One standout spot, the Star Fish Company in Cortez Village, has been in business since the early 1920s. Once exclusively a wholesaler, the market now welcomes diners to enjoy the day’s catch at waterfront picnic tables. The shrimp, mussels and fish come straight out of the water and onto customers’ plates—after a brief stop in the kitchen where they are grilled, fried, sautéed or blackened, of course. While freshness is a huge draw, ambience also plays a role in the Star Fish Company’s allure: It’s one of the few truly working waterfronts in the state.
For elegant fare in a flip-flop–friendly environment, check out Sandbar on Anna Maria Island. Consistently voted one of the choicest spots for nuptials and special celebrations, the restaurant holds on to its casual beach vibe no matter the occasion, with tables and chairs spilling out onto the sand. Go for such classics as the grouper sandwich or the crab pasta salad, and stay for the sunset—the views are consistently magical.