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. There's also upstairs air-conditioned seating (no handicap access) with table service for breakfast. In season (November through mid-May), it's open for dinner, too. The rest of the year the restaurant and cafe close at 6 p.m. For other meals, 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 with toes in the sand. Or come for dinner to watch the sunset from the second floor.
Chickee bars are a signature form of the Naples area party scene, and at Snook Inn, the open-air thatched-roof structure also draws a lunch crowd looking for eye candy with their meal. The chickee at Snook Inn overlooks the Intracoastal Waterway and hosts live island music daily. You can also dine indoors, a popular summer option, with a view of local boat traffic on the Marco River. That's where the restaurant's salad bar resides, a throwback to old-school lunching with a huge pickle barrel anchoring one end. Sandwiches and seafood entrees dominate the menu. Specialty items include grouper sandwich, baked stuffed shrimp and blackened mahi-mahi.
Recommended for Waterfront Dining because: It is tucked into an elbow of the Marco River with water views in two directions.
Chelle's expert tip: Go early for a waterside seat and watch the dolphins and pelicans.
Overlooking the marina along the Esplanade shopping and entertainment center complex on Marco Island, Mango's provides a pleasant alfresco 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 Cobb benedict) 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 Waterfront Dining because: Those who are soothed by the sight of bobbing yachts in harbor gravitate here.
Chelle's expert tip: For late breakfasters, the lunch menu includes a large selection of eggs and "Griddle Delights."
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 Cuban bread, banana 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 flavors.
Chelle's expert tip: Start your meal with Dock Shrimp Nachos, a tasty twist on the same-old with spicy shrimp.
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 crab cakes with mango buerre blanc, 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, fish and clam strips get the flash-fry treatment for the baskets. Good entree 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.
Naples' newest waterfront restaurant in the town's newest hotel at the Hyatt House downtown, it toes the line between casual and classy. Inside, its vaulted ceiling gives it a sense of grandeur as sculptures depict fish and suggest waves. Its generous bar, where craft cocktails happen, has a window onto its extension poolside and riverside patio. Outdoors, beneath paddle fans, a handful of tables have the best river views. The lunch and dinner menus don't try to overachieve but offer well-executed favorites such as lobster quesadilla, crab burger, IPA-braised short ribs, and orange and ginger glazed salmon.
Recommended for Waterfront Dining because: Outdoor poolside seating overlooks the Gordon River and its mangrove scenery.
Chelle's expert tip: The Gordon River Tacos with the fish of the day are the bomb! Cilantro, lime, purple slaw, pico de gallo and chipotle aioli complement the fresh fish of the day.
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.
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 and spinach and mushroom risotto.
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, as it is most commonly known, 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 Claw Bar 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 Claw Bar Tavern.