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How to Eat and Drink Your Way Through Galveston

How to Eat and Drink Your Way Through Galveston

Last Updated: November 22, 2019 by Jennifer Simonson | Food & Drink

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People come to Texas with barbecue on their mind.

And meat is certainly something you can find in Galveston. Texans have that down. But, being on the “third” coast offers a whole world of freshly caught possibilities, too. In fact, thanks to 32-miles of pristine beach, seafood defines the island.

Gaido's Famous Seafood Restaurant

At Gaido’s on Seawall Boulevard, I follow the lead of generations of diners before me and dig into gulf shrimp the way they’ve been prepared for more than a century. Crisp, with a cornmeal batter and juicy on the inside, Gaido’s fried shrimp are best dunked into horseradish-spiked red sauce or pickly, creamy tartar relish. But, don’t stop there—draw that shellfish from a brimming seafood platter of carefully arranged options, which might range from Texas-style crab cakes to Galveston Bay oysters to local catfish. An island icon, Gaido’s (which opened on the Seafront in 1911) also gets rave reviews for its nostalgically kitschy ambiance, and unique taste treats—such as to-die-for bacon-wrapped shrimp, stuffed with pickled jalapeno and cheese, topped with a brown sugar-chipotle glaze. Try to eat just one.

While Gaido’s remains a bucket list stop for most travelers to Galveston, a host of other local eateries beckon. From brisket to steak to burgers, including Italian dishes, craft cocktails, and healthy vegetarian specialties, Galveston’s variety of restaurants, bars and cafes ensure you’ll be well sated for beach play, 24/7.

Don’t Miss These Classics

Sonny’s

In 1944, Italian immigrants Sonny and Theresa Puccetti opened a little Italian cafe on the bottom floor of their family home. Using her legendary Sicilian family recipe to make her signature spaghetti and meat sauce, Theresa quickly became known as the best cook on the island. Today, her son Lawrence owns Sonny’s Place, which is Galveston’s oldest family tavern.

The home-style family restaurant serves up plates like the Artery Clogger (a chicken-fried steak and bacon sandwich) and the Oyster Mug (a frosty mug chock-full of shucked oysters). Sonny’s is by no means fancy, but the pinball machines, black-and-white photographs lining the walls, and old fashioned cash register offer a glimpse of Galveston’s yesterdays.

Many a UTMB med student has spent manifold evenings at Sonny’s. Just check out the name plaques with numbers of consecutive days spent there to prove it!

Sonny's Place

In 1944, Italian immigrants Sonny and Theresa Puccetti opened a little Italian cafe on the bottom floor of their family home. Using her legendary Sicilian family recipe to make her signature spaghetti and meat sauce, Theresa quickly became known as the best cook on the island. Today, her son Lawrence owns Sonny’s Place, which is Galveston’s oldest family tavern. The home-style family restaurant serves up plates like the Artery Clogger (a chicken-fried steak and bacon sandwich) and the Oyster Mug (a frosty mug chock-full of shucked oysters). Sonny’s is by no means fancy, but the pinball machines, black-and-white photographs lining the walls, and old fashioned cash register offer a glimpse of Galveston’s yesterdays. Many a UTMB med student has spent manifold evenings at Sonny’s. Just check out the name plaques with numbers of consecutive days spent there to prove it!

The Spot

Every beach town seems to have a seaside restaurant with balconies overlooking the ocean, and in Galveston, that place is called The Spot. The popular restaurant has a build-your-own-po-boys bar, serves every type of burger you could ask for, and bakes fresh desserts every single day. The family-friendly hotspot is the perfect spot to sit on the patio and watch the waves lap the sandy beach. Part of the Island Famous complex, The Spot shares quarters with four other eating and drinking venues.

Snack on Beachside Bites

Shrimp 'N Stuff

Ask any island resident what the best seafood joint in town is and they’ll tell you it’s Shrimp ‘N Stuff. Since opening its doors in 1976, the seafood shack has served generous portions of fried shrimp, fried oysters, po’ boys, hush puppies, shrimp gumbo, and seafood platters. Fresh, hand-batter shrimp combined with a bucket of beers lures locals out of work early on nice afternoons to kick back on the back patio.

BLVD. Seafood

It’s hard to believe that BLVD was once a Mini Mart. Today, it’s a more upscale, albeit sand-side seafood experience. You’ll have a true sea-to-plate experience as you dine here along the seawall. The menu includes Hawaiian tuna poke bowls, a N’Awlins-style seafood sampler, and the Mexican shrimp-and-crab campechana. For the non-seafood eaters in your group, the blackberry pork chop and three pepper chicken are not to be missed.

Get to Know the Vargas Family

Rudy & Paco Restaurant and Bar

Get spicy at Rudy and Paco, where you’ll find traditional seafood and steak dishes with a Latin American flare. Owner Francisco “Paco” Vargas opened the restaurant in 1996, and it has since become an island staple for those looking for a romantic dinner before a show at the The Grand 1894 Opera House next door.

Start your meal with one of the“right off the boat” jumbo crab cakes bathed in chipotle cream sauce before making the tough decision between salmón a la parrilla (grilled salmon over a mango habanero sauce) and pollo empanizado (plantain-encrusted chicken breast over queso blanco and maduras). Drink your dessert with the Paco espresso martini or a dark chocolate martini.

Vargas Cut & Catch by Paco

This upscale restaurant is located in the heart of downtown and is run by Paco’s children, Denise and Juan. With a New York City vibe and decor, Vargas has quickly become the hot ticket in town (which means reservations are a good idea if you plan to eat here!). If you’re looking for seafood, start with a tower of king crab, snow crab, shrimp, and oysters. From there, move on to a mouthwatering ribeye that might just be the best steak you’ve ever tasted. Add a side of Sofia’s creamy mac and cheese, but make sure you leave room for dessert.
With options like sweet potato spiced crème brûlée and the 8-minute Grand Marnier soufflé, you have plenty of dessert choices, but it’s practically a sin to leave without ordering a Paco Dome. It’s a chocolate coffee cake topped with roasted cinnamon ice cream, all covered with a chocolate dome and hot chocolate poured tableside.

Start your meal with one of the“right off the boat” jumbo crab cakes bathed in chipotle cream sauce before making the tough decision between salmón a la parrilla (grilled salmon over a mango habanero sauce) and pollo empanizado (plantain-encrusted chicken breast over queso blanco and maduras). Drink your dessert with the Paco espresso martini or a dark chocolate martini.

Where to Grab a Cool Drink on a Warm Day

RumShack & More

When you’re looking for a tropical drink with an umbrella in it (you are on vacation after all!), four beach bars are housed in the same complex as The Spot known as Island Famous.

Bartenders at the RumShack craft original drinks like the Mile Zero, a key lime pie rum, coconut rum, and orange liqueur masterpiece. For your choice of more than 20 margaritas and 50 tequilas, pull up a chair at the breezy outdoor courtyard at Squeeze Ritas and Tequilas. The SideYard offers a light-hearted vibe with yard games, hammocks, and cocktails in mason jars. Last but not least, the Tiki Bar rounds out Island Famous’ drinking compound, offering 50-plus ice-cold beers.

The Rooftop Bar

For some tranquility with your hand-crafted cocktails, head to the rooftop of the historic Tremont House. As the island’s only open-air rooftop bar, it is the go-to place to soak in views of downtown Galveston and to watch the sun go down over the harbor. Snuggle into the sectional couches with a pomegranate martini or sangria and enjoy the view.

Galveston Island Brewing Co.

After a day in the summer sun, stroll into the air-conditioned taproom at Galveston Island Brewing and have them pour you a Hefen-A. This refreshing Bavarian wheat beer will perk you up with notes of bananas and bubble gum. Brewing a tasty array of craft beers since 2014, GIB is not only a great place to quench your thirst, but it’s also family friendly. In front of the brewpub, there’s a playground and a large lawn where everyone can play yard games.

Brews Brothers

Named after the 1980s John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd classic movie The Blues Brothers, this brewpub on the Strand is a must-visit for any craft beer lover, with a continuously rotating tap of top-quality IPAs, lagers, ales, sours, and stouts. The most difficult choice you might have to make here is deciding if you want a tasty taco or a delicious, made-to-order burger. From pulled pork tacos to the Mission from God burger, you won’t be disappointed.

After all this eating and drinking, you’ll surely need a place to rest your head for the night. Galveston has everything from chain hotels to bed & breakfasts to vacation rentals if you decide to bring the whole family along. (If you’re coming in the summer, make your reservations early.)

Jennifer Simonson

Freelance writer, photographer, and consultant. Jennifer Simonson has articles and photography that have appeared in Travel + Leisure, Lonely Planet, Slate Magazine, Houston Chronicle, Paste, Beer Advocate, Austin Monthly, Texas Lifestyle Magazine and more. Jennifer is based in Austin, Texas.

Jennifer Simonson

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2019-12-03T07:31:35-06:00

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