With the summer in full swing, it’s not too late to embrace a little John Mellencamp and enjoy a vacation to the Gulf Coast. A trip to the Mississppi Gulf Coast is not complete without oh-so-much good food. There is no way to include all the great restaurants, but I wanted to share some of my favorites that are must-visits.
Best Upscale Restaurant – The Chimneys. Located on the beach in Gulfport, MS, this favorite reopened after Katrina without the iconic upper floor, but the atmosphere and food is just as wonderful. During the summer, enjoy dining on the front lawn under twinkle lights with live music. Favorite dishes are Crabmeat Chimneys and Chimneys Creole Pasta with shrimp, but the fresh baked bread is not to be missed – good enough to be dessert. Only in Mississippi… we got takeout once from here and were given stoneware wrapped with cellophane because they were out of takeout containers, and asked to bring back when we had a chance. You have got to love that Mississippi hospitality.
Best Poboy – Lil Rays. Located in a strip on Courthouse Road in Gulfport, MS, is this self-proclaimed dive. Stick with the fried menu items and splurge on a bottled Barq’s root beer, a Biloxi, MS creation. The seating is picnic tables with a roll of paper towels for napkins and has been a coast staple for over 40 years in different locations. This hideaway has the best shrimp poboys on the coast, great fried crab claws and tuna dip. Also you can call ahead and pickup from their drive-through window. If you are looking for a more traditional atmosphere, check out the Lil Rays in downtown Long Beach.
Best for a Group – Half Shell Oyster House. With several locations on the coast including Biloxi and Gulfport, everyone in your group will find something to enjoy from this balanced menu of food and drinks. My default here is blackened tuna or any fresh fish on a salad with a local beer such as Lazy Magnolia, but you will also find steaks, chicken, salads, and pasta, as well as an extensive bar. Of course they also have a great selection of fresh oyster dishes as well.
Most Famous – Mary Mahoney’s. Known for serving presidents and celebrities for many decades, this is the most iconic restaurant on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. I guarantee that if you tell anyone who has visited before that you went to Biloxi, they will ask if you ate here. The site is interesting enough for a visit alone containing a multi-millennial Live Oak, a cafe that serves beignets, and a house built in 1737. When you enter through the bar, you will also see two markers on the walls that are emotional reminders for coast residents; they indicate the water level that reached inside during hurricanes Camille and Katrina. You cannot go wrong with anything on the menu, but expect it to be pricey (although you can get better prices at lunch time). My all-time favorite dish here is Sisters of the Sea, which is a bowl each of shrimp and crabmeat baked in a cheesy goodness, but by far the most popular is the stuffed flounder. And since you have already consumed more than your day’s calories, go ahead and try the rum sauce bread pudding for dessert, the most famous menu item, and pick up a courtesy copy of the recipe by the hostess stand on your way home.
Guilty Pleasure Award – Taco Sombrero. A locally owned, counter-service, (we can loosely call it) comfort Mexican food. I crave their macho chicken taco salad every time I visit the coast (although I’ve never eaten the entire thing in one sitting).
They have lots of other great comfort foods such as nachos, tacos, and American Mexican food staples that you would expect.
If I can time it well, I will pick up one on the way down Hwy. 49 coming into town! You will know you are in the right place when you see the mariachi band under the sign.