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Eat Well in Fort Myers: Italian Classics with Modern Twists



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 who loves to sing and 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.


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Citrola's Italian Restaurant on McGregor
Photo courtesy of Gina Birch


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.

Recommended for Italian because: With the charm of a wine bar and the warmth of a big Italian family, Citrola's delivers atmosphere and comforting food.

Gina's expert tip: Tuesday is half price pizza night

Read more about Citrola's Italian Restaurant on McGregor →


Ristorante Ariani
Photo courtesy of GIna Birch


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.

Recommended for Italian because: Ariani's has been serving some of the best Northern Italian cuisine in Cape Coral, for more than two decades.

Gina's expert tip: Be sure to meet Dario the owner and chef, he will make you smile!

Read more about Ristorante Ariani →




Owned by two sisters, much of the food in this comfortable Italian restaurant is inspired from the family's 65-year old restaurant in Venezuela. You'll find Loredana in the kitchen cooking up her signature Bolognese and Claudia in the front of the house, when she is not doing the baking. The lasagna is a hearty house favorite and for appetizers the crispy calamari and fried zucchini strips are a must. Also open for lunch, locals enjoy the selection of panini and smaller portions of some the more popular dinner entrees. The wine list is a pleasing mix of Italian, South American and Californian.

Recommended for Italian because: A welcoming family restaurant serving family recipes that are prepared and plated with caring and finesse.

Gina's expert tip: Enjoy happy hour special at the bar Monday through Friday

Read more about Trattoria Mia →


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Sasse's
Photo courtesy of Gina Birch


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.

Recommended for Italian because: Sasses serves savory meats, fresh pastas and good wine from an obscure location in a hard to find strip mall.

Gina's expert tip: Don't be intimidated by the looks of the neighborhood.

Read more about Sasse's →


Ristorante Farfalla


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.

Recommended for Italian because: A longtime local restaurant where quality is king with regards to both ingredients and service.

Gina's expert tip: Not far from the airport, it's a great stop before or after a long day of traveling.

Read more about Ristorante Farfalla →


5
Bonita Springs
La Fontanella
Photo courtesy of Gina Birch


With linen tablecloths, an international wine list and professional service, the food in this Italian restaurant is all made to order and the kitchen accommodates all dietary types--all you have to do is ask. Even if a protein is breaded before cooked, the chef's here can make adjustments to make sure you stay on track. They also offer gluten free pasta for most all of there dishes. Nothing here is over sauced, over seasoned or over cheesy, the ingredients speak for themselves. The owners are a friendly duo who pay attention to detail and go above and beyond to make their customers happy and at home.

Recommended for Italian because: The specials in this from scratch kitchen change seasonal but they are consistently good. The kitchen caters to special dietary requests.

Gina's expert tip: Don't skip dessert

Read more about La Fontanella →


Cafe Toscano


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.

Recommended for Italian because: Diners marvel that such a small restaurant with an even smaller kitchen can produce dishes with such big flavors.

Gina's expert tip: Make a reservation on weekends as seating is limited

Read more about Cafe Toscano →


3
South Fort Myers
CIBO
Photo courtesy of Gina Birch


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.

Recommended for Italian because: Cibo is a bit more high end but still cozy, with a friendly staff serving expertly prepared Italian meals.

Gina's expert tip: Longtime bartender, Pepe', makes a mean martini.

Read more about CIBO →


Osteria Celli
Photo courtesy of Gina Birch


Don't expect chicken parm at this Italian restaurant; Chef Marco Corricelli doesn't serve the more common, or Americanized 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."

Recommended for Italian because: The chef from Milano makes pasta fresh everyday with a small menu of specialties from all regions of Italy and wines to match.

Gina's expert tip: Enjoy summer dining specials

Read more about Osteria Celli →


Angelina's Ristorante
Photo courtesy of Angelina's Ristorante


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.

Recommended for Italian because: An award winning restaurant for both food and wine, where dining is a special event and service is superb.

Gina's expert tip: Enjoy piano music in the bar before dinner.

Read more about Angelina's Ristorante →


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Meet Gina Birch

Gina carries the rare title of "Native Floridian". Living in Southwest Florida for more than 20 years, she is a well known, award winning radio and TV personality. She also writes for a number...  More About Gina

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