Five Panama City Beach Spots to Eat Without A Crowd

Everything from authentic Mexican to giant baskets of seafood to fill tummies during Spring Break

With Spring temperatures quickly approaching, many people have begun to frantically plan warm destination vacations.

Many flock to the tropical climates of the beaches of the United States and during Spring Break, Panama City Beach, Florida consistently ranks at the top of the list.  

For the past couple of years, the city has wanted to transform its image as “Party Beach” USA during Spring Break to something more appealing for families and those wanting a little peace and quiet.  

My last trip to Panama City Beach was not in search of a party.  That trip (in November of all times) was guided by my taste buds to find something unique that was not only packed with flavor but also easy on the wallet.  

Avoiding the typical “tourist spots”, below are four spots that offer enormous amounts of food for a reasonable prices, some uncharacteristic beach fare, or a combination thereof.

Palm trees and blue umbrellas overlooking a blue pool.

Los Rancheros

First on the list might be baffling to some, but my logic is founded.  Within the area of Panama City Beach, Los Rancheros is one of only three traditional Mexican restaurants.

Los Rancheros serves traditional favorites in a quiet environment coupled with outstanding service.  In my search for something exclusive to the restaurant’s offerings that could abate my hearty appetite, I set my mind (and stomach) on the Hot ‘N Spicy burrito.  What arrived was a behemoth stuffed to the point of bursting with ground beef, rice, cheese and beans. To complete the meal, Los Rancheros ladles on a couple heaps of their homemade chili con carne and a dollop of sour cream on the side.  

My first bite of the burrito set my mouth ablaze.  

A burrito covered in tomato sauce from Los Rancheros.

Some levels of spice completely kill the taste buds with fire, this spice was accompanied by a powerful smoked kick of chilies with chipotles leading the ranks.  For as monstrous as the portion was, the meal was mild on the wallet (no pun intended) priced at just $11.

For fans of traditional Mexican-American food, Los Rancheros is a must stop.  Drink specials vary day to day and they happily serve up frozen margaritas after a day at the beach!

Barefoot on the Beach Bar and Grill

For anyone who’s followed Brewhoppin, they’ll know I’m all for beachfront dining after my visit to Schooner’s.  

As with any beach city, a little discretion and research must be done as some beachfront establishments charge a hefty premium for what’s generally subpar food and the novelty of eating by the beach.  

While Schooner’s was my first choice for a beachfront seafood dinner, I wanted a much simpler meal that would not break the bank.  Barefoot on the Beach’s brand-new sign and pristine grounds shined like a diamond amidst the nearby construction and like a moth to flame, I was drawn.  

A red chair on the sand outside Barefoot on the Beach restaurant.

I should make an initial disclaimer: Barefoot on the Beach is NOT an indoor restaurant.  It’s outdoor bar with shaded seating, a pool and of course the beach.  

While seafood beckoned, any other ideas I had were obliterated once I set eyes upon the Big Mouth Burger.  I know food photography is meant to make food look as attractive as possible, I still ordered without hesitation.  

What came to the bar after a short wait was, thankfully, a true reflection of the menu.  

Easily the largest burger I have ever eaten, the ten ounce patty was cooked a perfect, juicy medium well and simply seasoned.  

The meal at Barefoot on the Beach was extremely reasonable.  The burger was only $12 but I highly recommend spending a few extra dollars for a specialty drink which is served in a souvenir mason jar.  

A massive burger and basket of fries from Barefoot on the Beach bar and Grill

Whether by yourself or with family and friends, Barefoot on the Beach offers a stunning environment with a pool and the beach a few steps away.  It can be easy to spend a majority of a day just at this restaurant alone.

Montego Bay

Tourist destinations are a unique breed.  

When it comes to restaurants, it seems that is the ever-changing constant in these areas.  During my time in Panama City Beach, I yearned to find a restaurant with a long-standing commitment to service and quality.  Asking anyone who has lived in the area, Montego Bay was the resounding verdict.  

Open since 1982, Montego Bay brought a taste of the Caribbean to Panama City Beach with a menu heavily inspired by the flavors of Jamaica.  While there have been several location changes and closures (most of which were due to extreme hurricane seasons), the current Montego Bay can be found in close proximity to Los Rancheros.  

Both the exterior and interior of both harken back to a time of long lost Florida dining.  Extravagantly bright colors evoke feelings of eating at a local Jamaican spot along with a wave of nostalgia from similar restaurants when I was a kid.  

The menu offers a plethora, from seafood to more unique dishes such as liver and onions with a Caribbean flare.  

While initially overwhelmed, I wished to enjoy a seafood meal so I chose a lunch plate of fresh tilapia with fried okra and Cuban rice.  

The tilapia was coated in a dry jerk seasoning and grilled to perfection.  The level of spice was expected from jerk seasoning so for those with a sensitivity to spice, it might be best to avoid the dish entirely.  

The unique component of the entire plate was the Cuban rice.  

A simple composition of rice and sofrito with stewed tomatoes, the complexity of flavor gave the impression that the rice had cooked for hours, if not days.  As a further recommendation try the alligator bites. It was something new for me and so delicious. The plate of tilapia was only $10 but a plate of the gator bites adds another $12 bringing the total to $23.  

Tilapia and rice from Montego Bay in Panama City Beach

Montego Bay was easily one of the most affordable options for food in the greater beach area and during lunch, there was a constant flow of locals coming and going.  For those who want a family friendly experience without breaking the bank, Montego Bay is a must visit for a taste of real Caribbean flavor in a nostalgic environment.

Dusty’s Oyster Bar

Any Spring Break vacation would not be complete without an evening out at a place with a bustling crowd, good food, and cold drinks.  

Centrally located on Front Beach Road, Dusty’s has a following of almost mythological proportions among locals and tourists. They don’t openly advertise online, rather they rely on word of mouth.  

After two previous attempts of trying to go and not finding a single place to park and a line out the door, I knew my best chance to get a table was to go right as they opened for lunch.  

My instincts were right.

Walking through the door I couldn’t help but notice the hundreds of dollar bills on the walls from people that have visited... from literally all over the world.  

Dollars hang from the ceiling at Dusty's Oyster Bar in Panama City Beach.

As the name implies, Dusty’s Oyster Bar is famous for its raw oyster bar, but they also offer a full menu.  

This particular morning I was famished, so I ordered the largest item on the menu, Dusty’s “seafood adventure”.  

For seafood fans, the seafood adventure is the proverbial Mecca of fresh seafood goodness, conveniently served in a traditional red bar food basket.  The monstrous basket consisted of the following: grouper, oysters, shrimp, clams, stuffed crab, and crab claws accompanied with fries and coleslaw.

The server was nothing short of shocked when this famished foodie was able to down the entire basket made to serve two or three.  

When I first arrived, I was one of the first served but during my time with the seafood adventure, a large number of guests arrived and upon my departure, the parking lot was completely full.  The seafood adventure was worth the $23 with its ample sampling of various fresh seafood and served in a welcoming environment with very friendly service.

A plate piled high with seafood choices at Dusty's Oyster bar

If you, your family, or a group of friends wish to enjoy dinner at Dusty’s, it’s pretty much mandatory to call ahead to reserve a table.  Otherwise I might see you there during the lunch rush in the future!

Panama City Beach is home to a number of eateries with just about every type of food imaginable.  However, from my multiple trips over the years starting when I was very young all the way up to my most recent trip, I find these places to be worth a mention.  

With Spring Break already underway, the rush to plan a vacation to simply get away can cause potential food ideas to fall to the wayside until the hunger hits.  

My thoughts on Schooner’s in Panama City Beach, in addition to those here, provides a solid list of restaurants deserving of your time and business during your stay in Panama City Beach.              

Have you been to PCB?  How was your experience?  Did your favorite restaurant make the list?  Let us know all this in the comments below and if your favorite place wasn’t mentioned, I’ll be sure to check it out on my next trip to the Emerald Coast!