A Seafood Haven on SPI

Living so close to South Padre Island certainly has it advantages. One of them is definitely the opportunity to indulge in some of the freshest, best tasting seafood around. There are plenty of eateries to choose and while they all equally contribute to that one-of-a-kind island culture, there’s something about a small, family owned and operated seafood restaurant, known as Dirty Al’s, that makes eating at SPI an experience all its own.

At first glance, you’d think you just walked into a bait shop/fish market, and you would be right. Upon entering the restaurant, there is a refrigerated display of all kinds of seafood just waiting to be eaten. One of the many perks they offer customers is the opportunity to purchase fresh bait for your fishing trip or delicious seafood to take home and prepare just the way you like it. They source as much as they can locally to guarantee quality and freshness, making this seafood joint a win-win.

On the inside and throughout most of the dining area, Dirty Al’s looks like an old fisherman’s shack. Walls covered with random fishing paraphernalia add to the hole-in-the-wall charm of this unassuming restaurant perfectly situated on the bay. Random TV’s in the dining area show repeated scenes of Al checking the seafood shipments as they’re arriving to ensure optimum freshness and flavor, solidifying the legitimacy of this island staple.

We started out by ordering the crab fingers as an appetizer and enjoyed every bite of these flavorful, tiny bits of fried crabmeat. They were served with a unique calamari sauce but the crab finger breading had a little kick to it, making these bite-sized crab claws good all on their own.

One of the entrees recommended by our waitress was the Red Fish Drum Throats Basket. I’d never even heard of it, but it was a seasonal dish the chefs were promoting, so we decided to give it a try. Several pieces of fried red fish drum throats arrived on a bed of battered fries. They looked a little intimidating at first and eating them was like eating a piece of chicken off the bone. It required a little bit of legwork but was well worth it. These firm, meaty pieces of fish had a mild flavor (not too fishy) that was enhanced with just a little squeeze of fresh, lime juice.

You can’t go to Dirty Al’s without ordering some fried Gulf shrimp and flounder, so we opted for something that had a little bit of everything. Enter: the Dirty Al’s botana. While the idea of a botana platter doesn’t typically conjure up images of hot, fresh and crispy seafood goodies on a giant bed of French fries, Dirty Al’s deliciously proved that my idea of botanas was wrong all along. This seafood feast of a platter had massive shrimp, fish, oysters and chicken, all lightly breaded and fried to golden perfection. You can taste the freshness from your very first bite and the delectable flavor of the shrimp lingers longer after you’ve left the restaurant.

Not a fan of fried seafood? Not to worry. The menu has a colorful variety of items to choose from, and while they’re known for having the best fried shrimp on the island, you can opt to have your seafood blackened, grilled or broiled.

The service was on-point despite the revolving mass of people that came and left while we were there. Our food and drinks appeared on the table almost as quickly as we ordered them. The staff was very friendly and helpful to all who choose to feast at one of the few places on the island that really makes you feel connected to the food you’re eating.

Dirty Al’s has earned a solid reputation with locals and visitors alike for good reason. It’s not uncommon to see a line of patrons outside the door patiently waiting to get their fill of what the Gulf of Mexico has to offer, and every satisfied customer who walks out the door will tell you the food is definitely worth the wait.

If you’re looking for a no-frills, waterfront dining experience at South Padre Island with a great view of the marina, then this is the place to be. Whether you buy and take home fresh fish from the market counter or stay and indulge in some of the freshest seafood you’ve ever tasted, Dirty Al’s will not disappoint. Stop by on your next visit to the island and don’t forget to try the Dirty Al’s sauce!