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Sanibel and Captiva may not be a gourmet paradise, but you can get good food at reasonable prices. Restaurants are always a tough thing to review as preferences are very individual things, and resort area restaurants can vary a great deal in quality season to season. This list is some of my favorite places to eat on the islands in no particular order. With over 65 restaurants on the island, it is far from complete, just the ones I happen to enjoy.
Many years ago while visiting Sanibel I ran out of reading material and went to replenish my book supply at a local shop where the owner got me to try a new local author, Randy Wayne White. Doc Ford, the lead character, became an in instant hit with me and Randy Wayne White's books now hit the best seller lists. This restaurant is owned in part by him and sells Doc Ford stuff and concentrates on some unusual food preparations not normally seen seen on Sanibel. The restaurant is at the intersection of Rabbitt Road and San-Cap Road, not near anything all, so you kind of have to go out of your way to get there. It's worth the trip. Lunch and dinner are served and entrees at night stay under $25. A relaxed place. Fish tacos remain a personal favorite and one of the island's best buys. I don't care for their beach bread, quesadillas, or fried chicken breast parmesan, but they have got excellent black beans and rice and as an appetizer the Buffalo shrimp are a really good option. The ice cream brownie dessert is HUGE and more than enough brownie for 2 - but you might want to order an extra scoop of ice cream when sharing. If you're a rum drinker - and not driving - try some of the fine aged rums they serve. You'll go back.
Off N. Yachtsman Drive at the Sanibel Marina, Grandma Dot's is a simple low key sort of place with a bar and some tables overlooking the marina. They are best known for their grilled grouper which is very fresh and tasty and about as good as grilled fish gets. The fried grouper sandwich is one of the best on the island. They sell a deep dish Key Lime Pie, either whole, to take back to your condo, or by the slice and it is worth the price!. The coconut shrimp are a good appetizer. Skip the crab balls which are mostly bread crumbs. Nothing fancy, just simple good food in a very nice setting with prompt friendly service. Very popular with locals and seasonal residents, so you may wait for a seat. No a/c, so it can be VERY hot midday in the summer. Limited menu. Closes early [7:30PM] and will often cut off seating waits by 7PM in season. Very casual.
A very small restaurant sitting across the street from the Mad Hatter and next to one of the 2 Lazy Flamingo locations. Reservations needed for dinner from late October thru May. Indoor and outdoor seating. Open kitchen. The menu here is kind of bistro style, As the name indicates, nice views of the sunset on the Gulf from some tables. The fish is very fresh and well prepared, though I did find one dish overly salty. The Sunset Rockefeller, scallops with the classic spinach filling, were really tasty. Good wine by the glass. Expensive, figure appetizer and entree with wine will run about $60 per person or more. Some of the best food on the islands for dinner. Kids menu available. One of my top picks for great food - but not cheap.
Nope - that's not a misspelling. This burger joint is one of an expanding chain of 50's style hamburger places with Formica tables and Trivial Pursuit questions to keep you busy while you wait for your burger to get cooked to order. I find the fries a bit greasy, but the onion rings are pretty good. Burgers are really good. Shakes and malts are very big with young and old alike. The restaurant moved to a location next to Tahitian Gardens shopping area and there's lots of parking. You can get a cold beer to go with you burger as well. Very popular with visitors and locals alike.
The Sanibel Grill is the sports bar on Sanibel and they serve good burgers and beer and other classic bar food with an island twist, dinner only. Lots of locals. It's sister restaurant, Timbers, are in the same building along with a few shops. I like their Crunchy Grouper Sandwich and Grouper Ceaser Salad - and the appys, which can be a meal if you order and share several. Timbers serves very fesh seafood and even has a small seafood shop inside. Stick with the fish and you can't go wrong. And keep it simple. The menu is average and the place is very popular with older folks who have been coming here for years. I like the Stone Crab Claws in season.
Timber's allows call ahead seating starting about 3PM in season.
Another coverted beach house at the end of Andy Rosse Lane, the restaurant row of Captiva. At the beach end, and with live entertainment many nights, it is very popular. The food is decent though rather ordinary and not as good as it once was in my opinion. The fried grouper sandwich is my favorite lunch. This is a fun and unpretentious place where the wait staff play practical jokes on diners. I love the Ice Cream Brownie Sundae with rasperries for dessert. You'll love or hate their Key Lime Pie. I don't like it, but I'm more of a traditionalist. Don't go for the high end stuff, just stick with the basics and it will be a good experience. And be sure to be there to enjoy the sunset. Parking is tight in season.
NEW OWNERS FALL 2007! These comments apply to the former chef owners. Current reviews remain good.
This is usually my gourmet choice on Sanibel, but is currently up for sale, so check locally before making your reservations. This is a tiny restaurant in an old beach house with limited seating and a great wine list. Portions are small, so plan on 3-4 courses and a leisurely meal. Professional service. They close for about a month in the summer, usually July. The seared scallops are my favorite and friends like the lamb.Bring the Gold card and wear your best Tommy Bahama shirt. Nice sunset views in summer. Located near Castaways at Blind Pass where Sanibel and Captiva Islands meet. On the beach. Reservations required.
Mid-island location on Periwinkle Way, this restaurant is set well back from the road with plenty of parking. The dining area is attractive and there's butcher paper over the table cloths and crayons for the kids - young and old. The food is fresh, hot and tasty. One of Sanibel's better restaurants, but to me, not quite as good as Sunset Grill, but that could just be personal preference. Good key lime pie. Service was not the friendliest, but still acceptable. Lunch and dinner. Reservations a must in season.
This hot dog stand on Periwinkle Way does a great business. The char-grilled dogs are very good, and the fries better than they used to be, so give a small order a try. They are fresh cut potatoes and taste it. Schnapper's now has several styles including original, Chicago style and chili dogs - and plain. They also serve grilled sausage and brats. Kosher dogs on request for an extra 50 cents. They have added burgers - pretty good - at least as good as Cheeburger Cheebirger, and pizza which I haven't tried. Worth the effort. Try one and see what you think.
This is a classic family dining spot about on par with a good Chili's or TGI Friday's. Huge menu of family friendly favorites with a slight trend toward latin flavors and bar-b-que. Kids love this place. Food is a bit higher than you might expect for the quality, but it is a reliable mid-range place to eat and there's something for everyone on the huge menu and a small kids selection. On Periwinkle Way mid-island it is easily accessible from any condo complex. Good lunch or family dinner choice and they serve a big breakfast. Popular and crowded.
NEW OWNERS! The restaurants was bought out in fall of 2007. The new owners will keep the breakfast menu and plan to be open for dinner year round. Same cooks as before.
This little restaurant seems to have overtaken The Lighthouse Cafe as the island's top breakfast spot. Located in the Ole Sanibel Shoppes at the end of Periwinkle Way on Tarpon Bay Rd, the central location is great for all the West Gulf condos. Eggs are the house specialty and breakfast is served till 2 pm. They also added a few tables outside. There are tables and a small counter inside. Bright and cheerful - but there can be long waits during peak hours, so go early or late. And skip the stuffed French Toast. It's not very good.
Right in Tahitian Gardens is Sanibel Cafe, one of the top three breakfast spots on the island. This often overlooked spot changed hands last year but the menu is still pretty much the same. Love their raspberry pancakes and the waffle on a ham slice will satisfy even the heartiest eater. The sausage patties are spicey, just like I like them. The OJ fresh and the service is friendly and prompt. The tables are all shadow boxes filled with petrified shells in appealing patterns. The little cafe serves a good lunch with some unusual sandwichs and a very well priced dinner selection as well. Their burgers slipped a little this year and they are only one size. Fries are shoestring and crisp. Big with locals and long time visitors. One of the better buys for food. Like the lemonade, though it runs just a little sweet. They have one of the BEST Key Lime pies on the island made with the classic filling and nice and tart.
NOTE: Very slow service on recent visitis!
Two locations on Sanibel, one on Periwinkle Way down near the causeway entrance and one up in the Santiva area where Sanibel and Captiva meet. This is a local hangout and serves mostly bar food, but it's a place to go for a reasonable meal. Their Grouper Ceaser Salar is good for a later meal. Simple food selections and don't expect anything more than basic dining, but it gets you away from the tourist traps and lets you have good simple meal. For you fishermen - the kitchen will prepare your catch for you, so you really can catch your own dinner.
The Bubble Room has been one of the highest grossing restaurants in Florida for years. Famous for it's funky look and 40's decore with black and white stills of everyone from William Powell to Clark Gable and a 5 ft tall stuffed Mickey Mouse from the 50's and year round Christmas decorations, the place is filled to over-flowing with 'stuff'. Desserts are very good and formerly worth the stop - but I would say try lunch, not dinner, as the food, which was never great, is now maybe 2* quality. The Moons Over Maimi, homemade potato chips hot from the fryer and coconut shrimp are great starters. The main couse seems to me to be the weakest link, and then dessert, formerly huge and now smaller portions of really good pies and cakes, which can be wrapped for taking home - which is what I do. I usually have a fresh fish option for the main, or stick with a burger, but go for the atmosphere not the food. More of an experience - and becoming rather a commercial one with a gift shop selling Bubble Room stuff. hummmm.
NOTE: You can buy desserts to go and many folks do, including me.
THE breakfast spot on Sanibel. Folks start lining up early and wait patiently for a table to enjoy the island's best breakfast treats. If you're into eggs Benedict, this is your place. Breakfast is so popular that it's served till 3 PM. Prices are really good and so is the food, though I find the pancakes at the Sanibel Cafe just as good in my opinion. Lunch is also served and dinner in season. The Lighthouse Cafe is on Sabibel's East End in an area called Old Town, where the ferry used to dock back before the causeway bridge was built. Busy and good.
OK, I admit it. I'm a pizza snob. I try and keep an open mind about them, but having been born and raised on NY style pizza, I'm pretty picky. Island Pizza was a disappointment and Johnny's pizza was for sale and I don't know the status, but was up and running when I was down in Nov '07. So, if you like pizzaria pizza, these are two choices for a 'traditional pizza' - but real pizza lovers may want to give it a pass.