By Culinary Expert Karen Feldman
Southwest Florida's biggest city also has its biggest selection of great dining
I’ve lived in the Fort Myers area for more than four decades. There was a time when Cape Coral was the small fry across the river. People in search of a good meal rarely headed west in to find it, although even then there were some mighty fine places to dine.
These days, there are more than it’s possible to cover in one column but I’ll share some of my favorites so adventurous souls can make their own trips of discovery and find some new favorites of their own.
Besides the fact that there are lots of diverse choices, you also won’t have to endure the longer treks to Bonita Springs or Naples or Punta Gorda. And, in most cases, parking is not tough to come by. Most are family owned and range from upscale to grab and go with a variety of ethnicities and food styles.
Here’s a sampling of the wealth of good eats to be found from south to north in the Cape.
Lobster Lady Seafood Market: A casual raw bar, sushi joint, restaurant and market, this is a popular spot that even serves breakfast on Saturday and Sunday.
Fathoms Restaurant & Bar: This casual waterside restaurant has an outdoor bar and serves upscale pub food such as chicken liver mousse pate, tropical ahi tuna, Caribbean jerk shrimp and espresso seared beef carpaccio as well as handcrafted pizzas.
Sicily Trattoria: It doesn’t get much more authentic than this bastion of Italian cuisine, where owner Vincent Tumminello and his mother, Mimi, conjure up terrific pizzas, arancini and gnocchi to die for and lots of other soul-satisfying Italian comfort food.
Jungle Bird Tiki: Mongolian beef nachos, seared tuna tacos, great cocktails served in tiki glasses pair perfectly with the jungle-like atmosphere and tropical foliage.
Lehne Burger: Design your own burger (pick your type of burger, cheese, bun, toppings, sauce), barbecue nachos, fried pickle fries, pulled pork salad, tater tots, onion rings, milkshakes.
Yellowfin Sushi & Sake Bar: A wide-ranging menu of sushi, sashimi, Peking duck, pho, hibachi dishes, salads, pad Thai and something called phoritto (pho served in a tortilla served with pho broth).
Nice Guys Pints & Pies: Craft cocktails, a vegan menu, pinball and pizza – what more could you ask for? Well, the place is open until 1:30 a.m. most nights and pizzas include interesting options such as the Washington Carver (smoked applewood bacon, peanut sauce, mozzarella, provolone and raspberry jam) and the green Eggs and Ham pie.
Metro Diner: You’ll find all sorts of American classic fare for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The range is broad, starting with eggs and waffles and moving on to shrimp and grits, fried chicken, pot roast, country fried steak and lots of pies and cakes for dessert.
Masala Mantra: Finally, with all the other ethnic delicacies to be found, the Cape had no Indian food until Masala opened. Now you can eat your fill of tandoori delights, madras, vegan and vegetarian fare, rich breads and other traditional Indian delicacies.
Siam Hut: Since 1984, the Bangthamai family has served first-rate Thai food in the Cape. Among the signature dishes are curry puffs, Chinese sausage salad, all the curries, duck royal, crispy trio and, of course, pad Thai.
Mambos Restaurant: Open every day for breakfast, lunch and dinner, this casual Cuban eatery offers all the customary dishes, with some rotating as specials on various evenings. Always on the menu are empanadas, palomilla, fried chicken, black beans and rice. If you happen to be elsewhere in the Cape there are two more El Mambos (1515 SE 47th Terrace and 103 Del Prado Blvd. N.)
Maria’s Pizzeria: A long-time family owned Italian restaurant tucked onto a side street but worth ferreting out. Pizza is it’s claim to fame but you’ll also find well-executed entrees such as zuppa di pesce, eggplant rollatini, gnocchi, pasta dishes, subs, calzones and stromboli.
Monarca’s Authentic Mexican: The gargantuan menu at this Mexican restaurant includes tableside guacamole, salmon mango salad, mole poblano, ceviche, fajitas, tacos, enchiladas, a variety of vegetarian items and more.
Slate’s: For those with a taste for Cajun fare, check out Slate’s, where you’ll find dishes such as crab and corn beignets, gumbo, crawfish etouffee, jambalaya as well as short ribs, scallops and Sunday jazz brunch.
Cape Cabaret: This place boasts a variety of live music – sometimes rock, sometimes jazz – and a menu that includes stuffed mushrooms, empanadas, crab cakes, crunchy fish and chips, lobster ravioli, steaks and paella.
Chicago Pizza: If you’re a fan of thin-crust pizza and Italian beef sandwiches, Chicago Pizza might just be your kind of place. There are a lot of other items on the menu, but these are the stars at this 30-year-old establishment. Oh, and there’s a full bar as well
Fish Tale Grill: The restaurant that adjoins Merrick Seafood offers super-fresh local seafood that’s delivered by fishermen to the retail market. There are also new England style offerings as well as Florida favorites here.
BackStreets Sports Bar: This is a place where locals have been flocking for more than two decades. They come for the welcoming atmosphere as well as the pizzas, wings, crab fritters, jalapeno poppers, coconut shrimp baskets and, of course, all manner of adult beverages.
Cork Soakers: An eclectic menu features goodies like cheddar-chive biscuits and butter, Tuscany mussels, prime rib sandwiches as well as the popular Sunday brunch with its over-the-top bloody Marys and hearty brunch fare.
Trattoria Ciao: Chef/owner Jill Bacus and husband, Chris, run this little trattoria with a warm personal touch. Pizzas are bountiful and well-crafted, as are the classic Italian dishes such as lasagna, cioppino, marsala and ravioli.
Monkey Bar Steak & Seafood: Yes, the name’s silly, but the food isn’t. Whether it’s mussels or grouper bites, a specialty burger, shrimp scampi or a serious steak you hunger for, the Monkey Bar delivers.
Café YOU: An Australian style café with simple, natural food that suits all diets from carnivores to vegans. There are monthly wine dinners, chef tasting dinner and other fun events in the funky cafe.
Gusto Cucina Italiana: A cozy little restaurant serving Italian and Sicilian fare made from scratch by chef Vincenzo Cangialosi. Sauteed mussels, shrimp scampi, chicken Marsala, pappardelle alla Bolognese and even vegetarian fare is available here.
My Sweet Art: Whether it’s lunch, Sunday brunch, pastries or cooking classes you seek, check out this little café where you will find savory croissants, sandwiches, French toast, tartines, salads, coq au vin, occasional special dinners and great sweets.