The Cove: Best Port Canaveral Dining
Port Canaveral has always been unique — a commercial fishing port sharing space with recreation and dining. Today, it’s becoming one of the busiest cruise ports in the United States, as a home port for Disney, Royal Caribbean, and Carnival Cruise Lines, as well as numerous deep-sea fishing, casino, and sight-seeing boats. Despite all the tourism, Port Canaveral remains a thriving port for fishermen, and that makes its restaurant and bar corridor, The Cove, an awesome place to check out local, fresh-caught seafood.
What restaurant should you visit while you’re at the Cove? Well, they’re so close together, a bar crawl isn’t out of the question. But if you’re looking for the perfect Port Canaveral dining for you and your family, we’re here to help! My family and I have sampled the dining, drinks, and atmosphere at several Cove restaurants, and we’ve ranked them for you based on the best for vacation atmosphere, fresh seafood, family dining, and hanging with the locals. Take a look!
Best for that Vacation Feeling: Fishlips
For a fairly unappetizing name, Fishlips sure does cook up some good grub. This restaurant and bar has an expansive menu, but we love their appetizers, especially if we make it for Happy Hour, when they offer a special $5 menu that includes calamari and pretzel bread with cheese sauce. And we like it best on the sun-deck — a second-story open-air dining area with an incomparable view of the cruise ship channel. On a sunny afternoon, it’s hard to beat the view from up there, listening to the Disney Dream or Fantasy play “When You Wish Upon a Star” on the big horn as you wave to the passengers on-board — all with a cold drink and a plate of seafood in front of you, of course.
Fishlips is a big joint. In addition to the sun-deck, which boasts its own palm-thatched tiki bar, you’ll also find a full sports bar and a downstairs waterfront dining room. Adjacent to the entrance, there’s a Wyland Gallery, plus a pretty extensive collection of Disney-themed art, in case you’re still looking for the right memento.
What to eat? We love to relax with their large, conch-heavy conch fritters ($8.95) and a tropical drink, but whether you’re looking for a salad, a steak, or some local catch like a grouper sandwich, you’ll find it at Fishlips. Just try to visit on a warm evening, and enjoy that sun-deck — you’ll want to wave bon voyage to everyone sailing out on the Disney ships!
Best for Fresh Seafood: Seafood Atlantic
Getting your seafood directly from the fishermen seems like a pretty sound idea, right? Well, at Seafood Atlantic, you have that opportunity. This waterfront restaurant is built right onto their wholesale/retail fish market, where they sell fresh catch right off the fishing boats.
A low-key atmosphere and a fairly basic menu is your tip-off that fresh fish is the star here. Unlike the other restaurants along the cove, there’s no attempt to build any sort of “island” or “beach” atmosphere. There is a covered patio, an open-air patio, a scattering of tables and chairs, and that’s about it. We didn’t even notice a radio playing while we were there.
That makes Seafood Atlantic the perfect place to relax if you’ve been vacationing a little too hard. You can sit back and admire the water, look for dolphins, or watch the resident pelicans grooming after a hard day of following the fishing boats around.
We tried the crab cakes ($8.99) to start, and were pretty impressed by them — four compact little patties made entirely of crab. Great big chunks of crab, in some cases. Unpretentious and basic, this was our first intimation that Seafood Atlantic was all about showcasing the fresh flavors of their seafood, instead of dressing it up with extra ingredients. It was also delicious — one member of the party declared they were the best crab cakes ever. (I’m standing by my crab cakes from Preacher Bar.)
I tried the fish sandwich with grouper ($14.99) and was rewarded with a big chunk of grouper, on a soft French bread roll, dressed with of green-leaf lettuce, tomato, onion and mayo. It was delicately seasoned with just a little lemon juice, salt, and pepper, and I swear I could taste how recently it had been swimming through the ocean.
The other lunch stand-outs were the Canaveral Po’Boy with local shrimp, slaw, lettuce, and tomato on a big chunk of French bread (outstanding value and utterly delicious at $12.99) and the fresh fish tacos ($12.99), which were two corn tortillas holding a sizable portion of blackened grouper, topped with a light slaw, cilantro, and a spicy sauce.
The daily fish offerings change, but you’ll probably find a selection that includes mahi mahi, grouper, tuna, cobia, and wahoo. They also offer Chilean seabass, Maine lobster, and a selection of seasonal crabs.
Best for Family Dining: Grills
Grills has been a mainstay of The Cove for years, and this little restaurant that could has expanded into two locations, with a shiny new look for its waterside location at Port Canaveral. Outside, there’s a beautiful tiki bar, complete with palmetto thatching, that’s so close to the newest cruise terminal you might be able to have a conversation with folks on-board. But if you’re dining with family and don’t want to join the after-work crowd at the bar, you’ll also find a large dining room lined with floor-to-ceiling waterfront windows, and a scattering of outdoor tables as well.
The menu at Grills leans towards Caribbean twists on American mainstays, so amongst the usual wings and burgers you’ll also find the Cuban sandwich with shrimp ($10.99, a pressed Cuban sandwich with Spanish pork, cheese, and spicy shrimp) and the fish reuben ($10.99). The fish sandwich here is served on a hoagie roll instead of a bun, making it a little larger than that at Seafood Atlantic or Baja’s, and less expensive at $10.49. Order your fish blackened and you’ll get that nice blackened seasoning but on top of a slightly sweet marinade, for a little different spin.
We also love the conch fritters ($8.99), which are smaller and spicier than some others along the Cove, but really shine when paired with the house remoulade.
Best for Hanging with the Locals: Baja’s Chowder & Seafood
Baja’s waterside dining and bar are a mainstay for locals, run by locals. With a recent name-change (from Baja’s Tavern and Eats), the restaurant seems to want to build up their reputation for dining, but this is first and foremost a local joint where you can hang out at the bar, enjoy drink specials, and listen to live bands. On chilly, windy, or wet days (yes, they happen!), the staff drop down the translucent panels so that you can enjoy the view without the howling wind in your face.
If you’re hungry, try the Baja Boom Shrimp ($9.95) for spicy small bites in a chipotle sauce. It’s a small portion, but these shrimp have a nice kick. The fish sandwich, served on a roll with fries for $11.95 isn’t the best at the Cove, but it’s fresh, and the wide, flat fries are addicting. But hey, “Chowder” is in their name now, so give the Lobster Chowder a shot ($4.95/cup, $5.95/bowl) and let me know what you think.
It’s hard to go wrong at the Cove — there’s something for everyone! These are just our favorite waterfront restaurants, but there’s still more out there. Do you have a favorite spot at Port Canaveral? Got some place you want us to try out and report back? Let us know in the comments!