This article objectively lists the truly BEST US Gulf Coast Restaurants and Chefs. Most, if not all, other “best” lists include subjective favorites. In this attempt at objectivity, I relied mostly on James Beard Foundation (JBF) lists. JBF is the official and preeminent recognized source of culinary excellence in USA.
There are also mentions in this best Gulf Coast Restaurants and Chefs list from Zagat, Top Chef, Beat Bobby Flay, Golden Spoon (Florida’s annual culinary awards), DiRoNa (Distinguished Restaurants of North America), and other sources. Please let me know of other sources that recognize Gulf Coast culinary excellence.
Best US Gulf Coast Restaurants and Chefs
The following best restaurants along the Gulf Coast states are sorted by state and listed from east to west—from Key West around the Gulf of Mexico to Brownsville Texas. Please let us know your favorite Gulf Coast restaurants and we will try to visit them on future US Gulf Coast trips.
I intend to frequently update this list so please check back. Also, please let me know of Gulf Coast restaurants and chefs worthy of consideration for the title of BEST.
Any mention below of James Beard Foundation nominee or nomination is for the category of best chef: US south semi-finalist or (for Texas) best chef: US southwest. JBF lists evolve from semi-finalists, then Nominees (I will call them Finalists), then one ultimate winner in each category. I do not include JBF nominees in the hospitality, media, beverage, or service categories.
Best Florida Gulf Coast Restaurants and Chefs
21 Spices, Asif Syed, Naples
Chef Asif Syed was a featured James Beard chef for Innovative Indian cuisine, was victorious on Beat Bobby Flay (Food Network), and competed on Cutthroat Kitchen (Food Network). His restaurant 21 Spices in Naples Florida received the Golden Spoon award for best new restaurant in Florida and a DiRoNa award. I met Chef Asif the night before he beat Bobby Flay—see my suggestions at Fun Gulf Coast Restaurants.
For suggestions of best Naples FL restaurants.
The Perfect Caper, Jeanie Roland, Punta Gorda
Chef Jeanie Roland received seven James Beard Foundation nominations, was victorious on Beat Bobby Flay, and appeared on Iron Chef Gauntlet. Her restaurant, The Perfect Caper, has earned nine Golden Spoon awards including Hall of Fame status.
See also our article for Things to Do in Punta Gorda
Beach Bistro, Peter Arpke, Holmes Beach
Chef Peter Arpke received a James Beard Foundation nomination and has been with Beach Bistro for more than 25 years. Beach Bistro earned Golden Spoon awards including Hall of Fame status and was ranked by Zagat as one of USA’s top restaurants.
For suggestions of things to do on Anna Maria Island: Things to Do in Anna Maria Island
More Best Florida Gulf Coast Chefs and Restaurants
The following chefs have at least one James Beard Foundation semi-finalist nomination for best chef.
- Ferrell Alvarez, Rooster & Till, Tampa
- Greg Baker, The Refinery, Tampa
- Ann Kearney, Oak & Ola, Tampa
- Jeffrey Jew, Stillwater Tavern, St Pete
- Sylvia Gould, Kool Beanz Cafe, Tallahassee (JBF: Pastry Chef)
- Andi Bell, Boshamps, Destin (JBF: Rising Star)
- Irv Miller, Jackson’s Steakhouse, Pensacola
Before visiting the Florida Panhandle, see our Destin Florida Airbnbs
Best Alabama Gulf Coast Restaurants
Southern National in Mobile
US Gulf Coast Travel note: Southern National has closed.
Chef Duane Nutter received several James Beard nominations at Southern National and previously at One Flew South at Atlanta airport. He has also competed on Iron Chef America (Food Network).
See also: Things to Do in Mobile Alabama
Fisher’s at Orange Beach Marina, Bill Briand, Orange Beach
Chef Bill Briand received James Beard nominations for five straight years. Southern Living has named Fisher’s at Orange Beach Marina one of the top US South restaurants five times.
Best Mississippi Gulf Coast Restaurants
Vestige, Alex Perry, Ocean Springs
Chef Alex Perry of Vestige received a James Beard Foundation nomination in 2019 and 2022
White Pillars, Austin Sumrall, Biloxi
Chef Austin Sumrall of White Pillars is a 2020 James Beard Foundation nominee—after working for three other James Beard Foundation nominees. Chef Sumrall beat Food Network star chef Alex Guarnaschelli and two other chefs in the Alex vs Southern Comfort battle.
See also Sensational Mississippi Gulf Coast Restaurants
And suggestions about things to do on Mississippi Gulf Coast: Coastal Mississippi Hidden Gems
Best Louisiana Gulf Coast Restaurants
Del Porto, David and Torre Solazzo, Covington
Chefs David and Torre Solazzo received three James Beard Foundation nominations. Del Porto has been voted best new restaurant by New Orleans magazine, best Italian restaurant in New Orleans area, and ranked as one of New Orleans top 10 restaurants overall.
LOLA Restaurant, Keith and Nealy Frentz, Covington
Chef Nealy Frentz was runner-up on Chopped (Food Network).
OXLOT 9, Jeffrey Hansell, Covington
Chef Jeffrey Hansell has been selected as Louisiana Restaurateur of the Year (along with his wife Amy, co-owners of OXLOT 9), named one of Top 10 Chefs in Louisiana, nominated as best new chef by Food & Wine, and competed on Beat Bobby Flay.
There is something going on north of New Orleans across Lake Pontchartrain. In the same town, Covington Louisiana, three amazing restaurants owned by vibrant chefs. For suggestions of things to do in Covington Louisiana see: Things to Do in Louisiana Northshore
Bread & Circus, Manny Augello, Lafayette
Chef Manny Augello received a James Beard Foundation nomination.
Best New Orleans Restaurants
The only James Beard Foundation 2019 winner along the US Gulf Coast was Kelly Fields of Willa Jean in New Orleans in the Best Pastry Chef category.
James Beard Foundation nominees for 2020 from New Orleans are:
All are semi-finalists in the Best Chef, South category unless otherwise listed.
- Blake Aguillard and William “Trey” Smith, Saint-Germain
- Kristen Essig and Michael Stoltzfus, Coquette (also 2019 finalist)
- Hao Gong, LUVI Restaurant
- Michael Gulotta, Maypop
- Mason Hereford, Turkey and the Wolf
- Isaac Toups, Toups’ Meatery (also 2019 finalist)
- Ana Castro, Thalia, New Orleans (rising star, also 2019 rising star when at Coquette)
- Donald Link, Herbsaint (outstanding chef, also 2019 outstanding chef semi-finalist)
JBF 2019 finalists not in 2020:
- Slade Rushing, Brennan’s (five-time JBF finalist) (US Gulf Coast Travel note: Slade Rushing recently left Brennan’s)
Best Houston Texas Restaurants
James Beard Foundation nominees for 2020 from Houston are:
All are semi-finalist nomines in the Best Chef, South category unless otherwise listed.
- Dawn Burrell, Kulture, Houston
- Manabu Horiuchi, Kata Robata, Houston
- Anita Jaisinghani, Pondicheri, Houston
- Trong Nguyen, Crawfish & Noodles, Houston
- Jason Vaughan, Nancy’s Hustle, Houston
- Kaitlin Steets, Theodore Rex, Houston (rising star)
- Justin Yu, Theodore Rex, Houston (outstanding chef)
- The Original Ninfa’s on Navigation (outstanding restaurant)
- Tracy Vaught, H Town Restaurant Group, Houston (Hugo’s, Xochi, Caracol, and others) (Outstanding Restaurateur) (Outstanding Hospitality)
Other sources for US Gulf Coast Restaurants and Chefs:
- Gayot, top 40 Restaurants in America
- DiRoNa Hall of Fame of Distinguished Restaurants in North America
- Award winning restaurants in Houston Texas
- 10 best chefs in Louisiana
- Florida’s Vest Restaurants, The Golden Spoons
- USA’s chefs of the year by American Culinary Federation
Note that Michelin stars are only awarded within US to chefs in DC, NYC, SF, LA, and Chicago (at this time) and that no US Gulf Coast restaurants have earned Gayot awards.
DiRoNa Hall of Fame includes these US Gulf Coast restaurants:
- Commander’s Palace, New Orleans (chef Tory McPhail was 2013 JBF winner)
- Chef John Folse, Gonzalez Louisiana
- Leruth’s, New Orleans
- Brennan’s, New Orleans
- Ruth’s Chris Steak House, New Orleans
- Dookey Chase, New Orleans
By no means is this a comprehensive list of the best US Gulf Coast Restaurants and Chefs and this #USGulfCoast article will be updated as needed.