If your holiday travel plans include Northwest Florida this Christmas and you’re looking for the best restaurants during the holidays in Pensacola then have you come to the right place. I can fill you on the little secrets that will save you time and trouble.
Christmas in Pensacola is a joyous time for many. After all, nothing says it’s Christmas quite like 85-degree weather, right? Have you ever had the run the air conditioning while you were opening presents on Christmas Day? Come to Pensacola, Florida and chances are you will.
No, you won’t be experiencing the Currier & Ives postcard version of the holidays here. But there are few places you can go to eat where you will get the feeling that it really is Christmas. At least on the inside, if not outside.
One of the best restaurants during the holidays in Pensacola is Coach & Four. It’s a steakhouse located across the street from the Five Flags Speedway. The Five Flags Speedway is famous among the stock car racing set for holding the Snowball Derby every December. An ironic name, yes, but it’s better than the alternative: The December Heat Wave Derby. I’m not a big fan of car racing myself, but from what I’ve been told the Snowball Derby is the last big time stock car race of the year. Now by big time I don’t mean Jeff Gordon big time. But professional drivers do race it and several winners have gone on to become big names. All I know is that you definitely don’t want to pick the night of the Snowball Derby to eat at the Coach & Four.
Any other night during the holidays, though, and it’s must. Aside from the face that the restaurant serves up the best steaks in Pensacola. Let me repeat that with emphasis: The Coach & Four has the best steaks in Pensacola! Aside from that, the atmosphere inside during the holidays is exactly what a holiday atmosphere should feel like. I don’t mean sick with decorations, though it will be decorated. I don’t mean the staff wearing Santa caps, though they will be. I don’t mean Christmas music playing, though it might be. I mean the feeling inside is one of warmth and camaraderie and fellowship.
Coach and Four is a down-home, country style restaurant. The waitresses wear jeans and plaid shirts. But it’s not cloying in its down-home country style like, say, Cracker Barrel. They don’t overdo the trappings. The feeling of going to a restaurant where you’re comfortable ordering steak or chicken or crab claws is what this place is all about. Whether you’re making your initial visit or going the hundredth time you’ll feel comfortable and at ease. And during the holiday season that’s got to be considered a more valuable prize than a restaurant trying it’s darnedest to pretend it’s a gaudily decorated Christmas tree instead of a place to eat.
If Christmas puts you in a romantic mood, then another candidate for one of the best restaurants during the holidays in Pensacola would have to be Lillo’s Trattoria. This Italian restaurant is high on style, mood and deliciousness. Located on Pensacola’s historic pier, the name of the game here is cozy. The best way to enjoy Lillo’s is to visit it on a weekend night after taking in whatever Christmas-themed play is being performed down the road at the Pensacola Little Theater. They are within walking distance so park you car at the theater, enjoy the show, then stroll along the pier to the restaurant. You’ll need that walk back to your car to work off the excess calories.
Lillo’s is not an Italian eatery. It makes even The Olive Garden look like a dive in comparison. That’s not a shot at price, although it ain’t cheap. But this is high quality food, guys. This is a restaurant you go to for an evening out, not just some place you decide on at the last moment. Elegant without being overbearing, it’s the perfect place for a Christmas proposal. Get yourself a window with a view, order up anything on the menu (though I must admit I’m quite partial to the pizza, believe it or not, in fact it’s a candidate for the best pizza in town) then settle in for a glass of wine and some of Lillo’s homemade, highly caloric traditional Italian desserts and you are almost guaranteed to get the Christmas present you most desire: Yes, I’ll marry you!
Of course, Pensacola is located on the Gulf of Mexico and if you want to enjoy fresh seafood from the those waters before the economic fallout from Hurricane Katrina ends with oil rigs located fifty miles off the coastline spewing millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf, then one of the best restaurants during the holidays in Pensacola for you would be Skopelos. The first President Bush and his wife chose this restaurant to eat at when they visited Pensacola in the early 90s. But don’t let that bother you, this was one of those rare occasions when a member of the Bush family actually showed good judgment.
Skopelos is a Pensacola tradition dating back to the 50s, though it hasn’t always been in its current location on Scenic Highway. By the way it’s called Scenic Highway because it’s located atop buffs overlooking Escambia Bay. It’s a pretty view on a crisp December night. And Skopelos celebrates Christmas in line with its Greek tradition. This is the restaurant for you if you really just want to that feeling of old-world style holiday celebration. Christmas trees, Christmas decorations and Christmas music-traditional, non-threatening and non-blaring Christmas music-await you inside.
Now, frankly, I’m not a big fan of seafood. I just don’t relish the idea of eating something that spends its entire existence living inside its own toilet, but I’m obviously in the minority on that score. However, I know people who know seafood and in any conversation that involves Pensacola, restaurants and seafood guess which restaurant name pops up most often? Red Lobster.
I kid, I kid! Skopelos hasn’t been around for over half a century because there’s little competition. I mean if you’re into eating seafood, then you could eat at a different restaurant here every night of the year. And yet Skopelos is consistently packed. Especially at Christmas time. In fact, the nearer we get to Christmas, the less you’ll want to try eating lunch there because it will probably be closed to the public due to Christmas parties.
Dinner should be okay, though, and that’s the best time to enjoy the holiday atmosphere anyway. The restaurant is illuminated by Christmas lights and you can look out the large pane windows and enjoy the Christmas decorated houses twinkling off in the distance on the other side of the bay.
Although known as the best place for seafood, it is a Greek restaurant as well so the menu is hardly limiting. Among the items you can order are such elegant specialties as snapper Marengo, crab Florentine, and grouper en papillote, plus steaks and duck Ã?Â l’orange. And that’s not even to mention the Greek Salad.
So I will: A healthy dose of various greens, feta cheese, red onions, carrots, cabbage, tomato slices, Kalamata olives, cucumber, pepperoncini, and swimming in vinaigrette. This huge platter is topped off with herbs and (since it is a seafood restaurant) anchovies on demand.
Still looking for the best restaurants during the holidays in Pensacola?
For Mexican food: The Taco House on Navy Boulevard. (Don’t let the red pepper Christmas lights fool you, they’re always up).
For Chinese food: House of Chong, also on Navy Boulevard. Hmmmm, must be a theme road.
For Japanese food: Yamato’s on New Warrington Road.
For Cajun food: Copeland’s on Chase Street.
For a sports grill: Kooter Brown’s on Ninth Avenue.
For sandwiches: The Creamery on Gulf Breeze Parkway. (Okay, technically this restaurant is in Gulf Breeze, not Pensacola, but all we’re talking about here is a three mile trip across a bridge. It’s actually less distance between Skopelos and The Creamery than between Skopelos and Coach & Four).
The Creamery, I must admit, holds a special place in my heart. It’s where I took my future wife on our first date, albeit it was actually located in Pensacola at that time. An odd thing just struck me: Almost all the best restaurants during the holidays in Pensacola are no longer in the location where they began.
Better come this holiday season before all my information is out of date.