Fine Dining in Naples: Originality, Luxury and Excellence

In 2014, Conde Nast Traveler magazine listed Naples at number 17 on its Top Cities for Foodies readers' choice awards. That was a first, but a well-deserved honor for a small town stuffed with talented chefs and to-die-for-restaurants.

Most local foodies agree that the recent appearance of Sails Restaurant boosted Naples' reputation for innovative cuisine. But years and many restaurants have set the table for the town's culinary ascendancy. The Grill at The Ritz-Carlton, Naples, for instance, sent Naples down a path of culinary excellence and polished service decades before. Others followed suit.

This list includes the creme de la creme, from inimitable Italian cuisine in a town with uncountable Italian restaurants to creative global fare. Others create their palette with French, Mediterranean and American cuisines. Their settings range from designer dining rooms and a masculine club-like setting to simple strip-mall spots.

Though their settings and culinary influences vary, all of these restaurants share the common denominator of daring creativity in a town that tends to weigh in on the conservative side. The fine dining scene - fueled by a well-traveled and -heeled winter clientele - continues to improve every year as competition grows stiffer. Naples is a town that loves to eat out and eat well. Its fine restaurants meet that challenge brilliantly.


Truluck's Seafood, Steak & Crab House - Naples
Photo courtesy of Inn on Fifth

Part of a small, Texas-based chain of restaurants, it is anything but cookie-cutter. The dining room seems oversized at first, but its popularity fills the warm, welcoming space at the back of Inn on Fifth most nights. They come for their fix of various varieties of crab, lobster, grouper topped with crawfish and shrimp, miso-glazed sea bass, Faroe Island salmon, sweet and spicy Pacific yellowtail, plus fine steaks and chops. Steak cuts include filet mignon with or without bone in, ribeye, and New York strip. The signature Filet Oscar Royale adds caviar to the typical crab, asparagus and bearnaise Oscar topping.

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 pomme 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 sauteed duck, shiitake mushrooms, tomato, avocado, capers and romaine with parmesan-peppercorn dressing; roast duck Napoleon layered with shiitakes, spinach in garlic bechamel and puff pastry; 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.

The French Brasserie Rustique
Photo courtesy of Chelle Koster Walton

From soupe a l'oignon to the nuts in the apple tarte tatin, everything feels and tastes deliciously francais at this addition to the Fifth Avenue South litany of inimitable dining experiences. Chef Vincenzo Betulia, the mastermind of two eateries up the street, leaves his native Italy for a rustic brasserie adventure in an art nouveau setting with a massive display kitchen and charming bar offering indoor-outdoor service. The lunch/Sunday brunch menu spans eggs, a $22 prime rib burger, pasta and steak frites. What's for dinner? Start with the oeufs mimosa - deviled eggs with braised Portuguese octopus and napa cabbage - or chopped tartare and cornichons. Both demonstrate Betulia's flair for turning folk food gourmet. Trout Amandine, crisp duck leg confit with sour cherry, pan-roasted chicken with wild mushroom ragout... the entrée choices are concise and carefully crafted. Plats du jour add a bit of nostalgia as do classic cocktails and comfort desserts.

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: pan-seared Chilean sea bass with hoisin sauce glaze, sauteed spinach, fingerling potatoes and tomato concasse; Snapper Mediterranean with sauteed spinach, tomatoes, green and black olives and jasmine rice with feta cheese; and its signature grilled New Zealand rack of lamb with garlic mashed potatoes, asparagus, port, and lamb and mint demi-glaze. Alcohol is beer and wine only, but the wine selection is robust and varied.

The Continental
Photo courtesy of Chelle Koster Walton

The Continental is what foodies term a "meatery," a step above standard steakhouses. Its niche is two-fold: name-ranch steaks and craft cocktails. But yet it is multi-faceted, offering also such original concepts as it's 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. 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.

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 citrus tomato butter and candied pecans with Angelina's long-favored butternut squash ravioli and slow-roasted pork belly with the pan-seared scallops. Other stellar dishes: mussels in lobster and shrimp stock, 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.

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! The lunch menu may be small, but it is also packed with wow. Chef Vincent Betulia makes everything himself - from the pancetta on the duck liver crostino to the fennel sausage with Tuscan white beans. Pizza ranges from classic tomato with basil and mozzarella to A Night in Naples - fennel salami, caramelized onions, Fresno peppers, tomato confit and mozzarella. Even the ham and cheese panini has a twist, made with prosciutto cotto and fontina cheese.

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 the outdoor, pet-friendly patio to indoor casual elegance via a bar that circles outdoor to in. Colors from the beach and sea decorate the sweeping interior. The main menu intertwines cultures - charcuterie, sea urchin poached in duck fat, ravioli stuffed with braised veal, salt-encrusted branzino, akaushi beef and whole fresh fish from the showcase.

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. 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 entrees run the gamut from lobster, scallops and Scottish salmon to classic Dover sole meuniere. Despite its formality, the atmosphere feels relaxed. Live music, usually light piano, frequently entertains.

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, dishware, 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, fine steaks 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