When most Houstonians think of dining on the island, it’s generally about the casual spots along the seawall that welcome flip-flops, damp T-shirts and bit of sand on your shorts. They’d likely be surprised to know how many fine dining options Galveston offers.
Unless you’ve explored beyond the usual tourist spots on the island, it’s unlikely you’ve even heard of 901 Postoffice. Housed in a 1910 bungalow in the shadows of the University of Texas Medical complex, the little restaurant offers contemporary comfort fare such as grilled medallions of beef with guacamole and lump crab and grilled-duck tostada with smoked sausage queso.
The setting is cozy, but tables are well-spaced, allowing for conversation and creating a whispered buzz when tables fill up. Service is genuine, as if you’re a guest of an old friend.
I was a little disappointed that my server couldn’t tell me more about the old cottage, but I did glean one interesting tidbit. The wainscotting inside the various little rooms marks the height of the floodwaters of Hurricane Ike.
Open for dinner only Thursdays-Saturdays.
901 Postoffice, 409-762-1111.
This charming spot of Galveston’s historical Strand Street occupies a former bank building. Diners will note that the wine cellar actually is an old bank vault. The long, narrow dining room with its architectural flourishes is romantic even at lunch when the sunlight is diffused by the stark white blinds.
In the kitchen is chef/owner Luigi Ferre, who often can be heard singing over his pots and pans. Ferre is known for his Northern Italian specialties such as Pollo Mostarda, Bistecca alla Marsala and Tortellini di Formaggio alla Panna.
The restaurant is open for lunch and dinner, and the staff welcomes even the most casually dressed diners during the day when cruise-bound tourists pack the Strand in search of T-shirts and other island souvenirs. For dinner, the dining room takes on a far more formal feel.
Open daily for lunch and dinner, except Sundays when hours are 11:30 a.m.-4 p.m.
2328 Strand, 409-763-6500.
Rudy & Paco
Arguably the island’s finest dining experience, this South American restaurant is overseen by Paco Vargas, who likes making a fuss over his regular customers.
Steaks and seafood are the specialties but be sure to try some of the chef’s outstanding appetizers. The ceviche and empanadas are sharable, but it’s not likely you’ll want to give up a bite of the crab cake served with a chipotle cream sauce. The faintly sweet cake appears (and tastes) to be filler-free and held together by pure will.
Terrific, too, are the sauces. There’s a raspberry chipotle concoction atop the plantain-crusted snapper, a zippy jalapeño cream sauce paired with grilled tuna and mango habanero sauce over the grilled salmon.
The dining room can get loud on a Saturday night when its packed with theater goers (the restaurant is just steps from the Grand 1894 Opera House).
Two notes: Don’t even think of arriving after 6 p.m. without a reservation. A loyal clientele keeps the dining room hopping even on traditionally slow nights. Casual attire (including shorts) is OK for lunch but is barred from the dining room after 5 p.m.
Open for lunch and dinner Mondays-Fridays and dinner only Saturdays.
2028 Postoffice, 409-762-3696.
Celebrating its 100th anniversary, Gaido’s is the island’s original fine dining room. Specializing in Gulf Coast seafood and gracious service. The first thing a diner notes is the army of waitstaff that works the large dining room. OK, maybe the staffing is second to the century’s-worth of treasures that are displayed in the glass cases throughout the dining room.
The menu is filled with classics such as Crabmeat Cheesecake, Shrimp Martini, Pecan-Encrusted Red Fish and Fried Stuffed Shrimp. You can’t go wrong with a seafood platter and a side of Gaido’s ridiculously rich blue-cheese grits.
Over the years, Gaido’s has softened its dress code for the day-tripping tourists, but you’ll want to skip the shorts and sneakers for an evening meal.
Open for lunch and dinner daily.
3802 Seawall, 409-762-9625.
The plush dining room atop Moody Gardens Hotel offers one of the most romantic views of the island, as well as a pelican’s view of the garden’s graceful pyramids. A strictly enforced dress code and the dining room’s reputation for service makes it a popular backdrop for celebrations.
The kitchen is adept with classics such grilled shrimp, oysters au gratin and rack of lamb. And you don’t want to miss the lobster bisque.
Open for dinner only Tuesdays through Saturdays.
7 Hope Blvd., 409-741-8484.
Bernardo's at the Galvez
The pretty pastel dining room of this century-old hotel must be all things to guests: a breakfast nook, a comfortable stop for lunch and a place to relax and regroup after a busy day of work or play.
But on Sundays, Bernardo’s shines as brightly as any of the more formal dining rooms in town. From 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., the restaurant offers a well-regarded champagne brunch that draws families in their Sunday finery as well as folks not so smartly attired.
Brunch features the usual suspects: made-to-order omelets and pasta dishes, a carving station serving prime rib, a salad bar and a mountain of crab claws and boiled shrimp.
On a recent visit, seafood gumbo (with okra!) was appropriately rich and a cherry cheese blintz was a guilty pleasure, but not enough of one to dissuade from a serving of warm peach cobbler.
Reservations for brunch are strongly advised.
2024 Seawall, 409-765-7721.
The Steakhouse at San Luis Resort
It was love at first sight at this cozy restaurant inside a bustling resort. The lighting may be the most romantic I’ve ever encountered. Glancing about the room, I noticed that even a diner’s bald spot had a dreamy rose-colored glow.
The menu doesn’t stray from classic steak-house fare: crab-stuffed mushroom caps and escargot, Texas-size rib-eyes and hand-cut fries with shareable sides that include truffled mac and cheese and creamed spinach. And the portions suit hearty appetites. The cozy crescent-shaped dining room is augmented by an even cozier piano lounge. The staff is young but attentive.
5222 Seawall, 409-744-1500.