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Dining on (South Padre) Island Time

by Elyse Glickman

Sep 30, 2019

Rawpixelimages | Dreamstime.com

Age Specific / Multigenerational

When travelers unfamiliar with a place rely on its past reputation as a spring break haunt for college kids or a family-friendly place with limited dining opportunities, there is nowhere to go but up — even if some genuinely excellent restaurants have served its residents for ages. That’s certainly true on South Padre Island, whose chefs and restaurateurs take full advantage of its sub-tropical location in the Gulf of Mexico, fresh produce from the Texas mainland and a mix of familiar (Mexican, Texas barbeque) and unexpected culinary influences from near and far.


While most of the island’s restaurants offer plenty of things for young diners to enjoy, adults can take comfort in the fact there are several delicious surprises in store for them as well. Here is a sampling:


Marcello’s Ocean Grille, located across the bridge from South Padre Island and next door to the Port Isabel Lighthouse, is the perfect place to start or finish a South Padre Island adventure. It has a storied history, beginning as the Lighthouse Grocery and Meat Market in the 1950s. In 1984, it was sold and transformed into Marcello’s Italian Restaurant & Bar, known for its abundant Italian-American dishes. Earlier this year, it was reinvented again under Chef Bettina Tolin, who updated the space with more contemporary ocean-driven dishes, inventive brunch dishes (i.e. Cowboy Brisket Benedict, Brunch Burger on an Everything Bagel) and a cute boutique. However, several of the Italian originals remain on the menu by popular demand.


Southern Wave Sailing Charters Sunset Dinner Cruise: While Longboard Bar & Grill is a hub for casual dining and live music, it is also the embarkation point for this relaxed, all-ages way to enjoy the best of South Padre Island in one sitting. Aboard the Southern Wave Catamaran, passengers can take in the island’s waterfront homes, natural enclaves and wide-open skies, or watch the chef in action, prepping fresh grilled shrimp, chicken and beef fajitas along with tortillas and fixings. The meal, included in the price, is served family-style, naturally.


Padre Island Brewing Company: Even as a top destination for craft beer connoisseurs, this place is welcoming to people of all ages who love sharable gastro-pub grub, including buffalo chicken wings, nachos and fried calamari with the restaurant’s own roast pepper mayo. However, ask any resident about this spot, and it’s all about the pizzas. They earned the restaurant a spot in Pizza Today’s Top 100 Independent Pizza list. Toppings are mix and match, and loaded atop fresh baked hand-tossed or thin crust foundations.

Padre Island Brewing. Photo: Elyse Glickman


Café on the Beach anchoring The Palm’s Resort is an ideal place for lunch after a sandcastle building session with Andy Haddock, dune planting with the South Padre Island Shoreline Department or just a morning hitting the waves. As the name would suggest, the restaurant’s most popular items are the grilled red snapper and Gulf shrimp dishes along with fried seafood baskets with hand-breaded shrimp, oysters, red snapper or a heaping helping of all three with fries or another side.


Grapevine Café & Coffee House is the place to fuel up before a full-day fishing trip, nature-oriented cruise or jaunt around the island’s bird and reptile conservation centers. The all-day breakfast menu fuses classic Mexican menu items with Grapevine originals and time-tested classics using produce and ingredients sourced from area farms. While the kids’ menu is well priced and reliable, mature appetites will want to check out the Grapevine Specialties section, with such highlights as crab cake Benedict with Gulf Coast crab and Huevos Rancheros Benedictos. As the name implies, and an in-house roaster confirms, the coffee is excellent.


Painted Marlin Grille: The bayside restaurant blends Caribbean and New Orleans flair into the island’s dining scene through its décor, menu and spirit. While kids will love the burgers and sandwiches, the kitchen has a particularly generous selection of light salads and tacos as well as extremely creative seafood entrees for larger appetites that make good use of redfish and Gulf shrimp.


F&B SPI is the island’s classiest locale for a parents’ date night or a birthday or anniversary celebration. Executive chef and owner Walter Greenwood returns to the island after refining his culinary techniques at top destination restaurants in New Orleans, Las Vegas and Los Angeles. With Brandi Hackett, his partner in business and life, and established local restaurateurs Scott and Bob Friedman, the restaurant manages to bring a sophisticated presence (i.e. regularly changing menus, Mediterranean influences, superb Texas beef and poultry, upscale mixology) to an island known for its relaxed and unpretentious milieu and a regular influx of fresh-caught seafood.



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