Port Isabel: A brief view at its history

A food stand near the Port Isabel Lighthouse in an early, undated photo.

By Rene Torres
Special to the PRESS

Port Isabel for sale! The complete sale of the sea village occurred in the Spring of 1927.  The acquisition was announced in Brownsville and the following year, it was incorporated into an official town.

On this historical day, the city began its march toward establishing a modern city with all the amenities.

But one thing that would never change was stories that were passed on by its old-timers. 

 Much of the tales of the days-gone-by were told as folks gathered at the campfires; the stories were repeated as they were heard by their ancestors.  Story sessions went on for hours or until the tequila lasted.  

Much of the interest of the early residents centered around the activities connected to the lighthouse, and about the old families that were born and raised in the city. 

Several wars and explores have come and gone.  Generations ago, people from faraway places with strange sounding names came through and left behind a blend of cultures that make us what we are today. 

The city’s history can also be measured by the variety of seafood that could be caught in the Gulf of Mexico…

Thousands of words have been written relating to the abundance of sea creatures that can be found in the Gulf.   As modern methods of fishing developed, local folk not only consumed what they caught, but later were engaged in the commercialization of the industry.  Port Isabel, in yonder years, did not attract visitors with fancy restaurants like it does today.  

The city was perhaps dotted with food stands like seen in the given photo—attracting people from all walks of life.  It is estimated that the eatery, according to the cars seen in the image, were there early at the turn of the 20th Century.   Serving the typical fish and oyster sandwiches from 10 to 15 cents during the hard economic times of the Depression, and WWII.   

Today, Port Isabel enjoys the ability to brag about its restaurants that serve dishes from all over the world. 

Gulf Seafood Oyster Bar: not the hippest but the best!

Pardon me, but this writer is a frequent visitor to “Joe’s Oyster Bar,” located in the shadows of the Lighthouse in Port Isabel. 

It will not impress you with its physical ambience because it is not adorned with chandeliers or fancy furniture.  It reminds me of that hamburger stand from the old days. 

Joe’s place stands tall in a modest environment with a masterful kitchen staff that includes Antonio Camacho, Gustavo Perez, Eduardo Ortega, and Andres Ramirez.  

You want it cooked your way —bring your catch, and they can do that as well, leaving you with a lasting impression after your first bite.    

Owner, Joe Castillo, has served the people of Port Isabel, and the legions of visitors for decades, conveying a message of courtesy, efficiency, and friendliness stemming from family values. 

Taking the food from beyond the kitchen is the responsibility of the servers, an array of personalities among them, but consistent in making sure that no shrimp is left behind. 

A capable fixture at the cash register is Rick Hernandez, manager, a prized member of the team–who adds up your numbers with a smile, speed, and accuracy.   

If you want to eat at affordable prices?  “Go with Joe,” it is a journey to be experienced. 

Editor’s Note: Rene Torres is a retired assistant professor from the University of Texas at Brownsville, and Texas Southmost College. He has a long history in the Rio Grande Valley as an educator, sports historian, and humanitarian with a wealth of community service to his credit.

Permanent link to this article: https://www.portisabelsouthpadre.com/2021/05/07/port-isabel-a-brief-view-at-its-history/

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