Naples' Cream of the Crop: 10 Best Restaurants under the Sun

For a town its size, Naples is virtually over-stuffed with restaurants. Good restaurants. Excellent restaurants. And for the area – known for its Midwestern retiree populations – darn good restaurants. It has a dining-out kind of populace that supports restaurants from the most casual seafood house to the finest Ritz-Carlton dining room year-round.

Although they may not keep pace with Miami and other Florida foodie scenes, the restaurants of Naples impress with fine technique and cutting-edge daring. Downtown restaurants in particular are breaking the seafood and steak mold with global touches and skilled daring. Osteria Tulia takes Italian dining - something of which Naples boasts plenty - to a new level by returning to farmhouse roots in a thoroughly modern way, while Sails Restaurant travels to coastal Europe. On Marco Island, the new Ario at JW Marriott too steps up its steak and seafood game with global flare and a touch of magic. 

Besides Italian, you will find everything from French to Persian cuisine in the Naples area. For the latter, Bha! Bha! will tickle your taste buds with exotic flavors.



The Continental
Photo courtesy of Chelle Koster Walton

The Continental serves all-American cuisine. Its niche is two-fold: name-ranch steaks and craft cocktails. But yet it is multi-faceted, offering also such original concepts as its daily changing fresh fish and dessert pie menus. The steak takes center stage, however. It occupies one page of the dinner food menu, divided among the restaurant's four beef providers. Each touts its own connoisseur-level characteristics, including the top-of-the-line Japanese Wagyu A5. Yet The Continental is clearly no ordinary steakhouse. Owners break the mold with their menus, but also with the restaurant's design. The dining room, which shows the telltale opulence of a typical steakhouse, opens onto the courtyard, where a convivial bar, bougainvillea-framed setting, cabanas and live dinner entertainment make this something wholly other.

The Grill
Photo courtesy of The Ritz-Carlton Naples

Nothing beats a dinner out at the Ritz, where service, setting and culinary excellence combine to foment an experience that transcends mere eating by miles. The Grill excels in fine steaks, but also knows its way around seafood and vegetarian dishes. Dry-aged cuts include New York strip, ribeye and Delmonico, plus filet mignon, veal chop and Colorado rack of lamb. Why not splurge further and add a side of foie gras or half a lobster tail? Signature seafood entrees run the gamut from salmon to Dover sole meuniere. Despite its formality, the atmosphere feels relaxed. Live music, usually light piano, frequently entertains.

BHA! BHA! Persian Bistro
Photo courtesy of Bha! Bha! Persian Bistro

Bha!Bha! has served its popular brand of "Persian bistro" cuisine in Naples since 1997. The name means "Yum! Yum!" in Iran, Chef Michael Mir's homeland. He fuses his native background with his experience in fine American kitchens to present an intriguing menu that maintains the authenticity and boldness of Middle Eastern cuisine while employing a few tricks of classic Continental and experimental new American styles. Prepare your palate for a magic carpet ride. The aash, a peasant-style herbed bean and noodle soup, introduces the complexity of the cuisine. Best bets for entrees: the spicy kermani beef, char-broiled lamb kebab, garlic eggplant chicken and duck fesenjune. Dine indoors in a chic setting with subtle Middle Eastern nuances or at a sidewalk table.

Angelina's Ristorante
Photo courtesy of Chelle Koster Walton

The kitchen's excellence stems from exquisite attention to detail - from a house-cured cherry in the Manhattan cocktail in the convivial bar to fanfare touches such as porcini and mascarpone tones in the rice balls, citrus tomato butter with Angelina's long-favored butternut squash ravioli and slow-roasted pork belly with the pan-seared scallops. Other stellar dishes: charcuterie pizzette with house-made burrata, mussels with lobster and shrimp broth, agnolotti pasta stuffed with slow-roasted veal and topped with wild mushrooms, and sea salt baked snapper for two. An award-winning selection of wine occupies a three-story glass tower in the elegant, Old World-style dining room. The final superlatives go to the staff - friendly, unflappable and uncommonly capable.

Wylds Cafe
Photo courtesy of Chelle Koster Walton

The menu changes with the seasons at Wylds, but the tenderloin saga remains a constant. Wading in a pool of demi-glace, the grilled filet mignon gets piled with shards of pommes frites and the glue of melted saga blue cheese. A take on steak frites that one-ups the French. Just one example of how this Bonita Springs favorite creates buzz. Some other examples? Enigma Salad - tenderly sautéed duck, shiitake mushrooms, tomato, avocado, capers and romaine with parmesan-peppercorn dressing; tenderloin meatloaf; parmesan-crusted walleye pike; roasted duck and foie gras sausage with cavatelli pasta, shiitakes and sage butter sauce. So don't be put off by the strip mall location and plain dining room. This place is the toast of local foodies.

Verdi's American Bistro
Photo courtesy of Chelle Koster Walton

Subtitled "an American Bistro," Verdi's has been Marco Island's culinary boast for well over a decade. Don't be fooled by its simple strip mall setting. The kitchen offsets the simplicity with marvelously crafted seafood and meat dishes presented with style and multi-dimensional flavor. Here's a small sampling: grilled swordfish with roasted corn and black bean salsa and sriracha aioli sauce; scallops Rockefeller; crispy duck with raspberry and ginger hoisin sauce; and its signature grilled New Zealand rack of lamb with garlic mashed potatoes, green beans, port, and lamb and mint demi-glaze. Alcohol is beer and wine only, but the wine selection is robust and varied.

Sea Salt-Naples
Photo courtesy of Chelle Koster Walton

Chef Fabrizio Aielli comes from a stellar background that covers Italy, the Caribbean and two of his own highly hailed Washington, DC, restaurants. At Sea Salt, he conceived dining centered around the sea. To carry the concept, he stocks more than 100 different varieties of salt and infused flavored salts. Dinner at Sea Salt begins with a three-flight sampler of salt to season dishes to come. Convivial and inspired by chef's Venetian birthright, the setting transitions from an outdoor, pet-friendly patio to indoor casual elegance via a bar that circles outdoor to in. Salt candle holders light the indoors, decorated in colors from the beach and sea. The main menu intertwines cultures - fresh oysters, sea urchin poached in duck fat, ravioli stuffed with braised veal, salt-encrusted branzino, free-range chicken with hazelnut-raisin relish and whole fresh fish from the showcase.

Photo courtesy of Chelle Koster Walton

On its climb to reach JW Marriott status by early 2017, the former Marriott Marco Island Beach Resort created something rare and precious. It starts with fine beef aged 35 days in an on-premise aging room, but do not dismiss Ario as just another high-priced steakhouse. High-priced it is, but you get what you pay for – exquisite quality. Just sit at the display kitchen counter to see chefs at work – a cross between surgeons, artists and magicians. The totally original ice-fire décor of Ario carries the illusion of magic. Then there's the magic-in-your-mouth. Homemade sunflower seed rolls with cinnamon and citrus notes served with butternut squash butter. Charred Portuguese octopus with ink aioli and fried green tomatoes. Miso cod with watercress puree. Bone-in filet mignon and wagyu ribeye. Onion rings with foie gras gravy. Passion fruit créme brulee. Sigh!

Osteria Tulia
Photo courtesy of Osteria Tulia

The first dilemma: Sit al fresco and people watch along busy Fifth Avenue South or enter the embrace of "farmhouse chic" indoors, where repurposed barn wood creates warmth and character? Then the food ordering decision! Like the décor, the menu, reflects the rustic side of Italian cuisine refined. Culinary marvels range from piattini and antipasti selections such as Brussels sprouts caramelized with house-made fennel sausage, and Sicilian meatballs studded with the added serendipity of pine nuts and currants, to homemade pastas such as braised lamb neck sugo and sheep cheese with garganelli, creative pizzas, and wood-roasted Faroe Island salmon with coucous chili, Marcona almonds and yogurt. Besides the pasta, Chef Vincenzo Betulia prepares most of his cured meats in-house. What he doesn't make himself he imports from Italy or sources from local seafood and produce providers.

Sails Restaurant
Photo courtesy of Chelle Koster Walton

"Excellence" describes the new Sails Restaurant from start to finish. From start: Owners meticulously sourced decor items such as a Greek marble bar in the shape of a sail, dish ware, and the finest seafood and steaks to create a modern European coastal setting and cuisine. Guests select their own fresh seafood, its poundage and its preparation: wood grilled, salt baked or seared a la plancha. Artistically presented seafood towers, crudos and tartares launch a memorable experience. Courses of seafood salads, house-made pasta and global entrees ensue. Try the Peppered Tuna Rossini with seared foie gras, black truffle and charcoal-roasted onions; or prime tomahawk rib steak with garlic confit. An exacting wine list and decadent, modern dessert menu are the final excellence icing on this lovely cake.


Meet Chelle Koster Walton

Chelle Koster Walton – the Local Expert for Naples, Florida and the Caribbean – has been covering the destination for 30 years. Her top-selling Sarasota, Sanibel Island, and...  More About Chelle