Panama City Beach is more than its beaches, parks, and shopping malls. Its essence is also in its food. You can taste the culture of a place and the history of its people in the ingredients they use to cook with and way they combine their spices. Dining in Panama City Beach, Florida, is a trip where you will come across many different textures and colors, savor exotic flavors, and take in delightful aromas.
Wondering what to eat in Panama City Beach? Start with a sampling of seafood.
Best Seafood Restaurants in Panama City Beach, Florida
Panama City Beach also goes by its name of “Seafood Capital of the World.” Dining in Panama City Beach is incomplete if you have not tasted how the locals prepare Cajun crawfish, char-grilled grouper or jumbo shrimp stuffed with crabmeat and served with a dollop of butter.
There are plenty of seafood restaurants in Panama City Beach. Here’s a pick of some of the best, in no particular order:
- Saltwater Grill: Get ready to be floored even before you have tasted their drool-worthy menu! The Saltwater Grill houses a mammoth 7-foot tall 25,000-gallon aquarium that’s teeming with sea creatures of every shape, size, and color. You have stunning views of this aquarium and the colorful world inside it from wherever you sit inside the restaurant. Gaze at it while you bite into their signature grilled dishes—mahi mahi, grouper, and snapper. But stop before you are full! There’s still the Maine lobster left to sample. These are flown in from Maine, and you can choose your own, live, from their tank.
- Captain’s Table: This is a local favorite that quickly hooks all newcomers with its varied lip-smacking, finger-licking fresh fare that is served with dollops of love. This family-run joint serves some of the most delectable oysters—huge Apalachicola beauties—you will ever taste in your life. Their grouper dishes and Gulf shrimp made Cajun-style are famous, as are their tantalizing Southern-style sides: cheese grits, hushpuppies, and cole slaw.
- Firefly: Sumptuous scallops, lobsters, and tuna, served under the canopy of a gigantic oak tree studded with twinkling lights and in the midst of glamorous and opulent settings—this is the Firefly casual fine dining experience in a gist. Dining here is one of the top Panama City attractions for couples. This award-winning restaurant serves an assortment of exotic and off-beat dishes—she crab with deliciously puffed pastry and cream sherry and seared tuna served with fried leeks, cabbage slaw, wasabi, and citrus soy.
- Michael’s Restaurant: You may not realize this from its non-descript façade and no-frills interiors, but J. Michael’s Restaurant is a culinary institution in Panama City Beach. This is the grub joint for food connoisseurs who troop here in hordes to savor their special dishes—garlic-grilled shrimp, fish sandwich in tartar sauce, and grouper. They even grill your own catch!
- Schooners: It is an open-air eating joint that sits right by the Gulf. Order your fare (Their crab cakes and grilled grouper sandwiches have achieved cult status.) and bite into it while gazing out at the vast ocean in front of you. Make sure you are here at sunset to take part in a tradition—a resounding canon blast to see off the day. Then kick off your heels or slip out of your flip-flops and get on the dance floor to swing and shake to the beats belted out by the in-house band.
The Panama City, Fl, public beaches are littered with shacks and hole-in-the-wall joints that serve mouthwatering seafood fare. Keep an eye out for these, or trust your nose to lead the way!
Best Places to Dine in Panama City Beach for Oysters
The oyster bars of Panama City Beach employ master shuckers and serve the tastiest raw, steamed, and baked oysters on the planet at throwaway prices. Apalachicola or Mexican, be assured that what’s on your plate is as fresh as it can be. Down it with chilled beer, listen to the live band, and experience pure bliss!
The following are some of the most popular oyster bars in Panama City Beach:
- Dusty’s Oyster Bar: How can you find out the best spots for dining in Panama City Beach, Florida? Easy. Go where the locals go. Dusty’s Oyster Bar is a firm local favorite, and it’s not hard to guess the reasons—Scotty O. or Shuck Lee, who is the National Oyster Shucking Champion, works here, and raw oysters. If you are here, don’t forget to taste their Oysters Rockefeller or the house-special—baked oysters served with Parmesan cheese, bacon strips, and onions.
- Hunt’s Oyster Bar: Hunt’s Oyster Bar is the specialist of oysters—raw, baked, and fried. Period. It has been around for more than 40 years and is a favorite both with locals and tourists. The staff is friendly and warm. The bar commands mesmerizing bay views. And you will get to mingle with the locals and pick up sightseeing or shopping tips as you wait for your oysters baked Cajun-style. Hunt’s also serves alligator and frog legs!
- Gene’s Oyster Bar: This hole-in-the-wall joint would get the miss had it not been for the queues in front of it and the heavenly aromas that occasionally waft out from the kitchen. Gene’s Oyster Bar has been around since 1924 and continues to welcome patrons with warm smiles and fresh oysters.
Dining in Panama City Beach for Southern-Style Barbeque and Steak
If you are around these parts of Florida, take a seafood break and dip into some authentic Southern-style barbeque and steak. These are the regional specialties and some recipes have been around for centuries. You cannot beat the following restaurants in Panama City Beach for their steaks and ribs:
- Angelo’s Steak Pit: You cannot be a foodie dining in Panama City Beach, Florida, if have not sampled the fare at Angelo’s Steak Pit! Without a doubt, this is THE place to go for steaks in Panama City. The steaks are not doused in spices, so you get the real taste of meat with every bite. They are tender, moist, and cooked just right. The premises exude an old-world charm and the service is warm and friendly, but the food here tops everything else.
- Uncle Ernie’s Bayfront Grill & Brew House: You are a foodie who craves Southern soul food, but you are also a beachcomber. You are here in Panama City for its beaches and gorgeous sunsets. So why not combine them all—the steaks and the ribs, the emerald waters, and the scarlet sunsets—when dining in Panama City Beach, Florida? Uncle Ernie’s Bayfront Grill & Brew House offers succulent steaks, tender ribs, finely crafted beer, live music, and sweeping views of the St. Andrews Bay where the sun goes down every day in a riot of colors. After sunset, come inside to bite into the 16 Oz. Captain’s Ribeye and down it with a homemade special—Inne’s Pale Ale, Uncle Ernie’s Amber Ale, or Miss Jessie’s Light Blue Brew.
- Shane’s Rib Shack: Shane’s Rib Shack in Panama City Beach is a part of a fast-growing BBQ restaurant chain and the product of one man’s dream. Shane Thompson quit his corporate career to follow his dream of owning a BBQ restaurant. The passion shows in his creations—slow-roasted meat delights that come doused in lip-smacking sauces, the recipes belonging to Shane’s grandfather. Try the Big Dad® Sandwich or their signature pulled pork while taking in the beachy ambience of the joint.
- Moe’s Original Bar B Que: There is nothing flashy about the interiors at Moe’s; the owners have instead reserved all the excitement for the menu. They serve authentic Southern-style barbeque fare whose recipes have been passed down through the generations. Fried Southern catfish and pulled pork are their signature dishes.
- Double Barrel Barbeque: This is a family-run joint, and they take their ribs and steaks seriously. The pork butts are smoked for 24 hours and the sirloin steaks, for 36 hours! The woods used for smoking are hickory, oak, pecan, and pear. Their ribs are seasoned with a special blend of 21 (secret) ingredients! The result is tender, juicy meat that falls off the fork and melts in the mouth.
Dining in Panama City Beach, Florida, is not limited to seafood, steaks, and barbeque. This beach city is a food lover’s delight with plenty of fine dining restaurants and hole-in-the-wall joints that serve everything from pasta and pizzas to chicken jambalaya and from noodles to sushi.
There are many vacation rentals in Panama City, Florida, that line the oceanfront. These luxurious units have full-service kitchens. Here’s a tip: raid a seafood market and pick up some fresh catch. Come back to your quarters and rustle up a quick meal with the fish. Now sit on the deck, look out into the distant horizon, and bite into your sumptuous home-cooked meal. These moments will go on to make your Panama City Beach vacation memorable.