Though COVID-19 has stalled many travel plans, AFAR continues to cover the world; there’s always room for inspiration. Note that, due to the virus, some of the following venues may be closed or only open for delivery or takeout. Please check each venue’s website for the latest.
From its urban core along the shores of Tampa Bay to the east, to its wide, white-sand beaches along the Gulf of Mexico to the west, the St. Petersburg–Clearwater area is quickly becoming a culinary destination. In recent years, the two cities have experienced a collective restaurant renaissance, with independent, chef-driven eateries opening in spades.
While Central Avenue in St. Pete has long been the spot to drink and dine, now areas like Fourth Street (one of the main arteries heading north from the urban core) and the western Edge and Grand Central districts also have several excellent places to eat. Whether you’re in the mood for local seafood, Asian fusion, or modern Italian, you can find it all in these seaside communities, plus more than 35 craft breweries for when you want to enjoy a local brew.
Below, we’ve rounded up eight top restaurants across St. Pete and Clearwater, offering everything from freshly caught fish to continental cuisine and American favorites for a true taste of the Sunshine City.
Frenchy’s Rockaway Grill on the Beach
Located right on Clearwater Beach, Frenchy’s Rockaway Grill is the perfect place to savor fresh seafood and frozen cocktails while watching the sun set over the Gulf of Mexico. Immensely popular with locals and visitors, the open-air eatery usually runs a wait for a table, but offers daily live music by local artists to help guests bide the time. Order a Frenchy’s Rum Runner (rum, banana liqueur, blackberry brandy, and tropical fruit juices) and watch the show, or stroll the beach and search for seashells until you can score a table. Once seated, be sure to order Frenchy’s signatures like the creamy she-crab soup and the grouper sandwich, served either grilled, fried, or in buffalo, Cajun, Caribbean, and Reuben varieties.
Caretta on the Gulf
For a more upscale dining experience on Clearwater Beach, head to Caretta on the Gulf, the town’s only AAA Four Diamond restaurant. Open for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and a decadent Sunday brunch, the stylish spot serves fresh, seasonally inspired cuisine, as well as an “all-natural, organic menu” with expertly paired wines. Guests can also choose from sushi and raw bar items or opt for a four-course, prix-fixe dinner, which includes everything from jumbo lump crab cakes to roasted butternut squash bisque and New York strip steak. Whether dining inside or out, views of the Gulf of Mexico enhance every dish, from the fig-and-prosciutto flatbread at lunch to the Chilean sea bass with scampi butter at dinner.
South of Clearwater Beach as the pelican flies, settle in for a bird’s-eye view of St. Pete Beach over breakfast, lunch, or dinner at Castile. Equipped with an expansive terrace, the restaurant and lounge pairs ocean vistas with Latin- and Mediterranean-inspired fare, designed to highlight local, seasonal ingredients. Flatbreads and tapas like lamb lollipops are the perfect complement to craft cocktails, while creative entrées—don’t miss the seafood paella with mussels, prawns, and clams—will satisfy even the most discerning palate. Be sure to also save some room for an indulgent dessert by pastry chef Amy Samples, like the chocolate terrine with Maldon smoked salt and pistachio olive oil.
For a local favorite on Central Avenue in downtown St. Pete, try Casita Taqueria, where the menu features tacos on fresh corn tortillas, homemade salsa, slow-cooked meats, and Mexican-style sandwiches called tortas. Guests can also look forward to specialty items like flautas (fried corn tortillas stuffed with Oaxacan cheese and shredded meat) and healthier Casita Bowls with veggies, beans, and rice. Order at the counter, then grab a seat at one of the picnic tables outside and sip a cold beer or sangria while you wait for your food to arrive. If you find yourself in other parts of the city, Casita has two additional locations on Fourth Street North and 66th Street North.
If you’re seeking a classy dining experience in St. Pete, look no further than IL Ritorno. At this “modern Italian eatery,” local chef David Benstock brings elegance to a traditionally rustic cuisine, serving dishes like smoked meatballs, octopus amatriciana, and pan-roasted chicken with wild mushrooms and tortellini. Feeling fancy? Spring for the chef’s 5-course menu with wine pairings, or reserve a seat at the chef’s bar, where you’ll enjoy 8 to 10 courses not available on the regular menu while watching the action unfold in the open kitchen.
Trust us: Once you step inside Sea Salt in downtown St. Pete, your eyes will immediately be drawn to the 22-foot-tall wine cellar, which is stocked with 4,000-plus bottles of wine. You’ll likely also be impressed by the 80-foot-long raw bar, lined with oysters, king crab, and shrimp, and chef Fabrizio Aielli’s selection of 130 different sea salts from around the world, which he uses to season Florida’s freshest ingredients. The menu here changes daily, but always includes local seafood and produce, with dishes ranging from pasta with king crab and caviar to snapper with burrata whipped potatoes and wild mushroom ragu. If you’re in the mood for something snackier, swing by for happy hour from 3 to 6 p.m. and enjoy special pricing on bar bites like fish tacos, tuna sliders, and an Angus burger with applewood-smoked bacon and gorgonzola.
Marchand’s Bar & Grill
Take a seat in the dining room, with its arched windows and hand-painted ceilings, at Marchand’s Bar & Grill and enjoy a mix of classic and comfort fare, prepared with local ingredients. Don’t miss the lobster grilled cheese on brioche at lunch time, or the scallops with butternut grits and maple pork belly come dinner. A sushi and sashimi bar is also available on Tuesday through Saturday evenings, and the Sunday brunch buffet—with its made-to-order omelets, carved meat station, assorted desserts, DIY Bloody Mary bar, and unlimited mimosas—is a worthy indulgence.
The works of art inside the Dalí Museum in downtown St. Pete are undoubtedly impressive, but so are the culinary creations found at Café Gala on the ground floor. Named for Dalí’s wife, the Spanish-themed spot serves a gorgeous array of tapas, pastries, and lunch fare, following the artist’s mantra that “beauty should be edible, or not at all.” Come here for a light lunch of gazpacho and tortilla española, or some locally roasted Kahwa coffee and a traditional dessert, like crema catalana or mantecados (Spanish crumb cookies). A ticket to the museum is not required to dine at Café Gala, so you can treat yourself whenever you please.
>>Next: Plan your trip with AFAR’s Travel Guide to St. Petersburg–Clearwater
Susan B. Barnes