The best food within any destination is the stuff made by true locals, not mass produced dishes rolling out of mega chain restaurants. Panama City Beach is overtaken with tourist trap joints that are advertised on billboards and in hotel lobbies, so where’s the good stuff? You’re about to find out.
Finn’s Island Style Grub
The original Finn’s is off Thomas Drive in Panama City Beach. Connected to the tropical food truck setting is the barista shop, featuring natural, organic goodies like smoothie bowls loaded with fruits and superfoods.
So you could order some killer shrimp tacos on toasted corn tortillas at the truck, then skip over to the barista for organic coffee or kombucha on tap. Awesome breakfast tacos are served until 11am, and are filled with eggs, black beans, sweet potatoes and pico.
One more Finn’s location sets over the bridge in Panama City, and stays open later.
Eat My Pasty
Run by a super sweet British guy, Eat My Pasty not only has fantastic pastries, sweet or savory, but their fish n’ chips could effortlessly compete with those in London. Choose between cod and haddock (we preferred the cod, because the haddock naturally is bit dryer fish), and don’t forget to order mushy peas, which are not actually listed on the menu. The fries— I mean chips—are crispy on the outside, and pillowy soft on the inside.
Any sandwich made with Liza’s fresh baked focaccia bread is a win! With a touch of crunch on the outside, the hot Italian herb bread is so soft, it melts in your mouth. Pictured is a hot turkey sandwich with spinach, eggplant, cucumber, scallion mayonnaise and Brie cheese. On the side is pesto and incredible potato salad. The second time around we swapped cucumbers for red peppers and pesto for olive spread. Both were superb.
Bayou on the Beach Café
Get ready to wait quite some time if you come to Bayou at night—-but we have to say, it was worth it. Finally, a place that doesn’t just fry their oysters—the sautéed crawfish and oyster basket with Gouda grits was not only outstanding, but superior to all other seafood with its robust flavors.
Swamp Cakes are fried green tomatoes topped with crab and a creamy sauce. They were pleasantly crispy, and the portions of crab meat were generous for the price, but the seafood gumbo sans rice was the best appetizer.
Nick’s Slice of Brooklyn Pizzeria
Usually, I bypass pizza places—I’ve had a lot of good pies in my life, and am just not crazy about anything other than Papa John’s! But after some local guys went on and on about the authenticity of Nick’s, we had to go. Best pizza ever. The crust was thin and crisp, while the cheese/sauce ratio had been perfected. Everything is made from scratch, as well as the cannolis and raved about garlic knots. Pictured is a heavenly slice of Margherita.
Homemade Ice Cream Shoppe
While Thomas’ in Laguna Beach is usually the first sweet shop to come to mind when in PCB, you haven’t really tried the best until you’ve visited this place. Nestled in a modest shopping center across the street from the beach, you’ll find a simple counter filled with REAL, homemade flavors. Blueberry Cheesecake on top of REAL banana ice cream, in a waffle cone, is straight up insane good. Loads of cheesecake chunks and a bounty of blueberries reflect the care and love that goes into this stuff.
Simple is good—Gypsea Crepes serves an assortment of streamline savory and sweet crepes, and even features a couple of solid breakfast versions. Ingredients like turkey, Brie cheese, Siracha mayo, pesto, spinach, tomato, roast beef, buffalo sauce and creole mayo are used to fill the heavenly soft, spongy crepes.
Our favorite sweet variation was raspberry, blueberry, banana, peanut butter and whipped cream.
AutentiKa Mexican Grille
I really don’t love Mexican food—well, Americanized Mexican food. AutentiKa hides in an older beachfront strip mall(In fact, beside the Homemade Ice Cream Shoppe), and was another locally recommended joint. I’ve fallen in love with real Mexican food. The tamales came with the most silky sour cream, and warm corn tortillas wrapped perfectly seasoned chicken for the best tacos.
We learned that Al Pastor is an incredible style of meat, reminiscent of chorizo (just the taste, not the texture). Our nachos were coated in a rich cheese along with the unique meat, and we were hooked.
Lotus Café & Juice Bar at Zen Garden
I wish I had more pictures of this place, because its setting is eclectic, relaxing and unique as it melds into the outdoors. In the photo, we are drinking their healthy, tasty juices—I went all in and got the one loaded with tumeric, cayenne pepper, carrots, tomatoes and other intense ingredients. Surprisingly, the ingredients paired well with one another–it was delicious and it made me feel cleansed. As far as food goes, the Honey Glazed Salmon, or really any of their natural, hyper nutritious plates get an A+.
Pokee & Ice Rolls
Poke is a Hawaiian inspired dish typically made with your choice of rice or spring mix as a base, and sushi toppings. Sashimi, seaweed, edamame, scallions, crab, onions, fruit and other veggies are available to customize your bowl. Pokee & Ice Rolls has an edge, they offer a soba base, which is hearty and satisfying.
Ice Rolls are a Thai style treat, frozen on cold plates and rolled right in front of you. Toppings range from fruit to blow torched marshmallows!
Chuy’s Gourmet Pops & More
On the lighter side of the sweet spectrum, Chuy’s Gourmet Pops are handmade gourmet popsicles. There’s a shop beside Jump Trampoline Park, but Diego’s Burrito Factory, and other local restaurants, carry them. Variations include straight fruit purée options, or ice cream infused ones like Peaches n’ Cream and Strawberry Cheesecake. It’s less indulgent, but a very delicious alternative to ice cream.
We discovered Panama City Beach has a hidden foodie gold mine begging to be explored. If you dig a little in any area, there’s typically a completely different scene to enjoy. Have you discovered a great restaurant in the area? Let us know so we can spread the local love.