BY GINA BIRCH
FORT MYERS LOCAL EXPERT
The Fort Myers area has beautiful beaches and phenomenal sunsets creating a most desirable backdrop for dining. Just because it can get sandy and sweaty on the islands doesn’t mean diners can’t get a little, shall we say, “fancy” when it comes time to go out.
Some of the most popular establishments serving great grub like the Smokin’ Oyster Brewery, welcome flip flops and tank tops, offers live acoustic music and the best seafood steamers you’ll find on Fort Myers Beach. While the S.O.B., as locals call it, isn't right on the water, it's just a block inland in the heart of shopping and entertainment section of the beach.
But if you want a place with a higher-end vibe, Bayfront Bistro has you covered with dim lighting, waterfront views and an impeccable wine list.
While not all of these are not directly on the beach sand, its access is almost always within walking distance, and well worth the find. Remember that beach business is seasonal and the hours of many restaurants can vary depending on the time of the year. It's always wise to check their websites or place a quick phone call for confirmation and/or reservations.
Photo courtesy of SinglePlatform
A Bonita Springs legend if ever there was one, Doc's has been an immensely popular place to grab breakfast, lunch and dinner for longer than most locals can recall. The location certainly helps. After all, when a place sits on the water and is right beside the public beach, it's handy for folks who plan to spend their day having fun in the sun. However, Doc's is more than convenient, and the downstairs kitchen just so happens to serve up some of the tastiest breakfast eats around. At lunch, the room upstairs opens and doubles as a sports bar specializing in Chicago-style pizza. If arriving for dinner, get there in time to watch a breathtaking sunset. There's also a free valet parking to help when the beach is booming.
Recommended for Beach Restaurants because: Doc's offers casual beach dining with superb views and a menu covering a wide variety of options from breakfast to dinner.
Gina's expert tip: Besides food and drink, if you forgot your sunscreen you can also buy sundries here.
Set in an unpretentious, colorful beach cottage with low ceilings and uneven floors, this darling café dishes up mouthwatering fare that is both affordable and delectable. "Charming" may be the operative word, applicable to every aspect of the Heavenly Biscuit, from the venue to the service, the plating and the ambrosial eats, making it the perfect spot to savor a lovely breakfast or lunch before heading across the street to the beach. There is almost always a line. Order at the counter and pay when you leave, cash only; an ATM is conveniently located on-site. The seating is limited to a few tables inside and a few on the front porch, where bees love to congregate around the trash can, hoping to get a taste of the delicious glaze from the famous cinnamon rolls.
Recommended for Beach Restaurants because: A tiny beach cottage, serving breakfast into the afternoon, it's not only the biscuits that are heavenly but also the cinnamon rolls.
Gina's expert tip: If the patio is full, here is a lone picnic table for seating in the back
FORT MYERS BEACH
Photo courtesy of Gina Birch
A rustic, al fresco dining spot on Estero Bay, Dixie Fish offers superb views of the fishing charters and gambling boats headed out to or returning from an adventure. The shrimp tacos are a staple, but consider the low land seafood boil, raw oysters, shrimp burgers, or the signature B.L.TAE: bacon, fried green tomatoes, fried egg and avocado sandwich. You can get your fresh catch prepared in a variety of seasonings and styles, including whole and fried. Enjoy Southern sides such as collards and red beans and rice. Dixie attracts great musicians and is a hot spot for live music, especially on Sunday afternoons.
Recommended for Beach Restaurants because: On the back bay of Fort Myers Beach, this al fresco restaurant has a southern seafood flare and is a hotspot for live music.
Gina's expert tip: You can park in the neighboring Doc Fords, they're under the same management
Situated between the Gulf of Mexico and Estero Bay on Fort Myers Beach, the Smokin' Oyster Brewery or S.O.B. has been shucking oysters since 1997. The beach cottage has live entertainment on the recently expanded front porch; the inside is still small and cozy. Besides fresh oysters, the S.O.B. is known for a variety of seafood steamer pots and it's messy delicious garlic crab claws. Get a side of potatoes and let them soak in the bottom for the best flavors. There is paid parking on the street and a few free spots on the east side of the building. Be sure to ask for a signature S.O.B. drink coozie to keep your beer cold. There is quite a selection here along with spirits.
Recommended for Beach Restaurants because: The casual restaurant is known for its fresh seafood, steamer pots, cold beer, live music and a good time on Fort Myers Beach.
Gina's expert tip: The colorful S.O.B. hats, shirts and coozies make fun gifts and souveniers.
The Gulfshore is one restaurant with three great vibes. The recently remodeled indoor portion, Shuckers, offers the comfort of air conditioning and views of the Gulf of Mexico from every seat. The outside deck, known as The Cottage, serves the same menu, however, shirts are not required here and there is live music almost every night. The Beach Bar is even more casual, directly on the sand. Whether inside or out, you get front row seating for some of the best parties on the beach. Start with the famous Beach Bread then try the Grouper Platter. The Gulfshore Grill is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Take advantage of the valet service as towing companies are active in this area.
Recommended for Beach Restaurants because: One of the most popular restaurants on Fort Myers Beach not only because of its perfect beachfront location but also its good food and cold drinks.
Gina's expert tip: The same menu is served outside at the more casual Cottage Bar
If you're looking for a waterfront dining experience that truly has it all, put Bayfront Bistro on your list. Facing the so-called back bay of Fort Myers Beach, this award-winning local spot has dock space for boaters and plenty of parking for those who arrive by land. Bayfront has an expansive terrace with a nice breeze for outdoor dining and every seat in the house has a view of the water. The cuisine has a little bit of everything from fish and steaks to a popular Asian Calamari and parmesan bisque. The bar is open and welcoming but the restaurant is known for its great service and expertly plated food. Bayfront also takes great pride in its extensive wine list; it spans the globe and covers all price ranges.
Recommended for Beach Restaurants because: The service, food and wine selection are among the best on the beach. Add the backdrop of the back bay and it's a home run.
Gina's expert tip: The view of a full moon rising over the water is exquisite here, you can see it from almost any table
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Photo courtesy of Gina Birch
Once a grocery store, this space in Santini Marina Plaza (at the south end of Fort Myers Beach) now houses the South Beach Grille, a restaurant that recalls the stylish, neighborhood eateries you'd find on the side streets along Lincoln Avenue in Miami's "South Beach." Pleasantly appointed with Deco-inspired panache, the restaurant takes full advantage of its spacious digs, and the open kitchen does more than its part to win over palates with dishes like panko breaded oysters, Caribbean-style shrimp, Florida lobster, kurobuta pork chops and the mouthwatering signature dessert of citrus creme brûlée. The bar is large and accommodating with a wide selection of wine and top shelf spirits.
Recommended for Beach Restaurants because: At the south end of Fort Myers Beach serving higher-end bistro-style cuisine, the large bar is a favorite gathering spot for locals wanting style.
Gina's expert tip: The early dining menu offers more affordable combos between 4 and 6.
FORT MYERS BEACH
Photo courtesy of Gina Birch
A favorite spot on Fort Myers Beach to watch the sunset and have a meal, residents and longtime visitors will remember this space as the former Anthony's on the Gulf. Diners have a wide open view of the beach and beautiful Gulf waters. The comfortable terrace area is ideal for diners who want to watch the sunset as they enjoy their favorite drinks and appetizers. The menu is loaded with seafood specialties in generous portions. For an appetizer, the oyster sashimi is rave-worthy. But it's the 'fresh catch' that people come for over and over; pick your fish, your preparation and your sauce for YOUR perfect entree. Besides fish, you'll find lamb, pork belly and steak on the menu.
Recommended for Beach Restaurants because: With an unobstructed view of the Gulf of Mexico, this restaurant has a creative menu, seafood-rich, while accommodating landlubbers.
Gina's expert tip: Save room for the mouthwatering desserts such as the Key Lime Pie and Dark Forest Berry Tart with Chantilly Cream
Part of Lovers Key Resort, Flippers On The Bay is a hidden gem between Fort Myers Beach and Bonita Springs. The dining is alfresco and more upscale than one might imagine after taking a gander at the restaurant on stilts. Facing the Estero Bay, you still have a view of the Gulf of Mexico. Open for breakfast lunch and dinner, many items have a Latin flare although the cuisine is worldly with lots of seafood. Try the campechana, a spicy Spanish-style shrimp cocktail. During the day, the beach and dock often fill with boaters and at sunset, the usually calm waters become a playground for dolphins. It's one of the few places you can see both sunrise and sunset while dining.
Recommended for Beach Restaurants because: On the back bay of Fort Myers Beach, this delightful outdoor dining spot serves gourmet meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Gina's expert tip: Call ahead seating is a good idea for the weekend since space is limited and reservations are not accepted.
This beachside dining spot has been an island favorite for the perfect combination of food and ambiance, for three decades. With only about a dozen tables, each one has a spectacular view of the sunset over the Gulf of Mexico. The vibe is cozy, with dim lighting and the staff pays exquisite attention to detail. The menu changes frequently with lots of fish offerings, but also meaty dishes for landlubbers. The bouillabaisse consistently gets rave reviews. Start with a glass of bubbly or another selection from the boutique style wine list that constantly evolves. Sunset seatings fill up fast so, by all means, make a reservation. This is a true, waterside diamond, where shirts and shoes are definitely required.
Recommended for Beach Restaurants because: This beachfront restaurant requires shirts and shoes in exchange for superb service, atmosphere and most importantly, cuisine.
Gina's expert tip: The owners often close the Month of September so check their website or social media pages for dates.