After all of the pandemic precautions, now more than ever, we appreciate gathering with friends and going out for a good meal. Whether you’re seeking classy or cozy, you won’t have to drive far to find outstanding cuisine at local restaurants.
This year, we enjoyed the flavors of Latin America, Italy and the Mediterranean, as well as classic American food and fresh-from-the-Gulf catches. As a toast to the final days of 2021, we present this mouthwatering roundup of“must–try” dishes fromsome of the region’s finest restaurants.
90 9th Street N., Naples
The Vibe: Grappino’s beautiful design is clean and modern with “live–edge” tables made from trees indigenous to Southwest Florida. The main dining room features vibrant, hand-blown, Italian–glass balloons that give off a fun, artistic flair. A comfortablebar and lounge iswhere you’ll find the impressive wall of grappas.Run by husband-wife team Fabrizio and Ingrid Aielli, Grappino manifests the heart of Italy in both itsentrees and its atmosphere.
Must Try: Grappa (Italian Pomace Brandy)
This high-potency, after-dinner drink originated with Italian farmers who created homemade batches with leftover grape seeds, stems and skins. Offering more than 100 varieties, Grappino is one of the largest grappa bars in the United States. Grappino has 10 house-infused grappas, including apricot, a perfect choice for novice grappa drinkers—balanced with a hint of sweetness.
23151 Village Shops Way, Suite 103
Coconut Point Mall, Estero
The Vibe: The Saloon is a place to unwind with friends, enjoying the best in American cuisine and cocktails. Western era paintings from chef-owner Skip Quillen’s personal collection adorn the walls, complimenting rich wood decor and plush, velvet settees. With a 36-page drink menu and over 50 original Saloon cocktails, it may take a while to decide on libations. The Saloon’s barbecue offerings are cooked in small batches from scratch, “low and slow” for up to 15 hours a day — the old fashioned way!
Must Try: Smoked Prime Rib
Only at The Saloon will you find smoked prime rib with a flavor profile unlike any other prime rib in the region. This 14-ounce cut is lightly smoked in-house and served with au jus, creamy horseradish and a choice of side.
Snug Harbor Waterfront Restaurant
645 Old San Carlos Blvd., Fort Myers Beach
The Vibe: With a relaxing vibe, spectacular views and seafood so fresh it was swimming this morning, Snug Harbor Waterfront Restaurant is every angler’s—and eater’s—dream. The breezy, open-airrestaurant is located on Fort Myers Beach’s picturesque Matanzas Harbor. Snug Harbor owns five fishing boats, which helps it maintain a constant supply of fresh seafood that keeps customers hooked.
Must Try: Gourmet Gulf Grouper
With fish so fresh it practically comes swimming to your plate, the grouper is a Gulf speciality! This tender, flaky fillet is served with a lemon beurre blanc sauce after being toasted and flat topped to perfection. The scrumptious dish is complemented by sides of red–skin mashed potatoes and garlic–butter green beans.
Amfora Mediterranean Restaurant
8076 Mediterranean Dr., Suite 107
Coconut Point Mall, Estero
The Vibe: This haven of hospitality and fine Mediterranean food is located near the main entrance to Coconut Point Mall. Nearly every dish at Amfora is finished in the wood-fired oven, fueled by red oak, releasing enticing aromas into the air. The food at Amfora is a delightful blend of Spanish, French, Italian, Adriatic and North African culinary influences.
Must Try: Dorado (Whole Fish)
At Amfora, both branzino and dorado (mahi-mahi) are presented whole and deboned right at the table. This is an experience not to be missed! Fresh dorado is displayed on ice until cooking. It’s seared on both sides and finished in the wood oven with lemon slices placed inside the fish for extra flavor. Spanish escabeche sauce incorporates tomatoes, garlic, capers and sherry vinaigrette.
Charley’s Boat House Grill & Wine Bar
6241 Estero Boulevard
Fort Myers Beach
The Vibe: This restaurant’s roots go back to 1974, and in 2002, the authentic boathouse was converted into an Old Florida steakhouse. The dining room overlooks the water, where you might see a manatee or dolphin if you’re lucky. Charley’s new chef, Jared Liedel, is bringing culinary creativity and “starting to dabble in molecular gastronomy.”
Must Try: Scuttlebutt Sliders
Charley’s “famous” prime rib has been the big draw for the last two decades. It takes on a new form in the Scuttlebutt Sliders. The primer rib is shaved thin and piled high with crispy fried onion tangles, melted blue cheese and bacon-tomato jam to create some super savory sliders.
Carini’s Pizzeria & Trattoria
24611 Production Circle, Bonita Springs
The Vibe: Carini’s offers a glimmer of the Old World. Worries will dissipate as you’re swept into the atmosphere of this good, old-fashioned trattoria. Smooth jazz music, the smell of fresh baked pizza, and the jubilant smiles of staff and diners alike greet guests as they stroll inside the quaint, Italian eatery.
Must Try: Grandma Pie
Craving a pizza that’s light, airy and has the perfect crunch? Pizza dough is freshly prepared daily at Carini’s. The Grandma Pie is a thin-crust pizza topped with chunks of creamy mozzarella, dabs of homemade marinara sauce and basil ribbons—just like Nonna made it.
Pazzo! Cucina Italiana
853 Naples Fifth Avenue South
The Vibe: Located on historic Naples Fifth Avenue, Pazzo’s menu features traditional Italian specialties—but with a bit of “crazy” (the meaning of “pazzo”). Characterized by its wooden floors, velvet-covered chairs and antique mirrors, the spectacular eatery gives off an Italian farmhouse vibe. Pazzo offers a welcoming environment, scrumptious entrees and a staff that is well-versed in the art of providing guests with a luxurious dining experience.
Must Try: Berkshire Pork Chop Artigano
Berkshire is a heritage breed of pork dating back 300 years renowned for its depth of flavor; Artigano means “artisan” in Italian. This meaty chop is grilled and served over crispy potatoes, cherry peppers, sundried tomatoes, fresh rosemary, thyme, parsley, basil and the house cheese blend. It’s served with sautéed spinach and roasted peppers, tossed in a marsala wine sauce.
El Gaucho Inca
22909 Lynden Dr., Estero
The Vibe: El Gaucho Inca offers a unique fusion of Peruvian, Argentinian and Italian culture that cannot be found elsewhere. Visitors who linger at the beautifully crafted bar will likely be offered a Pisco Sour, the traditional drink of Peru.Craving a steak? El Gaucho Inca has an Argentinian Grill. For seafood enthusiasts, try a Peruvian delicacy. Want a bowl of creamy pasta? They offer that, too!
Must Try: Ceviche
El Gaucho Inca offers a wide variety of ceviches, flavored with Peruvian spices and peppers. Whether you are a ceviche lover or a newbie, ordering the Tiradito platter is the perfect way to sample a variety of ceviches. The trio features sliced white fish, cut sashimi style and flavored with jalapeño, rocoto and aji amarillo peppers. It’s served with cancha (fried corn), choclo (steamed corn) and slices of sweet potato.
Seaside Bar & Grill
24850 Old 41 Road, Bonita Springs
The Vibe: Seaside Bar & Grill is a new neighborhood hangout spot that offers locals a home away from home where they can enjoy socializing over live music and savory American cuisine. Daily themes include Taco Tuesday, Wine Down Wednesday and BBQ Thursday. On Monday evenings, locals enjoy 30 percent off their bill! In addition to a laid-back atmosphere, Seaside Bar & Grill has a great team and truly tasty cuisine.
Must Try: Jerk Chicken
Take a quick trip to the Caribbean with this sensational jerk chicken entrée. The dish includes a generous portion of juicy chicken breasts rubbed in Jerk seasoning and topped with diced mango, onion and fresh parsley. This crowd favorite is paired with Spanish rice and a tender vegetable medley. There’s also Jerk Shrimp for seafood enthusiasts!
7991 Plaza Del Lago
Coconut Point Mall, Estero
The Vibe: Formed around the idea of sharing the best moments with family and friends, T42 is a unique restaurant concept featuring a relaxed atmosphere and small plates of seafood, American bistro and Italian cuisine. Opened at Coconut Point Mall in February 2021, T42 has sleek decor with classy art pieces. Everything on the T42 menu is meant to be shared. T42 offers premium customer service and an environment where guests are encouraged to share both food and special moments.
Must Try: Di Manzo Carpaccio
This scrumptious Italian classic features a smorgasbord of thinly sliced cured beef topped with fresh arugula, shaved Manchego cheese and a marinated sliver of portobello mushroom. For an extra zest of flavor, this dish is served with lemon and drizzled with extra virgin olive oil.
Lapa’s Costa Rican Bistro
26251 S. Tamiami Trail, Bonita Springs
The Vibe: Guests may feel as if they have been swept away into Central America when they hear the jazzy boleros (Latin American love songs) and see the colorful lapas (macaws). Start with freshly made corn tortilla chips and guacamole, then wash it down with a refreshing glass of homemade juice or a Costa Rican beer served in a frosted glass. All dishes are made with locally sourced ingredients, and most include staples of Costan Rican cuisine—avocado, tomato, lime and cilantro—along with Costa Rica’s famous Lizano sauce.
Must Try: Arroz con Pollo
Arroz con Pollo (rice and chicken) is one of the restaurant’s best sellers. This hearty entrée consists of a generous helping of yellow rice mixed with shredded chicken, diced onion, red bell pepper, corn, peas and cilantro. It’s served with sweet plantains and a side of black beans topped with queso fresco and a cup of fresh chimichurri.