Shrimp, grouper, stone crabs and Key lime pie seem to be the four food groups most often associated with The Beaches of Fort Myers and Sanibel, but the area’s cuisine is far more worldly than that. Once you get your seafood and sugar quota, it’s time to venture further afield into some of the region’s excellent ethnic restaurants. They tend to be family run operations where hospitality abounds. Here then are some of my favorite ethnic establishments. On top of serving great food, most are low to moderately priced as well.
Brazilian: Rodizio’s, Coconut Point, Estero. Carnivores will delight in this endless banquet of beef, pork and poultry served tableside from large skewers. Vegetarians will find plenty to eat as well at the gargantuan salad bar. Fish available, too.
Cajun/Creole: Slate’s, Candia St., Cape Coral. If you crave a taste of the Big Easy, head to Slate’s where you can feast on crab and corn beignets, gumbo, crawfish etouffee and jambalaya, then head next door for some live jazz. Laissez le bon temps rouler!
Chinese: Ginger Bistro, South Plaza, Fort Myers. Situated in an unlikely shopping center, this lovely little restaurant serves authentic fare. No chop suey or chow mein here, but there’s dim sum for lunch and a vast menu of traditional foods including excellent Peking duck, Mongolian beef, salt and pepper calamari and kung pao shrimp.
French: Bleu Rendez-Vous, Periwinkle Way, Sanibel. Chef Christian conjures up luscious lobster bisque, veal sweetbread, boeuf bourguignon and rabbit in white wine sauce that’s served in a charming but casual setting. Azure, McGregor Boulevard, south Fort Myers. This upscale restaurant offers classic fare such as coq au vin, snapper en papillote, coddled eggs and chocolate mousse trifle.
German: Austrian-German Restaurant, Royal Palm Square, Fort Myers. Tucked into the middle of a little shopping/office center you will find 10 variations of schnitzel plus bratwurst, gulasch and other hearty Germanic dishes.
Greek: Molon Labe, Sam’s Plaza, Cleveland Ave., Fort Myers. This cozy little café offers scrupulously fresh spanakopita, souvlaki, gyros, pitas and, of course, baklava. Further south, Zorba’s Mediterranean Grill, Bonita Beach Road, Bonita Springs has been satisfying cravings for moussaka, dolmathes, bouillabaisse and the like for close to 20 years.
Indian: India Palace, Cleveland Avenue, Fort Myers. Lunch is served buffet style but dinner options abound, including biryana, curries, masala, saag, korma, tandoori and more.
Italian: The good news is there’s soul-soothing Italian fare to be found in several spots around the area. Osteria Celli, south Fort Myers, Caffe Toscano, Fort Myers. These two are on the upscale side, offering well-executed dishes such as pappardelle with lamb sugo, octopus, fegatini, and a host of seasonal specials. More casual spots, Fabio’s, North Fort Myers and Gusto Cucina, Cape Coral treat you like family and the menus feature favorites such as parmigiana, Bolognese, alfredo and such in copious quantities.
Japanese/Korean: Origami, Daniels Parkway, Fort Myers. Imaginative sushi, plus cooked Japanese and Korean fare elevate Origami above the rest of the sushi spots. If you’re a fan of bulgogi and kimchee, this is the place to get both.
Mediterranean: Fig’s Grille, S. Tamiami Trail, Bonita Springs. Lushly appointed, this Mediterranean-themed restaurant features richly flavored fare such as vibrant carpaccio, savory tagines and well-crafted tapas, as well as a better-than-average kids’ menu and several vegetarian selections.
Mexican: Las Brisas, Pondella Road, North Fort Myers. Tiny but homey, this little café serves authentic Mexican food at rock-bottom prices. Try the guacamole and the shrimp tacos.
Middle Eastern: Kabab Village, South Cleveland Ave., Fort Myers. Never mind that it’s lit up like a Christmas tree outside. This place serves great Middle Eastern fare, including shawarma, baba ganoush, falafel, stuffed grape leaves and hibiscus tea with a hookah lounge on the side.
Peruvian: El Gaucho Inca, Colonial Boulevard, Fort Myers. Peruvian, Argentinean and Italian dishes on one menu may sound odd, but the Peruvian-Argentinean couple who own and run this popular restaurant make it work seamlessly. Ceviche, empanadas and jalea mixta are served along with Argentinean barbecue for two (including sweetbreads and blood sausage) or pasta for those who prefer it. Don’t miss the flan for dessert.
Southern: Farmer’s Market, Edison Avenue, Fort Myers. For 55 years, this institution has been serving up biscuits and gravy for breakfast, and Southern classics like fried chicken, meatloaf, corn muffins, fried okra, okra and tomatoes and collard greens with sweet tea at lunch and dinner. Don’t miss the mile-high pies (the coconut-cream is my favorite). Put the taste of the South in your mouth.
Spanish: Time to Eat, Del Prado Boulevard, Cape Coral. Tapas, well-prepared Mediterranean fare and a reasonably priced and well-chosen wine list make this a great choice for lunch or dinner. Ham croquettes, grilled octopus, prime Angus ribeye and charcuterie plates are among the popular dishes here.
Spanish/Cuba: Trattoria Cafe Napoli, S. Cleveland Avenue, Fort Myers. The vivacious Cuban owner has created a unique menu that melds the flavors of her native land with those of Europe. There’s tapas, paella and other flavorful dishes. Parties of 10 or more can order a roasted suckling pig prepared Spanish style.
Thai: Siam Hut, Del Prado Boulevard, Cape Coral. This family owned restaurant has served consistently great Thai food for 30 years. Thai crepes, Chinese sausage salad, pad Thai, curries and other traditional fare is served mild, medium, hot or Thai hot, depending on your preference.
Photos credited to Wendy & Mike Pramik
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