The Best Local Places to Eat in Pensacola, Florida
Great Restaurants in the "City of Five Flags"
First colonized over 450 years ago, Pensacola shares history with Spain, France, England, and the United States as well as a brief stint with the Confederate States. That's why it's known as the "city of five flags".
Pensacola is a historic seat of commercial fishing, an industry that gives the city a deep-rooted pride in seafood. This, along with its proximity to diverse local farms and gardens, makes Pensacola a little-known food-lovers' haven in the Florida Panhandle.
I consider myself to be a good cook, and I generally refuse to spend money to eat out unless I can be guaranteed a meal that is better than something I can make myself. As a lifelong resident of the Pensacola area, this list represents places where I willingly and eagerly pay for meals, because no matter what I order from the menu, I can be assured of a fantastic dining experience.
McGuire's Irish Pub
No trip to Pensacola is complete without a meal at McGuire's Irish Pub and Brewery. McGuire's has reigned as king of the Pensacola steak scene since McGuire and Molly opened it as a neighborhood pub in 1977.
Whether you drop in for lunch or stay awhile for dinner, McGuire's blends top-quality victuals with an irreverent and uproarious atmosphere. Steaks are the centerpiece of the menu—your slab of choice beef arrives fresh off the grill, sizzling in its juices alongside a stuffed tomato.
If burgers are more your style, theirs will redefine your idea of what a hamburger should be. The menu features more than 25 burgers, ranging from your basic cheeseburger and fries to a $100 monstrosity served with caviar and champagne. And don't forget to ask about the infamous (and terrifying) Garbage Burger!
However, even though it's famous for its beef, McGuire's has always held true to its identity as a traditional Irish pub. Savory pub fare, such as shepherd's pie, corned beef and cabbage, and sausage platters are all available and prepared to perfection.
- Steak, burgers, or any dish where beef is the centerpiece
- The Brewer's Sausage Plate
Upscale dining in Pensacola was taken by storm when Global Grill opened on Palafox Street in the heart of downtown. Specializing in tapas, Global Grill surrounds the diner with walls full of modern, local artwork for a complete dining experience.
The tapas menu has variations on everything from chicken and vegetables to sausage, seafood, and shellfish. Chef Frank Taylor makes full use of local ingredients to craft exquisite dishes that blend the flavors of the Gulf Coast with the traditions of great European cuisines. The tapas menu can be expertly catered to individual tastes, but do not let it distract you from the stellar steak and seafood entrées.
Be sure to save room for dessert. Few experiences are as transcendent as eating the Global Grill's homemade cheesecake drizzled with a reduction of port wine and blueberries. Also worth sampling is the creme brûlée, made special with Bailey's Irish Cream.
Author's Top Tapas:
- Brussels sprouts in Gouda cheese sauce
- Lamb lollipops
- Lobster tail medallions
Pensacola is home to a number of excellent local pizza joints. Local pizza artisans all vie for dominance among Pensacola's "pie elite," but Georgio's Pizza reigns supreme for its commitment to pure ingredients, excellent service, and community involvement.
Founded by a Greek restaurateur named Georgio, the restaurant was purchased after his death by Carl Hixon, who is almost always behind the counter and whose sons now do much of the cooking.
The menu goes beyond pizza to include calzones, salads, and burgers, but trust me when I say that you should save your stomach for the gastronomic wonderland that is Georgio's pizza.
Georgio's packs more flavor into a single slice than its competitors can get into a whole pie. Every ingredient is prepared with utmost regard for its contribution to the pie as a whole. The crust is rolled to a perfect thickness—thick enough to hold shape, but thin enough that it's not distracting—and buttered on the rim before it is coated with a fresh, herbed tomato sauce. Next, the pie is given a liberal helping of toppings and covered in a heavy, rapturous layer of Wisconsin cheese. Georgio's pies do not reduce themselves to cheap party food; they are substantial, artisanal meals, and should be appreciated as such.
The sheer glory of its pizza is enough to crown Georgio's as the top pizza joint in Pensacola, but its ranking is further cemented by its community activism and support of first responders. Every month, it has at least one day set aside to support local police, fire, and EMT authorities. If you eat pizza in Pensacola, it's got to be at Georgio's.
Author's Favorite Pies:
- Italian sausage
- Pepperoni with black olives
With two locations, one in downtown Pensacola and another in Perdido Key, Hub Stacey's rivals anything you could find in a New York deli. In addition to their flagship pastrami sandwich—nicknamed "The Palafox" after downtown Pensacola's main street—Hub Stacey's offers a full menu of memorably constructed sandwiches. Deli favorites, such as the classic Reuben or Club, can be found alongside Hub Stacey's interpretations of Cuban and vegetarian sandwiches.
What makes their sandwiches unique is not just their generous towers of ingredients, but the way they treat the element bookending each sandwich's precious cargo of meat and toppings; simply put, Hub Stacey's respects bread. On a hot sandwich such as The Palafox, the bread is not simply a sloppy, greasy obstacle between diners and the sandwich's contents—far from it. It is generously buttered and seared on the grill, creating a firm, crisp-yet-somehow-juicy blanket around a wonderland of fresh meat, vegetables, and condiments.
As monumental as these sandwiches are, one must not neglect their sides. When ordering a sandwich, skip the chips and ask for a helping of Hub Stacey's homemade potato salad instead. The kitchen makes a limited amount every day, and sometimes you need to ask to make sure that it's available. The house potato salad is made with rich mayonnaise and flavored with delicious spices and chunks of bacon. Need I say more?
Author's Favorite Sandwiches:
- The Palafox (hot pastrami on rye)
- The Romano (a classic Reuben, renamed after one of Pensacola's historic streets)
Taste of India
I fell in love with India a few years ago. I have eaten both modified Indian foods without much spice as well as fully-spiced, sinus-smelting curries cooked over open fires on busy streets. I love it all.
As such, I have high standards for Indian food, and those standards are fully met every time I visit Taste of India for a meal. With a lunch buffet and dinner menu featuring classic dishes from all over the subcontinent, Taste of India is Pensacola's best spot for Indian food.
The lunch buffet consists of about 15 regular dishes. Vegetable, pulse, and paneer dishes compliment a variety of chicken dishes, prepared in the tandoori, in a curry sauce, or in milder variations such as korma and tikka masala. For the more discerning customer, the full menu is available for individual orders during lunch; or, you can wait until dinner, when the buffet is closed and the atmosphere becomes much more tranquil and upscale.
The complete menu is daunting with its variety of meat and vegetarian options, including chicken, mutton, lamb, and full spectrum of vegetable dishes that can be chosen as either a side or an entrée.
If you have a sweet tooth, Taste of India's desserts are as worthwhile as their main courses. Save room for their decadent mango ice cream, or try the savory-sweet carrot pudding, gajar halwa.
Aside from the food itself, what sets Taste of India apart from other Indian restaurants is the attentiveness and charisma of its staff. The managers and owners will visit your table at least once during your visit to ensure that your food is up to par. For newcomers, they have plenty of recommendations to suit individual tastes. Their warm friendliness is a breath of fresh air in an era when most restaurant staffers are either cold and distant or bland automatons.
- Tandoori chicken
- Cabbage in curry sauce
- Gajar halwa
Joe Patti's Seafood
It is a crime to visit Pensacola without paying a visit to Joe Patti's Seafood. They became famous over 75 years ago for selling their selection of quality, Gulf Coast seafood to the public at wholesale prices.
Fish, shrimp, and other shellfish are brought in daily from the Gulf of Mexico. Feel free to walk around to the back to visit the shrimp boats that haul in the daily catches. Once you have ordered one of their many varieties of shrimp, you can have the staff season and steam it for you so that it's ready to eat upon arriving home.
As Pensacola's premier seafood market, Joe Patti's has expanded its business in recent years to include a gourmet grocery store, a wine shop, and even an on-site coffee and gelato bar. Joe Patti's is much more than a seafood shack; it's a one-stop shop where customers can buy everything they need for a multi-course gourmet meal.
- Steamed shrimp
Good Eats in Pensacola: Come for Lunch, Stay for Dinner
Don't just take my word for it; come to town and find out why Pensacola's food is one of the best-kept secrets of the Florida Panhandle! Pensacola is home to many wonderful restaurants. It is bordered by water to the south and farmland to the north, and the best restaurants are the ones that use these geographical advantages to obtain the freshest possible ingredients.