Southwest Florida (aka the Paradise Coast) is both a natural and a cultural gem located on the Gulf of Mexico, where white sand meets turquoise waters. The downtown areas and oceanfront meccas are full of artful treasures and culinary delights. Florida’s “last paradise” encompasses Marco Island, Naples, and the western parts of the Everglades. For the purpose of this food guide, we’ve also included Venice, Fort Myers and Sanibel Island.
One thing that makes the area so beautiful is the fact that, beyond Marco Island, there are almost 100 miles of estuaries and islands and that won’t ever be developed. This includes the Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge as well as numerous national and state parks.
It’s all part of an excellent area for exploring nature, but if what you’re searching for is the perfect breakfast, brunch, lunch, happy hour, dinner, or sweet desserts, then you’re definitely in the right place. Paradise Coast is world-renowned for having a wide range of incredible restaurants to choose from no matter what the time of day. Whether your tastes lean toward the local fresh catch, local delicacies, or international flavor finds, you’re sure to discover a variety of cosmopolitan, gourmet, and even laid-back beachy dining options that will give you an opportunity for truly savoring your beautiful time in Paradise. We’ve even found a couple of LGBTQ gems in this region as well.
JW Resort Marco Island
Marco Island is the largest of Florida’s Ten Thousand Islands and is located on the Paradise Coast’s southern tip. The island offers mangrove estuaries and Gulf beaches on the other. Besides the great shelling on the pristine beaches, Marco Island also offers a wealth of restaurants to suit everybody’s tastes – many of which are located at the JW Marriott Hotel.
Breakfast, Bubbles and Lobster Benedict
When it’s breakfast or an amazing brunch experience that you’re looking for, the first place that you should visit is Cafe San Marco at the JW Marriott for coffee, tea, and flavorful light bites. It’s an intimate coffee house offering indoor dining or you can eat outdoors overlooking the sparkling resort pool. It’s also open all day in case you’re looking for a convenient place with ambiance for treating yourself to dessert or a glass of wine later in the day.
Other great places at the resort for breakfast or brunch include the Rookery Grill in the Golf Course Clubhouse, the Hammock Bay Grill poolside or Maia.
At Maia you’ll find that there’s just no better way for starting your day than with a relaxed breakfast at an amazing casual coastal restaurant. They feature fluffy omelets, flavorful Belgian Waffles, and everybody’s favorite, Florida Lobster Benedict. They have many more dishes to choose from, so dig in and start your day off right! Besides, where else can you find an amazing dish for breakfast or brunch like Florida Lobster Benedict? It’ll give you something fantastic to remember about your trip to the Paradise Coast!
Dinner and a View
If you love fish, both to eat and to look at while you’re dining, try Korals Sushi & Cocktail Lobby Bar. It’s not only wonderfully inviting with its floor-to-ceiling windows for a view of the Gulf but it’s fascinating as well with its towering aquarium filled with colorful tropical fish. Enjoy Linger seafood, sushi, and some pretty creative cocktails while enjoying the view.
Adult-Exclusive Restaurant and Bar
Tesoro is another excellent dining experience that you don’t want to miss. It offers panoramic views of the Gulf of Mexico. It’s also an adult-exclusive bar and restaurant that serves delicious seafood and coastal Mediterranean cuisine, as well as rare wine and specialty cocktails.
Dinner & Entertainment
Quinn’s on the Beach offers Fire Dancers at sunset. As the name indicates, it’s located right on the water. Quinn’s will give you the opportunity to savor classic American sandwich specialties, and succulent seafood dishes plus beer, wine, and mixed drink. Nearby, Kane Tiki Bar is the best spot on the Island to enjoy a fabulous cigar and rum selection.
Breakfast and Brunch in Southwest Florida
Whether you are exploring Fort Myers, shopping in Naples on 5th Avenue or relaxing on the beach in Marco Island, there are never-ending brunch options in this sleepy part of the state to get you going.
Breakfast Tostadas in Fort Myers
The Gathering Place in Fort Myers is an LGBTQ-owned casual restaurant featuring Belize and Southern American cuisine. For breakfast, try one of five tostada dishes. Options include chicken & avocado, pork & eggs, bacon & eggs, eggs & peppers or jalapenos & sausage. If tostadas aren’t your thing, they have burritos and huevos rancheros, too.
If you’d prefer an American staple, no worries. Waffles are on the menu. We suggest living on the edge with the Hawaiian waffle, topped with pineapple cream cheese, and ham or bacon.
Eggs in Naples
Voted best breakfast in Naples, EJs Bayfront Cafe provides a pet-friendly option with a view and delicious breakfast options. If you love eggs, you’re in luck! EJs offers a variety of benedicts, scrambles, omelets and skillets, in addition to the traditional favorites like waffles and pancakes.
For healthier alternatives, EJs serves up tofu scramble, egg white alternatives and black bean cakes.
A Taste of Philly in Bonita Springs
Ten years ago, Old 41 Restaurant owner, Tony Backos, brought his 40 years of experience in his family-owned restaurants in Philadelphia to Southwest Florida. This breakfast staple has been a Bonita’s Best Award Winner every year since.
When in “Philly” enjoy the Philly Cheesesteak Omelet, an Old 41 “Original,” steak, cheese & fried onions in an omelet. Or savor the flavor of the Philly Breakfast – two eggs, home fries, and your choice of Taylor Pork Roll or Scrapple.
Lunch on the Paradise Coast
Cheeseburgers in Paradise
If your idea of a fabulous lunch includes something from a Jimmy Buffet song like a big warm bun and a hunk of meat, then you’re in the right place on the Paradise Coast. Cheeseburgers in Paradise abound in Southwest Florida and you’ll find plenty of great choices. The only problem is that you’re going to more than a single day for sampling all of the available sandwiches and burgers.
So, why not start with Brooks Burgers in downtown Naples? It’s a spot that’s on the Top Ten Burger Restaurants in the U.S. TripAdvisor list. And, it’ll be easy to see why when you try one of their fresh Black Angus burgers available no less than 20 ways, as well as their freshly made french fries and sweet potato fries. Don’t forget to try their signature fried pickles, too.
Ford’s Garage is another Florida favorite burger stop. While we don’t often recommend chain restaurants, the LGBTQ-friendly staff, car-themed decor and delicious burgers are noteworthy. Ford’s Garage has locations in Cape Coral and Fort Myers, in addition to ten other Florida restaurants. They also have one in Indiana and another in Michigan, but that’s a review for another magazine. Our suggestion – the Model “A” – a Black Angus burger with aged sharp cheddar cheese, applewood smoked bacon, pico de gallo, arugula, tomato, red onion, and a fried egg on a brioche bun.
Culture on the Coast
If you’re looking to mix it up with a bit of cultural cuisine, then head to Moura Bistro Authentic Lebanese Cuisine (not to be confused with lesbian cuisine). Voted “Best Lunch in Naples”, Maura offers several Mediterranean favorites, like kabobs, falafel, and lamb. We’ve been there a couple of times and it is an obvious favorite within the Naples LGBTQ community.
If you like fine Mexican cuisine, then you’re in luck! Iguana Mia has three locations in Southwest Florida, including Fort Myers, Cape Coral and Bonita Springs. The original location was opened for business on September 26th 1990 in the current Cape Coral restaurant site. The concept for the Mexican-themed restaurants was drawn up on a cocktail napkin! Of course, we highly recommend Taco Tuesdays!
There’s nothing happier than a happy hour on the Paradise Coast! Here are a few to try during your visit.
Gay & Happy in Naples
LGBTQ Managed, Cavo Lounge Strada Place in Naples offers a delicious tapas-style menu (aka mediter-asian cuisine). They also offer ocean-fresh cobia and fun drag events, as well as Happy Hour every day of the week from 3:30 PM (for day-drinking at its best) to 8 PM. And, of course, what you’re there for is some tasty thirst-quenching drinks and Cavo has them all.
From their Golden Grapefruit Mojito, Bluebini, Make-it-Filthy, or the Zacapachata chocolate martini to any one of the Cavo Mules or the amazing Cavo Mule Flight where you can try four of Cavo’s famous mules. This lounge also features an endless wine list from reds to whites plus some fine champagne offerings and sparkling wines as well.
When you find yourself getting hungry, try the Finger Food or Full Sampler Buffets (or have it delivered to your table), including spicy tuna tartare, chicken satay, sliders, and more. From the regular menu, enjoy some beef tenderloin, salmon, or grilled chicken plus a wealth of other entrees, salads, veggies, apps, and desserts.
You can also stop next door at BURN Cigar Bar for a relaxed smoke and a glass of rum or whiskey. Both locations are owned by Rocky Patel.
Fun in Ft. Myers
Open seven days a week, Rascals is the quintessential neighborhood bar that proudly flies the gay pride flag. It’s an all-inclusive entertainment venue as well. Happy hour comes around every single day of the week from noon to 8 pm, offering drink specials that include wells, wine, and an impressive line-up of domestic beer. Some of their special events include twice-weekly bingo, exciting drag shows, special monthly guest performances, themed costume nights, and a Leather and Lace Party each and every third Saturday. And, at the end of a great weekend, Sundays offer Left Right Center and Sunday Fundays!
When dinner time rolls around during your visit to the Paradise Coast, you’ll find both the local seafood, international fare, and so much more awaiting your tastebuds.
Classy Gay Bar and Grill
Naples is on the Gulf of Mexico in Southwest Florida and is famous for its sophisticated dining and high-end shopping. It’s also where you’ll find Bambusa Bar and Grill located right in the Heart of Naples. LGBTQ-owned, it’s a popular spot that offers plenty of LGBTQ events like the Bambusa Babes Show and much more.
While it might look like a cookie cutter gay bar from the outside, Bambusa is a culinary force with which to be reckoned. Bambusa’s amazing fare includes Bam Bam Shrimp and Jalapeno Poppers, as well as tacos, pizza, salads, burgers (from Angus beef to Ahi tuna), and everything in-between. Entrees also include sirloin steak, baby back ribs, and wild-caught salmon. And, their sandwich, wraps, and Italian fare offerings are truly to-die-for. They’re serving Dinner from 4 pm. and the bar menu all-day. Happy hour is quite happy from 4:00 to 7:30 daily.
You should also try HB’s on the Gulf, a fascinating beachfront restaurant at the AAA Four-Diamond resort, The Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club. Their new dinner menu includes Charred Octopus, Lamb Lollipops, and PEI Mussels in the area of smaller dishes. Larger plate options offer some varied fare like Bone-in Short Ribs, Cioppino (Fisherman’s Seafood Stew with Crostinis, Shrimp and Pancetta Risotto, and Sea Bass with Butternut Squash Puree.
And, don’t forget to top it off with some key lime pie, a Florida specialty! You can also try some of their traditional desserts like Apple Cobbler, Crème Brulee, Chocolate Tasting special, or Tiramisu.
For a beautiful dinner experience, following Happy Hour at CAVO Lounge, try The Hampton Social Naples, located in the popular Mercato Shopping Center. The nautical decor lends itself to brunch selections with a local flare and menu items that spotlight local ingredients that are truly unique to the Southwest Florida area. Although not native to Florida, the Chilean Sea Bass is a local favorite. But anything on the menu will hit the spot!
End your dining experience with some fabulous desserts from local eateries.
Feed Your Sweet Tooth in Fort Myers
There are phenomenal dessert options in Fort Myers. Try Norman Love Confections for exquisite handcrafted chocolates. They also make pastries fresh everyday and feature gelato.
For ice cream, look no further than 2 Scoops and Sprinkles. This cute ice cream shoppe also offers chocolate dipped slices of cheesecake with all the fixins.
Butterscotch. Brie. Blueberry.
Liberty is phenomenal all around for dinner but with a dessert on the menu named simply “Butterscotch. Brie. Blueberry.” how could you go wrong? While you’re there also try the chocolate chip blondie which they tout as being served medium rare.
Come for the Beautiful Beaches, Stay for the Cuisine on Paradise Coast
No matter what time of year you choose to visit,you’ll never want to leave! From the gorgeous tropical scenery to the friendly and welcoming people, and especially the delicious food, you’re bound to love it all. And, we’re hoping that we have given you a place to start exploring where to eat all over the area.
With more great eateries than we can possibly list, you’ll never go home hungry! Plus, your Florida dining experiences will give you some excellent gourmet dishes to try duplicating when you get back to the rigors of everyday life.