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Where Do the Locals Eat in Clearwater Beach?

where do locals eat in Clearwater Beach - panorama
This shot of Clearwater Beach is from Pier 60. South beach is to the right and north beach is to the left.

Every now and then there is an article that we feel compelled to write. Most of the time we are writing about our travels all around the state of Florida.

We live in Clearwater Beach on an island called Sand Key. That is the southernmost island across the southern bridge of only two bridges on Clearwater Beach. We have been here for 40-plus years. We know what the locals do and we can answer the question, “where do the locals eat in Clearwater Beach”.

We felt compelled to write this post after seeing several others purporting to know what locals do and where they eat. For the most part, those articles were written by two sources. Most of them are compilations from sources like Tripadvisor, Hotels.com, Expedia and a few others that assume popularity must mean locals frequent whoever they are advertising – bad assumption.

The second group of articles are written by people who call themselves “foodies” and somehow that imparts knowledge of where do the locals eat in Clearwater Beach – another bad assumption.

The location of all the restaurants we mention in this article are at the bottom.

Where Do the Locals Eat in Clearwater Beach Florida?

where do the locals eat in Clearwater Beach - Palm Pavilion
The Palm Pavilion is a great place for lunch and entertainment on north beach. And “The Palm” is one of the best known restaurants on Clearwater Beach.

The prerequisite answer is to start where locals do NOT eat. Locals do not eat at places with long lines, long waits and generally the popular tourist joints. It’s not that we don’t like tourists, we just don’t follow ads that motivate tourists. We don’t have to – we live here and can seek out the places and go times we choose.

There are three dayparts for eating – breakfast, lunch and dinner. We will attempt to cover all the bases. We will tell you what is popular and where you will find the locals. Most of the time they are not the same.

Related: The 5 Best Tiki Bars on Clearwater Beach

Where Do the Locals Eat Breakfast in Clearwater Beach?

where do the locals eat in Clearwater beach - Maggie Mae's
Maggie Mae’s Waterfront is great for lunch or breakfast over on Sand Key.

The most popular places for breakfast according to Google, another questionable source, the popular places are Clear Sky, a restaurant on north beach, Another Broken Egg, also on north beach, and Ocean Hai, a restaurant in the Wyndham Hotel. I can assure you locals are not eating in a hotel restaurant!

Of the three listed above, Clear Sky is a good choice. However, Ryans Island Cafe in the middle of the beach is a better choice for an island-style locally owned small business. On south beach, near the Sand Key Bridge, Maggie Mae’s Sunrise Cafe has been serving waterfront breakfasts to locals for over 20 years.

Our choices for breakfast in Clearwater Beach are Ryan’s Island Cafe, Maggie Mae’s and Clear Sky if the lines aren’t there. Everything else is a chain or not supported frequently by locals.

Where Do the Locals Eat Lunch on Clearwater Beach?

Lunch is a different animal for most locals. Food quality is at the top of the list but so is view and price. If you again Google “best lunch Clearwater Beach”, you get some of the same restaurants – Clear Sky, SeaGuini (another hotel restaurant) and Frenchy’s group of restaurants.

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Let’s address the Frenchy’s restaurants. In the early 1980’s when a guy by the name of Michael Preston and his partner opened a little restaurant on Bayshore St., it was quite good. Fresh fish, good service, friendly staff and reasonable prices. They translated that success into what is now a chain operation that includes Clear Sky and the four Frenchy’s locations.

Clearwater Beach restaurants Bait House
One of the Clearwater Beach Restaurants where locals eat lunch in the Bait House in the marina.

Frenchy’s is a prolific advertiser. You see them everywhere and hear about them from everyone. If you want an expensive grouper sandwich, fried in pancake flour at a Frenchy’s restaurant – go for it. But you won’t find locals as regular eaters there. There are better choices.

Here are a few of the Clearwater Beach restaurants where locals eat lunch and why –

You will find a beach atmosphere, suitable food and great views at The Palm Pavillion. This is one of the most popular big restaurants that locals frequent on the beach.

The Bait House is a little place at the Clearwater Marina built out over the water. They are known for fresh fish and waterfront views. Great place for lunch.

The Sandbar, Opal Sands Resort on south beach is one of the few places locals eat at a hotel on a regular basis. 

There are two reasons locals eat at the Sandbar. The first one is the fabulous view of Clearwater Pass where all the boat traffic comes and goes to the Gulf of Mexico. The second reason is they have the best grouper sandwich on Clearwater Beach. It is our go-to lunch place.

Maggie Mae’s is also an option for a great view and a super sandwich on the waterfront.

Related: The Best Things To Do on Clearwater Beach

Where do the locals eat dinner in Clearwater Beach?

where do the locals eat breakfast on Clearwater beach
Blinkers Beachside is a good place for a steak at dinner.

This is where it starts to get complicated. Other factors come into play beyond food quality, price and location. There is the issue of ambiance and special occasion dining. On the other hand, a sandwich may be suitable.

Here are our choices for dinner along with what to expect.

Caretta’s – Sandpearl Resort (north beach) – Caretta’s within the Sandpearl is the best fine dining restaurant on Clearwater Beach. If you have a special occasion of any kind, this is the place to go. Superb food, excellent service and various levels of ambiance at your request.

Blinkers Beachside – north beach – on the main Mandalay strip.  Excellent steaks and occasional fresh seafood make this a great place for a cozy dinner. We think Blinkers is one of the top 3 Clearwater Beach restaurants for dinner.

Heilmans Restaurant – Bobby’s Bistro – you will hear a lot about Bob Heilman’s Restaurant on Mandalay, but if you want a more intimate dining experience, go to their backdoor restaurant called Bobby’s Bistro. More of an ala carte type feel.

Forlini’s and Cesares – Forlini’s and Cesares are both Italian restaurants that are family-owned and managed. Forlini’s is mid-beach next to Heilman’s and Cesares is on south beach before you go over the bridge to Sand Key. Neither is known for their view, but both produce good Italian fare.

Columbia Restaurant – The Columbia is part of a chain that is the oldest restaurant in Florida at their Ybor City location serving Spanish food. Very popular if you like Spanish food.

Finally, if you want a real neighborhood-type dining experience with no fanfare in Clearwater Beach, you have only two choices. One is on Island Estates called Windward Bar & Grill, less than a mile from the main part of the beach. The other is Backwaters on Sand Key. Both are available using the beach Jolley Trolley.

More About Where the Locals Eat in Clearwater Beach

where do the locals eat lunch on Clearwater beach
The Jolley Trolley can take you to any of the restaurants listed here. It runs all day daily.

Note that you won’t find many chains or restaurant groups included in our list. There are several on the beach, but locals tend to shy away from the crowds, cookie-cutter food and the hype advertising brings. Other things that influence where locals eat on Clearwater Beach –

      • Locals avoid the peak traffic season.

      • Locals are somewhat immune to massive advertising that has little to do with quality.

      • Locals know which menu items are truly fresh and local and who serves them.

      • Locals shy away from hotels with very few exceptions.

      • Locals give extra ratings for restaurants that have a view but we have a lot of them.

    Clearwater Beach is an island. That means locals more than likely see each other somewhere on a regular basis. We know the answer to “where do the locals eat on Clearwater Beach”!

    where do the locals eat on Clearwater Beach
    Pier 60 is the center of the beach. When we say “north beach” or “south beach”, that is in reference to Pier 60.

    Ryan’s Island Cafe – 432 Poinsettia Ave Suite #5, Clearwater Beach, FL 33767

    Maggie Mae’s Sunrise Cafe – 1261 Gulf Blvd. Clearwater Beach, 33767 – on Sand Key across bridge south beach.

    Clear Sky Cafe: 40 Bay Esplanade C4, Clearwater Beach, FL 33767 – On corner north beach.

    The Palm Pavillian -10 Bay Esplanade, Clearwater, FL 33767 – On beach, north beach near fire station.

    The Bait House – Clearwater Marina – mid-beach – in far back part of marina.

    The Sandbar – Tiki Bar- In Opal Sands Resort – south beach at the end of sand.

    Carettas – in Sandpearl Resort – north beach – just north of Clear Sky.

    Blinkers Beachside – 476 Mandalay Ave, Clearwater, FL 33767 – north beach – just south of Clear Sky on main street of beach (Mandalay).

    Bobby’s Bistro – 454 Poinsettia Ave, Clearwater, FL 33767 – behind Bob Heilman’s Restaurant – about 451 Mandalay.

    Forlini’s – 435 Mandalay Ave, Clearwater Beach, FL 33767 – next to Heilman’s restaurant on Mandalay.

    Cesares – 794 S Gulfview Blvd, Clearwater, FL 33767 – all the way south on the beach past the hotels – just before going over bridge to Sand Key.

    The Columbia Restaurant – 1241 Gulf Blvd, Clearwater, FL 33767 – In strip mall with Maggie Mae’s and Backwaters across the bridge on Sand Key.

    Backwaters on Sand Key – 1261 Gulf Blvd., 33767 – On Sand Key

    Windward Bar & Grill – 282 Windward Passage, Clearwater, FL 33767 – halfway across bridge from Clearwater on Island Estates.

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