Eat It Up: Orange Beach & Gulf Shores

IMG_9967Fall is a fabulous time to visit the Alabama coast. The crowds are smaller and the temps are mild and comfy. So head on down, and when you get there, take the time to dig your toes out of the sugar-white sand and dig into the dishes at these spots known for serving some of the beach’s best bites.

Fisher’s at Orange Beach Marina: At this bastion of upscale coastal cuisine adjacent to Orange Beach Marina, a thoughtful approach to fresh seafood and local ingredients, cotton-candy sunset views and a sophisticated but never stuffy atmosphere draw crowds of locals and visitors. Chef Bill Briand is a two-time James Beard Awards semi-finalist for Best Chef South, and his inventive menu changes often and with the seasons (and what fresh catch is available). Reservations are highly recommended for the swank Upstairs, but Fisher’s has the best of both worlds, also offering casual dining in its downstairs dockside area mere feet from the water.

The Gulf: This multi-level spot fashioned from old shipping containers painted a brilliant sea blue is an alfresco dining option perched on the edge of the Perdido Pass in Orange Beach. Boats floating by and a constant flurry of activity create an environment that appeals to all kinds: from kids skipping across a sodded lawn to hip young couples lounging on white sofas sinking into a swath of sand. Its menu changes often, but the burger is always there and always a winner, as is some type of fresh fish salad or ceviche. Anything your order will pair well with this eatery’s minty-fresh mojitos and palm tree shade. And there are even more options at The Gulf’s Taco Kitchen and Raw Bar, also onsite.

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King Neptune’s: After one spoonful of the creamy, flavorful crab and corn bisque at this longstanding Gulf Shores eatery, you won’t care about the lack of designer décor or the tight squeezes in the cramped dining space. It’s truly one of the best spots down at the beach to fill up on fresh Gulf seafood. Try the bacon-wrapped stuffed shrimp with spicy remoulade or the tart and tangy West Indies Salad for a walk on the lighter side.

Doc’s Seafood Shack & Oyster Bar: This laidback eatery boasts “the best fried shrimp in the civilized world,” yet it’s the oysters that bring most people back. Proving that simple can be simply amazing, the fried oyster basket at this longtime favorite (with locations in Gulf Shores and Orange Beach) is packed with soft, briny bi-valves dunked in batter and cooked to crisp perfection in hot oil. They’re wearing a thicker coat of crunchy crust than oysters done with just cornmeal, but the texture and taste of the South’s most sought-after mollusk still shine. Crisp cole slaw with a hint of sugar, basic crinkle fries and rust-colored hushpuppies complete the meal.

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Cosmo’s: This local favorite in Orange Beach sits off Canal Road, tucked beneath a sprawling canopy of mammoth live oaks. It stays pretty packed thanks to a neighborhood pub feeling and an expansive deck illuminated by fire pits and glowing string lights that’s usually all abuzz with happy chatter and, sometimes, singing and guitar strumming. The diverse menu has a little bit of everything, including (of course) fresh seafood and some of the area’s best sushi, but it has some delicious non-fish dishes as well, many prepared with Creole flavors and techniques.

Bravo Tacos: This unassuming spot in a strip mall dishes up ahh-mazing tacos, burritos and nachos that rival those found in Tex-Mex hot spots like Austin, Texas. Start with a cup of queso fundido, molten smoked gouda and jack in which chorizo sausage and caramelized onions are drowning. Add a scoop of house-made guacamole, and you could easily make a meal out of chips and dips alone. But don’t. Because then you’d miss the tacos. The pork carnitas tacos. The chicken tacos. The steak tacos. The chorizo tacos. And if you can’t, in good conscience, not order something that swims, go for the shrimp or fish tacos, both fine choices.

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