While 2020 was far from ideal for the restaurant industry as it navigated the COVID-19 pandemic, it still produced dozens of entrepreneurs in the Pensacola area who made their restaurant dreams come true.
Below are the 30-plus restaurants that started their journeys in Pensacola in 2020, listed in chronological order. Now you can head into the new year hungry and ready to patronize the many new local restaurants that endured pitfalls at one point or another this year.
Address: 3012 N. Ninth Ave., Pensacola
Info: The fast-service, carryout-only restaurant on Ninth is run by three cousins with decades of restaurant industry experience among them. In January, Pizza Kitchen replaced a Wing Shop in a small plaza just north of East Hill. Pizza Kitchen hangs its hat on its gargantuan menu that includes 17 specialty pizzas, close to a dozen calzone varieties and almost 20 pasta items.
Address: 5100 N. Ninth Ave., Pensacola
Info: Cracking Crab, a Cajun seafood boil-in-a-bag restaurant with a full bar, opened at the Cordova Mall almost a year ago from the storefront next door to Red Robin.
Each fresh-catch seafood boil is boiled in the restaurant’s secret spices, then blended with one of Cracking Crab’s signature seasonings and served in a bag to preserve flavor. Boil varieties feature blue crab, king crab legs, snow crab legs, lobster tail, crawfish, mussels, whole shrimp and much more. Each pound comes with potatoes and corn on the cob.
Address: 8102 N. Davis Highway, Suite 12, Pensacola
Info: Replacing Tiger Sushi, this family-owned Vietnamese restaurant with a charmingly punny name serves 12 pho varieties, none of which contain any processed food or ingredients.
Some of those varieties include Phở Real Đặc Biệt (special beef noodle soup), Phở Nạm Gan Sách (beef noodle soup with flank tendon) and Phở Đồ Biển (seafood noodle soup).
Address: 460 Pensacola Beach Blvd., Pensacola Beach
Info: Although it is currently closed because of damage sustained during September’s Hurricane Sally, Laguna’s opened a restaurant along with its revamped new adventure park on the beach, which rebranded and broke away from its former Premier Adventure Park name.
The Caribbean-inspired entrees at Laguna’s Beach Bar & Grill consist of a fresh fish meal, a rum-marinated chicken dinner, beef tournedos and piri piri kabobs. Laguna’s also does crab cake sandwiches, seafood tacos, jerk chicken sandwiches and a host of burgers. Breakfast at the adventure park is served between 8 and 10:30 a.m. every day.
Address: 3005 E. Cervantes St., Pensacola
Info: This southern and New Orleans-style breakfast spot tries to make you feel like you’re sitting down to eat at Grandma’s house or at a bed and breakfast.
Aunt Katie’s opened in February from inside a building that has been a revolving door for restaurants during the past decade. The property most recently belonged to Spyros’ Authentic Greek Restaurant.
Benedicts are a staple item at Aunt Katie’s, which also specializes in pancakes, biscuits and gravy, grits, French toast, signature omelets and even burgers and some lunchtime favorites.
Address: 1 New Market St., Cantonment
Info: During the past two years, Beef ‘O’ Brady’s locations in downtown Pensacola and Gulf Breeze closed up shop for good, but a new one off Nine Mile Road opened early in the year and planted its flag in Cantonment.
Benefiting from outdoor patio seating, Beef’s sticks to the franchise’s script, serving traditional pub fare amid a sports bar atmosphere.
Address: 1350 S. Blue Angel Parkway, Suite A, Pensacola
Info: Blue Angel Grill filled a void in family-owned west side restaurants when it opened in mid-March. The grill hangs its hat on teriyaki dinners, burgers and fries, fried shrimp options, a shrimp sandwich meal, jumbo chicken wings, salads and a kids menu. Most every item on the menu costs about $10, making the fast-casual restaurant an affordable one.
Address: 3041 E. Olive Road, Pensacola
Info: Yes, Coastal County is a brewery, but this Ferry Pass brewery and tap room devoted a lot of attention to its recipes right out of the gate.
“Pub food with a little bit of flare to it” is the way Coastal County describes its food. They serve a variety of sandwiches, burgers, tacos, salads and even brunch items on the weekend.
Addresses: 6890 Pensacola Blvd. and the Cordova Mall food court, Pensacola
Phone: 850-525-1217 (Pensacola Blvd. location)
Info: It was a big year for 3-D Eats & Tea, which has steadily grown its customer base with its food truck business during the past few years. But 2020 was about expanding for owner Sean DeSmet, who brought a 3-D to a former Burger King property on Pensacola Boulevard and another to the mall’s food court. The latter of the two should open right around the new year.
The business is known for its creative and indulgent burger, sandwich, melt and loaded fry creations. The brand is also synonymous with inexpensive lunch combinations.
Address: 12 Via De Luna Drive, Pensacola Beach
Info: This high-end Japanese steakhouse with waterfront views opened May 6 on the beach. The experience the restaurant presents is rivaled only by its supreme-quality sushi, A5 Japanese wagyu, hand-rolled ramen noodles and the many items on its menu.
“Everything at Bonsai is about attention to detail,” Bonsai Head Chef Omar Torres said in May. “It’s a completely different experience. Right now in our ramen noodles, the seafood one, we have a big jumbo prawn that is about 12 inches long. The thing is the size of a lobster. So it’s just kind of unique things you won’t see anywhere.”
Addresses: 1674 E. Nine Mile Road, Suite A, and 5100 N. Ninth Ave., Suite E541-A
Info: This is the first and last national chain restaurant to make this list, but Chipotle kind of had to make the list after years worth of hype from Pensacola foodies. A “Bring a Chipotle to Pensacola” Facebook page has been active for years, after all.
The fast-casual Tex-Mex restaurant opened in a shopping center near the University Parkway Publix in June. The Cordova Mall storefront Chipotle opened in September.
Address: 600 W. Garden St., Pensacola
Info: The downtown Pensacola area’s first Korean barbecue eatery was highly anticipated all winter, and in late May Kalbi Ichiban opened and began to deliver on its lofty expectations.
The 5,000-square-foot restaurant located at 600 W. Garden St. specializes in traditional cook-at-your-table Korean barbecue style lunches and dinners centered around kalbi, chicken kalbi, pork kalbi, pork belly and more. The extensive menu at Kalbi Ichiban also includes sushi, Japanese ramen, noodles, teriyaki entrees, sashimi entrees and much, much more. There’s also a full bar and a full sake bar.
Address: 601 E. Gregory St., Pensacola
Info: Fin & Fork was one of Orange Beach, Alabama’s favorite seafood restaurants before making an abrupt move across the Panhandle to Pensacola because of issues with the restaurant’s previous landlord.
“Everything’s 100% fresh,” owner Matt Shipp said in May. “We have steaks and seafood. Steaks are sort of the hidden little secret, we have a reputation for some of the best steaks on the market. I think it’s a very successful concept, and the price points are good.”
Address: 5 Via De Luna Drive, Suite K, Pensacola Beach
Info: Water Pig, which opened in June, constructed a menu built around its 4,300-pound smoker and the low and slow ribs, brisket and sausage that are cooked inside it.
The restaurant offers deck and stadium-style seating and boasts a full outdoor bar that overlooks the Santa Rosa Sound.
Water Pig BBQ was rated as the No. 1 restaurant in the Florida Panhandle by Trip Advisor. The restaurant also was nominated for USA Today’s Best New Restaurant in the nation. Those results will be revealed at the end of 2020.
Address: 13700 Perdido Key Drive, Unit 106A, Perdido Key
Info: Pizza lovers in the Perdido area should expect a thin-crust, New York-style pie from this carryout pizza spot that opened during the summer.
Paul’s is located inside of the Villagio Perdido Town Centre below the Jellyfish restaurant. It also offers pastas, salads, subs and gluten-free pizza.
Address: 6707 Pensacola Blvd., Pensacola
Info: Chicken ‘N The Egg replaced the IHOP on Pensacola Boulevard in June. The American family-style restaurant serves breakfast, lunch and dinner all day long.
Although the concept is similar to IHOP, Chicken ‘N The Egg owners promise a fresher, higher quality product on every plate. They also do omelets, build-your-own breakfast combinations and lunch options such as third-pound burgers and sandwiches.
Addresses: 1803 State Road 95A, Cantonment, and 1708 W. Fairfield Drive, Pensacola
Info: Like 3-D, another ambitious food truck owner took a couple of big steps forward in 2020. Mark Garcia, owner of the Happy Taco food truck, opened his first brick-and-mortar in Cantonment during the summer.
Happy Taco’s authentic street tacos, trademark puffy tacos and quesadillas soon will be available in Pensacola at the former Bangkok Garden Thai restaurant. And it doesn’t stop there for Garcia, who has aspirations to open two additional Happy Tacos in Northwest Florida by the end of 2021.
Address: 655 Pensacola Beach Blvd., Pensacola Beach
Info: Cumaru first opened as a bar in June, but quickly integrated its second phase as a restaurant serving dishes and sandwiches that fully complement its beach surroundings.
Items like cheeseburgers, shrimp and mahi tacos, gumbos and sandwiches can be had at Cumaru, which switches up its menu often and is always offering daily specials.
Address: 501 S. Palafox St., Pensacola
Info: Formerly known as Al Fresco, The Garden took about eight months to renovate, add a roof and freshen up its concept altogether. When it opened under its rebranding last summer, it did so with four food trucks, five kiosks and a new cornerstone bar called Perennial.
Calavera Tacos, Esaan, Boca Latin Kitchen and Melt are the four food trailers, each of which are signed to three-year contracts. A new restaurant also is expected to open at The Garden in the near future.
Address: 8084 N. Davis Highway, Pensacola
Info: The Ferry Pass area lost a doughnut shop but gained a Middle Eastern and Mediterranean spot when owner AJ Dali made the switch in July.
Dali cited a desire to switch to a more sustainable restaurant concept during lean times early in the COVID-19 pandemic. Steak kabob, kofta kabob, chicken kabob and falafel meals highlight this menu chock full of authentic offerings.
Address: 2805 W. Cervantes St., Pensacola
Info: Taste of Jerusalem was a favorite in Brownsville for years, so west Pensacola rejoiced when owner Ray Sehweil announced an expanded concept in a bigger west side building in 2019.
Those goals came to fruition in July when Sehweil reopened the restaurant along with a dessert bakery, juice bar, hot grab-and-go station, old fashioned butcher shop, deli area and a grocery-style market.
Address: 800 N. Navy Blvd., Pensacola
Info: A full restaurant, a grab-and-go cooler and a meal subscription service are all on the table at Clean Eatz, west Pensacola’s newest health food eatery.
“We have kind of a fast-food feel with a lot cleaner ingredients,” said Clean Eatz franchisee Sam Poppell. “We have eight different wraps, we have a great smoothie menu. Bison burgers, turkey burgers. We recently underwent a menu change nationwide and added buffalo cauliflower, which I think is amazing.”
Address: 63 Via De Luna Drive, Pensacola Beach
Info: This specialty sub shop on the beach opened at the end of July from inside the popular beach plaza that rarely lacks foot traffic.
Hot subs and flatbread pizzas help drive the sales, and the carryout-friendly restaurant also sells wings, appetizers, salads, desserts kids meals and more.
Address: 11 Palafox Place, Suite C, Pensacola
Info: The coffeehouse, breakfast café and home essentials store known as The Nest opened at 11 Palafox Place, Suite C, in the breezeway behind Blue Jay’s in July.
Breakfast sandwiches, breakfast scramble dishes, sweet or avocado toast, a red pepper panini, wild rice soup and The Nest’s patty melt round out the light and flavor-filled options at the café-style eatery.
Address: 7552 Navarre Parkway, Unit 14, Navarre
Info: The owners of Navarre’s New York Pizza Depot opened the New York Pizza District in August, bringing a new sit-down spot to the building that Vinny R’s formerly operated in.
The family-friendly pizza restaurant offers more than 15 specialty pies, a create-your-own pizza option and pizza by the slice, starting at $2.99. The New York Pizza District also serves up calzones, pastas, gyros, salads and traditional starters like cheesy garlic bread, chicken wings, fried ravioli and more.
Address: 13160 Sorrento Road, Pensacola
Phone: 850- 465-3133
Info: “Love at 900 degrees” is the slogan at this wood-fired, Neapolitan-style pizza place in the Perdido area.
The simple and straightforward Pizzaluté menu centers on more than a dozen pizza options, with a handful of salads and sweets spliced in. The restaurant also has a self-serve beer and wine bay that features 21 beer taps and three wine taps.
Address: 12 Via De Luna Drive, Pensacola Beach
Info: This poolside tapas and cocktail lounge at the Hilton Pensacola Beach doesn’t play around with its mixed drinks, offering 40-ounce margaritas, and oversized, overstuffed milkshakes that you just have to snap a photo of for Instagram.
If you like some food with your booze, Sal de Mar head chef Omar Torres has you covered. Torres described the restaurant as an American-style eatery with a lot of Spanish flair and influence. It’s somewhere you can play it safe by ordering a cheeseburger, or venture out a little with some octopus and shrimp ceviche or bombas.
Address: 6233 N. Davis Highway, Pensacola
Info: This family-friendly Mexican restaurant replaced O’Charley’s at the end of the summer on North Davis.
Seating more than 300 people, owner Ruben Chavez’s restaurant features authentic Mexican food while benefiting from a full bar. Chavez plans to open a second Pedro’s in Pace in 2021.
Address: 4955 U.S. 90, Pace
Info: This regional burger restaurant chain opened in September in Pace with a sporty, family-friendly style environment.
Mugshots grills up about a dozen specialty burgers to go along with its seven or eight original burgers. The Mississippi-based restaurant also serves sandwiches, hot dogs, pastas, salads, appetizers and much more.
Address: 1124 W. Garden St., Pensacola
Info: This one isn’t a new restaurant, but it is at a new location. Its fresh, Gulf Coast seafood dishes and sandwiches just moved a little closer to downtown.
After spending 33 years next door to its parent business, Captain Joey Patti’s Seafood Restaurant and Deli moved last fall into the property formerly occupied by Cypress and George Bistro.
Address: 11-B Palafox Place, Pensacola
Info: What was initially a pop-up noodle bar that opened inside Pot Roast & Pinot in October will become its own restaurant when it consumes Pot Roast & Pinot in early January.
Owner Aimée Wilson said come January, 86 Forks will expand upon its design-your-own ramen noodle bowl concept and add a myriad of Asian-inspired small plates. The pop-up version of 86 Forks is open now, but the expansion is set for a Jan. 18 completion and opening date.
Address: 1400 Barrancas Ave., Pensacola
Info: The sister restaurant of Xiscali Mexican restaurant in Gulf Breeze opened in December as a fast-casual alternative for West Garden area communities.
The new taqueria rolled out a simplified, taco-based menu with the same Tex-Mex style recipes and flavors cooked up in the kitchen of owner Reina Medina’s Gulf Breeze sit-down restaurant.
Address: 6209 Mobile Highway, Pensacola
Info: The former Krystal on Mobile Highway made way for this fast-service seafood restaurant, which is open until at least 2 a.m., seven days a week.
Fresh seafood options at Sam’s — which opened its original location in Bradenton in the spring of 2019 — include snow crab trays, fish, shrimp, scampi garlic Cajun shrimp, calamari rings, crawfish, scallops, oysters, mussels and crab leg dinners.
Jake Newby can be reached at [email protected] or 850-435-8538.