A dozen or so picnic tables on the dock outside the fresh seafood market afford guests the best catches and views. Some of the tables are one-sided at deck's edge for the optimal overlook of the river and its working waterfront. In season, the cafe usually serves breakfast and dinner. For lunch, year-round, you must place your order in the fish market. Order up generous servings of soft-shelled crab, cracked conch sandwich, soft shell crab sandwich, oyster po' boy, pulled pork sandwich (for landlubbers) or basket of cracked conch, clam strips, frog legs or fried 'gator.
Recommended for Waterfront Dining because: Located on the Barron River, it is at the heart of Everglades City's working waterfront.
Chelle's expert tip: Stone crab, a local delicacy, comes directly from fishermen's traps to City Seafood Oct. 15 through May 15.
Now, this is what a beach restaurant should look like, feel like and charge like. You will find a number of resort restaurants that overlook the beach, but to get the real thing, travel north to Bonita Beach where you can walk right off the beach and into this beer-and-burger joint for a break from the sun. Sit out back, right on the beach, if you can't bring yourself to drag your toes out of the sand. Or take a table inside, where there's shade. If you're looking for air-conditioning on a hot summer day, head upstairs to order your breakfast, lunch or dinner and watch the game. The kitchen is famous for its Chicago-style pizzas, served after 4 p.m. Day-long there's seafood, burgers and key lime pie.
Recommended for Waterfront Dining because: This is as close as you can get to dining on the beach in the Naples-Bonita Springs area.
Chelle's expert tip: Sit outside and order a bucket of beer with lunch and toes in the sand. Or come for dinner to watch the sunset from the second floor.
A leisurely al fresco meal beneath an authentic Seminole-weaved vaulted chickee roof at a place named Coconut Jack's: Does it get any more Florida than that? In fact, it does, with fruity drinks, servers' shirts that scream "tropical" and a menu devoted to seafood, from "Old Florida" style baskets to some ambitious creativity. For starters, try the calamari with banana pepper sauce, BBQ pork nachos or a salad. The tequila oysters Rockefeller twists a classic with jalapeno melted into Asiago cheese and a splash of tequila. Shrimp, scallops and fish get the flash-fry treatment for the baskets. Good entrée picks: mahi tacos, pulled pork sandwich, baby back ribs, honey lime glazed salmon, stuffed grouper and filet mignon.
Recommended for Waterfront Dining because: It fronts a tucked away canal with docks and water views.
Chelle's expert tip: Ask for a table on the chickee deck with its thatched tiki roof when the weather allows.
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. (Note: Currently dining is outdoors only.) Its highly contemporary open-flow lounge, bar and Sunset Terrace spaces are accessible for lunch and dinner with views of the resort's inimitable broad, sugar-sand beach and the Gulf of Mexico. The dining room, currently closed, features an exhibition kitchen, windowed walls and abstract nuances of waves. Tesoro currently serves a condensed menu of serves Mediterranean-style small plates, flatbreads and "medium plates" such as wagyu steak frites and spiced poached lobster on pappardelle pasta. Begin with shrimp cocktail and charred horseradish sauce or mussels with wine sauce and guanciale. Flatbreads include the Forest Fungi with black truffle, pickled beech mushroom and shiitake. Finish with a flourish: the baked yogurt with poached blueberries, perhaps.
Recommended for Waterfront Dining because: From its fifth floor perch, the spacious patio and architecturally sea-evocative dining room (currently closed) overlook beach and gulf.
Chelle's expert tip: Hit the bar for a sunset toast before dinner. Its signature margarita with Don Julio Blanco tequila and Grand Marnier is a popular choice.
The Dock at Crayton Cove has been around since the mid-70s - a slump of a seafood shack marina-side cooled by sea breezes. It is the epitome of Old Naples pre-gentrification. Not much has changed over the decades. There's still fried seafood specials, raw oysters and a lively bar scene. The menu has progressed through the years to inject exotic Caribbean flavor into the menu. Think conch fritters, coconut shrimp, blackened grouper on brioche, macadamia nut snapper, black grouper with key lime butter sauce, baby back ribs with guava BBQ sauce and paella.
Recommended for Waterfront Dining because: It overlooks the harbor at Naples City Dock with plenty of salty flavor.
Chelle's expert tip: Start your meal with Dock Shrimp Nachos, a tasty twist on the same-old with spicy shrimp.
Located at downtown Naples' funky "Tin City" shopping center, Riverwalk gives diners a casual waterfront experience along the Gordon River. The restaurant sits atop a dock on the water, designed with a nautical theme in mind. Guests can take a table on the open-air porch or, when weather dictates, inside. The varied menu is all Florida with a touch of New Orleans for good measure. Sample traditional fish house fare such as fried oysters or grouper and chips; or be a little more daring with Riverwalk Jambalaya, seafood baked in parchment or Caribbean inspired Down Island BBQ Shrimp.
Recommended for Waterfront Dining because: You are so close to the water, you almost feel wet.
Chelle's expert tip: You can design your own dish by mixing and matching several sorts of seafood, sauces and sides.
The Naples area lays claim to plenty of waterfront restaurants and an overabundance of Italian places. But here you find the rare fine Italian restaurant bayfront on Isles of Capri, at the doorstep to Marco Island. Chef AJ Black has earned his chops in Southwest Florida as a restaurateur with high standards. He gutted the longstanding Blue Heron restaurant and reopened it with a gleaming new pizza oven, patio seating and an alfresco bar in October 2020. Pizza such as the seafood one and another with burrata, speck and figs are wildly popular, especially at lunch. Pasta house-made from flour imported from Italy and other Italian classics share the menu with seafood specialties, lamb osso buco and short ribs with gnocchi.
Recommended for Waterfront Dining because: Those who are soothed by the sight of bobbing yachts in harbor gravitate here.
Chelle's expert tip: If you are too pasta-sated for dessert, ask for the coconut tiramisu to go. A Chef AJ original, it infuses the mascarpone with coconut along with the flaky topping.
One of Naples' classiest waterfront restaurants, M Waterfront is part of the Village on Venetian Bay complex on Naples Bay. Simply, yet elegantly, decorated, it emphasizes the picturesque views in lieu of obtrusive interior furnishings. Staggered floor levels give every guest an eyeful of water and passing boats, whether they sit al fresco, in the main dining room or around the congenial bar. Brunch, lunch and dinner menus feature organic produce, artisan pasta, local and imported seafood and the finest of meats. For the best of surf and turf, order the sautéed veal and shrimp with herbed marsala wine sauce.
Recommended for Waterfront Dining because: Staggered floor levels give every guest an eyeful of water and passing boats.
Chelle's expert tip: Ask about live jazz entertainment at Sunday brunch, on Wednesday evenings and, during the season, Friday nights.
Overlooking serene Cocohatchee Bay, the Bay House is regarded as one of the city's most spectacular seafood restaurants. This charming eatery serves fresh, Southern-inspired and bistro-style seafood dishes, as well as steak and chicken options. Most tables in the main dining room, decorated coastily with wooden boats hanging from the ceiling, and patio offer views of the surrounding waterway, ensuring patrons a scenic setting on top of a sensational meal. The adjacent offers an alternative cozy setting of fireplace and dark wood. Live entertainment plays in the bar Wednesday through Saturday evenings seasonally, and private banquet rooms are available.
Recommended for Waterfront Dining because: From inside and the outdoor patio, views of the wild Cocohatchee Bay include birds and other wildlife.
Chelle's expert tip: For a casual setting, make your reservations for the riverside patio (in cool-season) or the adjacent tavern. Note: New owners are now taking over the restaurant but promise to keep what everyone loves about it.
BALEEN gives a global twist to its breakfast, lunch and dinner menus. The setting couldn't scream Southwest Florida more succinctly with its Gulf of Mexico and white sand views. You can even dine with your toes planted in the sand should you desire. At breakfast, malted vanilla waffle and crab Oscar benedict show off. Sunday brunch brings an extended menu of lunch and breakfast creative seasonal dishes. The lobster wedge salad dazzles on the lunch menu. For dinner, start with the beef carpaccio "ravioli," then the truffled lobster risotto or blackened grouper. Whatever you do, leave room for the key lime pie, it's buttery and delicious and in a class all its own.
Recommended for Waterfront Dining because: From inside and out, sand and sea create an elegantly salty ambiance.
Chelle's expert tip: Call in advance for porch and beach seating. If you're looking for the utmost in romance, ask for a beach table for two waterside.