It’s vacation protocol when staying on a tropical island, to dine on seafood at some point during your visit. Islands like Sanibel know this and provide a plethora of places where you can find almost any fish you wish.
It would be hard to find a menu on Sanibel that doesn’t offer at least one selection from the sea, but there are a few who specialize in all things water related. The Thistle Lodge at Casa Ybel has that ‘old Florida’ feel, with a serene view of well-manicured lawns, gardens and the Gulf of Mexico.
Also on the more sophisticated side is Sweet Melissa's, known for having some of the best food on the island with a menu full of selections from both the land and sea.
Looking for something a little more casual and laid back, try Doc Ford's, serving fresh fish Caribbean-style. In addition, if you like rum, you will love the selection here with more than 40 to choose from. The Fish House serves tasty baskets and other fresh treats in a casual setting, inviting to the entire family.
While dining at one of these 10Best seafood restaurants on Sanibel, be sure to try the local grouper, oysters and Florida shrimp, also known as ‘pink gold.’
Traders set their standard high for great food, an appealing environment and professional service. The casual atmosphere coupled with gourmet food has made this a popular destination for both locals and tourists for years. Enjoy dining on everything from crab cakes and raw oysters to veal meatloaf in this large, industrial space. Every night, the kitchen creates some new and delicious seafood specials that are must haves. If you have to wait for a table, you'll be happy to know that Traders is also home to a huge boutique full of artful and eclectic goods from around the world, including jewelry, furnishings and more. (239-472-7242)
Doc Ford's Rum Bar & Grille
Doc Ford's fame is in the name; a tropical crime fighting character in 20 books written by author Randy Wayne White. White is a silent partner who can occasionally be found in the bar at any of the three island locations. The off the beaten path location on Sanibel is the original Doc Ford's restaurant. The fictional character might be the original appeal for some diners, but it's the fresh seafood that keeps Doc's rocking. An upscale sports bar serving cuisine with a Caribbean flare, the sauces are all made from scratch. The Yucatan Shrimp is award winning. Don't forget, Doc's is also a rum bar, serving more than 40 selections. Enjoy live music and be sure to save room for the Keylime Pie. (239-472-8311)
One of last stops before crossing the bridge to Captiva Island, and one of the few spots serving breakfast, lunch and dinner, the Sunset Grill is both comfy and classy. For breakfast try the crab and spinach omelet and the grouper Rueben for lunch. The lobster bisque is thick and creamy and the crab cakes are a sweet treat; dressed in a vanilla cream sauce with mango crème fraische. The Sunset Grill also has a nice selection of wine to pair with your perfectly plated meal. Across the street from the Gulf of Mexico, the dining room is small but there is deck seating where you can sometimes catch a glimpse of the sunset through the seagrapes. (239-472-2333)
Sweet Melissa's Cafe
This unique Sanibel restaurant is where foodies like to go while on the island. Award winning Chef Melissa Talmadge sources local ingredients year-round, for a seasonal menu that leans toward small plates. While not a traditional seafood restaurant, Sweet Melissa's offers a good variety of fresh selections. The staffers are consummate professionals, and can easily recommend the best wine pairings for your meal. Many nights a week, you can find a local guitarist playing relaxing dinner music. There's an outdoor patio that's lovely for al fresco dining when weather allows and a small, full-service bar. You'll definitely want to secure a reservation for dining in the Winter and Spring tourist seasons. (239-472-1956)
Not only can you dine on some of the island's best seafood here, the Jacaranda is also popular for its live, nightly entertainment. Called "The Jac" by locals, this award-winning establishment has a variety of personalities. There is a traditional dining room, a screened-in outdoor patio and a raw bar. The outside bar is a favorite place to party for happy hour and is one of the few places on the island that has a 'scene' later in the evening. The Jac has a worldly wine list and serves big portions of traditional seafood with their own special touch. Enjoy the tropical island feel, great seafood and be sure to save room for the sinful turtle pie. (239-472-1771)
The Fish House Restaurant, Sanibel Island
The Fish House has both a restaurant and a casual lounge if you want to come in right from your boat. In addition, if you happen to have gotten lucky with a rod and reel, but don't want to cook your fresh catch the chefs here will do it for you. Happy Hour from 11-6 includes more than just drink specials, look for great deals on oysters, clams, peel and eat shrimp and more. The menu has everything from baskets and steamers to King Crab legs and surf-n-turf. There are additional Fish House locations on Fort Myers Beach and in Bonita Springs. (472-7770)
Grandma Dot's Seaside Saloon
At a place called Grandma Dot's, you almost expect friendly service and delicious homemade food with that touch of something extra special; you get it here. Owners call it a Seaside Saloon at the Sanibel Marina; locals call it scrumptious. Regulars love the chowder and the homemade chips served with each lunch basket. The menu is loaded with fresh seafood options like shrimp, lobster and grouper, prepared in almost any way you can imagine; and the portions are generous. The options other than seafood are limited to a bit of chicken and steak, but there is something for everyone in this small, casual spot, where you might just get a seat with a water view. Open for lunch and dinner, the wait can often be a long one. (239-472-2723)
The Sanibel Sandbar is one of the few places to eat on this part of West Gulf Drive. Recently renovated and with a beach cottage vibe, this small space serves up food that is big in taste. The fish is wild caught and there is even a small case where you can buy some to take home for your own preparation. The crab cakes here are all crab, full of nice big chunks, served with a delicious caper tarter sauce and fresh fruit salsa. The walls are full of mermaids and other tropical scenes, courtesy of local artist Myra Roberts, and many are for sale. You'll appreciate the open kitchen and the cozy seating arrangements with a garden view. Outdoor seating is included in future plans. (239-472-0305)
Serving Florida cuisine with a littler touch of Asian here and some European there, the Thistle Lodge is a mix of elegance and 'Old Florida' charm. Found at the popular Casa Ybel Resort, the elevated restaurant gives diners a great view of the palm tree lined beach, just beyond the well-manicured lawn and garden. You'll notice seasonal changes on the menu but the seafood tower is a picture worthy standard; loaded with a variety of shellfish including lobster, crab claws, clams and mussels. The Lodge puts it's own spin on chowder, a tomato fennel base, spiked with smoked clam gnocchi. The Thistle Lodge offers a beautiful setting for any occasion. (239-472-9200, 239-472-3145)
The Timbers Restaurant & Fish Market
Open since 1978, the Timbers consistently pleases locals and tourists alike with its award-winning cuisine. Before sitting down to dine, take a gander at the fresh catch in the fish market, found at the front of this upstairs tropical restaurant. One of the most popular items on the menu is the whole fish, cut tableside for you. The rest of the menu is loaded with shellfish selections, and the expert chef's will cook the catch of the day to your specifications; grilled, blackened, etc. This is also one of the few places on the island where you can find sushi, with a raw bar every Thursday and Friday. (239-472-3128)
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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