Best Restaurants in Southwest Florida: Marco Island, the Everglades, and Naples

Is it cold where you are?  Raining?  Snowing?  All of the above?  Then you’re thinking of sun and sand.  I certainly am, and I just got back from Florida a few days ago.

Nancy and I have been regulars at Marco Island during the winter the last few years.  Marco is as far south as you can go on the Florida West Coast without getting a boat.  The temperatures are friendly, the water is warm, the beach is nice and firm for walking, interesting shells abound, and the sunsets are great.

All that’s important, but a huge reason to choose Marco Island is the food.  Marco is right next to the fishing village of Goodland, and the seafood in Marco Island is abundant, fresh, and available at a reasonable price.  You also can pay an unreasonable price, but not at the places we recommend.   Marco has many restaurants, and a lot more pretty good restaurants.  Here are the 11 restaurants that we like best.

Our “Best” list starts in Goodland itself, where there are two memorable restaurants with very different personalities, Little Bar and Stan’s Idle Hour.

You want to go to both of them.  Little Bar does have a little bar, which is always crowded, but mainly Little Bar is a nice sit-down restaurant with excellent local seafood, including stone crab claws.  Stone crabs flourish in the mangroves near Marco, and Little Bar is the place to get them for less than half the price they charge here in DC.

Stan’s has a big bar.  In fact, on weekend afternoons in the season, Stan’s spills over its large lot and becomes a huge, sprawling outside bar that attracts hundreds of people for an afternoon of beer and country music, with occasional food from a limited menu.  You go for the show.  In the evenings, though, Stan’s is an excellent seafood restaurant with a full menu, including fresh oysters and, usually, country music.  And Stan’s overlooks the water, which is teeming with fish.  Just toss a cracker in and watch the feeding frenzy.

In Marco Island proper, perhaps the most popular good restaurant is the Snook Inn.  It’s been around forever, and is forever busy.  The attractions include well cooked fresh seafood, water views, and subdued live music.  The Snook Inn is old school — there’s a big soup, salad, and bread bar, and some regular specials, such as endless shrimp on Mondays.

Another very popular place is the Dolphin Tiki Bar, which is hidden behind an apartment complex overlooking a marina.  This is a casual, lively place where the food uniformly is top notch, and the prices are reasonable.  There’s an open air dining area and more tables around the tiki bar.

The Crazy Flamingo is very much a neighborhood place, with a pleasant dive look.  It’s a smallish place in a shopping center, with extra seating outside.  Again, good food, good oysters, and good prices.

The least expensive place to get excellent seafood is Lee Be Fish, a retail fish market cum restaurant.  At lunch and dinner, Lee Be offers two fish options, each of which comes grilled or blackened with either cole slaw or rice and beans.  They also have cold beer and some wine, but people often bring their own.  The food comes in red plastic baskets with plastic silverware. and the fish is fresh, well prepared, and cheap.

The Best List also includes two great Italian restaurants on Marco, Da Vinci and Davide.  Da Vinci is big and nice, with white tablecloths and a broad, sophisticated menu.  The food is local whenever possible, the seafood is Goodland-fresh, and their pasta is outstanding.  The pasta, like their equally outstanding sausage, is made in-house,.  The dishes are delicious.  Da Vinci’s prices reflect the upscale setting, but they aren’t too bad unless you get carried away.  We go at least once in every visit.

Davide feels more like a neighborhood Italian restaurant in an Italian neighborhood.  The red sauces are very popular, and Davide makes an unforgettable sausage and rapini.  Davide has a huge selection of Italian wines, and live musical entertainment in the evening.  Usually there are two singers, at least one with a real operatic voice, and another singing pop or Italian standards.

Beyond Marco

While you’re in Marco you probably will take a day trip up to Naples.  It’s a nice city that attracts a lot of absurdly rich people, so you can gawk at some beachside mansions and some Rodeo Drive-like stores.  You see a lot of Ferraris and Rolls Royces and the like.  You can spend a fortune on a meal, or go to the Dock at Crayton Cove for a nice marina-side lunch with a view.  The food is good, and it’s a perfect place to stay for an extra drink if someone else is driving.

My favorite restaurant in Naples, though, is the Rumba Cafe, easily the best Cuban restaurant in Southwest Florida.  It’s in a nondescript strip mall on the east side of Naples, and it serves great Cuban pork at a great price, and it serves one of the best Cuban sandwiches I’ve had in all of Florida.  The Rumba Cafe also has an excellent Palomilla Steak and Bistec de pollo.  We usually stop at the Rumba Cafe on the way from the airport in Fort Meyers; indeed, we look for excuses to go to the airport, but the Rumba Cafe alone is well worth a drive from Marco.

You also should take a trip to Everglades National Park while you’re in Marco.  Never pass up a National Park, and you need to ease up on the sun for one day.  The Park trip takes you to Everglades City, where you can get a tour of the mangroves in a small boat, or a tour of the 10,000+ Islands in a larger boat with dolphins frolicking in the wake.  It’s well worth the trip, and after your tour you can go to the Havana Cafe of the Everglades in nearby Chokoloskee.  Order a seafood dish.

havana cafe j

Everglades City is a fishing village, and the seafood, as in Goodland, is excellent.  (Go to the Rumba Cafe for pork.)  The Havana Cafe is a lovely setting, with naturally shaded outdoor seating and a guitarist who plays soothing Cuban music.

There are other great places to eat if you want to spend a lot, but these are the best bets for most travelers.  They’e all great places for food.  Go to Marco Island for great beaches, great sunsets, and great restaurants.

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And while you’re at it, click “follow” on our front page to receive blog posts in your email box.  Or bookmark us and check in from time to time.  If you’re planning a trip, you can “Search” the name of the city, state, or country for good restaurants (in Europe, usually close to sites, like the Louvre or the Van Gogh Museum, that you’ll want to visit in any event).  Comments, questions, and suggestions of places to eat or stories to cover are very welcome.  And check out our Instagram page, johntannerbbq.

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