It wasn’t all that long ago that the Caloosahatchee River seemed to be an impenetrable border when it came time to go out for a meal. Even though there are two bridges – three if you count the toll-free one that heads into North Fort Myers and provides another route to the city – diners would point their cars north or south and trek to Bonita Springs, Naples or Punta Gorda. But they wouldn’t cross that bridge.
I could never understand it because there have been great little mom-and-pop restaurants in the city for at least the 40 years I’ve lived here. The number of interesting options has swelled in the past decade and, if you haven’t ventured west to try them, I recommend starting off with a visit to the city’s downtown region, where the concentration of restaurants and clubs is thick enough to earn it a name – the South Cape Dining and Entertainment District.
Here you’ll find a wide range of options, from fine dining to grab and go, sushi to steak, breakfast to late-night munchies. There are quite a few worthy contenders around the perimeter of the district as well. Here’s a look at the culinary possibilities clustered just over the south bridge into Cape Coral.
Papa Joe’s Italian Restaurant, 814 Cape Coral Parkway E.; (239) 945-1700; papajoescapecoral.com. For almost three decades, this family-owned restaurant has served New York-style pizza, plus Italian entrees are served in a casual atmosphere.
Nevermind Awesome Bar & Eatery, 927 Cape Coral Parkway E.; (239) 470-5169; on Facebook. Cocktail-loving carnivores will find what they desire at this offbeat eatery, which also features a variety of small plates, plus beer and wine.
Danger Danger, 1017 Cape Coral Parkway E.; no phone listed; on Facebook. A cooperative venture of the owners of Nice Guys Pizza and Nevermind, this funky new spot features a wide range of creative fare, including acclaimed fried chicken, pickled veggies, tacos, pad Thai pizza, salads and more.
Iguana Mia, 1027 Cape Coral Parkway E.; (239) 945-3181; iguanamia.com. The Cape location is one of three of this long-time favorite Tex-Mex restaurant serving all the items you’d expect and then some. If you go on your birthday, your dinner is free (and you get to wear the big sombrero for your selfie).
Sicily Trattoria, 1211 Cape Coral Parkway E.; (239) 945-7245; on Facebook. It doesn’t get much more authentic than this bastion of Italian cuisine, where owner Vincent Tumminello and his mother, Mimi, conjure up terrific pizzas, arancini, and gnocchi to die for and lots of other soul-satisfying Italian comfort food.
South Cape Diner, 1215 Cape Coral Parkway E.; (239) 257-2183; southcapediner.com. For breakfast or lunch, this diner serves it – eggs, pancakes, wraps, sandwiches, hot platters, salads and lots more.
Lehne Burger, 1232 Cape Coral Parkway E.; (239) 347-7115; lehneburger.com. Design your own burger (pick your type of burger, cheese, bun, toppings, sauce), or try some barbecue nachos, fried pickle fries, pulled pork salad, tater tots, onion rings, and milkshakes.
Yellowfin Sushi & Sake Bar, 1306 Cape Coral Parkway E.; (239) 945-0388; capecoralsushi.net. This popular spot offers a wide-ranging menu of sushi, sashimi, Peking duck, pho, hibachi dishes, salads, pad Thai and something called phoritto (pho in a tortilla served with pho broth).
Backyard Beer Garden, 1339 Cape Coral Parkway E.; (239) 540-5454; bybgarden.com. Obviously, there’s beer here, but there are also lots of small plates like sliders, tater tots, and pork belly bao buns as well as tacos, salads, cheesesteaks, lobster grilled cheese, a kids’ menu and, for dessert, how about build-your-own smores? Dine inside or in the outdoor beer garden.
Nice Guys Pints & Pies, 1334 Cape Coral Parkway E.; (239) 549-7542; niceguyspizza.com. Craft cocktails, an expanding vegan menu, pinball, and pizza – what more could you ask for? Well, the place is open until 1:30 a.m. most nights and pizzas include interesting options such as the Washington Carver (smoked applewood bacon, peanut sauce, mozzarella, provolone, and raspberry jam) and then there’s the Green Eggs and Ham pizza.
Blu Agave, 1404 Cape Coral Parkway E.; (239) 471-2075; bluagavemexicanrestaurant.com. This spot has a comprehensive menu of Mexican and Southwestern dishes along with a children’s menu. Lots of seafood as well as meat dishes.
Metro Diner, 1625 Cape Coral Parkway E., (239) 288-0057; metrodiner.com. You’ll find all sorts of American classics for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The range is broad, starting with eggs and waffles and moving on to shrimp and grits, fried chicken, pot roast, country fried steak and lots of pies and cakes for dessert.
Tasty Cultures, 4518 Del Prado Blvd. S., (239) 540-6300; tastycultures.com. For hearty European fare, this cozy little spot delivers in a big way. You’ll find potato pancakes, gravlax, wiener schnitzel, kielbasa, roasted duck, lamb osso buco, cabbage rolls and pierogi, among other delicacies.
Siam Hut, 4521 Del Prado Blvd. S.; (239) 945-4247; siamhutcapecoral.com. For 30 years, the same family has served first-rate Thai food in the Cape. Among the signature dishes are curry puffs, Chinese sausage salad, all the curries, duck royal, crispy trio and, of course, pad Thai.
El Mambo, 4716 Del Prado Blvd. S., (239) 542-9995. Open every day for breakfast, lunch and dinner, this casual Cuban eatery offers all the customary dishes, with some rotating as specials on various evenings. Always on the menu are empanadas, palomilla, fried chicken, and black beans and rice.
BAM German Bakery and More, 1507 SE 47th St., (239) 549-5984; bamgermanbakery.com. Mostly German but with a bit of French flavor, too, this bakery and café offer fresh-baked bread and pastries plus omelets, crepes, croissants, waffles, sandwiches, salads, soup, and specialties such as German sausages and croque Monsieur.
Maria’s Pizzeria, 1224 SE 46th Lane, (239) 945-6006; mariaspizzafl.com. A long-time family-owned Italian restaurant tucked onto a side street but worth ferreting out. Pizza is its claim to fame, but you’ll also find well-executed entrees such as zuppa di pesce, eggplant rollatini, gnocchi, pasta dishes, subs, calzones, and stromboli.
Monarca’s Authentic Mexican, 1604 SE 46th St.; (239) 540-9533; monarcasrestaurants.com. The gargantuan menu at this Mexican restaurant includes tableside guacamole, salmon mango salad, mole poblano, ceviche, fajitas, tacos, enchiladas, a variety of vegetarian items and more.
Slate’s, 4820 Candia St., (239) 540-6800; slatescapecoral.com. For those with a taste for zesty Cajun fare, check out Slate’s, where you’ll find dishes such as crab and corn beignets, gumbo, crawfish etouffee, jambalaya as well as short ribs, scallops, steaks and a Sunday brunch with live jazz.
Taverna Wood Fire Kitchen, 1227 Miramar St.; (239) 257-1825; tavernawiidfirekitchen.com. The name pretty much says it all. Try the smoked grilled octopus or smoked chicken wings, then move on to burrata caprese, crispy gnocchi with clams or Bolognese al forno.
Duval Key West Cuisine & Craft Cocktails, 4721 Vincennes Blvd.; (239) 542-0185; duvalscapecoral.com. This newcomer is an homage to the owner’s love of Key West. The menu features conch fritters and chowder, tacos, stone crab chowder, shrimp, steak, ribs, scallops, etouffee and prime rib.
Cape Cabaret, 4725 Vincennes Blvd.; (239) 549-3000; capecabaret.com. There’s usually live music – sometimes rock, sometimes jazz – and a menu that includes poutine fries, lobster bisque, flatbreads, sliders, prime rib, and pot roast.
Chicago Pizza, 1341 SE 47th Terrace; (239) 945-2262; thechicagopizza.com. If you’re a fan of thin-crust pizza and Italian beef sandwiches, Chicago Pizza might just be your kind of place. There are a lot of other items on the menu, but these are the stars at this 30-year-old establishment. Oh, and there’s a full bar, too.
Noela Chocolate, 1309 SE 47th Terrace; (239) 542-5684; noelachocolate.com. Got a craving? This is the place to find cocoa shots, chocolate-covered strawberries, bacon topped with chocolate, bars, truffles and popcorn all slathered with chocolate.
Fish Tale Grill, 1229 SE 47th Terrace; (239) 257-3167; fishtalegrill.com. The restaurant that adjoins Merrick Seafood offers super-fresh local seafood that’s delivered by fishermen to the retail market. There are also New England style offerings as well as Florida favorites here.
BackStreets Sports Bar, 915 SE 47th Terrace; (239) 945-7555; backstreetssportsbar.com. This is a place where locals have been flocking for more than two decades. They come for the welcoming atmosphere as well as the pizzas, wings, crab fritters, jalapeno poppers, coconut shrimp baskets and, of course, all manner of adult beverages.
Cork Soakers, 837 SE 47th Terrace; (239) 542-6622; corksoakers.net. An eclectic menu features goodies like cheddar-chive biscuits and butter, garlicky mussels and prime rib sandwiches as well as the popular Sunday brunch with its over-the-top bloody Marys and hearty brunch fare.
Ciao Wood-fired Pizza and Trattoria, 823 SE 47th Terrace; (239) 471-0033; ciaowoodfired.com. Chef/owner Jill Bacus and husband, Chris, run this little trattoria with a warm personal touch. Pizzas are bountiful and well-crafted, as are the classic Italian dishes such as lasagna, cioppino, marsala, ravioli.
Monkey Bar Steak & Seafood, 1428 Lafayette St.; (239) 549-8800; monkeybarcape.com. Yes, the name’s silly, but the food isn’t. Whether it’s mussels or grouper bites, a specialty burger, shrimp scampi or a serious steak you hunger for, the Monkey Bar delivers.
Big Blue Brewing Co., 4721 SE 10th Place; (239) 471-2777; bigbluebrewing.com. It’s a brewery but it’s also a gastropub so you’ll find interesting beers as well as crispy brussels sprouts, a charcuterie board, flatbreads, sandwiches, steaks, and other entrees. On Tuesday, it’s trivia night, Wednesdays are fiesta nights, $16 craft burgers on Thursday (including a free house beer) and there’s live music on the weekends.