In the story I sometimes imagine for South Padre, all the hotels and tourist joints melt away into some future haze, and the entire island goes back to being a spit of sand. But that’s not the way it is now, and that’s not why I came here.

I saw a T-shirt at the SPI Birding and Nature Center that summed up my goals for this trip: Eat. Sleep. Bird.

The birding part is easy, since all I have to do is leave the hotel and cross the street or walk down a boardwalk.

The eating part is a little more of a challenge, since the area is not known for innovation in food. Reviewers on the Internet wonder if everything here really has to be fried, but if it’s not a requirement, you wouldn’t know it from the menus I’ve seen.

So far, though, every restaurant (visited only once, mind you) has had at least one bright spot.

At Longhorn Cattle Company on the way south from Harlingen, Texas, it was the salty, beefy, bean soup served in a white coffee mug, along with a pitcher of water that required a straw.Texas restaurants

The briscuit was silky on the tongue but not particularly flavorful; it didn’t have much of a smoke ring, so maybe it was oven-roasted. Texas restaurantsThe crunchy bits of celery in the otherwise dense scoop of potato salad provided textural relief from all the softness. The coleslaw—minced cabbage and carrots and other vegetables bathing in a sweet liquid—was rather appealing, almost a dessert.

At Yummies Bistro on South Padre, it was the sipping chocolate mixed with espresso. South Padre restaurants(And the great-tailed grackle doing its Star Trek red alert call; it wanted us to run for the shuttles so it could steal the sugar packets.) Belvedere Chocolate in Boulder makes a similar drink, called hot chocolate soup. This was better and came in three flavors: plain chocolate, Mexican (with chilis), and mocha (what I had).

Granted, it’s difficult to make eggs and bacon into anything special. When I order such a basic breakfast, all I ask is that the scrambled eggs be scrambled instead of slabbed, and that the bacon be crunchy AND fatty. South Padre restaurantsYummies delivered. Todd’s shrimp salad with dried cherries, grape tomatoes, blue cheese, and toasted pita triangles was refreshing, and the protein and cheese added flavor without overwhelming the lettuce. (It was also the first of Todd’s three meals in a row with shrimp.)South Padre restaurants

Daddy’s Seafood and Cajun Kitchen impressed me the least. I think it may have been our waiter’s first week, or maybe nobody goes to restaurants on South Padre and orders a Tanqueray and tonic or asks what kind of tuna they’re serving tonight. He was nice enough to ask the cook, who responded, “Red tuna” (maguro?), but the fish I got was not dense enough to be a tuna steak. There is a kind of tuna I’ve had only at Ooka in Broomfield, which the menu there listed as “white tuna,” but the thinness of the filet and its moist texture suggested tilapia or catfish.South Padre restaurants

In any case, the almond crust made the meal. It was light and crunchy and added just a bit of depth to the flavor of the fish. In hindsight, I wish I’d ordered the cheese sauce on the side, because a little went a long way, and I truly preferred the fish without it (and without the potatoes that come with it). Todd’s shrimp kebabs were OK. One thing I will say about South Padre restaurants: They know how to cook fish properly.

Todd had a good laugh when I wondered if this T-shirt slogan—“Big people are harder to kidnap”—could refer to drug crime in Mexico. He laughed harder when I asked the waiter if it meant anything specific and received a bemused nonresponse. “Suck Head, Eat Tail” I could figure out all by myself. At the end of the meal, the waiter got his revenge by asking us if we wanted waters to go. So we went.

(I should have known. Ruth Tobias warned that snarky T-shirt slogans might be a bad sign.)

The next day we ended up at South Padre Brewing Company for lunch. Luckily, it was easy to find by sight, because neither Google Maps nor the car’s GPS knew its exact location; the car thought the restaurant was two blocks south of where it actually was (and we had the same experience driving to Pier 19 later that night).South Padre restaurants

This place had almost all its cylinders firing. Of the five beers in the sampler, three were really good: Padre Island Pale Ale (second from left), Tidal Wave Wheat (with the lemon), and Speckled Trout Stout (front). The amber (far left), normally my favorite, tasted thin, and the blonde (second from right), although nice enough, was a get-drunk-quick light beer. South Padre restaurantsI was surprised by the fleeting sweetness of the pale ale; according to a home-brewing friend of Todd’s, some yeasts can impart a smell of banana peel. But the stout went best with my pesto chicken salad sandwich-wagon with its four wheels of tomato and cucumber. It was damn good: the bread was crisp, the chicken salad had about 1,000 calories of mayo, and the pebbly dressing was sour enough to offset all that creaminess.South Padre restaurants

You’ll have to excuse me for wondering where the pesto was. I assumed it must be somewhere in the dressing, but no, the waitress said, it was in the chicken salad. Maybe it was those tiny green specks? It doesn’t matter, though: the dressing they did serve, full of garlic and oregano, was delicious; I liked it better than the pesto vinaigrette she brought me later, made with enough Thai basil to taste of anise.

Note the coleslaw here, much chunkier and less sweet than its Longhorn counterpart.

Todd ordered the shrimp wrap (shrimp meal number three), and although he complained it needed more flavor, he liked it and the hot salsa well enough to order some homemade chips and salsa to go.

So, the moral of my tale of overeating is this: if you’re hungry on South Padre, go to the Brewing Company or Yummies. Or Cafe Kranzler, which I will be visiting tonight.
Longhorn Cattle Co. BBQ & Steakhouse on UrbanspoonYummies Bistro on UrbanspoonDaddy's Seafood & Creole on UrbanspoonPadre Island Brewing Co. on Urbanspoon

Leave A Comment

  1. Barry Patel November 25, 2010 at 9:56 am - Reply

    Hi Beth,
    The great American Grill @ the Hilton Garden Inn , recent winner of the World Shrimp Cookoff , I hope will be on your list of restaurants visited. Granted, my suggestion is somewhat biased but still worth a visit , I would venture to say.

  2. Catherine Carilli November 29, 2010 at 10:21 pm - Reply

    Great descriptions of dining!
    I am amazed that you found culinary delights in the heart of fried food and heavy sauce Americana. I love your descriptions… I can ‘taste’ the food!

  3. Beth Partin November 30, 2010 at 8:59 am - Reply

    Catherine, I’m glad you liked it. I can’t wait to write about Cafe Kranzler, which was the best of the lot.

  4. dana November 30, 2010 at 6:25 pm - Reply

    hey beth. i love all of the photos on your blog. my fridge is empty right now so my mouth is watering. hope you had fun on your trip.

  5. Beth Partin November 30, 2010 at 8:48 pm - Reply

    Dana, thanks! I’m glad you liked the post.

  6. Of Porno Scans and BBQ December 8, 2010 at 8:50 am - Reply

    […] after we checked out, where did we begin our 12-hour trek back home? Why, at Yummies, of course. I felt a slight pang as we drove past Café Kranzler because I also wanted to try the […]

  7. Laurel Kallenbach December 20, 2010 at 2:51 pm - Reply

    I’ve never been to South Padre island, but the dining scene sounds pretty diverse!

  8. Beth Partin December 20, 2010 at 7:54 pm - Reply

    Laurel, I don’t know if I’d go so far as diverse, but it does seem to be branching out a little.

  9. Jean January 8, 2012 at 4:00 pm - Reply

    Next trip to Daddy’s be sure to try the jambalaya – it’s memorable!