The dining scene on Mustang Island and Upper Padre Island has matured over the past decade, with the arrival of chefs who are using their small bistros to experiment – with delicious results. In keeping with the islands’ casual vibe, these chef-owned restaurants welcome all comers – straight from beach campsites or the luxe Arnold Palmer-designed golf links. Don’t let the unpretentious surroundings fool you – these chefs put a sophisticated twist on local Gulf Coast fare.
Chef Kris Amundsen’s approachable, artisanal takes on haute cuisine have earned his restaurant, Lisabella’s Bar and Bistro (http://www.cinnamonshore.com/dining-ent/lisabellas-restaurant-featuring-c-bar/) in Port Aransas, rave reviews from Texas Monthly. The magazine deemed Amundsen’s scrumptious creations “truly remarkable” – from signature dishes like mermaid soup and red snapper Capri to specials such as pan-roasted duck with a port fig reduction. Open for dinner only.
At Glow (http://www.glowrockport.com), her “tiny boathouse” on Little Bay in Rockport, Chef Karey Lynn Butterworth celebrates the coast’s culinary riches with a carefully curated menu of new-old Gulf Coast classics. Butterworth likes to pair her locally sourced dishes, such as Cajun-inspired Mom’s Shrimp or Salt + Pepper Crispy Quail with festivities like Bourbon + Cigars and Wine Wednesday. Reviewers have lauded Glow as “innovative,” “amazing” and “a sweet bijou of a restaurant.” Open for brunch, dinner and autumn afternoon tea.
Chef Dominique Cordier came a long way from his native France to open Dragon Fly Restaurant and Curacao Blues (http://www.dragonflycuracao.com), a restaurant and tapas and wine bar, on Upper Padre Island in 2005. Dragonfly exudes a decidedly tropical vibe with its Caribbean blue walls, fishing shack decor and laid-back atmosphere. Cordier taps four decades of study of international culinary influences for polyglot favorites as diverse as crunchy mac and cheese and crispy fish tacos with coconut rice, and fruit pico and huli huli sauce. Open for lunch and dinner.
It is a good idea to have a reservation for Café Phoenix, a tiny beachside dive in Port Aransas that serves some of the freshest, made-from-scratch inland and coastal fare anywhere on the Texas Coast. Chef Tiana Worsham presides daily over a rush of patrons who marvel at the perfectly balanced flavors of her daily features and homemade desserts. Favorites include the Thunderbird – grilled chicken sandwich topped with carmelized onions, grilled poblano peppers and manchego cheese and dressed with chipotle aioli on ciabatta bread. Vegetarian entrees are part of the menu and make regular appearances as specials. Café Phoenix is BYOB and is open for lunch and dinner.