By Lauren Sage Reinlie
Northwest Florida has a new spot to unwind and soak up all the beauty the area has to offer.
Chef Jim Shirley’s North Beach Tortilla Co. opened shop in June on a stretch of sandy shore off Choctawhatchee Bay. It has quickly become a new hot spot for sunsets, good food and drinks, relaxation and fun.
The location is gorgeous. Situated at the foot of the U.S. 331 bridge in Santa Rosa Beach, the restaurant offers an unencumbered view of the sunset over the bay. Almost every night, pods of dolphins play in the lapping waves.
Dan Tinghitella, director of operations for North Beach and all of Jim Shirley’s restaurants, said the response has been great.
“The best thing for me is seeing the people who come just to kind of take it all in—the bay, the sand and the sunset. People come here to let go. It’s become a destination.”
The restaurant is one of the newest additions to Shirley’s enterprise. He is also the mastermind behind Great Southern Cafe, Ji·Shi Ki·chen and Meltdown on 30A in Seaside, and The Bay, which is located right across the street from North Beach Tortilla Co.
The restaurant’s menu blends Spanish, Southwestern and Florida flavors. Foods are sourced as locally as possible. Shrimp and grouper are freshly caught from the Gulf of Mexico. Produce is often locally grown. Everything is produced domestically, Tinghitella says.
Blue corn tortillas are made in-house for grouper tacos. Fajitas deliver a piping hot pile of freshly grilled shrimp or skirt steak with onions, sweet peppers and poblanos. Chimichurri sauce and cilantro cream are made fresh in the kitchen.
North Beach has indoor and outdoor seating and features a 60-foot open-air tequila bar on the beach. Over 100 types of tequila and mezcal are available for sipping or for cocktails. Flights are also offered for taste testing.
The building itself is a unique piece of architecture, Tinghitella says. The supporting pillars are actually made from footings of the original U.S. 331 drawbridge, which was the first bridge connecting the northern side of this part of the bay to the south. While the bridge came down long ago, the history is alive in North Beach.
Tinghitella says designers made some updates to the interior, including adding bright and colorful paintings by local artist Andy Saczynski. They also had to rebuild the sandy beach after it was destroyed during Hurricane Michael last fall.
The restaurant draws a diverse crowd. It’s a popular after-work happy hour spot. Couples and singles visit for a night out. Families love it because kids run around on the sandy beach playing cornhole or other games while parents can actually have a conversation and relax.
The location was popular with tourists during high season this summer, but draws a lot of locals, Tinghitella says.
“On this side of town, we see a more consistent local crowd than we do at any of our properties in Seaside. People come over the bridge from Freeport and don’t want to deal with the big crowds down on 30A.”
The restaurant is open from 4 to 9:30 PM Monday through Friday and 11 AM to 9:30 PM Saturdays and Sundays. Learn more at northbeachtortillaco.com.