Let’s face it: Eating at great restaurants is the most fun part of any vacation. So while you may come to Florida for the warm weather, sandy beaches, and the relaxed, tropical vibe, we’re all still looking for some memorable meals.
But how do you find the best restaurants? The good news is that Southwest Florida—particularly The Beaches of Fort Myers and Sanibel—is packed with amazing culinary choices, so there’s lots to choose from. To help you navigate the dining scene, we’ve found the “can’t miss” places and even pinpointed some of the highlights on the menus. All you have to do is make yourself some reservations and enjoy!
Sanibel has its own celebrity chef: James Beard Award nominee Melissa Donahue. And really, her restaurant lives up to the hype. Donahue hails from New Orleans, and her Bayou experience influences her cooking with offerings such as beignets, shrimp and grits, and blackened redfish. But the real standout? Her delicious fish stew, which was such a popular special that she had to make it a staple on the menu.
Never heard of beach bread? Well, it’s a Fort Myers thing—and it’s something you absolutely shouldn’t miss. Restaurants throughout the area serve up this gussied-up cheesy garlic bread in their own unique styles. PierSide Grill & Famous Blowfish Bar is perhaps the most well-known for the decadent treat, which they put on their menu more than 20 years ago. Today, they make it with a loaf of crispy French bread sliced and layered with garlic butter, blue cheese, shredded cheddar, and mozzarella; then it’s topped with onions, tomatoes, and minced green olives and served with marinara. Still hungry? The restaurant also offers plenty of other tasty fare, ranging from award-winning ribs and burgers to seafood platters and locally sourced red grouper.
Southwest Florida is known for having some of the sweetest shrimp around. There’s so much of it in the area that fishermen have dubbed it “pink gold” since the 1950s. You’ll find shrimp on just about every menu in the area, but if you want a sure bet, head to Doc Ford’s Rum Bar & Grill (with locations on Sanibel Island, Captiva Island, and Fort Myers Beach). This chain serves shrimp every which way—you’ve got peel-and-eat shrimp, shrimp ceviche, panko fried shrimp, and even Yucatan shrimp tacos. (Plus, the view from the dock at sunset is amazing.) Trust us, Doc Ford’s should be top of your list.
Looking to celebrate a special anniversary, birthday, or job promotion? For more than 40 years, The Veranda, in downtown Fort Myers, has been the place for such occasions. Known for its impeccable service and charming setting in two turn-of-the-century homes, The Veranda is one of those restaurants that you know is going to make for a special evening before you even take your first bite. But let’s discuss that first bite! The Southern cuisine is exceptional. Start with the grit cake with pepper jack cheese and grilled andouille sausage, French onion soup, or fried green tomatoes, then choose from one of The Veranda’s specialties such as chicken topped with bay shrimp, crabmeat, arugula, and Cajun beurre blanc or pan seared scallops. YUM.
A day out on the water, soaking up the Florida sun, fishing off the side of a boat. It doesn’t get more tranquil than that! But having to cook your catch yourself? For a lot of people, that’s easier said than done. Luckily, the Fort Myers and Sanibel area provides plenty of “hook and cook” restaurants that’ll do the work for you. One of the best choices is The Nauti Mermaid Dockside Bar and Grill. Come by land or by water, and bring whatever you caught (just make sure you clean it first!). Then, while you chill out with a refreshing cocktail, the restaurant will broil, grill, blacken, bake, or sear your fish to perfection and serve it with a salad and two side dishes. And if you want to get really fancy? Finish your meal with their cazeula cobbler—a combination of apples, brown sugar, rum-soaked raisins, granola, and cayenne-vanilla gelato.
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Sure, Southwest Florida is known for its seafood. However, there’s plenty of other cuisine to choose from as well—Mexican, Indian, Thai, you name it. Hankering for Italian? Family-run LaMotta’s is the place to go. You’ll find the basics like New York-style pizza, calzones, and lasagna, but there’s also fried ravioli, Sicilian osso bucco, and penne alla arrabiata. A favorite of locals for years, now you’re in on the secret, too.
This 1928 house-turned-eatery, set atop an ancient Calusa shell mound, is on an island so secluded and tranquil that no cars are even allowed (you have to take a boat to get there). Come for breakfast (the Challah French Toast is to-die-for) or, if you’re in the area for lunch or dinner, try the chilled stone crab claws served with spicy mustard or drawn butter or classic cheeseburgers, and wash it all down with a refreshing cocktail. Just don’t forget to take in the breathtaking views and add your own dollar to the thousands of bills that decorate the walls.
Kicking back with a cold brew goes hand-in-hand with vegging out on the beaches of Southwest Florida. So it makes sense that this part of the country has become a mecca of craft breweries and distilleries. You can even print out your own brew trail map and design a tour of your own. One place you should definitely check out is Fort Myers Brewing Company. Not only does this brewery offer eight flagship beers and seasonal and small batch brews, but there’s also live music, trivia nights, and rotating food trucks that offer everything from Mexican fare and burgers to lobster rolls and grilled cheese. Sounds like a party to us!