Beautiful Catalina Island is one of California’s gems. Fortunately, the gem that is Catalina Island is very easy to reach. You can be there in just about an hour by ferry from four ports on the southern California Coast.
Whether you’re there for the day, a weekend getaway, or longer, you will find many fantastic things to do on Catalina Island, even if it’s just some R&R. And when you get hungry, there are dozens of restaurants to appease your appetite. Fresh seafood is what initially brought many of these restaurants to my attention. But there’s more to Catalina’s eateries than just seafood.
Over the years, I have dined at each of the restaurants on this list. Grouped by location on the island and in no particular order, here are 15 delicious restaurants to try while you’re on Catalina Island.
1. Original Jack’s Country Kitchen
Open for breakfast and lunch only, Original Jack’s Country Kitchen is an old-fashioned diner serving hearty, homestyle fare. Locals love it. The menu boasts a large number of offerings (eight different types of eggs Benedict, for example).
Pro Tip: It gets busy fast in the mornings, especially during summer weekends. My advice is to head there first thing after disembarking before the crowds find their way over.
What To Order At Original Jack’s
I love their Portuguese sausage-and-eggs breakfast.
2. The Pancake Cottage
The first place I dined, when I started coming to Catalina on my own, was The Pancake Cottage. The menu offerings have been updated over the years but the pancakes and waffles they are known for have remained. Simply put, if you want a good breakfast, look no further than The Pancake Cottage. They are open for breakfast and lunch and won’t judge if you order something from the bar before noon.
What To Order At Pancake Cottage
The Waffle Combo; ask if they can mix pecan pieces in the waffle batter.
3. Buffalo Nickel Restaurant
Buffalo Nickel Restaurant serves up good, traditional Mexican fare, along with American staples like burgers and sandwiches. The weekend brunch is pretty popular.
Pro Tip: It is quite a walk down Pebbly Beach Road to reach Buffalo Nickel, but the food is worth it. Cycling is the perfect way to get there. Shuttle services can be arranged; call for details.
What To Order At Buffalo Nickel Restaurant
Chili with buffalo chili or the Steak Catalina
4. NDMK Fish House
NDMK Fish House (pronounced “endemic”) is a family-owned restaurant. They specialize in fresh seafood and sushi. The menu shows where your fish is caught — most of it locally around Catalina and/or southern California. NDMK is one of the few restaurants on the island that features locally owned and/or produced beverages.
What To Order At NDMK Fish House
The Grilled Fish Plate; note that sides are extra.
5. Mi Casita Mexican Restaurant & Bar
Right next door to NDMK is Mi Casita Restaurant & Bar. Mi Casita is known for its authentic Mexican cooking, wide menu selection, and famous, monster 32-ounce Cazuela cocktail. The décor makes it easy to imagine yourself dining in México.
What To Order At Mi Casita Mexican Restaurant & Bar
The Soft Taco combo; I ordered two tacos: one carne asada and one carnitas. A Cazuela goes perfectly with this on a warm day, but at 32 ounces, I suggest sharing this tequila-based cocktail.
6. The Lobster Trap
The Lobster Trap is a longtime popular gathering spot for both residents and visitors. As you might guess from the name, their specialty is seafood. The Lobster Trap is one of the few places on the island that is open late.
What To Order At The Lobster Trap
Catalina local lobster; if you have room, try the lobster taco, too.
7. Eric’s On The Pier
You’ll find Eric’s On The Pier on Green Pleasure Pier. Eric’s is one of the oldest restaurants on Catalina with over 75 years of service under its belt. The menu lists items you’d find on most boardwalks. You can either take out or grab a stool and eat outdoors at the counter.
What To Order At Eric’s On The Pier
The Buffalo Burger; I hear the breakfast burrito is good, too.
8. Luau Larry’s
Luau Larry’s is “where the bar meets the bay.” You can feel the fun, tropical atmosphere as soon as you walk in. They have an extensive cocktail menu, plus plenty of seafood items and lots of sandwiches. Live entertainment is featured on the stage, which you can see and hear as you walk by.
Pro Tip: There is a cove inside that makes a nice place to have a romantic meal.
What To Order At Luau Larry’s
The Luau Larry’s sandwich; order their legendary Wiki Wacker cocktail and get a straw hat.
9. Scoops Catalina Creamery
Scoops Catalina Creamery makes creamy, crave-worthy “hand-crafted, small-batch ice cream and gelato.” You can satisfy your Starbucks coffee fix here, too. A handful of desserts round out their offerings.
Pro Tip: Scoops is extremely popular. It is not uncommon for them to sell out during hot summer weekends.
What To Order At Scoops Catalina Creamery
I always get the maple-toasted walnut gelato, but anything on their menu is a good bet.
10. Maggie’s Blue Rose
Maggie’s Blue Rose is famous for its unique Mexican fare and margaritas. They have a prime location right on Crescent Avenue looking out at Avalon Bay. As a result, it can get busy but it is definitely worth waiting for a table.
What To Order At Maggie’s Blue Rose
Lobster enchiladas and any of their margaritas made with specialty tequilas
11. Steve’s Steakhouse And Seafood
Steve’s Steakhouse and Seafood has been around for close to 50 years. You’ll find it upstairs right above Maggie’s. Their steaks are fabulous as are the views of Avalon Bay.
Pro Tip: The coveted window tables are difficult to get. Being first in line when they open for dinner may help. Also, you must use the stairs to access Steve’s. There is no elevator.
What To Order At Steve’s Steakhouse And Seafood
Any of their steaks, or surf and turf combinations
12. Antonio’s Pizzeria & Cabaret
Antonio’s Pizzeria & Cabaret is another longtime Catalina original, in business on the island since 1977. They serve pizza, pasta, soup, salad, and a few specialties of the house. If you dine inside, the window seats have a great view of the harbor. Or you can dine harborside out on the patio.
What To Order At Antonio’s Pizzeria & Cabaret
Hand-carved porchetta or one of their pizzas
13. Catalina Coffee & Cookie Co.
Catalina Coffee & Cookie Co. (C4) has a prime corner spot in the Metropole Market Place. The signs say they are the “Home of the best cinnamon roll ever” and “Home of the best brownie ever.” The cashier told me the cinnamon rolls are “insane.” (She was right!) C4 uses its own recipes and most items are made fresh daily.
Pro Tip: They will ship their gourmet ground or bean coffee back home to you on the mainland.
What To Order At Catalina Coffee & Cookie Co.
A cinnamon roll and/or brownie, of course!
Catalina Airport (AVX) is about 10 miles by winding road from Avalon. You can fly in, drive, bike, or hike up.
14. Airport In The Sky Restaurant
Airport in the Sky Restaurant (formerly DC3 Gifts and Grill) is connected to the airport tower. It resembles a large ranch house. Inside are a gift shop and an inviting fireplace. A large patio with a Santa Maria-style grill is out back. Residents highly recommend the Big Blue Burger and the Bonanza Burger. Both can be made with buffalo burger patties and both will require plenty of napkins. Residents will also tell you that you cannot leave without buying one of the signature (huge) cookies.
What To Order At Airport In The Sky Restaurant
I ordered the Big Blue Burger with a buffalo patty and I didn’t leave without getting a peanut butter chocolate chip cookie.
There are several things to do in Two Harbors — Catalina’s more rustic side. Visit Catalina describes Two Harbors as “south pacific casual with world-class views.” Dining options in Two Harbors are all in one location.
15. Harbor Reef
The Harbor Reef collection of eateries includes inside and outside bars, West End Galley, and the Harbor Reef Restaurant itself, which is only open for dinner. The patio offers great views of Isthmus Cove. Harbor Sands and Reef Point offer lounge chair and cabana rentals, a dining deck, and picnic areas. Take your relaxation to the next level by having your food brought to you. The Two Harbors General Store, while catering mainly to campers and hikers, also has food items such as snacks, produce, and pizza.
Pro Tip: Some parts of the Harbor Reef group are closed during the fall and winter seasons. Check the website for operating hours.
What To Order At Harbor Reef
For a change of pace, try the fried fish with Cajun seasoning from West End Galley. A Buffalo Milk from the Harbor Reef outside bar is a must.
The Buffalo Milk Trail
Since originating at the Harbor Reef Restaurant in the 1970s, Buffalo Milk has become world famous. It’s like a White Russian that went bananas (pun intended). Buffalo Milk is the official drink of Catalina Island.
The Buffalo Milk Trail is a group of several bars and restaurants on the island — including many in this article — that serve Buffalo Milk. All use the same basic recipe but each puts their own unique spin on the final product and presentation.
In case you’re wondering, though there are real buffalo (bison) on the island, their milk is not used in the cocktail.