Nothing gets me excited about visiting a new place like the food. I love to eat and have a passion for trying new cuisines and sampling different variations of old favorites. This makes for a combination that excites my palate but also requires me to partake in weekly vigorous exercise. Ughhhhhh.
As a professional cheerleader for fish tacos and homemade ice cream (anybody hiring for this position?), the beach is one of my favorite places to do my research.
After several years visiting Anna Maria Island, and probably too many ice cream cones and slices of pie, I’ve put together a guide of my favorites on the island. Because my priorities in life are straight, we’ll start with dessert.
Ice Cream (the most important meal of the day)
When I see a giant rainbow building with an ice cream cone on it, boasting homemade ice cream, there’s no question I’m going inside. Joe’s Eats and Sweets has become a staple of my day trips to Anna Maria Island and anytime I get ice cream somewhere else I feel slightly guilty. When I’m feeling a little crazy I’ll go for a scoop of carrot cake or key lime pie cheesecake. If I need a classic, cookies & cream or pistachio. Always in a waffle cone. Just one piece of advice for you: eat your ice cream there and not on the beach, unless you want to get assaulted by seagulls. Don’t ask me how I know.
Key Lime Pie: Sweet, Tart, and In Between
I realize my opinion here is subjective, because everyone has an opinion on what key lime pie should taste like. For me, I love a 50/50 balance between tart and sweet, with a healthy dollop of whipped cream and a slightly firmer texture.
If you like it tart: Indulge in a slice at the Bridge Tender Inn.
If you like it sweet: Head to Tide Tables, across the Cortez bridge. This is a softer, sweeter pie. My grandpa and I shared a slice, and halfway into it we both kind of realized sharing was a mistake. It was a silent battle for the last bite (he’s a gentleman, I won).
If you like it 50/50: Sandbar Restaurant key lime pie is the perfect combination of sweet and tart.
Donuts (aka dessert for breakfast)
It seems to me gourmet donuts are kind of having a moment right now. My grandparents discovered The Donut Experiment during their stay on the island this past winter, kind of bad for me since I’ll probably want a donut every time I go to the beach now. I don’t normally like cake donuts but these were moist, a little crumbly, and delicious. Maybe not the most nutritious breakfast option but, yolo…
Fish Tacos: A Staple of Beach Dining
Tide Tables is what I’d like to call beachy grunge. From the outside, and even the inside, it doesn’t look like much, but sometimes the grungiest places yield the best tasting food. Somehow I got to discussing fish tacos with a woman at the Olive Oil Outpost and her enthusiasm for describing Tide Tables’ fish tacos made me instantly want some. They’re topped with a sesame ginger sauce lending a unique asian flavor, completely unexpected in fish tacos. Sunset views, no frills, friendly service and a great marina location. Even if you have to sit inside, there is a full wall of windows behind the bar so you can still watch the sunset.
The Waterfront Restaurant is my new favorite restaurant on the island, and I’d sum it up as beach food with a creative twist. The fish (grouper) tacos are a perfect example, made with jicama slaw, fresh salsa, and huge grouper pieces. I also ordered a side of edamame salad – edamame, cranberries, feta, olive oil, & basil. The drinks are also amazing – I can still taste my mai tai. At a first glance, the setting looks more upscale (by beach restaurant standards) but the atmosphere is relaxed, the service wonderful, and the prices are crazy reasonable for what you get. I’m itching to go back.
Meals with a View
The Kokonut Hut gets a spot here because it was one of the very first places I ever dined on Anna Maria. Drawn in by the beach front tiki hut tables and large palapa, I came for the ambiance and stayed for the malibu punch buckets (and eventually food). This is a spot you come to for the atmosphere as the offerings are pretty typical, but you can’t beat sitting at a tiki table right on the beach. The only drawback is that service can be slow; the kitchen gets easily backed up when they’re busy. A good alternative is to visit for just drinks – they make a great island moscow mule. Food wise, the grouper sandwich (blackened) is always a nice lunchtime treat.
Tucked away in a quiet, residential neighborhood and technically on Longboat Key, Marvista Restaurant is close enough to count. This is your spot for date night or a nicer family dinner. I had my doubts when entering through the bar area, which looks kind of like a dive, but grab a spot out back by the water under the twinkling lights strung between live oak trees and the ambiance totally transforms. I’m still dreaming about the jerk grouper…I’ve tried to recreate it at home several times but it’s just not the same. This restaurant has crazy character and yummy food to match.
Picture this: your table is slightly off kilter due to the fact it’s literally in the sand. Toes in the sand, mango mojito in hand, watching the sun as it’s about to set. This is the vibe at Sandbar Restaurant, similar to the Kokonut Hut in location but with more of a restaurant feel. You’ve definitely got options when it comes to where to eat and watch the sunset at the same time, but this one is worth a try.
My stomach is now grumbling…time for a cookie. Let me know about your favorite beach eats!