Eating on South Padre Island? Don't you just go there to drink? Well, perhaps if you're an early twentysomething on spring break from college. The rest of us are more okay with splitting our money between booze and food. If you're SPI-bound and looking for places to eat, here are my top five recommendations.
5. Mutt Hutt. Their slogan, "Hot Dogs. Burgers. Grinders & Shakes," pretty much summarizes the essence of this very casual, family-friendly dining establishment adorned with blue-checkered tablecloths and Bud Light wall art. But simplicity can be delicious. A "breakfast burger" (a thin juicy patty topped with American cheese and a sunny side-up egg), onion rings, an extra-thick strawberry milkshake, and the ability to douse everything in ketchup are sometimes all you want in a vacation supper.
4. Gabriella's. If you stay more than just a weekend on South Padre, you are likely to get a wee bit sick of seafood (just a wee bit). Gabriella's serves solid red sauce Italian-American fare like chicken parmesan, fettuccine Alfredo and calamari in addition to an assortment of thin-crust, toppings-heavy pizzas. They also offer delivery should you be too tuckered out from lying about all day on the sand.
3. Grapevine Cafe. This cute coffeehouse is one of your better bets for a morning meal on the island, unless, of course, you're a fan of overpriced pedestrian hotel breakfasts. Super-sized breakfast tacos filled with FIVE scrambled eggs will make it easier to skip lunch, but if you're not feeling south of the border that early in the morning, try the seafood omelettes or oatmeal with fresh fruit.
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2. Dirty Al's. A South Padre institution, Dirty Al's is always crowded with vacationing families and locals who appreciate the no-frills seafood and gritty charm. Skip the oysters (fried or on the half shell, they're still embarrassingly tiny) and go for the shrimp, snapper or ceviche. Warning: It's only open until 8 p.m. even on weekends, so plan accordingly and leave time for a short wait.
1. Blackbeard's. Having tried a good number of fried jalapeños stuffed with various foodstuffs in my life, I can say confidently that Blackbeard's version (an extra-large pepper lightly battered and absolutely bursting with lump crab meat and cheddar cheese) is truly extraordinary. Dinner entrées are the sort of tried-and-tried fried fish baskets that I always find myself craving at the beach; I also heartily endorse the baked potatoes, stuffed shrimp and broiled scallops.