O’Steen’s Restaurant

Meat-and-Three | Seafood
Worth driving from anywhere!

I came to O’Steen’s on an expedition to find St. Augustine’s best Minorcan chowder; and sure enough, this is where it is. Similar in appearance to Manhattan clam chowder, it radiates the fruity potency of the locally-grown datil pepper which, like its botanical cousin the habanero, delivers heat in a slow-rolling but inexorable wave of exhilaration.

The chowder punch turned out to be only a prelude to the main attraction here: fried shrimp. Florida’s north coast claims to be the birthplace of the shrimping industry; and while the shrimp around here aren’t the biggest, and their nature varies from season to season and depending on what exact variety you are eating, these are shrimp to remember. Available in orders of 9, 12, 18, or 24, they are each butterflied to resemble the lines inside the circle of a peace symbol. Sheathed in a crunchy veil, their pink flesh packs snap and nutty luxury.

The shrimp are served atop a pile of French fries and they are accompanied by a ramekin of the kitchen’s special pink sauce for dipping. To give the sauce an extra charge, O’Steen’s datil pepper sauce is set out on tables and at the counter in Grolsch beer bottles. While my waitress suggested I mix it with the pink sauce, I loved the unadulterated hot sauce so much that I poured a puddle of it on the plate and used it as a dip for everything I could find: the shrimp, of course, plus the French fries as well as hushpuppies, corn bread, and biscuits.

O’Steen’s is a small cafe with a sign on the wall that warns, “If you have reservations, you are in the wrong place.” It takes no credit cards, has no tablecloths, and serves no liquor. It is so immensely popular that there always is a wait, even at 11:30am and 5pm. An antiques mall on the other side of the parking lot invites O’Steen’s customers to shop until their place becomes available, a small sign outside its door promising, “Hear names on the speaker inside … Enjoy the shrimp.”

Bruce Bilmes and Susan Boyle | February 13, 2009

The northeast coast of Florida is one of the country’s great shrimping regions, and it’s said to be the birthplace of the commercial shrimping industry. The variety of shrimp pulled from the sea varies with the time of year, and we won’t pretend to understand all the differences between them. What we found during our March trip through the region were shrimp that were uniformly soft and dry, with fugitive flavor. Not among our favorites, though they are much loved by others. The best we found were served at O’Steen’s in St. Augustine.

A squat box of a building, O’Steen’s doesn’t appear promising at first glance, but there are a couple of clues that something special is going on inside. First of all, there’s the sign, a shrimp dressed in hat and cane. Anthropomorphized food outside a restaurant is reason to be hopeful for good food within. Secondly, virtually any time of day that O’Steen’s is open you’ll see people gathered outside, some sitting on benches, waiting for their turn at a table (leave your name at the window). What makes their wait worthwhile is the expertly fried O’Steen’s shrimp. The frying, and breading, is done with a lighter hand at O’Steen’s than at most other local eateries, resulting in shrimp that, while paler of crust, have better texture. They are served with that ubiquitous local dip that resembles Russian dressing made with Dat’l Do It hot sauce. These shrimp don’t need the sauce.

We also found our favorite version of the local red Minorcan clam chowder, along with some fine Southern-styled side dishes, including rice with a sweet and chunky tomato gravy and good hush pups. Lots of other good homestyle cooking is available besides the shrimp, and some say the fried chicken is a winner. All priced to attract a local clientele.

What to Eat
O’Steen’s Restaurant, Minorcan Clam Chowder
Minorcan Clam Chowder
The signature dish of St. Augustine: clam chowder supercharged with datil peppers.
O’Steen’s Restaurant, Fried Shrimp
Fried Shrimp
A culinary anthropologist could pinpoint the precise location of this dish. The hushpuppies and blackeyed peas are a sure sign of the South in general. The elegant shrimp say Florida's north coast. The pink dipping sauce with a datil pepper punch is St. Augustine's
O’Steen’s Restaurant, Fried Chicken
Fried Chicken
The menu warns of a 30 minute wait for O'Steen's fried chicken. It is cooked to order and very good, but still not good enough to dissuade me from getting the justly-famous fried shrimp.
O’Steen’s Restaurant, Banana Cream Pie
Banana Cream Pie
A cool dessert after a hot meal: banana cream pie.
O’Steen’s Restaurant, Biscuit & Cornbread
Biscuit & Cornbread
Meals are accompanied by a biscuit and a square of cornbread, both of which are excellent vehicles for conveying datil pepper sauce from plate to mouth.
O’Steen’s Restaurant, Datil Pepper Sauce
Datil Pepper Sauce
Here is the magic of St. Augustine, in the form of datil pepper. In the foreground: peppers in vinegar, well-suited for dressing vegetables. In the background: datil pepper sauce, a fiery potion that would make a piece of cardboard taste great.
Directions and Hours
open now
Tuesday11am - 8:30pm
Wednesday11am - 8:30pm
Thursday11am - 8:30pm
Friday11am - 8:30pm
Saturday11am - 8:30pm
This restaurant is featured in the following eating tours.
5 stops | 55 MILES | 1 hr 24 min

There is no Minorcan chowder on the island of Minorca, nor anywhere else we know other than Florida's northeast coast, where almost all of the world's datil peppers are grown. Datils arrived in the late 18th century in the hands of Minorcans who came to work the once-ubiquitous indigo fields and finally settled in St.…

8 stops | 191 MILES | 4 hr 33 min

Florida's north coast is an eater's paradise, with fare both exotic and familiar. The menu includes fish camp cooking at its finest, pour-your-own pancakes at the Fountain of Youth, fried shrimp that may be the best anywhere, and a four-alarm delicious legacy of Minorcan hot peppers.

Open Year Round
Meals Served
Lunch, Dinner
Credit Cards Accepted
Alcohol Served
Outdoor Seating

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