#16 of 120 Destin Restaurants

Crab Island Cantina

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Crab Island Cantina: Chef-Owned Culinary Destination in Destin
Local Expert's Rating:
4.5 / 5
The Bottom Line:

Pride of ownership shows in this Latin-inspired Destin gem. Regulars and tourists alike describe a "home away from home" atmosphere that just happens to offer one of the most stunning views of the Gulf in the area.

- The FloridaPanhandle.com Local Expert Team

Everywhere you look in Crab Island Cantina you will find signs of Chef Carlos Shaffran, owner of the establishment. From the attitude of the knowledgeable waitstaff to the eclectic twist on Latin-inspired dishes, Shaffran’s touch is everywhere.

When it’s an acclaimed chef who owns the restaurant, it’s a safe bet that the food is excellent. The food coupled with the quality of the service, music, and of course – that spectacular view on Destin Harbor makes this restaurant a must-visit.  

While the food is the star of the show, it’s all about ambience at Crab Island Cantina. Cool ocean breezes drift through the open-air dining room and a lighted fountain adds to the sense of relaxation. Even on its busiest day (and it does get very busy), Crab Island is an easy place to enjoy a drink while you’re waiting for  a table.

There are two other eateries on-site – Charlie’s Burger Bar and Carlito’s Deli – but this review applies strictly to Crab Island Cantina. We hope to review the others soon.

Below are some of our favorite menu choices with you, which are enhanced by Chef Shaffran’s proprietary seasonings:

Pao Pao Shrimp
A mash-up of seafood, Chinese, and Latin flavors, Pao Pao Shrimp manages to scratch several epicurean itches at the same time. The combination of shrimp fried with Shaffran’s Yucatan Zing seasoning and tossed in chipotle and chorizo ranch sauce is nothing short of memorable.

Pan Seared Seafood Platter
This dish is quintessential seaside fare – Gulf shrimp, Mahi Mahi, and scallops (either blackened or grilled), served alongside mashed potatoes and mixed vegetables garnished perfectly with tequila-citrus beurre blanc sauce. It’s as interesting as it is delectable.

Cantina Chops
For anyone not in the mood for seafood, there’s this filling dish: two eight ounce grilled center cut pork chops, topped with chili Guajillo and mushroom cream sauce. Served with poblano mashed potatoes and mixed vegetables, it’s like eating at Grandma’s table (if Grandma was a world class chef).

Seafood & Chorizo Gumbo
This menu option serves as proof that you don’t have to be from Louisiana to know great gumbo. The delicious combination of grouper, shrimp, scallops, crab, and chorizo cooked to perfection in a thick roux with okra and tomatoes (and topped with Spanish rice) is winner of both the “Sandestin Gumbo Festival” and the “Destin Gumbo Cook Off.”

Grilled Gulf Coast Group Tacos
There appear to be two camps; those who cannot bear the thought of a taco filled with anything but beef or chicken and those who have found themselves slightly addicted to flavorful fish tacos. For those in the latter camp, this dish is a must. Grilled seasoned grouper is stuffed into three flour tortillas alongside marinated cabbage. Shaffran’s Chili Pao Pao remoulade, pico de gallo,  pickled red onions, and limes top them off. Served with Spanish rice and refried black beans, this is a truly delicious meal.

Gulf Coast Red Snapper Enchiladas
When red snapper, muenster cheese, tomato cilantro sauce, chipotle lime sour cream, and sliced red onions are stuffed into the same corn tortilla, amazing flavors mingle to create a one-of-a-kind enchilada. The entire meal is enhanced by being served with Spanish rice and refried pinto beans.

Chicken Vera Cruz
This is not your ordinary plate of chicken. Even the thought of a chicken breast stuffed with queso and topped with applewood smoked bacon, black beans, corn salsa, avocado, mango pico de gallo, and habanero marinated red onions makes our mouths water. It is just that special.

Chef Carlos Shaffran takes hospitality seriously! Regulars are likely to tell you this restaurant feels like you have been invited into Carlos’ home for a meal. When it comes to restaurants in a tourist town, that kind of personal pride is a refreshing change.

Insider Tips:
-If you’re impressed with Chef’s seasonings, they’re available for sale through the Crab Island Cantina store.
-Pets are welcome on the outdoor patio area.