on South Padre Island
Where to find fresh-caught fish fry, po’ boys, fried shrimp and more in Texas’s prized beach destination
Cafe on the Beach
Hidden among the sand dunes, Cafe on the Beach offers unobstructed bay views from a gazebo-like covered deck, a breakfast menu worth waking up early for, and seafood-focused American fare the rest of the day. Among the morning must-haves is the gooey Monte Cristo, a migas plate with chorizo, and thick buttermilk pancakes. In the afternoon and evening, enjoy Gulf Coast crab fingers, seafood bisque, and red snapper Veracruz.
Padre Island Brewing Co
Padre Island Brewing Company is a locally owned treasure, and the island’s preferred stop for an ice-cold, locally brewed craft beer. Third-generation brewmaster and owner Mark Haggenmiller has five house brews on tap at any given time, and serves beer-friendly grub like fried calamari, pizza, po’ boys, and burgers. Happy hour, which runs weekdays from 2 to 6 p.m., is a hit for items like 75-cent Gulf oysters, crabcakes, and Wisconsin cheese curds.
Chilito Pikin is the kind of unpretentious mom-and-pop hang every neighborhood needs. For South Padre Island, it’s the place to come for fish or shrimp tacos, handmade flour tortillas, and soul-warming enchiladas served with refried beans and Mexican rice. The restaurant also serves what they call “monster” portions of its signature tacos and tortas. (Note: If you’re able to finish the whole monster torta in one sitting, you get it for free.)
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Painted Marlin Grille
With views of the Laguna Madre and a lively indoor-outdoor vibe, the Painted Marlin (named for its signature piece of decor) is an especially enchanting spot for watching the sunset while dining on dishes like blackened mahi mahi, shrimp po’ boys, and fish and chips. The simply grilled catch of the day is a solid bet, as are the strong margaritas made with fresh lime juice.
Fish taxidermy and fishing trophies adorn the walls at the nautical-themed Cap’n Roy’s, where owner Lee Roy Summerlin — a veteran charter-boat captain on the Laguna Madre — has been serving fresh seafood for more than two decades. The restaurant is famous for its “Reel Meals” menu of everything from fresh Gulf oysters to stuffed jalapenos, enchilada platters, and Veracruz-style seafood preparations, but the star dish is the camaronitas diablitos — bacon-wrapped shrimp with pineapple cream cheese and jalapenos in a smoky-sweet barbecue glaze.
Locals gush about this hidden counter-service gem that specializes in build-your-own ceviche. Choose from shrimp or fish, one of five house styles (the classic features tomato, red onion, cilantro, and avocado), and a variety add-ons, then watch the staff hand-chop and -mix your custom concoction. With just a couple of tables, this lunchtime favorite is better for take-away than a sit-down meal.
Rat-Pack-era crooners serenade you over the speakers; tables are draped in red-and-white check; the strong aroma of garlic greets diners as they walk through the door. This homey, family-run establishment is the island’s choice for handmade pasta, brick-oven pizza, and Italian-American classics like chicken alfredo, fried mozzarella, and shrimp scampi. End the night with a shot of house-made limoncello.
Many of the whipped cream-topped specialty drinks here look more like milkshakes than coffee, but that’s part of the appeal. Yummies is known for its super-size breakfast and lunch food: Think giant Belgian waffles surrounded by ruby-red fruit, an Instagrammable eggs Benedict, hyper-fresh lox and salmon, and sky-high club sandwiches. Bonus: The staff prides itself on latte art — order one for a surprise chocolate design drizzled in the foam.
Sea Ranch Restaurant & Bar
With a prime marina-front location, water views, and white tablecloth service, Sea Ranch has been doing Gulf-style fine dining for more than three decades. The menu highlights wild, locally caught seafood as well as steaks and pastas, and favorites include oysters Rockefeller, coconut shrimp, lobster surf and turf, and a whole fried snapper. For the best sunset perch, request a table by the window on the second floor.
With one of the best sunset views in town, Pier 19 is a family-friendly all-day diner known for its generous portions and friendly service. At breakfast or brunch, it’s all about the massive cinnamon roll and Texas-shaped (and -sized) strawberry-pecan waffle. For lunch and dinner, tourists and island-dwellers come for shrimp po’ boys, coconut shrimp, and whole fried fish. Bring in your own fresh catch and the kitchen will prepare it however you like — blackened, grilled, or fried. Stiff and wildly garnished cocktails (try the Tiki Caesar Mary or the painkiller) rival those at any upscale beach resort.
A bait shop turned restaurant, Dirty Al’s — named after patriarch Alfonzo Salazar, a Gulf Coast shrimper — specializes in simply prepared, wild-caught Gulf Coast seafood. Plates range from fresh Gulf oysters and peel-and-eat shrimp to blackened redfish, king crab, and shrimp po’ boys, but it’s the fried shrimp that Dirty Al’s is most proud of (apparently they’re “the World’s Best!”). The blackened fish tacos, each filled with an entire fish fillet, have impressive kick, and the seafood botana — a mammoth platter of fried shrimp, oysters, and french fries — is a wonder to behold.