What summer vacation is complete without a trip to the coast? If not the coast, at least an outting near enough to the coast to get some of the best seafood in the world!

Though Texas is blessed to have plenty of fresh seafood year round, summer and early Fall are the height of the shrimping  and salt water fishing seasons. Fishing tournaments abound throughout the coastal region and on any given summer evening there is a fish fry or "boil" going on somewhere in the neighborhood.  

But, if you're not a fisherman and don't live in a coastal neighborhood, and if you aren't familiar with the best haunts to get your fix of fresh coastal seafood, then where do you go?

While eating at the many fine seafood restaurants in the big cities is great, it doesn't hold a candle to eating at the local mom & pop seafood dive on the coast. You know, those special, often out-of-the-way places where the food taste like heaven and the atmosphere is perfect for enjoying a sunny Texas afternoon or early evening out of the sun.

And so our task begins to find the ultimate mom and pop seafood dives along the Texas Coast, you know, the kind of place that has been around for generations, whose atmosphere speaks of the sea and the recipes call you back year after year.  It's a tough job you know, but we're more than happy to help in your quest for discovery!

With over 624 miles of Texas coastline to cover, it's going to be difficult not to leave some wonderful place out on this short list. So let's just say this is probably part one of many articles to come in the future. And hopefully you, the reader, will clue us in to many more seafood treasures along the coast that we have failed to include.

The criteria is pretty simple: Each restaurant must have great food, reasonable prices, and an unforgettable ambiance; be on the water or near the water, preferrably with an interesting history. The environment should be filled with the sights and sounds of the sea, from the pulse of gentle waves to the flight of pelicans and sea gulls around you. Sunset views must be spectacular when possible, and oh yes, did we mention the food must be great?

While all that sounds like it sets a high bar, there are more places like that than you might think along the Texas coast. Here's just a few to get you started down that road of unforgettable evenings and fantastic culinary delights on the sweet Texas coast.

Favorite Mom & Pop Seafood Dives
Daddy's Seafood & Cajun Kitchen - South Padre Island
3409 Padre Blvd. 956-761-1975
Though this is a new restaurant on the island, it has the ambiance of a true seafood dive -- great prices and scrumptious food, a refreshing change for locals and tourists who had few choices previously for good seafood in the affordable range. The menu has a cajun seafood flavor and the ambiance is charming.  They also have another restaurant on the island if Daddy's is too packed -- check out Dirty Al's as well.

Cap'n Roy's Mexican Seafood - South Padre Island
1313 Padre Blvd. 956-761-9990
This very small and quaint operation ranks high in quality food and great prices. Here you will see over 35 years of fishing photos, tackle, memorabilia on the walls from fishing around the Laguna Madre and coastal waters. Captain Roy takes pride in his fresh fish and home spun recipes. In fact he was the 2006 World Shrimp Champion cook off winner with his famous "Diablo Shrimp". A must visit while on South Padre Island and if you're tired of fish, they also offer some nice Mexican food dishes.

White Sands - Port Isabel
418 West Highway 100 956-943-2414
In operation for over 55 years, it is clearly one of the older establishments on this part of the coast. The locale is wonderful as the restaurant sets on a channel and it is common for fishing boats to pull up for lunch and dinner. The wildlife viewing is abundant here as well with sea gulls and pelicans awaiting a free meal from fishermen. We have even seen dolphins swimming near the docks here. The flounder is freshly caught and fried and their popcorn shrimp is among the best here in the lower Rio Grande.

Kings Inn - Kingsville
Slightly off the beaten path, this is a true Texas seafood treasure, The King's Inn is about 24 miles south of Kingsville and 9 miles up FM 628 (off of U.S. 77). The restaurant opens Tuesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Reservations are advisable, especially on weekends and around holidays. For more information, call 361/297-5265. The restaurant has been open since 1945 and serves about 30,000 pounds of fish every year. Since all food is served by the pound, family style, it's an easy figure to track each year. There are no menus and the wait staff gives the evenings menu by memory. The most popular items are fish, fish fillets, and oysters and much of the fish is caught fresh out of the adjacent bay, which is visible through the screened doors. The sides are just as delicious with fresh sliced tomatoes, avocados, fries and thinly sliced, deep fried onions so sweet it will make you cry -- and the best tartar sauce in the state, hands downs. The place has an incredible history dating back to 1935.

Black Diamond Oyster Bar - Corpus Christi
7202 S. Padre Island Dr. (361) 992-2432
You know a place is great when the locals eat there. Such is the story with Black Diamond Oyster, where the atmosphere is simple coastal but the food is excellent. They specialize in oysters, of course, so this is the place to get your fill. Be sure to come in at happy hour for their oyster on the half shell specials, and remember the fried oysters are great!

The Boilin' Pot -  Rockport
201 S Fulton Beach Rd (361)- 729-6972
This place is the epitome of true coastal eating...little more than a fishing shack a stones throw from the water. This place reeks of Texas Coastal flavor. Needless to say, the atmosphere is casual and so is the presentation of the food. Your table is covered with butcher paper and everyone dons a plastic bib. Get ready for your waitress to dump your meal in the middle of the table. And not just any meal, but the finest cajun-style celebration of crabs, crawfish, shrimp, sausage, oysters on the half shell and of course, corn-on-the-cob, potatoes, and red beans and rice. You must finish it off with a yummy slice of key lime pie....and roll out fat and sassy.

Charlotte Plummers SeaFare Restaurant - Fulton (361) 729-1185
Charlotte Plummer's is a must visit while in the Coastal Bend. The menu offers seafood prepared just about any way you could ever want it. The service is excellent, the food is wonderful, and the view just couldn't get any better. From the restaurant you can watch the oyster boats unloading big bags of freshoysters on the dock (in season).

Top Water Grill - San Leone ( edge of Galveston and close to Kemah)
815 Ave. O (281) 339-1232
Once known as the place where the Pirate Jean Lafitte liked to hide his loot, this locale now holds treasures of the seafood kind. Their specialities include pecan-crusted snapper and Drunken Red Snapper and, as always, fine fried shrimp and fish.
Sit outside on the deck, and watch as the catch is unloaded from the fleet of shrimp boats operated by the Restaurant operator, Capt. Wally Jakubas. Then you'll see why the Top Water Grill is a secret too good to keep. Directions: From I-45, take State 517 east to the blinking red light in San Leon, and go right on Ninth Street to the water.

As stated before, this is just a handful of some of our favorites. We're always on the look out for more and will be bringing you updates from time to time. In the meantime, plan a trip up and down the coastline and let us know when you discover a real gem!

Happy eating!