It used to be that new restaurants opened only in the fall – around October so the staff could get up and running in time for the winter tourist season. These days, new restaurants crop up all year long.
What’s interesting about the recent spate of openings is the diversity of ethnic offerings, particularly Vietnamese spots, in a place where this cuisine was considered exotic not so long ago. Now it seems as prolific as sushi and Thai. We even were blessed with our first Uzbek and Romanian restaurants this year. May your dining excursions be journeys of delicious discovery.
Chatterbox on the Beach: It’s been a number of other restaurants – Hot Space Pizza bar & Grille, Polish-German Taverna, Futuro’s – but now serves cheesesteaks, burgers, pizzas, ribs and pulled pork, Cubans and other casual fare not far from the beach.
Duck Donuts: As you’d expect the stars here are doughnuts – made to order and dipped or drizzled with your choice of toppings. Other options include coffee, sundaes and sandwiches.
Straight from New York Bagels: While we mourned the passing of Sweet Odin’s Danish Bakery, Straight from New York has eased the pain with 15 bagel varieties, cinnamon rolls, pastries, muffins and breakfast sandwiches, deli sandwiches, including corned beef and pastrami, plus salads.
Thai Udon Café: With two successful locations in Naples, the restaurant opened a third in Estero in late May at the new University Village, just south of Florida Gulf Coast University. It offers the same high-quality Thai and Japanese fare that’s made its Naples locations so popular.
VillageWalk Bar & Grill: This restaurant in the development called VillageWalk of Bonita Springs replaced Railhead Café and Catering. Although it’s in a gated community, just present your driver’s license at the security gate and you’ll be given a visitor’s pass to dine there. The food is Mediterranean with favorites such as spinach pie, calamari, roasted chicken, lamb chops and sandwiches and salads for lunch. Don’t skip the apple strudel.
Lehne Burger: This Fort Myers Beach transplant is renowned for burgers that range from half a pound to a whole pound and on which you can heap eggs, bacon, cheese, onion rings and other toppings. Sides include fried pickles, sweet potato fries and cheese curds. Turkey and veggie burgers available as well.
Metro Diner: This Jacksonville chain moved from Naples north through Bonita Springs and up to Cape Coral with its classic diner fare that includes biscuits and gravy, fried chicken, chicken pot pie, country fried steak, corned beef hash and other hearty dishes plus serious pies and cakes.
Two Sisters Vietnamese Cuisine: This charming family-run operation took over what was Time to Eat. The family serves several variations of pho plus rice and noodle dishes, banh mi, crepes, chicken wings and boba tea. Try the green tea cheesecake for dessert.
Chronic Tacos and Marlins Brewhouse: These complementary concepts opened this spring. As the names suggest, the former serves up Southern California style tacos, tortas, quesadillas and burritos while the brewhouse features locally produced craft beers.
Hot Gyros & More: The name pretty much tells the story of this new venture by Marina Lios who offers gyros, souvlakias, moussaka, pastitsio and other Greek classics prepared according to her family recipes. The gyros are cooked the traditional way on rotisseries, served on pita bread with tzatziki, tomatoes, onions and fries.
Rock On American BBQ: Ribs, brisket and chicken in house-made sauces – sweet, classic or hot – as well as hand-cut, fried-to-order potato chips and grilled avocados are among the intriguing offerings at this new barbecue joint that took the place of Sweetwater Wings & Ribs.
The Saucy Meatball: From restaurateur Sal Basile (Two Meatballs in the Kitchen, Bella Rosa and other local Italian restaurants), this new kid sits in Gateway and offers both a grab-and-go option in the front as well as a more upscale dining room with a full menu and nightly specials.
Silk Road: The region’s first Uzbek restaurant features kebabs and shawarma, which are familiar to most who enjoy Middle Eastern fare, but also offers blinchik (stuffed crepes), lagman (a noodle dish), manti (dumplings), palov (a well-seasoned rice pilaf) and other classic dishes from this Central Asian country.
Spice Club Indian Grill: The southern sister to India Grill, this unassuming restaurant offers a small but well-executed lunch buffet and off-the-menu dinner featuring a wealth of Indian dishes, some familiar and others you may not have tried before but are worth exploring.
The Sub House: A fixture on Fowler Street in Fort Myers for a while, it’s just relocated to the former home of Larry’s Lunchbox, where there is seating. So instead of getting your sub, wings or burger to go, you can eat them right, although takeout is still available as well.
Fort Myers Beach
MoJoe’s Reef Bar & Grill: This seafood restaurant opened in March in the former Fishmonger’s building. It offers a wealth of seafood, including black grouper, mahi, shrimp and scallops plus organic chicken, house-made mullet fish dip, pasta and pot roast.
Original Shrimp Dock Bar & Grill: A second restaurant at Salty Sam’s Marina (Parrot Key being the first), this one, not surprisingly, specializes in shrimp. It offers shrimp in a vast number of ways while also serving grouper, burgers, pizza and meatloaf. It’s closed for the summer with a notice on its website promising a return this fall.
Pine Island Getaway Café: You’ll have to ferret this one out in a small industrial park but the French pastries are worth it. Croissants, eclairs and other goodies, plus breakfast and lunch sandwiches and salads and an espresso bar have made this a get-there-early-or-you’ll-miss-out destination.
Dante’s Coal Fired Pizza: The third location of this popular pizza and wings joint opened in March in south Fort Myers and opened not long before that on Sanibel. The original remains open on Pine Island Road. The new Fort Myers location is at 14261 S. Tamiami Trail. The new Sanibel location is in the former Sea Star Café.
Traders 2: Executive chef Mike Patnode has taken the lovely space vacated by the short-lived Pasture & Pearl and brought in some of his trademark dishes from the original Traders – white gazpacho and baby back ribs, for example – while adding trendy tacos, flatbreads, salads and other interesting dishes.