Tucked into a strip mall next to a bike shop, Zaza could easily go unnoticed. So peel your eyes or miss a true taste of authentic Mexican cuisine enhanced with Tex-Mex hybrids such as burgers and Mexican subs (tortas). Its simple brick and wood interior and Latino staff make you feel you've crossed the border. The menu continues the illusion: 13 styles of street tacos stuffed with long-cooked house meats such as spicy chicken, carnitas Asada and short ribs. Tamales, burritos, enchiladas, fajitas, bowls, tortas and quesadillas also hold the home-cooked goodness. Mexican beers and sangria quench thirst and the spicy salsas Zaza dishes.
Recommended for Marco Island's Best Restaurants because: New to Marco, Zaza gives the island its first true taqueria.
Chelle's expert tip: Don't be fooled by its humble appearance, this is the real thing with modern surprises such as Hawaiian fajitas and IPA beers.
If you are thinking this - with its casual bar vibe and sweeping water views - is just another pretty face, think again. Or just go ahead and taste anything on the menu. It's not fine dining, but the menu satisfies a lot of different appetites and the kitchen is dependably consistent. Start with the "lobster fries" - flash fried Maine lobster fingers - or, for something lighter, the ahi tuna poke. It treats its seafood to creative ways, such as the rum butter Mahi and grilled salmon with mandarin salsa. Chicken pot pie and red-eye pork chop offer comfort, while salmon Florentine turnover and a PLT with portobello mushroom demonstrate a departure from same-old.
Recommended for Marco Island's Best Restaurants because: It combines harbor views with an extensive menu of finely crafted cuisine that pleases everyone.
Chelle's expert tip: Thursdays from 6 to 9 p.m., live music happens outside on the waterfront.
You could sum up the fishing town of Goodland in one word: idiosyncratic. Likewise, the Little Bar, one of three longtime watering hole restaurants that tourists love as much as the (idiosyncratic) locals. Because besides the usual frog legs and seafood Everglades fare, its dry-erase board menu lists some Old World folk foods such as liver and onions, kielbasa and kraut and marinated herring. There's yet another dimension to its menu - finer fare such as crab cakes with lobster cream sauce and blackened shrimp. The setting is every bit as quirky. Outside, the view is bay waters, fishing docks and crab traps. The interior is cobbled together with salvaged wood from a historic boat, pieces of a pipe organ, stained glass and various other components with a past.
Recommended for Marco Island's Best Restaurants because: It embodies Goodland's spirit of foolishness and salty flavor while serving dependably good eats.
Chelle's expert tip: For a true taste of Little Bar, come in summer for Spammy Jammy. Think people in pajamas competing with Spam culinary and architectural creations.
Overlooking the marina along the Esplanade shopping and entertainment center complex on Marco Island, Mango's provides a pleasant al fresco and indoor venue for breakfast, lunch, cocktails and dinner. Cheerful and oh so islandy, its menus give everyone something that pleases, from a nicely creative breakfast menu (try the king crab avocado) to fresh sushi, soups from scratch, burgers and fresh Florida catches of the day. It touts its "Marco's Best Salads" selections - a salad bar or selections such as king crab and avocado salad. Live musicians entertain throughout the week, and happy hour runs from 3 to 7 p.m. every day.
Recommended for Marco Island's Best Restaurants because: It has been pleasing a steady clientele with graciousness and charm since 1983.
Chelle's expert tip: For late breakfasters, the menu includes a large selection of eggs and "Griddle Delights."
Fin Bistro, recently relocated, lives up to its name by carrying and preparing fresh, fresh finfish in a nice variety, along with local shellfish. In most cases, the fish comes simply prepared but lovingly complemented with seasonal vegetables and original side dishes such as the bacon wrapped arugula potato cake with the Key West swordfish with Calvados stone ground mustard jus. Meat-lovers find a treat in the cider brined pork tenderloin, its sweet saltiness balanced with smoked tomato butter and accompanied with a chilled farm bean salad and roasted garlic and potato puree. The atmosphere, too, veers toward simplicity - tile floors, white linen tablecloths, dark wood chairs and minimal wall decoration.
Recommended for Marco Island's Best Restaurants because: It has quickly become one of Marco Island's most popular and busiest restaurants.
Chelle's expert tip: For dessert, the warm white chocolate apple croissant bread pudding steals the show with bourbon caramel sauce.
Through the decades, the historic Olde Marco Inn's dining room has evolved into a gracious Victorian setting with a cranberry glass chandelier and Audubon prints. Bistro Soleil, with its delightful Continental interpretations, sheds new light on a longtime Marco Island culinary tradition. For starters, the sun-dried tomato and basil veloute gratinee with Swiss and blue cheese, or Prince Edward Island mussels steamed with herbs and white wine, immerse you in Chef Denis Meurgue's irresistible style. Reasonably priced follow-up courses continue to tantalize with offerings such as wild mushroom risotto; slow-roasted crispy Long Island duck a l'orange; cassolette of seafood, vegetables, and mushrooms in saffron cream sauce; tilapia topped with crab and capers in lemon butter sauce; fresh beignets with Chantilly; and homemade warm apple tarte tatin with vanilla ice cream and balsamic vinegar reduction.
Recommended for Marco Island's Best Restaurants because: Set in historic digs, it combines romance with well crafted French cuisine.
Chelle's expert tip: It conveniently offers splits of sparkling wine such as champagne and prosecco for an affordable romantic touch.
A new addition to the Hilton, it opened in 2018 to replace the former beach bar with a spiffed-up version that has also improved upon its food and beverage offerings for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Start with something crafty and refreshing off the cocktail menu. Flatbreads, burgers, salads, sandwiches and creative apps and entrees make up the lunch and dinner menus with an Asian twist. Under "Sandwiches and Such," you'll find Cuban sandwich, burgers and Baja tacos - all with inspired touches of sauces and condiments. Dinner entrees range from lentil cake with roasted Brussel sprouts for the vegan to bone-in ribeye and short ribs for the serious carnivore.
Recommended for Marco Island's Best Restaurants because: A full-service bar and grill, it overlooks the resort's beach.
Chelle's expert tip: You can't go wrong with the grilled chicken lollipops or Island Nachos with pulled pork for lunch.
The divine Tesoro dining room, the newest addition to the JW Marriott upbranding of the past few years, is open to the adult public for dinner. Its highly contemporary open-flow lounge, bar and Sunset Terrace spaces are also accessible for lunch with views of the resort's inimitable broad, sugar-sand beach and the Gulf of Mexico. At dinner, the dining room, with its exhibition kitchen, windowed walls and abstract nuances of waves, serves Mediterranean-style tapas and seafood. Begin with house-made charcuterie or raw oysters dressed in burnt citrus mignonette, then sample small plates such as black baba ganoush and carbonara flatbread, or a full serving of grilled lobster with inked Zuppa de peche. Finish with a flourish: the chocolate terrine with mint tea and pistachios, perhaps. On its extensive wine list, you will not find one California vintage. Strictly Mediterranean wines, and that carries through to other bar offerings: Italian Malfy gin, for example, rather than the typical British varieties; sangria and Negroni.
Recommended for Marco Island's Best Restaurants because: Marco Island's newest restaurant serves strictly Mediterranean with fifth-floor beach views and flares of creativity.
Chelle's expert tip: Hit the bar for a sunset toast before dinner. Its signature margarita with cold-pressed lime and Portuguese Beirao liquor is a popular choice.
Whether it's your fantasy to dine under the Tuscan sun or the Florida moon, Sale e Pepe brings it to reality in a replicated, palace-proportioned, Italian villa setting with an outdoor terrace. Perched on the second floor, it affords a gulf view. Inside, choose a formal frescoed dining setting or a more casual lounge setting. Everything's made fresh, from the crusty bread to the pasta, soup, sausage and hibiscus panna cotta. The succinct dinner menu adapts to the seasons, paying tribute to antipasto, fish, meat and pasta. In the pasta department, there might be sweet corn and ricotta stuffed agnolotti. From the "terra", try the breaded veal chop with buffalo mozzarella salad; from the "mare," crispy skin Scottish salmon with orange beurre blanc. The formal dining room also offers a tasting menu and summer early dining specials. Stop in the huge gas-lit bar, a shrine to artist Toulouse-Lautrec.
Recommended for Marco Island's Best Restaurants because: Sale e Pepe is Marco Island's most authentic from-scratch Italian restaurant.
Chelle's expert tip: The beach is steps away, and a good way to walk off that hibiscus panna cotta.
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; triple tail fish Mediterranean style 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.
Recommended for Marco Island's Best Restaurants because: Long enduring and a favorite of locals and visitors alike, Verdi's serves consistently fine cuisine.
Chelle's expert tip: Make reservations several days in advance during high season (Christmas through Easter).