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The best beach restaurants: The food's almost good as the surf in this Texas beach town

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Seafood and Spaghetti Works Port Aransas
Shrimp and artichokes from Seafood and Spaghetti Works. Courtesy of Seafood and Spaghetti Works/Facebook
Bloody Mary from Seafood and Spaghetti Works Port Aransas
Bloody Mary from Seafood and Spaghetti Works. Courtesy of Seafood and Spaghetti Works/Facebook
Irie's dessert Port Aransas
Dessert from Irie's Island Food.  Courtesy of Irie's/Facebook
Seafood and Spaghetti Works Port Aransas
Bloody Mary from Seafood and Spaghetti Works Port Aransas
Irie's dessert Port Aransas

Summertime at the beach means sun and surf, of course, but good meals play an important role in the vacation experience, too. The quintessential Texas beach town of Port Aransas offers up dozens of ways to dine, and those headed to the island will be happy to know there are several new restaurants and old favorites with a new look.

The dress code is always casual in Port A, reservations are seldom needed, and there’s plenty to keep you busy between meals.

Here are five places where you’ll want to pull up a chair and dig in during your summer stay at the beach. 

New kids in town
The Fish House
, 224 Cotter St. (next door to the Tarpon Inn), serves traditional and not-so-traditional fish tacos, fish specials, burgers and more. I started with a chips and crawfish queso appetizer that could have been my meal: Homemade, hot chips and a bowl of thick queso chunky with crawfish bits and topped with tomatoes, onion and cilantro. Try the chili lime fish tacos, a plate of two tortillas filled with generous portions of fish and slaw served with tasty herbed rice and a bowl of beans.

The restaurant decor channels the old-fashioned coast style: wooden floors and ceilings, fish and pictures of fish on the wall, large windows. The second floor bar has an outdoor deck for an extra sea breeze. 

Stingray's Taphouse and Grill, 401 Beach St., could become the go-to Port A hangout. Not only is it less than a block from the beach, but fully functional 1970 and 1977 Corvettes hang over the long bar.

The story is that when locals Shawn and Sandy Etheridge and Chad and Kimber Gorczyca decided to open a new establishment, Shawn and Chad were supposed to sell their cars to make room. Instead, the men hoisted them onto a rack and built the bar under it.

In addition to dozens of large screen TVs, this establishment features live music, a Bloody Mary bar every Saturday and Sunday, 20-plus taps of beer and even more bottled choices, a decent wine list, and a pet-friendly patio. The menu includes a selection of bar appetizers, smoked ribs, fresh salads, fried seafood, burgers and sliders, sandwiches, pizza (from a brick oven), along with steak and tuna dinners, and desserts.

Try the tequila lime shrimp in olive oil and tequila lime butter served with mushroom rice and sauteed vegetables, or the generous fried shrimp basket.

Irie’s Island Food, 503 N. Alister St., is a tiny building with a big menu: Po'boys, burgers, chicken sandwiches, tacos, salads and hot dogs. Eat at one of the 10 or so tables inside or several large picnic tables outside, or get your meal to-go and hit the beach (isn’t that why you’re here?).

 Expect to struggle to finish the enormous patty inside the Mister Crab sandwich.   

Expect to struggle to finish the enormous patty inside the Mister Crab crab cake sandwich.  

Old timers with fresh faces
Long-time Port A standby Seafood and Spaghetti Works recently opened at a new location, 910 Highway 361, a few doors down from its old one. The original location opened as a water slide complex in summer of 1979 — just in time for the Ixtoc oil spill in Mexico’s Bay of Campeche, which pretty much shot the tourist season for Port Aransas that year. That October, owner Jay Kenigsberg turned the place into a restaurant called Spaghetti Works, changing it to Seafood and Spaghetti Works five years later to reflect changes to the menu.

The new building, finished in May 2013, is octagonal in homage to the former location’s dome, originally built to serve as a game room for the water park. Inside, is a large, open room with a high ceiling, a generously sized bar and a gift shop.

On the menu you'll find calamari, peel ‘em shrimp, crab cakes and other appetizers; pizza and pasta dishes (spaghetti of course, along with manicotti and more); shrimp, fish and oyster tacos; burgers, fish dishes and more. The bar whips up specialty drinks including variously flavored margaritas and coladas, and a refreshing mojito.

Long-time fans will miss the multi-levels, but will be pleased to see the familiar soup and salad bar and hot bread drawers.

The Phoenix, formerly Cafe Phoenix on Beach Street, is moving to the old Pelican’s Landing restaurant at 345 N. Alister St. While the dining room isn’t quite finished, The Phoenix is currently serving food and cocktails on the outside deck.

Soon, fans will once again be able to order fresh Mediterranean cuisine such as Greek salads, gyros, sandwiches and desserts.

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