From ice houses to seaside shacks to upscale lounges, check out these coastal favorites
In a region visited by millions of people a year, most of the tourist spots get all the love. But visitors can’t really know a place until they go where the locals go.
This isn’t a dining guide. This isn’t about best bars or best barbecue — that’s a whole other issue — or best anything. It isn’t scientific, nor is it comprehensive. It’s about hidden gems and places off the beaten path. It’s about where residents truly hang out, or go for a hot meal, cold beer and warm ambience.
While the Coast Monthly team contributed to this listing, we relied heavily on the true experts — the locals who live in the many cities on the upper Texas coast.
No. 1 Sonny’s Place
Generations of Galvestonians gravitate each week to Sonny’s Place, a family friendly beer and burger joint owned by the Puccetti family since 1944. They return again and again for the gumbo, the triple-meat cheeseburgers, the chicken-fried steak sandwich (proudly known as the “Artery Clogger”), among other menu items. Lawrence Puccetti Jr., 87, known to most as Junior, still shows up every day to work alongside his son, Richard. Patrons can choose to sit in booths, at tables or at the long bar, most famous for the bullet hole piercing the wood slab from a famous 1971 gunfight between Junior Puccetti and three armed robbers. Mind your manners and your language at Sonny’s Place. The motto here is “Be nice or be gone.” Families love the restaurant for its antique shuffleboard, pinball machines and pool table, among other amenities.
1206 19th St., Galveston
No. 2 Maceo Spice & Import Co.
Since 1944, members of the Maceo family have sold deli meats, cheeses and herbs and spices, many under their own label. The downtown Galveston shop stocks its shelves with specialty import foods from around the world.
With its unpretentious seating inside and out, the shop’s cafe offers lunch dailies and is famous for its Sicilian-style tomato gravies under Maceo’s Old Galveston brand. But Maceo Spice & Import is best known for its prized muffuletta sandwich made on Italian loaf bread with Maceo’s olive salad, ham, salami and provolone. The sandwich is a source of island pride. The Maceo family, which once ran the famous Balinese Room — a pier restaurant and illegal casino — claim to be the originator of the muffuletta.
2706 Market St., Galveston
No. 3 Santa Fe Donuts
This iconic shop on state Highway 6 has two unusual features — square doughnuts and a golden glaze. Why square? The friendly staff will tell you it’s because they never cut corners and patrons get more doughnut for their coin. For those wondering, the holes are still round. The recipe for the golden glaze is secret, but it’s no secret that it’s good. The shop, popular with locals, refinery workers and early risers, also serves savory breakfast choices, including tacos, sausage and egg biscuits, and boudin kolaches.
11950 state Highway 6, Santa Fe
No. 4 Island Pier Club
This intimate island bar is nearly hidden in a residential neighborhood near the seawall. Although there are a few outdoor tables, they’re rarely used. Instead, locals huddle inside at the bar or bistro tables, watching TV, listening to the rocking juke box and chatting among themselves. The staff is friendly, the drinks are reasonably priced and even if everyone doesn’t know your name, it feels welcoming to newcomers.
1702 Ave. O, Galveston
No. 5 The Rooftop Bar
Sometimes, you just want to be high above it all. Locals and visitors have their cocktails, appetizers and the best views of the harbor and historic downtown Galveston at The Rooftop Bar. The bar is four stories above The Tremont House and offers a sophisticated, modern lounge atmosphere. It’s frequented as much by islanders as it is by hotel guests.
“Every time we have people visit the island, the first night always includes a stop at The Tremont,” said islander Danielle Dunn, who graces the cover of this issue. “Even if they’re only here a short while, the views, the drinks, the history — it’s a perfect introduction to Galveston.”
2300 Ship’s Mechanic Row, Galveston
No. 6 Old Quarter Acoustic Café
Local and regional musicians seek out this small, unrefined venue to perform in an intimate setting where audience members can sometimes make requests without having to shout. Old Quarter encourages locals to participate with open mic nights. It’s well-known for its annual tribute to singer/songwriter Townes Van Zandt each New Year’s day.
413 20th St., Galveston
No. 7 Boondoggle’s Pizzeria & Pub
This quaint gastropub has been a fixture for Seabrook and League City residents since the establishment opened in 1998. Serving brick-oven pizzas along with a large and ever-changing selection of craft beers, the pub has become a staple local restaurant.
4106 E. NASA Parkway, El Lago
No. 8 Cabo Bar & Grill
Overlooking Clear Lake, this tavern is known for such entertainment as pool and ping-pong, plus open-mic nights and DJ music. The two-level waterside establishment features an upstairs patio and serves award-winning tangy crawfish and satisfying steak night specials. The bar also offers $2 tacos on Friday and Saturday nights.
2513 NASA Road 1, Seabrook
No. 9 Scotty’s Pub on the Bay
This “hybrid” pub is a continuation of the initial Scotty’s at Scarsdale Boulevard. But unlike the original bar, the League City location offers a dance floor inside, pool tables and a spacious outside area for diners. Anyone looking for a vast selection of both domestic and imported craft beers will be pleased. Several classic cocktails and a pub cuisine menu are available.
3202 Marina Bay Drive, League City
No. 10 Cruiser’s Ice House
This stand-alone structure is a haven for bikers, millennials and seniors, too. Leave the city behind and come out on Sundays for a blues jam. Beer, wine and B.Y.O.B. set-ups.
9002 FM 2004, Santa Fe
No. 11 Gypsy Joynt
After opening last year, Gypsy Joynt quickly found a caravan of followers. The Weller family is behind the concept, which had been popular in Great Barrington, Mass., and was known for its food emporium and live music. Gypsy Joynt, with a relaxed, Bohemian atmosphere, serves pizza, burgers, salads, sandwiches and more — all with a twist. Locals also are sweet on the desserts.
2711 Market St., Galveston
“Sloppy Nick’s Brooklyn Deli with Boar’s Head meats and burgers, excellent cold and hot sandwiches. The Italian Roast Beef with grilled onions and bell peppers is the best. Side order of garlic Parmesan cheese French fries. Wow.” — Alfio A. Tropea
2800 Marina Bay Drive, League City
No. 13 Tookie’s Seafood
Seabrook has its fair share of fish markets, so much so that the city is known as the “Seafood Capital of Texas.” But seafood restaurants were scarce, leading restaurateurs Barry and Melissa Terrell a few years ago to open this restaurant and local favorite. Tookie’s Seafood serves New Orleans-style grilled oysters, fresh fish, fried Gulf of Mexico seafood, crab cakes, stuffed flounder and more.
1106 Bayport Blvd., Seabrook
No. 14 Café Michael Burger
West End islanders and beachgoers flock here for good burgers and water views. With an ample variety of burgers, plus an eclectic menu of European specials such as wienerschnitzel, jagerschnitzel and bratwurst, Café Michael Burger has been a Galveston hangout for 25 years. Choose from indoor or outdoor dining in a very casual, beachy atmosphere with hand-painted nautical murals covering the walls. Beer and wine available.
11150 FM 3005, Galveston
No. 15 Bayview Duck
Patrons are loyal to this authentic British restaurant and pub with full bar, imported beer and what fans proclaim to be “the best fish and chips in town.” The restaurant serves Shepherd’s pie, Scotch eggs, bangers and mash, and, of course, lots of Guinness. House-baked Yorkshire pudding and the owner’s specialty drinks are favorites. Oodles of artsy ducks decorate the place, but there’s always room for one more if you want to add to the collection.
3131 state Highway 146, Bacliff
No. 16 East End eateries
“One of the nicest things about being an East Ender in Galveston’s Historic District is the variety of choices for wonderful, delicious, cozy places to eat and entertain guests. Within a span of 10 beautiful, walkable blocks, you can visit Pho 20 for a lovely lunch or light Vietnamese dinner; ShyKatz Deli & Bakery for an amazing breakfast, lunch or dessert; the Mosquito Café and their PattyCakes Bakery for a menu that will knock your socks off; and The Sunflower Bakery & Café for a delicious, beautiful lunch plate; and finally, The Original Mexican Café, where you can get the best Mexican food with Galveston’s fabulous shrimp on the same plate at the same time. As you walk and get some exercise, you are passing the famous tree sculptures and one historic house after another — most beautifully redone and so reminiscent of the Galveston of a bygone era.” — Ted Hanley
No. 17 Mod Coffeehouse
Hipsters, old-timers, medical students, business owners, artists and all manner of locals gather here for caffeinated conversations. Skilled baristas are friendly and fast. Outdoor seating offers lovely views of Postoffice Street.
2126 Postoffice St., Galveston
No. 18 Blue’s Bar & Grill
Take a seat at the cozy bar and swap stories with locals. The owner and staff know everyone by name. Monday night is ribeye steak night and Wednesdays are known for the chicken-fried steak special. There’s live music — with occasional acoustic guitar — on Friday and Saturday nights.
11948 state Highway 6, Santa Fe
No. 19 The Davenport Lounge Clear Lake
Rub elbows with astronauts, doctors, students, military types and ordinary folk who appreciate good scotch, whiskey and specialty cocktails. An extensive selection of signature martinis are served in extra large glasses. Amenities include comfy sofas, leather bar stools and outside patio.
1235 Clear Lake City Blvd., Houston
No. 20 Tin Cup’s Caddy Shack
Cold beer. A bucket of balls. Who’s your caddy? This bar and driving range features a large putting green and horseshoe pits. It also offers a large deck for outdoor seating to enjoy the gorgeous island sunsets.
9020 Stewart Road, Galveston
No. 21 Saloon Door Brewing
Josh Anderson, Jason Graham, his father Jeff Graham, and Austin Webber— all graduates of Galveston’s Ball High School — are behind the brewery, which serves up such signature craft beers as Vanilla Cream and Citrus Wheat. This is where space center scientists and plaid-clad hipsters congregate.
105 Magellan Circle, Webster
No. 22 Beerfoot Brewery
This is a hopping hub for beer lovers. You can spot Beerfoot Brewery from the seawall by its capital-lettered sign and garage-door style window. The menu includes more than 30 brews. Homebrewers are invited to use Beerfoot’s brewing system.
“We are hoping to find the next great craft brewer and say ‘we knew him when,’” the owners say.
2816 Ave. R½, Galveston
No. 23 Galveston Bay Beer Co.
The taproom at this local haunt offers small batch versions of unique and unusual brews, some only available here. It also promotes the history of brewing in Galveston County through artifacts from the past 120 years.
12900 FM 3436, Dickinson
No. 24 Galveston Island Brewing
Judging by the consistently packed parking lot, this brewery and taproom isn’t a well-kept secret among the locals. And the brewery’s reputation extends far beyond the island. Last year, Galveston Island Brewing’s Blue Bridge Hoppy Amber walked away with a bronze medal in the American Amber/Red category at the Great American Beer Festival in Colorado.
8423 Stewart Road, Galveston
No. 25 Noah’s Ark Bar & Grill
While usually referred to as Galveston County’s biggest biker bar, Noah’s Ark also happens to be a local hangout for families who turn out on Sundays for the breakfast buffet. Palapas are the drawing card, especially upstairs at the Parrot’s Nest, where the views are panoramic. There’s live music on weekends and a varied menu of burgers, seafood and comfort food and jalapeño margaritas.
4438 Boulevard St., Bacliff
No. 26 Sunset Lounge
Owners call this lounge the “beautiful little watering hole on Dickinson Bay.” It’s known for awesome sunsets. It isn’t an easy spot to find, but once you do, you’ll want to hang with the locals who have been coming here for years. There’s video bowling on Wednesday nights, and a food truck comes by on Sundays to whip up made-to-order omelettes.
1222 11th St., San Leon
No. 27 Skipper’s Café
Clear Lake area locals know Skipper’s Café for its breakfast, with one of the favorite menu items being the kielbasa and eggs. But they also go for the authentic Greek delicacies made from old family recipes handed down through generations.
1026 Marina Bay Drive, Clear Lake Shores
No. 28 Ca Phe Phin
An authentic Saigon-themed coffee shop serving ca phe den da (Vietnamese iced black coffee) or ca phe sua da (Vietnamese iced coffee with condensed milk), prepared and served the same way as traditional coffee on the streets of Vietnam. Calm, meditative surroundings, plus sandwiches and sweets.
1354 E. NASA Parkway, Nassau Bay
“Boyd’s One Stop bait stand on the Texas City Dike. Best crawfish. You can’t find it cooked any cheaper. B.Y.O.B. and get it to go and eat on the dike on one of the picnic tables. Bring a roll of paper towels!” — Jeff Mixon
227 Dike Road, Texas City
No. 30 Railean Distillers
Kelly Railean had a vision of owning and operating a distillery and that vision became reality in 2007. The blue metal building on a residential street in sunny San Leon has become a gathering spot for locals. Belly up to the pirate-themed Buccaneer Bar and sip the hand-crafted rum, blue agave, vodka and whiskey spirits. Distillery tours are available.
341 Fifth St., San Leon
No. 31 America’s Icehouse
If you haven’t been to Texas City’s Sixth Street lately, or you’re new to the city, you’re in for a pleasant surprise. Among the popular destinations is this outdoor bar made of shipping containers. It’s a gathering spot for plant workers, contractors, families, college students, anglers, bikers and more. Cheap drinks, food trucks, movies on two big outdoor screens, live music and karaoke and putting green are just some of the amenities. Plus, it’s dog-friendly.
622 Sixth St. N., Texas City
“Bakkhus for Greek food and fantastic hamburgers. Love the pitas, Greek salads and complete Greek plate.” — Jan Johnson
605 Sixth St., Kemah
No. 33 Shrimp ‘N Stuff
Around here, we worship our seafood shacks. Not too long after this one opened in 1976, it quickly became known as “the place where the locals love to eat.” The neighborhood restaurant is famous for shrimp, of course, but also seafood dinners, gumbo and salads. There’s two locations — the other’s in downtown Galveston — but this one is loved for its tree-covered deck.
3901 Ave. O, Galveston
No. 34 Stomp’s Burger Joint
Buttermilk-dipped, hand-battered onion rings, juicy burgers and rattlesnake eggs (cream cheese, diced jalapeños, smoked bacon and cheddar cheese — deep-fried) are the favorites. Locals feel at home among the no-frills, cowboy/bunkhouse décor. Have a sweet tooth? Try the coconut meringue pie, three-layer chocolate cake or the fried brownies.
3107 state Highway 146, Bacliff
No. 35 League City’s Easy Street
You’ve no doubt passed it while driving down state Highway 3, or got stuck in traffic in front of the place, wondering what goes on behind those gray walls. An old-school speakeasy, the remodeled neighborhood bar is popular with those who live nearby. There’s a fenced-in back patio and open-mic night every other Tuesday. Hop in once and the bartender will remember your drink next time.
112 state Highway 3 N., League City
No. 36 Chelsea Wine Bar
Popular with the locals — who mainly come here to soak up the atmosphere — this establishment boasts a cozy European setting. English décor of old-world wood, antique accents and hand-painted murals keep customers hanging around till closing time. More than 100 hand-selected wines from around the world, 24 rotating taps and 40-plus bottles of beer marry well with light bites and platters of substantial fare. On Taylor Lake, the view is a plus.
4106 NASA Parkway, El Lago
No. 37 Ronnie’s Hog Heaven Ice House
If you like bikers, leather and tattoos, this surely is hog heaven. With pool, darts, acoustic jams and more, there’s always something going on at this ice house.
4355 FM 517 E., Dickinson
No. 38 Star Drug Store
For many islanders, the best part of waking up is breakfast at Star Drug Store downtown. The restaurant, tracing its roots to 1886, is the oldest drug store in Texas. Aside from good coffee, a down-home breakfast and casual lunch menu, Star Drug Store boasts the original horseshoe-shaped tiled soda fountain. The historical Coca-Cola neon porcelain sign outside also is a favorite.
510 23rd St., Galveston
No. 39 Stingaree Restaurant & Marina
The main dining room of Stingaree Restaurant & Marina is upstairs, giving diners a front-row seat to action on the Intracoastal Waterway as barges, boats and birds pass by. Galveston Bay blue crabs and oysters in season are favorites. Most order the Oyster Jubilee in which the bivalves are served raw, fried, char-grilled, Rockefeller- and Bienville-style.
1295 N. Stingaree Road, Crystal Beach, Bolivar Peninsula
No. 40 Louis’ Bait Camp & Restaurant
A popular bait shop/RV park/eatery, this thatched-roof waterfront dive is known for its cold beer, boudin balls and seafood po’boys. Fancier fare such as snapper Pontchartrain, blackened catfish and chicken Alfredo are available. Breeze in by boat, sit outside or opt for one of the retro bar stools indoors.
3510 state Highway 6, Hitchcock
No. 41 Gus’ Restaurant
Around since 1961, this restaurant began as a purveyor of barbecue and has over the years expanded the menu to include such favorites as the chicken piccata, which regulars describe as habit-forming, along with hand-cut New York strips, ribeyes and filet mignon. Seafood also is popular here. Judges, attorneys, plant and refinery workers eat here.
3402 Palmer Highway, Texas City
No. 42 Gilhooley’s
It doesn’t get much more local than this restaurant and oyster bar. Known for its buttery, garlicky, cheesy oysters cooked over a pit, the once sleepy dive rose to fame years ago when food writer Robb Walsh told the world about it. Word spread far and wide, and now patrons drive from as far as Austin to partake of the famous bivalves. Under new ownership, a full bar has been added, but the “No kids, no dogs, don’t even ask” policy is still in force.
222 Ninth St., San Leon
No. 43 Pook’s Crawfish Hole
Locals go for the authentic Louisiana-style crawfish. Bring your cooler, it’s B.Y.O.B. — including beer. When crawfish season ends, Pook’s serves shrimp and crab plates and gumbo. The open-air atmosphere and picnic tables outside complete the down-home vibe.
4015 FM 646 N., Santa Fe
No. 44 The Spot
True, scores of tourists flock here. But locals still pack this beachfront establishment that serves up burgers, fresh seafood and beer. With the multi-level patios, there’s really not a bad seat in the house. The Spot also happens to be within a complex of several venues where patrons imbibe.
3204 Seawall Blvd., Galveston
Compiled by Editor Laura Elder, correspondents Connor Behrens, Barbara Canetti, Sue Mayfield Geiger and locals throughout area communities.