There is something about Italian food that warms a person’s soul. It’s comforting, it’s full of flavor and the restaurants that serve it are usually full of life. Italian food is more than spaghetti, meatballs and pizza. Many of these 10Best take great pride in their gourmet selections, braising beef, roasting fish and adding modern twists to old world favorites.
10Best dining establishments such as Angelina's has built quit a reputation locally, as well as nationally, for it's award winning cuisine and wine list that tops 4000 bottles. Angelina's occupies a big space but manages to maintain a warm, romantic feeling.
The restaurant Cibo is a fraction of the size of Angelina's but locals still dress to impress here, many staking out space at the small bar, after work.
One thing you'll find at all of these 10Best are local owners and colorful chefs. Many of the chefs are also owners who pay close attention to every detail of their establishment, including the patrons. Mike Fattah from Farfalla remembers birthdays while Dario Zuljani from Ariani's sings and loves to educate diners on the area of northern Italy where he and many staffers hail from.
No matter which of these 10Best you choose, your senses and belly will be full and happy when you leave.
This Italian restaurant in Cape Coral has great style, great service, great food and the owner is great fun. Dario Zuljani is a force, both in the kitchen and in the front of the house. The chef loves to sing, have fun and has an eagle eye for the smallest detail in the dining room; like straightened table linens and polished silver. Referred to as the "Godfather of Northern Italian Cuisine" by his peers, Chef has everything from liver pate to Veal Scaloppini and his famous slow braised lamb shanks cooked in garlic, wine and rosemary. Enjoy healthy portions of the classics at prices that allow you order homemade desserts and digestivos. You will leave "full" in every way. ((239) 772-8000)
Citrola's Italian Restaurant on McGregor
Citrola's has been serving top notched pizza and Italian cuisine at various locations in the Fort Myers area for three decades. The mother ship, with the original owners manning the kitchen, has relocated to a space a bit off of the beaten path on Old McGregor Blvd. The walls and tabletops are decorated with wine crates giving the place a cozy wine bar vibe. An outdoor patio also adds to the ambiance, but patrons come for the food, including the signature eggplant fries. The homemade sauces are flavorful, the pizza crust is superb and bite sized zeppoles are enough to feed an entire family. Affordable and delicious Italian favorites are found here. (239-334-6336)
Years ago, getting a seat in this Italian restaurant was quite a feat. Not because of the small size but the temperamental owner. People endured the humiliation of standing and waiting for seats when the restaurant was clearly half full, because the food was worth it. Thankfully that is not the case anymore, the food is still worthy of waiting for but the service and chef/owner couldn't be more accommodating. The portions are big and the meatballs are stuffed with creamy ricotta and mozzarella cheeses. Try the escargot in a gorgonzola cream or the towering Osso Bucco Millanese. Sasse's is open for lunch and has an interesting "barrel room" for special events. (239-278-5544)
Lamotta's Italian Restaurant & Pizza
The LaMotta family, from Palermo, Sicily, has been serving comforting Italian food in the Fort Myers area for more than three decades. While you'll still find Sal and Maria in the restaurant, their son Carmelo is taking the lead in the kitchen. As you might hope for, you'll find delicious pizza, giant meatballs and delectable pastas here. What you might not expect is to be wowed by chef's shrimp and grits and a rich, delicious lobster ravioli. The Filet Florentine is topped with sundried tomatoes and prosciutto, layered to look like a flower; it not only looks good but tastes good too. One of the best parts about the food here is the value. You wont leave feeling the need to take out a small loan to pay for the copious amounts of well prepared food you happily consumed. (239-482-5505)
Born in Florence, Italy, chef/owner Antonio Durante specializes in simply prepared foods from his homeland. Simple because the ingredients are few but they are of extraordinary quality and assembled in such a way that leaves you begging for more. Durante imports the finest meats and cheeses, makes his own pasta and loves to bring in truffles when in season. The kitchen is remarkably small so the menu is manageable and changes often. The wine selection is mostly Italian and is full of gems. Located in a strip mall, the tables are limited but there is a bar if you don' t have reservations and there are seats available. (239-415-8466)
Don't expect spaghetti and meatballs here, in fact don't even ask for them. This classy, white linen tablecloth restaurant introduced the Estero area to the skill of Michael Fattah, a chef whose attention to detail and pursuit of excellence has not gone unrecognized by regional, even national, food critics. Pasta dishes, each of them homemade, are delicious and simple with no over-the-top artsy presentation and never "over-sauced." The house specials are treated with the same high regard, allowing dishes like linguini alla Bolognese and black grouper Provencal to be exactly what they are; naturally flavorful. Chef remembers his clientele and loves to celebrate special occasions with regulars as well as first timers. (239-495-9912)
Don't let the simple name ("food" in Italian) and unassuming location of Cibo fool you. Serving up some of the most exquisite Italian food in Fort Myers, the restaurant's chic interior will make you quickly forget you're in a strip mall. Open since 2004 they've been able to expand while managing to keep the comfortable atmosphere. Cibo (pronounced Chee-boe) is not cheap but offers some nice happy hour specials; if you can manage to snag a spot at the bar that is. The space has become a bit of a "Cheers" bar for locals, especially after work. Be sure to try mama's meatballs; a healthy mix of veal, beef and pork with parmesan cheese and fresh herbs. Chef makes delicious risotto specials each day and decadent desserts. Cibo is only open for dinner. ((239) 454-3700)
Don't expect chicken parm at this Italian restaurant; Chef Marco Corricelli doesn't serve the more common, American Italian dishes. His food is inspired from many different regions in Italy, his pasta handmade daily and cooked just right. The meatballs are stuffed with ricotta and they are divine. The specials go fast each night, so get your order in swiftly if you see something that peaks your interest. The food here is all fresh, flavorful and served with flare. Try the gilled octopus, served atop marinated kale and chic peas. The Brussels sprouts are simple and delicious, grilled with speck. The wine list mostly consists of Italian selections from smaller producers. Chef keeps an eye on the restaurant from the open kitchen and almost always makes time to greet diners with a friendly "ciao." (239-267-1310)
Angelina's screams elegance from the moment you pull up to the building. If you are dressed beach casual, you may find yourself excluded from eating in the dinning room but the bar (with live piano music) and patio both have the same great menu and ambiance. Wine lovers will go cross-eyed over the 4,000 fantastic selections and the thirty foot wine tower. Try the award winning ravioli stuffed with butternut squash and mascarpone cheese, topped with a citrus tomato butter and truffled almonds; to die for. Angelina's serves many beloved Italian classics as well as local fish like grouper; pan-seared in white wine lemon caper sauce, then served over a baked parmesan and bacon ziti cake. Yes please. (2393903187)
About Gina Birch
Gina carries the rare title of "Native Floridian". Living in Southwest Florida for 22 years, she is a well known, award winning radio and TV personality.
Besides brandishing a microphone, Gina is good with a camera and computer, publishing a restaurant guide for Lee County called FLAVOR.
Gina is a self-proclaimed Oenophile, traveling to wine regions all over the world to sip what she calls "the nectar of the Gods." When not in the vineyards she loves to explore beautiful beaches and new restaurants.
You can find more of her musings in her blog "The Birch Beat" (www.thebirchbeat.blogspot.com)
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