Come to the beach, to me, Texas Riviera, and there’s but one destination, summer or winter, Port Aransas, TX. In one of the older, local memes, there was a “You might be from San Antonio if…” and one of the items was, “a tropical vacation is Port A.”
There are many hotels. Condos, rentals, houses, trailer courts, tourist courts and everything else. I’d prefer if you stay at my buddy’s place, and I’ve stayed there several times. It’s nice. On the beach. However, if you travel with a dog?
A Laughing Horse Lodge. A converted late model tourist court that was redone with style and eloquence best fitting a joint two blocks from the sea.
One trick pony. Place to stay, there is no other.
One trick pony, there are only two places to eat in Port A, and one isn’t even in Port A. There was a time when there was a bakery and breakfast spot, a winter Texan retired and opened up a small shop, only to become the most popular spot on the island. Since closed and nothing has been quite as good.
Shells. Shells is an offshoot of the Courtyard Restaurant in Austin — old Austin will remember it — and the food at Shells is “artisan” style.
The food is good. Excellent. The location is tiny, maybe three or four tables, open kitchen, and going in, last time, some guy — looked like a cook — was taking trash out to a dumpster. He said, “The beef is good.”
It was. Glazed with balsamic garlic. Served over mashed potatoes and accompanied with shrimp (on a stick). I don’t know any place else in Port A, not that is that good.
It’s basically across the street from “A Laughing Horse Lodge.”
Port Aransas is a minute ferry ride from Aransas Pass. Port A boasts a regular population of maybe 3 or 4 thousand. On any summer weekend, that can easily go over 10 thousand, I’m sure. I’ve been there, as Corpus Christi has been a regular stop, off and on, for the last two decades, I’ve been there that long.
I like the “Winter Texans,” and their pace as it suits me. It’s officially “off-season,” which means it’s nicer. Cool or cold nights, warm or cold days, ocean breezes, palm trees and cactus. Surf boards and real cowboys.
So Shells is about the only place I know, anymore. Port A is at one end of the roughly 20-mile long Mustang Island, and Padre Island is at the other end. Corpus Christi is across the bay. It’s just far enough away to feel really far away, yet it’s only a few hours drive from Austin, Houston, San Antonio.
On Padre Island proper is the only other place I can heartily recommend. With Shells at the top end of the restaurant experience, with its fine dining and casual atmosphere, there’s Snoopy’s, at the other end. Beach attire is common, and the food is mostly fried. Fried oysters, fried shrimp, and fried potatoes. Hush puppies. Arguably the best hush puppies ever. Fried balls of corn meal. For some reason, from an outdoor dining area facing the Inter-Coastal-Waterway, the food tastes better. I think they’ve got beer, but I just stick with really good, cold, ice tea. Fried oyster “plate,” which is a dozen or so oysters, fried, fries and token salad. Hush puppies, too.
Shells, for fine dining, and Snoopy’s, for casual. One trick pony, only one place to go.