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A sampling of some of the Pensacola Bay Area's best restaurant experiences

Pensacola Dining
by Susan Vallee
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The Fish House Deck Bar
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We take our food seriously in the Pensacola Bay Area, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have fun with it.

Our historic city is home to five Pensacola Celebrity Chefs and more culinary options than you can shake a garlic press at. We’ve hit the highlights of Pensacola’s dining scene here, so you can sample some of the best.

Best Special Occasion Restaurant: Jackson’s Steakhouse
Trust me – you deserve an elegant treat like Jackson’s Steakhouse. Located in a historic 1860s building in downtown Pensacola, Jackson’s Steakhouse is named for Gen. Andrew Jackson (just across the street in Plaza Ferdinand VII, Jackson accepted the transfer of Florida from Spain to the United States in 1821). An intimate bar complements the light and airy interior.

Tip: Order Irv’s Coastal Crab Cakes: Pensacola Celebrity Chef Irv Miller combines the richness of a fire-roasted red pepper butter sauce with the satisfying sweetness of candied pecans. It will leave you speechless.

Best Sushi: Bonsai Sushi Bar at H20
Pensacola Celebrity Chef Dan Dunn has tongues wagging about his unique “Cajun-Asian” cuisine at H2O Grill inside the Hilton Pensacola Beach Gulf Front. Adjacent to H20 is the sleek little Bonsai Sushi Bar. Sexy and modern, Bonsai is perfect for a stylish dinner followed by a walk on a moonlit beach.

Tip: Try the Pensacola Beach Roll: A combination of cilantro, jalapeno, green onion and tuna, it has the perfect “kick.”

Best Tapas: The Global Grill
The best way to experience Global Grill is with a group of friends – otherwise you’ll just stare at the expansive menu all night, wishing your stomach were large enough to accommodate more dishes. The Global Grill is a tapas bar, which means appetizer-sized dishes (tapas means “small plates” in Spanish) allow you to sample and experiment. If you have your heart set on a heartier portion, Pensacola Celebrity Chef Frank Taylor also offers main plates such as Hoisin-seared salmon steaks served with rice noodles, shiitake mushrooms and snow peas or roasted duck breast with Jarlsberg au gratin potatoes.

Tip: Save room for dessert: The gooey-centered chocolate cake has become one of the city’s most talked-about treats.

Best Waterfront View: The Fish House
The view is so pretty you might forget to focus on the food. But that would be a mistake. Pensacola Celebrity Chef Jim Shirley shaped the menu at The Fish House, lending his “modern Southern” flavors in dishes such as Grits a Ya Ya, a divine combo of smoked Gouda cheese grits, plump shrimp, fresh cream, garlics, shallots and applewood-smoked bacon (need I say more?). The Fish House is lots of fun, too, with live music, drink specials and sushi nights.

Tip: Try out their free cooking classes during winter months on the Deck Bar.

Best Take-Out: Nancy’s Haute Affairs
Sometimes you just want to kick-back in your hotel room or condo. If so, make plans to pick up breakfast, lunch or dinner from Nancy's Haute Affairs. Pensacola Celebrity Chef Gus Silivos' brioche stuffed with egg, cheese and bacon; smoked Gouda and broccoli flatbread; beautiful breaded pork cutlets… calling this food take-out is almost an insult - call it "GourmetToGo" instead.

Tip: A convenient drive-thru means you don't have to change out of your bikini or pajamas. No need to call ahead; they have everything at the ready.

Best for Kids: Flounder’s Chowder & Ale House
Flounder's is a destination unto itself. Outside, a giant shrimp boat dominates the view. Inside, the rambling restaurant is full of surprises like a library-themed dining room and walls bedazzled with clam shells, road signs and ships' wheels. Take the kids for lunch and plan to stay for the day so they can frolic on the pirate-themed playground, then explore the beach and dock. The food is fresh, quick and yummy - just perfect for tiny, hungry tummies and short attention spans.

Tip: Make a contest of counting the boats suspended from the ceiling; then take the kids to see the 980-pound marlin in the Marlin Bar.

Fun Atmosphere: McGuire's Irish Pub
Eating (and drinking the homemade brew) at McGuire's is a must. This popular Irish steakhouse in a 1927 firehouse has been featured on the Today Show, and photos of celebs and politicians who've dined here mingle on the walls like a dinner party of the rich and famous. You'll also find more than 700,000 one dollar bills that patrons have signed and stapled to the walls and ceilings. Arrive early for lunch on Wednesdays because that's when McGuire's dishes up the legendary Hopkin House fried chicken recipe, served with collard greens and cornbread; this dish has made Pensacolians salivate since 1946, when the now-defunct boarding house served it three days a week.

Tip: If you'd like a little bit of privacy, request the "million-dollar deal table."

Best Dive/Honky-Tonk: Flora-Bama
Flora-Bama ain’t fancy – and that's just the way the regulars like it at this classic roadhouse bar. Part honky-tonk, part dive, the Flora-Bama is legendary (some might say "infamous") in the South as the place to go to people-watch (and maybe to toss a fish or two at the annual Interstate Mullet Toss). Think beer in cans, Jimmy Buffett music and cover bands, and a group of locals with a great sense of humor.

Tip: You’ll get some sand in your shoes, so wear flip-flops or at least leave the fancy ones at home.

Best Nightlife: Seville Quarter
Seville Quarter feels so much like New Orleans you might forget you're still in Pensacola. Entrepreneur and musician Bob Snow opened this night spot in 1967 in the old Pensacola Cigar & Tobacco Company warehouse. He embellished his creation with New Orleans antiques, tables and chairs from London and light fixtures and doors from Atlanta mansions. Known for its music, Seville Quarter rocks the city at night and has dubbed itself “Historic Pensacola with a bourbon chaser.”

Tip: Seville Quarter is broken into eight distinct areas: Rosie O’Grady’s (built in the the original warehouse); Phineas Phogg's; Palace Café; Lili Marlene’s; Apple Annie’s; End o’ the Alley Bar; Fast Eddie’s and Heritage Hall. Each one is its own little entertainment center. Plan for a late night.

Best Steak: The Angus
The Angus accomplishes something other Pensacola steakhouses cannot – it feels like a true neighborhood restaurant. Maybe it is because The Angus has been serving Certified Black Angus steaks since 1968, or because they live by the motto of listening to what the customer wants. Steaks may be topped wth four different options, and for the seafood lover, The Angus serves the freshest local fish bronzed in extra virgin olive oil or decorated with Meditteranean-inspired toppings.

Tip: Try the fresh fish topped with sliced onion, fresh tomato, feta cheese, Greek peppers, extra-virgin olive oil and spices.

Tip: Don't miss the spacious balcony for great views of Pensacola's downtown scene.

Best Bushwacker: Sandshaker
Have you ever been bushwacked? If not, head over to the Sandshaker, bushwacker headquarters on Pensacola Beach. Delectable (and powerful), this little creation tastes cool and delicious after a day spent playing on the beach. Think rich, creamy and chocolaty. Sink into that chair a bit and listen to lively music and tall tales while you sip away.

Tip: Don't miss the annual Bushwacker Festival each August on Pensacola Beach.

Best Fish Shack: Chet’s
What Chet’s lacks in décor, it makes up for in flavor. A true fish shack, Chet’s serves fried mullet, stuffed crab, hushpuppies and fried shrimp - all the foods and flavors you want to dig into once those toes hit the sand. They serve local seafood – and the place is packed most nights.

Tip: A slight drive, you won’t be sorry. Trust us, the fried shrimp and fresh mullet are worth it.

Best Down-Home Breakfast: The Coffee Cup
The Coffee Cup is where Pensacola wakes up. Nothing fancy, just good home cooking that locals have loved for decades. Leave your cholesterol count by the door and dig into their delicious homemade biscuits and sizzling bacon-and-egg breakfasts.

Tip: Try the Nassau Grits, a savory twist to the Southern staple that includes tomatoes and peppers. Yummy!

Best Fresh Seafood: Joe Patti’s
Joe Patti's is what people dream of when they think of fresh Florida seafood. Park in front of Captain Joey’s massive boat and head inside to see today’s catch being unloaded straight off the boat and into the ice. Oysters, shrimp, crab, fish - anything and everything is quickly being fussed over by a busy, hardworking crew.

Tip: Pick up fine wine, sushi and delectable deli items in the gourmet store to complete your meal.

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