Dining in the Heart of Naples' Illustrious Culinary Scene: Downtown Old Naples

Naples’ lofty reputation as a culinary kind of town with out-of-the-mold restaurants and artfully talented chefs to a great extent stems from its downtown Old Naples dining scene. A couple of decades ago, the districts of Fifth Avenue South and Third Street South underwent a major renaissance that brought the historic downtown area back to life. And what a life it has become!

Much of the renaissance centered on new and exciting restaurants, many of which spilled out onto patios to create something of a sidewalk café society – a fitting concept for a town that basks in warm sunshine most of the year.

Today the downtown culinary landscape gleams brighter than ever as new restaurants such as the highly hailed Sails Restaurant and The Continental wow everyone from the town’s young professionals and retired snowbird populations to families and vacationing resort visitors. The newcomers join an impressive inventory of well-established restaurants such as Campiello and Truluck’s Seafood, Steak & Crab House.

Seafood, of course, scores highly on restaurant menus in Old Naples, but the range of cuisine runs the gamut from steakhouses and fine Italian to European and Persian. Generally considered the high end of Naples dining, downtown is the place to see and be seen any time of day. 


Old Naples
Photo courtesy of Chelle Koster Walton

This class-act Third Street South restaurant occupies the historic Naples Mercantile Building and a pleasant Rome-reminiscent courtyard to its west. Inside, you will find an inviting dining area, spacious bar area and large, open kitchen complete with a traditional wood-burning oven. Some of the pasta, such as the pappardelle with braised veal, is made in house. Many of the ingredients - capicola for one of the wood-fired pizza, cheeses and sausage - get shipped from Italy. There's short ribs with smoked tomatoes or pan-roasted black grouper for dinner, chicken and caramelized pear salad for lunch and warm citrus cake with strawberry prosecco jam and fior di latte for dessert.

Recommended for Old Naples' Best Restaurants because: This has been a longtime favorite of locals and visitors.

Chelle's expert tip: Each month Campiello's showcases the cuisine of a different region in Italy on a special Regional Menu.

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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, New Orleans BBQ shrimp, miso-glazed sea bass, Scottish salmon bearnaise, cioppino and Idaho trout amandine, plus fine steaks and chops. The restaurant professes a commitment to sustainable seafood. The "Chilean sea bass," for example, comes from South Georgia. Its date night pre-fixe menu for two offers three courses for $39 a couple.

Recommended for Old Naples' Best Restaurants because: Truluck's has been pleasing seafood- and meat-lovers for a couple of decades.

Chelle's expert tip: Don't miss the stone crab - Truluck's owns its own nearby fishery. It's that fresh!

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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 newest addition to the Fifth Avenue South litany of inimitable dining experiences. Chef Vincenzo Betulia, 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 $21 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. Pasta aux fruits de mer, slow-cooked lamb shank, crisp duck leg confit with sour cherry, oven-roasted halibut... the entr�e choices are concise and carefully crafted. Plats du jour add a bit of nostalgia as do classic cocktails and comfort desserts.

Recommended for Old Naples' Best Restaurants because: It feels and tastes just like France. Maybe better!

Chelle's expert tip: The sidewalk tables feel so Parisian, you expect to look up and see the L'Arc de Triomphe.

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Opened in March 2015, 7th Avenue Social soared to immediate success with its "handcrafted food and drinks," its Southern and Latin accents, and a late night menu available until 2 a.m. Its daytime (3 to 10 p.m.), late night (10 p.m. to 3 a.m.), Sunday brunch (11 a.m. to 3 p.m.), and cocktail menus roll with the trends and Chef David Lani's creative whims. Start on the patio or at the bar with an Albino Manhattan (made with white whiskey and vermouth plus a dash of orange bitters) or a craft IPA. Snack on a jar of house-pickled veggies or a shredded jackfruit taco with salsa rojo and cotija. The Apps portion of the menu includes loaded yucca planks and conch sliders. Sandwiches and entrees like the Chorizo Meatloaf Cuban or Pork Belly 'n' Grits feed serious appetites. For Sunday brunch, there's Green Tomatoes, Eggs & Ham; and Smokin' Fish Hash Frittata.

Recommended for Old Naples' Best Restaurants because: It is the hottest new restaurant and bar in downtown Naples.

Chelle's expert tip: Sit on the patio or relax inside on mismatched furnishings - both settings equally fun.

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

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.

Recommended for Old Naples' Best Restaurants because: Balancing exotic flavors and comfort food heartiness, Bha Bha is one of a kind.

Chelle's expert tip: End your meal with Turkish coffee service - a true delight.

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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 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. 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.

Recommended for Old Naples' Best Restaurants because: It has been making a splash with its fine steaks, craft cocktails, and late-night scene.

Chelle's expert tip: If key lime blackberry pie is on the day's pie menu, don't pass it up.

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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 chicken liver crostini to the fennel sausage tossed with mascarpone cream and torchio pasta. Pizza ranges from classic tomato with basil and mozzarella to the Rustica - grilled radicchio, pancetta and a fried egg. Even the ham and cheese panini has a twist, made with prosciutto cotto and fontina cheese.

Recommended for Old Naples' Best Restaurants because: The Italian darling of Fifth Avenue South, Osteria Tulia does evertything right.

Chelle's expert tip: For a refreshing warm-weather cocktail, try the Fiori - passionfruit-infused vodka with passionfruit nectar, St. Germain Elderflower liqueur, muddled raspberries and effervescent limonata.

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HobNob Kitchen & Bar
Photo courtesy of HobNob Kitchen & Bar

A few generations ago, this restaurant location was known as Zoe's, named after local restaurant owner legend Michael Hernandez's daughter. Hernandez is back on the Naples scene with HobNob - a clever name for a perfect place to do just that in a rustic-chic setting of unfinished wood and funky art. Nothing rough or funky about the food, however. Chef Tony Biagetti prepares a well-crafted selection of bar bites, small plates and dishes under headings "Ocean," "Farm," "Pasta," and "Greens & Soup." Everything is fresh and homemade from the pickles to pasta and desserts. Perfect for hobnobbing at the bar's communal table, try the deviled eggs with tomato jam, the truly original shrimp & grits and arancini stuffed with jalapeno cheddar. For serious appetites there are wild "smokey" salmon with cucumber crema, two-way duck with cornbread stuffing and peach and Meyer lemon short ribs. The tres leches bread pudding comes with homemade rumchata ice cream.

Recommended for Old Naples' Best Restaurants because: One of Old Naples new hip stars of the culinary and cocktails scene, HobNob appeals to young and old.

Chelle's expert tip: The shrimp & grits small plate combines the flavors of the lowcountry with a Buffalo-style sauce. Brilliant!

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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.

Recommended for Old Naples' Best Restaurants because: Fairly new, Sails Restaurant raises the bar on downtown dining.

Chelle's expert tip: Order a seafood tower for two to share for starters and the deadly sinful chocolate Grand Marnier to finish.

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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.

Recommended for Old Naples' Best Restaurants because: Sea Salt has a huge following of food and wine connoisseurs.

Chelle's expert tip: For a grand splurge, reserve the Chef's Table in the kitchen for a group of friends. Chef Aielli will cater specifically to your palates.

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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