Fresh and Fabulous: Southwest Florida Seafood Pleases the Palate

Fort Myers has seen much success in cultivating great restaurants where seafood has a strong presence. You'll find everything from fried fish served in a basket, to grilled crustaceans drizzled with gourmet sauces served on fine dinnerware. Whether you're dressed in high heels or flip flops, there are plenty of locally owned restaurants committed to serving only the freshest catches. 

For the sunburned beach, goers with sand still in their shoes, the S.O.B. or Smokin' Oyster Brewery, is no fuss and all fun. Visitors love picking up S.O.B. memorabilia after a few drinks. For the freshly showered, out for a special occasion crowd you can’t beat the well established Prawn Broker for consistently good quality and service.

Two things you must try while dining in the Fort Myers area are locally caught shrimp and grouper. You'll find them on the menu of almost every restaurant, in some form or fashion. Two seasonal items to look for are stone crab and Florida spiny lobsters.

Southwest Florida is a haven for New Englanders and while there are a number of outstanding seafood restaurants that lean toward that style, the restaurants listed here have a Florida focus. And although the area is surrounded by water, you'll find some of the best local seafood haunts nowhere near it, tucked in obscure strip malls. Don’t be afraid of what you’ll find inside. 10Best has your back and some extra tartar sauce to boot.


Prawnbroker Restaurant and Fish Market
Photo courtesy of Mark Blust

The Prawn Broker has a long-standing reputation for delivering freshly prepared seafood favorites as well as unique specialty items. There's even a small fish market inside. Enjoy a cocktail at the cozy bar then move to a table on the covered patio or a comfortable inside spot. Be sure to start with the house made Smoked Fish Dip. Then consider the Grouper Matanza; a fresh, local fish, egg dipped and sautéed then topped with crabmeat and a lemon beurre blanc. The Prawn Broker's award-winning cuisine, as well as the owner's and manager's deep commitment to community, keep both the tourists and locals coming back season after season.

Recommended for Seafood because: A longtime local favorite, the kitchen is consistent and so is the service. There's also a small market for grab and go seafood.

Gina's expert tip: Happy Hour starts at 4:00 where you can feast on a wide selection of appetizers for $6

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Dixie Fish Company
Photo courtesy of Gina Birch

Undercover, yet all open air, this rustic spot has an expansive, circular bar as well as a dining bar facing the water, offering great views of the fishing charters and sightseeing boats headed out for the day or night. The whole fried fish is a signature. The daily fresh catch is battered, fried whole, and served with a sinful garlic butter sauce. Start with the smoked fish dip, or raw oysters then add the low land seafood boil, shrimp burgers, crab sliders, or the popular B.L.TAE: bacon, fried green tomatoes, fried egg and avocado sandwich. Sides have a Southern flare such as collards and red beans and rice. Dixie attracts great musicians and is a hot spot for live music especially on Sunday afternoons.

Recommended for Seafood because: On the Estero Bay, this former fish house is home to an al fresco restaurant where southern seafood is the order of the day.

Gina's expert tip: You can park in the neighboring Doc Fords, they're under the same management

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Fresh Catch Bistro
Photo courtesy of Gina Birch

A favorite spot on Fort Myers Beach to watch the sunset and have a meal, residents and longtime visitors will remember this space as the former Anthony's on the Gulf. Diners have a wide open view of the beach and beautiful Gulf waters. The comfortable terrace area is ideal for diners who want to watch the sunset as they enjoy their favorite drinks and appetizers. The menu is loaded with seafood specialties in generous portions. For an appetizer, the oyster sashimi is rave-worthy. But it's the 'fresh catch' that people come for over and over; pick your fish, your preparation and your sauce for YOUR perfect entree. Besides fish, you'll find lamb, pork belly and steak on the menu.

Recommended for Seafood because: If you want fresh seafood with a waterfront view and a more upscale vibe, this is the place on Fort Myers Beach.

Gina's expert tip: Save room for the mouthwatering desserts such as the Key Lime Pie and Dark Forest Berry Tart with Chantilly Cream

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South Fort Myers
Skip One
Photo courtesy of Gina Birch

A fish market and restaurant on US41 in Fort Myers since the '80s, the restaurant serves lots of "pink gold" AKA Florida shrimp. Owner Dennis Henderson also operates one of the largest fleets of shrimp boats in the state, so you know the catch at this restaurant is fresh. Henderson is big on truth in labeling so if you order a grouper sandwich, you can rest assured in knowing it is indeed grouper, pulled fresh from the display case at the entrance of the small restaurant with low ceilings. Be sure to try the fish tacos and ask about the daily specials. The stand-alone restaurant isn't much to look at from the road. It doesn't have any fancy decor but it does have Southern hospitality and great seafood.

Recommended for Seafood because: The owner has an inside track on getting "Pink Gold" or Florida shrimp; he operates the state's largest fleet of shrimp boats

Gina's expert tip: A small, gritty but good seafood market is located in the back of the restaurant.

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Blue Pointe Oyster Bar & Seafood Grill - Ft. Myers
Photo courtesy of Gina Birch

Blue Pointe specializes in seafood and has discounted prices on their fresh oysters each day for happy hour, order a combo of different species. With chic d� for and comfortable seating, menus come in high-tech tablets. Ideal for large parties, the high-top tables stretch in a perfect row down the center of the restaurant. Put them together and fit as many as twenty people. Outdoor dining is found on two sides of the restaurant, and the front patio is surprisingly tranquil in spite of the parking lot it fronts. The side option offers good people watching with an option for smoking. With a raw bar, sushi and fresh catch options, the menu leans heavily on the surf, although you can find some turf too.

Recommended for Seafood because: Serving fresh oysters and local seafood favorites, Blue Pointe also has a popular bar and lots of outdoor seating for good people watching.

Gina's expert tip: Arrive early and do some power shopping at The Bell Tower Shops.

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Smokin Oyster Brewery, SOB
Photo courtesy of Smokin Oyster Bar

Situated between the Gulf of Mexico and Estero Bay on Fort Myers Beach, the Smokin' Oyster Brewery or S.O.B. has been shucking oysters since 1997. The beach cottage has live entertainment on the recently expanded front porch; the inside is small and cozy. Besides fresh oysters, the S.O.B. is known for its variety of seafood steamer pots and it's messy delicious garlic crab claws; they come with a bib. Get a side of potatoes and let them soak in the bottom of the bowl. There is paid parking on the street and a few free spots on the east side of the building. Be sure to ask for a signature S.O.B. drink koozie to keep your beer cold.

Recommended for Seafood because: Casual and laid back this quintessential beach bar serves piping hot steamer baskets and some of the most garlic-laden crab legs you'll find.

Gina's expert tip: There are some free parking spots on the east side of the building.

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Lobster Lady Seafood Market and Bistro
Photo courtesy of Gina Birch

Diners pack into the Lobster Lady Seafood Market and Bistro like sardines, pun intended. In an unassuming strip mall, just over the Caloosahatchee River in Cape Coral, The Lobster Lady's popularity has exploded. Multiple tanks full of lobsters line one wall, a case of fresh seafood lines the other. Lobster is king here, try it in a delicious hot dip, a New England style roll, stuffed, or in a steamer pot. On Friday and Saturday nights expect a crowd to gather on the sidewalk, waiting for a seat. Good thing they expanded to add the "Chill Bar" with modern decor, a sushi bar, full liquor bar and a CO2 blaster that provides an instant 'chill' when the space gets packed. Lobster Lady has live entertainment nightly and also serves late.

Recommended for Seafood because: Lobster tanks, live music and fresh seafood are some of the many highlights of this popular restaurant and market.

Gina's expert tip: The staff will gently remove lobsters from their tanks and hold them next to you for fun photo ops.

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Fish Tale Grill By Merrick Seafood
Photo courtesy of Gina Birch

For more than two decades Merrick's Seafood has provided fresh fish to dozens of Southwest Florida restaurants. The owners finally decided to take advantage of their fresh catches by serving them, not just selling them. In February 2013 they opened a restaurant right next to the market, calling it the Fish Tale Grill. Enjoy both outdoor and indoor seating while dining on affordable seafood fresh off of the boat. Start off with a dozen raw oysters. The Seafood Cobb salad is loaded with shellfish and the lobster bisque is rich and creamy. If you're a lobster fan try it here in spring rolls and sliders. The menu is extensive and presentation at Fish Tale looks as good as the food tastes.

Recommended for Seafood because: Some of the freshest and affordable seafood in the Fort Myers area is not only served but also sold here.

Gina's expert tip: Enjoy live acoustic music on the weekends

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Open since 1978, the Timbers has pleased locals and tourists alike with its award-winning cuisine and entertaining owners and managers. Known for having the largest oyster selection in Southwest Florida, you can order them in flights, raw baked or just about any way you wish. Have the chef grill or blacken the catch of the day to your liking, or choose from the many seafood specialties on the menu. The platters are more than filling and the kitchen can accommodate those in your party who would rather dine on things from the land than the sea, with hand cut steaks. This two-story island style restaurant is casual and fun, with a seafood market for DIY cooking.

Recommended for Seafood because: A Sanibel institution, The Timbers is the place to go on the island for fresh fish, oysters, even sushi.

Gina's expert tip: Look for parking underneath the building with direct access to the elevator

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Flippers on the Bay
Photo courtesy of Lovers Key Resort

Part of Lovers Key Resort, Flippers On The Bay is a hidden gem between Fort Myers Beach and Bonita Springs. The dining is alfresco and more upscale than one might imagine after taking a gander at a restaurant on stilts. Sitting on the Estero Bay, you still have a clear view of the Gulf of Mexico and it's one of the best spots to see a dolphin show, presented by Mother Nature. Start with the campechana, a Spanish-style shrimp cocktail with a kick. The sea bass served in citrus miso is delectable, while the salmon in a pesto cream will leave you wanting more. Chef Cruz is as entertaining as his food, be sure to say hello.

Recommended for Seafood because: Seafood at this alfresco, waterfront restaurant on Fort Myers Beach is served with innovation and worldly accouterments.

Gina's expert tip: Call ahead seating is a good idea for the weekend and during high season so cut down on the wait time once you arrive.

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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