By Autumn Gates
Vibrant skeleton art, playful neon signs, and the fragrant aromas of an array of Latin cuisine – one step inside tells you this is not your average Mexican restaurant.
With its recent opening in July 2022, El Nido is one of the newest additions to the Southwest Florida dining scene and is already tantalizing locals with its unique take on modern Mexican cuisine. The lively eatery offers a full sensory experience with eye-catching, hand-painted murals lining its walls, festive music that makes diners want to get up and dance, and a sense of jubilance revealed in the bright smiles all around. That’s before you even taste the mouthwatering cuisine, offering a journey through Latin America!
Located adjacent to its sister restaurant, South Fork Grille, the bustling Mexican restaurant features a range of seating options, each offering a distinctive experience. El Nido’s striking interior is complemented by a laid-back dining room furnished with homey booths and tables, a cozy lounge area equipped with leather couches and cactus décor, and an impressive bar serving over 80 tequilas. Guests can also enjoy fresh-air dining in El Nido’s colorful outdoor seating area. For a more personalized experience, parties of up to 50 can rent out a spacious private dining room.
El Nido, which means “The Nest” in Spanish, was created to fill a gap in the local dining scene by providing residents with a fusion of Latin flavors including dishes inspired by the cuisines of Peru, Cuba, Guatemala, Argentina, Mexico and other Latin countries.
In the mood for Cuban food? Start the evening off with a plate of crispy Tostones. Want Peruvian flavors? The Pollo a la Brasa (Peruvian rotisserie chicken) will hit the spot. The restaurant also offers modern Mexican favorites such as its homemade tamales, arepas and enchiladas, alongside Latin beverages like Costa Rican beer and delicious pour-over coffee imported from the Dominican Republic. There is truly something for every palate.
“We wanted El Nido to be more than just a Mexican restaurant,” says co-owner Donna Scali-Sofia, who designed the concept with husband, Joe Sofia. “We created the restaurant to offer a nest of Latin flavors so it could be more diverse.”
The masterminds behind El Nido are no strangers to the community. Joe and Donna have been delighting Estero residents with mouthwatering recipes and drinks since 2006 when they moved from Long Island, NY, to open a new location of wine bar franchise The Grape. After developing a taste for the restaurant industry during their seven-year franchise agreement, the couple launched South Fork Grille, adding delicious New York style dinners to the menu.
“Being in business for the past 16 years at South Fork has helped us have a better vision and understanding of the community,” says Joe.
The success of South Fork Grill has afforded the owners the opportunity to expand, gaining new clientele who appreciate the creativity of their new concept. El Nido shares a kitchen with its sister restaurant, but these siblings are quite distinct in style.
The playful one, El Nido is a perfect spot for a date night or a casual dinner with friends. Families also enjoy the interactive environment as children can hunt for Nestor, El Nido’s mascot, throughout the restaurant’s spectacular murals. At the start of every meal, guests are invited to play “Flip the Bird,” selecting one Nestor card from a deck of five for the chance to win exciting prizes like a free taco or a fiery bottle of hot sauce.
Nestor’s influence can be found throughout the menu, including the “Nestor’s Juice” margarita and the decadent, sharable Nestor’s Egg dessert – a nest of churros, brownie bites and fresh fruit, topped with a chocolate egg that’s melted tableside with a chocolate pour.
El Nido’s modern, classy bar offers a fun assortment of cocktails, margaritas, Mexican beers, tequilas and wines. Beverage Manager Ralph Valle can often be found taking guests on a Tequila Flight as they explore selections from the five distinct tequila expressions. The owners have plans for an outdoor bar in the future.
“El Nido offers a nice synergy,” says Donna. “We are very inviting and family oriented. It’s a great place to gather.”
Tostones Di Cubano: Start your meal off right with a taste of crispy tostones made from double-smashed, fried plantains. This scrumptious Central American delicacy is topped with shredded mojo pork, guacamole, chipotle aioli, pickled red onion, queso fresco and cilantro.
Pulpo Loco: The Pulpo Loco (Crazy Octopus) certainly lives up to its name! This aesthetically pleasing appetizer consists of meaty octopus tentacles blackened and charred to perfection in a tangy olive oil Panca glaze. It’s served over a delicious helping of papas fritas (fried potatoes).
Chamorro: Try the Chamorro for classic Latin comfort food that’s as beautiful as it is tasty. This gracefully presented dish centers around a tender pork shank coated in arbol pork sauce and surrounded by white rice, pinto beans and sweet plantains. The plate is finished with crispy fingerlings for a delightful crunch.
Paella Valencia: This protein-packed seafood dish takes diners for a quick trip to Valencia, Spain. Served family-style in a large pan, the entrée features a blend of fried cod, mussels, shrimp, clams and chorizo, atop a hearty yellow rice blend containing peas, bell peppers and herbs.
Tomahawk Steak: Coming in with an appetite? The 32-ounce Tomahawk Steak has you covered! This impressive slab of meat can feed two people and comes served on a giant cutting board and topped with a flavorful chimichurri sauce. The entrée is plated with sides of crispy fingerlings, roasted potatoes and seasonal vegetables.
Tequila Spiked Apple Empanada: El Nido is known for its modern, creative twists on traditional dishes, and its dessert menu is no exception. Akin to a classic apple turnover, the Tequila Spiked Apple Empanada is a must try. The dessert is reimagined with a zippy tequila glaze, cinnamon sugar dust, and house-made ice cream.
El Nido Modern Mexican
Coconut Point Mall, Estero
23161 Village Shops Way, Suite 113