Right next door to Bud & Alley’s Taco Bar sits Daytrader, the soon-to-be darling of the Seaside dining scene. Within the walls (can they be called walls when so much outdoor is indoor?) of the almost 5000-square-foot pink building, Chef Nikhil Abuvala delivers on his promise of bad-ass tiki cocktails and globally inspired bites that give guests a feeling of escaping to a tropical paradise.
“When we decided to focus on Polynesia, it was important to me that we highlight all the islands that make up that region,” said Abuvala.
“Being a tiki bar, you’ll find plenty of Hawaiian influences throughout our menu, but you’ll also discover Filipino, Vietnamese, and other coastal Asian flavors in both the dishes and cocktail program.”
And of course, I am always heavily influenced by the never-ending supply of fresh seafood from the Gulf of Mexico, as well as the exceptional products we source from our regional farmer and purveyor partners.”
Entering Daytrader, I was transported to a tropical oasis. Fresh stalks of sugarcane fill a blue pitcher at the center of the open-air, pink tile bar. Woven wooden textiles cover the ceiling and walls, mixed with botanical wallpaper that pops with coral, saffron, and lilac bursts. Planter boxes overflow with tropical foliage. Brass accents and verdant green upholstery lend a luxurious feel to the dining area.
Each vignette in the funky space is populated with coastal tchotchkes. Shelves are filled with “…carefully-curated treasures hand-picked by Chef Abuvala’s wife and restaurant stylist, Hannah Grace Alford-Abuvala…” including a copy of Ernest Hemingway’s book Islands in the Stream (a personal favorite), the origin of the Green Isaac’s Special, a blend of gin, lime juice, coconut water, and Angostura bitters (one of Papa’s little-known favorites).
One of the highlights at Daytrader involves cocktails—the heavy, beautifully-faceted glassware stands out among beach bars that serve drinks in some version of plastic. The Rumpanion comes in an impossibly large pineapple-shaped glass filled with a blend of delicious rums, juices, and layers of allspice and ginger—it is tiki in a glass, a really nice glass, with a wait-for-it…adorable drink umbrella. And the mojitos on draft are never a bad idea.
The playlist in the background (Hannah Grace’s curation) provides a soundtrack of “…lo-fi, tropic beats and retro bops, with Hawaiian mele and calypso-inspired melodies respectfully sprinkled in…” and it feels like the perfect marriage of ambiance and experience as the Daytrader Remedy (Medical Mai Tai drink for 2 served in an IV bag) makes it way across the room to an awaiting couple. There’s also something for the sober members of the group. The zero-proof Beach Butterfly has delicious complexity—the soft lilac color of the butterfly pea flower, tangy passionfruit juice, and the fresh sprig of mint deliver flavor without the booze.
As promised, no totems or other items associated with cultural appropriation are visible around the restaurant and bar.
Abuvala delivers a tiki experience that is an homage to 1950s escapism tempered with an appreciation of Polynesian culture.
If you’ve made your way into Daytrader since their official May 23, 2023, opening, you’ve noticed some playful cross-outs on the menu. Like everything else Abuvala does, that’s intentional. Hanging on the wall is the full menu which won’t debut until June 15th, but until then there’s a ‘chef-edited’ version that whimsically makes a joke out of what they’re offering during this phase. The food, on the other hand, is no joke.
The Ahi Crispy Rice packs the perfect crunch topped with melt-in-your-mouth fresh tuna, and finished with creamy honey chili aioli. Cobia Poke is served on a delicate taro chip and the soy-ginger marinade on the fish mixed with mango and cucumber explodes in your mouth with island flavor.
The Spam Musubi may be a different bite for those who haven’t visited the Hawaiian Islands, but I’m here to say it tastes like an Oahu 7-Eleven version and that’s high praise from someone who has a daughter living on the island. The seaweed wrapper is so fresh and pliant, the sushi rice is a mix of crispy and soft, the crust on the spam adds texture, and the furikake spice blend sandwiched between the rice and spam gives that authentic Hawaiian musubi flavor. The oyster sauce rimming the plate provides the quintessential Southern sopping moment.
But, the revelatory dish comes next: the Maui Burger (our own Mckenna thinks it might be the best burger on 30A!) and fries with a side of brown gravy (order it, don’t hesitate). I love good poutine, but they are pretty hard to find around the Gulf Coast. Chef Jordan Economy has crafted the pseudo-poutine of my dreams—crispy handcut fries bathed in rich soy brown gravy. “I’ve traveled everywhere. Most recently I worked in Houston, the best food scene in the world in my opinion, and I’m hoping to bring Houston’s food renaissance to Seaside,” says Economy (who also loves good poutine).
Coming soon are dishes like Wagyu Kalbi Short Ribs and Lobster Chow Mein, but for now, there are cans of boiled peanuts dusted with Hawaiian sea salt, lumpia fried so delicately that the pork filling and strands of cabbage shine, and cocktails crafted with fresh juice pressed daily, and sugarcane imported from all across Florida, Los Angeles, and the Caribbean before being macerated in-house.
So, as the weather warms and the sunny South Walton beaches beckon, make your way to Daytrader and, “trade your place at the desk for a place at the bar.”
The Daytrader Tiki Bar and Restaurant is located at 2236 E. County Highway 30A, Santa Rosa Beach, Florida 32459, and will be open for lunch and dinner service seven days a week from 10:30 a.m. – 10:00 p.m. Reservations are unavailable at this time.