Watch out, Louisiana and Tennessee. You’re not the only Southern culinary destinations anymore—Alabama’s Gulf Shores and Orange Beach are quickly becoming a Southern foodie’s paradise, too. From fried seafood to burgers and beignet fries, all-star chefs are creating innovative southern dishes with farm-to-table ingredients in these seaside cities’ restaurants. Here are four of the best places to eat when you visit.
Bill’s by the Beach
Situated just steps from the beach, this Gulf Shores restaurant offers beautiful ocean views from inside and out on the deck. Bill’s is a multi-award winning restaurant, thanks to Jon Gibson, the Executive Chef, who has been featured on Food Network’s Beach Eats USA and many other cooking shows. Gibson is known for creating cutting-edge southern dishes by putting a modern spin on classic comfort food.
What to Order: The Bacon Crab Cheesecake is a unique seafood appetizer—it’s made with bacon, crab, and cream cheese, and is topped with tomato onion jam and served in a pie slice. The crab & corn bisque and coconut shrimp are also delicious starters, and, of course, there’s always Bill’s Bloody Marry Meal (shown above).
For an entrée, go for the Big Beach Burger made with ground brisket, short rib & sirloin. The shrimp and grits is also really popular—it comes with sausage and is topped with red eye gravy (a coffee brandy-flavored sauce). Check out the specials, too—Chef Gibson is always cooking up whatever seafood comes in that day. And no matter what you order, make sure to wash your meal down with any of the colorful, beachy cocktails on the menu.
Cosmo’s Restaurant & Bar
This casual, fine-dining spot in Orange Beach serves eclectic, Southern, and French-inspired seafood, steak, and pasta dishes, as well as sandwiches, fruity cocktails, and mouth-watering desserts. Guests can enjoy outdoor seating and live music on the wooden deck.
What to Order: To get the full Cosmo’s experience, come ready to indulge in appetizers, entrees, and dessert. Start with the firecracker shrimp, crawfish tails, crab legs, or the cheese dip.
For an entrée, try the Banana Leaf Wrapped Fish—the restaurant’s signature dish, which was listed as one of the top 100 dishes to eat before you die by The Year of Alabama Food in 2012. The fish is covered with herbs, then wrapped in banana leaves and parchment paper (a French cooking technique), which makes the fish moist and gives it a rich, buttery flavor with hints of banana.
The Pecan Crusted Redfish with risotto and lemon garlic asparagus is also delicious, and for dessert, the peanut butter pie and banana fritters are both to die for.
Doc’s Seafood Shack & Oyster Bar
Near Cosmos’s you’ll find Doc’s—the area’s go-to spot for classic seafood platters. The restaurant has received awards from local and national food critics, and made The Daily Meal’s list of America’s best seafood shacks in 2014. With a location in Gulf Shores and another in Orange Beach, Doc’s has been a favorite lunch and dinner spot among locals for over 25 years.
What to Order: Try the deviled crab—it’s basically crab stuffing in a deep-fried shell. You’ll get three fat ones, and on top of that, it comes with fries, hushpuppies, and coleslaw. (Warning: You will not want to eat for a long time after that.)
Other favorites are the golden fried oysters or fried shrimp, where you can choose a Little Un (a half dozen) or a Big Un (a dozen). You also can’t go wrong with any of the seafood platters because you can create your own and have it boiled or fried.
Flora-Bama Yacht Club
Not your typical yacht club—the Flora-Bama (set on the Alabama-Florida state line where Orange Beach meets Perdido Key, Florida), is a casual, lively waterfront restaurant where locals come to cheer on their beloved sports teams, and partake in yearly events like the Mullet toss and beach party. Known for its fun atmosphere and contemporary seafood menu created by the Executive Chef, Chris Sherrill, this is a restaurant you won’t want to miss.
What to Order: A trip to Gulf Shores and Orange Beach wouldn’t be complete without ordering a bushwacker—it’s a frozen drink traditionally made with vanilla ice cream, Kahlua, coconut and light rum, and topped with Bacardi 151. Most local bars and restaurants make them, but the Flora-Bama has one of the best.
For your meal, start with the lobster corn dogs, the blue crab claws or the pork belly. For an entrÃ©e, try the sesame-wasabi pea crusted yellowfin tuna or the trigger fish with jambalaya rice. And if you’re visiting between late summer and the fall, you can also order royal reds shrimp—the largest and most flavorful kind of Alabama shrimp.
And for dessert, get the beignet fries—they’re served hot and are covered in powdered sugar and white chocolate ganache, and they’re out of this world.
More from SmarterTravel:
- Why Alabama’s Emerging Craft Beer Scene is Worth Traveling for
- 10 Great Comfort Foods Around the World
- What I Packed: Gulf Shores, Alabama
Olivia Briggs visited Gulf Shores and Orange Beach for a three-day trip hosted by the Alabama Tourism Department. Follow her on Twitter @Olileibri.
(Photos by Olivia Briggs and TripAdvisor, LLC)