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South Padre Island Food - Where To Eat, Where To Drink
It's Island Time on South Padre - Where Do You Want To Eat?
Want to grab a burger or a steak? Need a fix on seafood? Or would you just prefer some great beach grub? Of course, South Padre Island has it all. We've been to many of the island's restaurants and will continue trying new ones. Read on for insider scoop from the locals on which South Padre eateries and bars will meet everyone's Big-as-Texas expectations. Yep, just scroll on down for a few tips on where to find the best (and sometimes the worst) of almost everything.
Of course, a trip to the southernmost tip of Texas wouldn't be complete without recommendations for lodging.
Our home base is in East Texas, but the Island pulls us back every chance we get; lately we've spent most of our time down here. The locals are welcoming, and there is an entirely different feel to South Padre Island in the off-season, which is a great time to go if you prefer less crowding. Spring Break Week is another matter entirely, unless you (ahem) are a Spring Breaker! (Hint: the cheapest BEER is at KELLY’s.) Go for it. Summer tourists fill the streets May-Aug and holiday weekends can bring traffic to a halt as far back as Port Isabel.
Back to food and beverages. In the off-season, many restaurants close temporarily - at least until the Winter Texans begin arriving in mid-to-late December. But there are still plenty of places on hand that will make you want to go back again and again. (And Kelly's with the cheapest BEER is still open.)
Dive in, find a few tourist-y tips along the way while your mouth waters and you develop a thirst for ice-cold beer or a frosty, fancy cocktail!
Big Boys Sports Bar & Grill
Big Boys closed its doors October 2014; rumors are that it will reopen in Brownsville, but our #1 pick for best burger and fries on the island is no more.
Lowdown from the Locals: This is one of Dirty Al’s restaurants - he currently owns six (a new one just opened in Brownsville, Tex. Yes, he’s called Dirty Al for a reason. Insiders say he prepares seasonings himself every morning, which could explain some inconsistencies.
Our absolute favorite hangout. Open beach bar and a great bartending staff. Located just behind the Surf Motel, this place is an icon of the island that will make you want to spend every afternoon parked at one of the tables. On weekend afternoons (1-4 or so), it's also where the fabulous Leslie Blasing revs up the crowd with a wide range of music. Not to be missed.
The locals and members of the International Idiots Club (you can ask about that elsewhere) all call this great place "Boomies."
Boomies: Home To The Beach Koozie
How many drippy plastic cups can you handle in one lifetime? No more. The Beach Koozie is a do-it-yourself rig for the beach, the parking lot or at home. A paper towel sandwiched between two cups and there you have it.
The “law” at Boomies is to keep the outer cup and let the bartenders supply a new inner cup. You’ll get nicely reprimanded otherwise!
This small diner is packed for a reason, and it may very well be the charro beans. There seem to be two main dishes on South Padre: Wings and Charro Beans. The Cap'n does charros up to perfection. We had the Po' Boy with fried oysters. Not to our taste, but we'll go back for the other dishes.
Clayton's - Largest Beach Bar in Texas
This is the place to be during Spring Break because during March, Clayton's offers the cheapest beer at 99 cents between noon and 5 p.m. It's all out in the open, making it a party magnet for kids of all ages. Half under a roof and half in the open, it's a great place to land for sunning.
The rest of the year, if there's a good wind or if it's cool, you might want to head elsewhere, but at least once (or more), head to Clayton's for a cold one or two.
Open for breakfast through lunch, the Grapevine specializes in Mexican food, but we honestly can't recommend it for that, if you're ordering lunch. They also serve espresso, which is to be avoided if you’re really expecting espresso. The breakfasts are excellent and menu pricing is among the most economical on the island, including salads, which we do recommend.
(Hint: Head across the bridge to Isabel’s for big plates of food and even more reasonable prices.)
OMG!!!!! Cheapest Beer on the Island!!!!! Sorry, couldn't resist that. Kelly's also has terrific food, but if you're here for the beer, then you can get Busch and Busch Lite for $1.75 plus tax. (Note that during Spring Break, competitors go really low on prices, so check out the Coastal Current newspaper for activities and prices.) Put down your snobby ways and head to Kelly's if you want to escape the standard $3.50-$4.75 prices. Happy Hour starts early (!!!!!) and you're likely to find some locals already in their cups when you arrive. That always makes for some great conversations.
Bartenders are always super-friendly so belly up and get cheap beer along with great eats.
Kelly's is a popular hangout at night for the younger crowd. Be prepared - if you're on the older side - to get a few stares if you walk in after 8:30-9:00 p.m. By day, it's all yours if you're an oldster!
This large two-decker with a view of the bay is absolutely the spot to be for the best sunsets. At Spring Break time, it's also among the places to be. Head upstairs and you can expect to pay $4 for beer (one of the higher prices), but shoot into the sports bar and check out their by-the-pint prices. It's also one of Leslie Blasing's stomping grounds - if you want some lively singing, you'll be following her around to all her spots in no time.
Padre Bar at Padre South Hotel
Some of the locals don’t even know this place has reopened. But it is and it’s well worth a visit. Heresh, or Harry, the owner, will take great care of you - and if you’re lucky, you’ll get a taste of his personally-made chutney.
The Bar has now moved upstairs, which makes the view even better. The pool table is free.
If 10 people are in your party and you start craving authentic Indian food, just give Heresh 24-hour notice and you’ll be set for a fine meal.
The upper deck view is also breathtaking - and very relaxing. Perfect for a lazy afternoon.
Padre Island Brewery
Our #2 best burger choice and you can build your own at the table. The only reason it’s not #1 is that the fries are consistently sub-par (i.e., cooled, underdone). Try the gourmet pizza - it’s outstanding. If you order wings, be sure to ask if there will be an even balance between drummettes and mid-sections. (One of our orders only contained one meaty drummette and nine bonier parts - not nice.)
Tips: Specialty brew beer sampler prices are outstanding. If you can wait until Happy Hour at around 3:00 - the appetizer menu is also extremely budget-friendly.
Turn in at the KOA campground and head to Pier 19. It’s worth a visit just to stroll down the pier with a drink in hand. Lunch specials change day-to-day. My order of scallops tasted more like egg whites, and the batter, which had too many other infused flavors, was too crunchy for the softer insides.
Tip: Noon to 3 p.m. is the best time to see dolphins frolicking around the pier.
Lowdown from the Locals: Get the Hawaiian burger.
Now who wouldn’t wanna prop their feet up here? A great place to hang your hat for the afternoon, the Wanna Wanna is an open bar with a terrific beach view. The bar area is cozy but a deck to the side lets you spread out a little more. Koozies are for sale and you can also order some of the island’s best beach food.
Lowdown from the Locals: Any of the food baskets are terrif.
Just a note: Some of the restaurants and bars on South Padre and in Port Isabel we visit regularly; others not so much. The above listings include our opinions, which are subject to change, and thoughts from others who have firsthand experience. Please feel free to make your own evaluations and share them in the Guestbook comments section.
All photos are copyright Cindy Kennedy, unless otherwise noted.