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Sanibel Island's Local Restaurants Serve Sassy, Sophisticated Seafood



It’s vacation protocol when staying on a tropical island, to dine on seafood at some point during your visit. Businesses on 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 some selections from the sea, but there are a few who specialize in all things water related. Providing  a more casual, fun vibe, try Doc Ford's, serving fresh fish Caribbean-style. And 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 family friendly setting.

On the more sophisticated side, Sweet Melissa's is known for having some of the best food on the island with a menu full of selections from both the land and sea.  

While dining at one of these 10Best seafood restaurants on Sanibel, be sure to try the local grouper, lion fish, oysters and Florida shrimp, also known as ‘pink gold.’ 


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Sanibel Island


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 créme 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.




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 at the bar in any of the three area locations. Sanibel is home to the original Doc Ford's restaurant which moved to a beautiful, spacious building surrounded by tropical foliage at the end of summer 2016. 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 and the Yucatan Shrimp is award winning. Don't forget, Doc's is also a rum bar, serving more than 40 selections. Be sure to save room for the Keylime Pie.


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Sanibel Island
The Sandbar
Photo courtesy of Gina Birch


The Sanibel Sandbar is one of the few places to eat on this part of West Gulf Drive. With a beach cottage vibe, this small space serves up food that is big in taste. Most of 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 (not filler), 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.


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The Fish House has both a restaurant and a casual lounge with a back entrance 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 these chefs 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 lots more. The menu has everything from baskets and steamers to King Crab legs and surf-n-turf and it's family friendly. There are additional Fish House locations on Fort Myers Beach and in Bonita Springs.


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Sanibel Island
The Jac
Photo courtesy of Gina Birch


The Jac is back. This restaurant, formerly called the Jacaranda, was an island staple for decades before closing its doors. Today it has more than new owners and a fresh coat of paint. It has been remodeled, and the menu overhauled for a fresh new spin. Now a nautical farm to table theme, The Jac has rustic touches such as barn doors and cool, earth tones. With a lot of natural light, the large granite bar can accommodate large parties. There is no freezer on premise so you can be sure everything here is fresh. Try the Captain's Spicy Shrimp to start, a Cajun inspired dish. Or for a main course, the Thai inspired pan seared snapper. The pastry chef is known for homemade muffins and a dense, sweet rum cake so save room for dessert.


Grandma Dot's Seaside Saloon
Photo courtesy of Gina Birch


At a place called Grandma Dot's, you might expect friendly service and delicious homemade food with that little touch of something special and you get it. Owners call it a Seaside Saloon at the Sanibel Marina; locals call it scrumptious. Regulars love the chowder and the homemade chips served with lunch baskets. The menu is stocked with fresh seafood options such as shrimp, lobster and grouper, prepared 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's 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.


Il Cielo
Photo courtesy of Il Cielo


Il Cielo means "the sky" and the stars seem to always shine at this Sanibel Island spot. With a focus on seafood, the menu features preparations with both Mediterranean and Asian touches. The black grouper is legendary, topped with crab, over a sweet chili buerre blanc. The bar is dimly lit and stocked with unique spirits as well as wines from around the world. The glasses are polished, there are linens on the tables, the staff is courteous and knowledgalbe, and the soft piano music each night is the icing on the top to the welcoming ambiance. Desserts are a big part of a night out and Il Cielo has an in-house pastry chef. Beautifully prepared and presented, anything you choose is the perfect end to a fabulous meal here.


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Sanibel Island
Sweet Melissa's Cafe
Photo courtesy of Sweet Melissa's


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.


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Sanibel Island
Mad Hatter
Photo courtesy of The Mad Hatter


This beach side dining spot has been an island favorite for the perfect combination of food and ambiance, for three decades. With about a dozen tables, each one has a spectacular view of the sunset over the Gulf of Mexico. The vibe is cozy, with dim lighting, and the staff pays perfect attention to detail. The menu changes frequently with lots of fish offerings; the bouillabaisse consistently gets rave reviews. Start with a glass of bubbly or another selection from the ecclectic wine list and perhaps order the foie gras. Sunset seating's fill up fast so by all means make a reservation. This is a true, waterside gem where shirts and shoes are definitely required




Open since 1978, the Timbers consistently pleases locals and tourists alike with its award-winning cuisine in a tropical, stilt house setting. One of the most popular items on the menu is the whole fish, cut table side. The catch of the day is another stellar choice. The talented chef's cook the fresh catch to your specifications; grilled, blackened, and the likes. The menu is stacked with shellfish in preparations that range from classic to those with them a twist. This is also one of the few places on the island where you can find sushi, along with a raw bar with daily specials; seating is first come first serve. The bar is friendly and a satisfying stop for happy hour.


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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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