BY GINA BIRCH
FORT MYERS LOCAL EXPERT
One of the best ways to experience a city is through its food, but dining out everyday while on holiday can certainly drain the bank. To fill your tank with some of the best food at the best prices, there are lots of options in the Fort Myers area. You can even find great bargains in some of the most upscale Fort Myers area restaurants if you know where to look and when to go.
The word value means different things to different people. Here, it's not just about price, but what exactly are you getting for that price? For example, anyone who loves sushi also knows those little bites can take a big bite out of your wallet. That's why the endless lunch specials at Blu Sushi are so appealing.
On the opposite end of the scale, there is the Farmer's Market Restaurant, located in an industrial park. The comfort food specials are $11.95 and include three sides. It takes a big appetite to clean these plates.
Do keep in mind that Fort Myers is a seasonal area. It's possible that the hours and specifications of some of these great deals will fluctuate depending on the time of the year, with many more being offered in the summer months. It never hurts to check websites and call ahead for current specials.
This darling beach cafe dishes up affordable and delectable treats for both breakfast and lunch. Try the Heavenly Biscuit special or create your own by starting with a 95-cent biscuit; add eggs for 55-cents or thick salmon steak for $2.50. A mound of hot home fries is $1.75 and a side of eggs just 75-cents. And whatever you do, do not resist the tray of aromatic cinnamon rolls sitting on the counter; they are fantastic. There is a water cooler filled with free H2O by the front door as well as an old refrigerator full of beverages for your choosing. Seating is limited both indoors and out so grab your biscuit to go, walk across the street and enjoy it on the beach. They only accept cash, but there's an ATM conveniently located on-site. If there is a line, it's worth the wait.
Recommended for Best Value because: The Heavenly Biscuit is a cozy cottage serving affordable, homemade breakfast and lunch food that you won't be able to get enough of.
Gina's expert tip: No room to sit? Look for the shaded picnic table tucked behind the restaurant on the back deck.
NORTH FORT MYERS
Photo courtesy of privateplatter.net
In an obscure location "over the bridge," as locals say (meaning, over the Caloosahatchee River), the Brown Bag sandwich shop in North Fort Myers delivers and serves big portions, full of fresh ingredients. Nothing is over eight dollars, including the half-pound skirt steak hoagie. The Cuban sandwich has an addictive, spicy, roasted red pepper sauce. A whole one ($9.50) is big enough to share. The salad plate is full of fresh veggies with a scoop of cottage cheese and either tuna or chicken salad. You can also order that tuna or chicken salad in a wrap; get a half portion in a whole wrap and you will be set until dinner. Don't forget to check out the daily specials and freshly made soups. Of course, everything is packaged in a basic "brown bag".
Recommended for Best Value because: The place is no-nonsense but friendly with big portions and flavorful food that is freshly prepared every day.
Gina's expert tip: If you're staying in the downtown Fort Myers area, they deliver.
If you're a lady and it's a Thursday night, you will be hard pressed to find a better dining deal. Ladies night has a prix fixe menu that includes four courses and not one but two adult beverages for $25. The famous gourmet deviled eggs are almost always offered first, with rotating toppings and accouterments. This restaurant is known for being a bit irreverent, take for instance the Bitchslap Bloody Mary and the Hangover, a fried bologna sandwich topped with egg, bacon, arugula and roasted poblano aioli. Even though the Thursday deals are all about the ladies, men are welcomed to join the fun and order off of the regular menu. Reservations are not taken so you may have a wait during the peak season.
Recommended for Best Value because: Thursday is all about the ladies at Cork Soakers and it's one of the best regular tasting menus in town: four courses, two drinks, $25.
Gina's expert tip: If you enjoy live music, it's offered every Wednesday and during Sunday Brunch
This sleek sushi bar flaunts an alluring modern design complete with walls meant to emulate the deep blue of the sea. Complementing the visually stunning interior are the beautiful people you find here, so it might seem unlikely to find this in the 10Best Value category. However, the Endless Blu Lunch delivers in spades. You might think unlimited sushi would be limited to the boring, everyday rolls but not at Blu. For $16.95 you choose from starters like Edamame and Miso Soup to basic Tuna and Salmon sushi. Add to the list delicious specialty rolls like Spicy Tuna, Mexican, Volcano and Sugar Mama to name a few, and you will leave more than satisfied.
Recommended for Best Value because: Have you ever had appetizers, multiple sushi rolls and a bill that reads $16.95? If not, the Endless Blu is for you!
Gina's expert tip: There's a second location in downtown Fort Myers
This small taqueria is just outside of downtown Fort Myers on the busy US41. Even with its bright green color, it is still easy to speed past. The parking lot can be brutal getting in to but it is worth the effort for the authentic Mexican fare and $1.50 tacos. Jalapeno's menu is loaded with items you would expect like tortas, flautas, burritos, fajitas, enchiladas and carne asada. The chips are hot and sturdy, made fresh daily, and the salsa, loaded with chunks of tomatoes, fresh cilantro and lots of flavor. Order a cold beer to wash it down and you can have a satisfying meal for around ten dollars.
Recommended for Best Value because: This hole-in-the-wall restaurant just outside of downtown Fort Myers has tricky parking that locals love to navigate for some of the best, affordable Mexican fare.
Gina's expert tip: Order at the counter when you walk in then find a seat and listen for your number
Serving breakfast, lunch and dinner seven days a week, the Oasis Restaurant in downtown Fort Myers offers big portions at affordable prices. In fact, nothing on the menu is over ten dollars, with the exception of a few dinner items. Breakfast is served all day. The biscuits and sausage gravy with two eggs ($6.95) are as good as Grandma's. For lunch try salads, pasta, burgers and sandwiches in the seven dollar range. Dinners include nightly specials such as all you can eat Spaghetti on Wednesday and a Fish Fry on Friday for only $9.95. Good for your belly and your soul, be prepared to be "loved on" by the friendly staff. They give hugs freely, call you sweetie and make you feel like your part of the family. It's no wonder this is a local favorite.
Recommended for Best Value because: The Oasis has a long-standing reputation for good food at good prices with an ample side of "hugs" for everyone.
Gina's expert tip: A big breakfast fan? It is served all day.
NORTH FORT MYERS
Just over the Caloosahatchee Bridge, across from downtown Fort Myers, you'll find the Go-Go Diner in a strip mall next to a Bingo Hall. The chef and owner is a Culinary Institute of America graduate who has made local headlines with his homemade, corned beef hash. The Reuben's are piled high and the juicy burgers are $6.99, the toppings are unlimited. For breakfast, you can get affordable omelets, biscuits smothered in sausage gravy and a slew of items for under $10. Be sure to try the Red Velvet Pancakes for a sweet treat. They are topped with whipped cream and tiny chocolate chips. Keep in mind that prices and specials can change.
Recommended for Best Value because: This diner is worth the effort to find and serves a corned beef hash that has locals raving.
Gina's expert tip: Splurge on the signature Red Velvet Pancakes, topped with whipped cream and chocolate chips.
If you like big portions of meat and BBQ makes you swoon, you need to visit Bubba's. The daily specials are truly special with features like the $10.99 all you can eat Fish Fry with soup or salad, Jalapeno cornbread and a side. Bubba's also has After Church Specials on Sunday starting at $9.99. You can see the grill from the dining room; the sparks flying as the chefs expertly tend to the steaks like a 25-ounce ribeye. The ribs are award-winning and so is the 46-ounce Bubba Rita to wash down your home cooked meal. The atmosphere is fun and so is throwing peanut shells on the floor….especially knowing that someone else will sweep them up.
Recommended for Best Value because: Bubba's serves man-size portions of meat, great BBQ, decadent desserts and you can throw your peanut shells on the floor for someone else to sweep.
Gina's expert tip: If like karaoke, you'll get your fill in the bar on Saturday nights.
The Farmers Market is the oldest continuously operating restaurant in Lee County, located off the beaten path in an industrial area that you might drive right by. The no-frills, homey eatery serves the same big portions and same great quality of a Southern Grandma and has been doing so since the 1960s. The lunch and dinner specials don't come with one side; they come with THREE for $11.95. You also get a basket of cornbread and rolls. Enjoy comfort food like mashed potatoes and gravy, southern favorites like country fried steak, fried okra and collard greens. You'll need a "to go" box so you can save room for the sinfully good, homemade desserts and pies.
Recommended for Best Value because: The portions at Farmers Market are huge, the entrees come with three sides and the service is welcoming in this off the beaten path restaurant.
Gina's expert tip: Save room for the homemade desserts, the coconut pie is famous
There is no shortage of restaurants in Fort Myers but there are very few serving traditional Chinese fare. Ginger Bistro not only sets the bar high for this area but makes it affordable to try a variety of dishes, especially with the wide selection available for dim sum. When you see the whole ducks slow roasting behind a wall of glass, don't be embarrassed if you start salivating. The pork belly is so popular, it often sells out. This Asian bistro serves almost a dozen different kinds of dumplings, pan-fried noodles with savory sauces and stir-fried meats and veggies served in hot, clay pots. Be sure to try the green papaya salad with carrots, peanuts and a spicy dressing to top it off.
Recommended for Best Value because: Perhaps the only place in Fort Myers to get good, traditional Chinese cuisine at mostly affordable prices.
Gina's expert tip: The dim sum is the best way for newcomers to sample many different dishes.