Sanibel and Captiva’s Best Island Dining

Photo by Chelle Koster Walton

Island restaurants for every occasion and mood

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With the Gulf of Mexico and back bay waters practically right out their door, Sanibel & Captiva island restaurants naturally boast an infatuation with seafood, a number of them with views of the water – the quintessential island dining experience.

The islands also feel the influence of Caribbean, Cajun, Italian, French, Mediterranean, Mexican, Southern, and Midwestern food traditions to make them a stirring pot of diversity in menus, setting, and degree of casual. None of the restaurants have a dress code other than shoes and shirt – if that. But that does not mean you won’t find special occasion places serving fine cuisine that deserves a suit and tie.

This list helps you to find the best restaurant for the day’s mood and appetites. Whether you are looking for the islands’ ubiquitous grouper sandwich seaside or an authentic French provincial feast, I’ll point you in the right direction.

French: Speaking of which, let’s start there: The new Bleu Rendez-Vous Bistro on Sanibel cooks textbook specialties such as escargot, sweetbreads, and cassoulet.

Italian: Tiny Il Tesoro and chef AJ Black are the quickest route to true Italian from Sanibel.

Caribbean: Doc Ford’s Rum Bar & Grill on Sanibel and Captiva takes its cues from tropical climates.

Mexican: Fresh Taqueria on Sanibel does a fresh twist on Tex-Mex.

Lunch: Go where the islanders lunch – Traders Café on Sanibel.

Seaside Grouper Sandwich: You can’t beat the Mucky Duck on Captiva for the crunchiest grouper possible with the best view.

Key Lime Pie: You’ve gotta try it, and Gramma Dot’s has the best, with Blue Coyote Supper Club coming in a close second.

Cake: It’s kitschy as all get out, but the Bubble Room on Captiva doles out thick wedges of cake divine.

Seafood Stew: Sweet Melissa’s Café puts a creative spin on an eclectic selection, but I can never resist this complex mélange.

Steak: So much more than a steakhouse, Blue Coyote Supper Club boasts aged steaks and tasty chops.

Philly Cheesesteak: If you’re jonesing for a taste of Philly, head to Great White Grill for the classic or a “Steel Curtain” pizza.

By Boat: Sanibel and Captiva have a good selection of restaurants where you can dock and dine. But for a singular experience, rent a boat or board a charter for lunch at Cabbage Key Inn on a quirky island accessible only by boat.

For the Game: Sanibel Grill has the best bar food, bartenders, and sports TVs.

Family: The two Lazy Flamingo restaurants on Sanibel are affordable with food and activity for kids.

Historic: Traditions on the Beach  resides in 100-plus-year-old Island Inn on Sanibel.

Special Occasion/Romantic: I can’t decide between Mad Hatter and Thistle Lodge, both on Sanibel with gulf views. Mad Hatter offers more creative fare.

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