Sanibel Island is one of Florida's top island resort destinations, located approximately 25 miles off the coastline of Fort Myers. The island, which has long been known as one of Florida's most prestigious resort areas, is home to gorgeous natural areas like J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge, which spans more than 5,200 acres and protects native crocodile and manatee populations. Lovely Casa Ybel, the island's most historic resort, serves up excellent seafood entrees at its Thistle Lodge Restaurant, a former favorite of international luminaries like Thomas Edison and Henry Ford. Many restaurants offer stunning waterfront views, creating the perfect ambiance for a romantic dinner to cap off sunny days on the beach.
1.Sweet Melissa's Cafe
© Sweet Melissa's Cafe
Sweet Melissa's Cafe has been recognized as one of South Florida's top 10 restaurants by USA Today, opened in 2009 by executive chef Melissa Talmage and restaurateur Gretchen Valade. The award-winning restaurant, which has also been named as Lee County's best dining destination by Gulf Shore Life, offers both small and large plates meant to challenge diners' taste buds with unique ingredients, textures, and presentations. Hearty entree selections focus on upscale seafood presentations, including crispy soft-shelled crab, fettuccine crafted with clams, fennel, and Pernod liquor, and seared scallops mixed with pork belly, fig, and sweet potato puree. The restaurant's specialty fish stew has also been upgraded from a daily special to a regular menu item, blending mahi mahi, scallops, shrimp, clams, and mussels in a lemon saffron cream broth.
1625 Periwinkle Way #4402, Sanibel, FL 33957, Phone: 239-472-1956
2.Bleu Rendez-Vous Bistro
© Bleu Rendez-Vous Bistro
Bleu Rendez-Vous Bistro is a charming bistro-style restaurant opened in 2015 by Christian and Mari Vivet, serving up authentic French fare in a lovely Old World-style dining space. The restaurant offers one of Sanibel Island's most romantic dining experiences, offering indoor and al fresco outdoor seating for a la carte and prix fixe dining throughout the week. Couples can watch chef Christian in action at the restaurant's open kitchen and bar as they enjoy small plates before dinner service, including elegant selections like escargot in garlic butter, foie gras prepared two ways, and frog legs Persillade. Succulent main courses include classics like duck breast a l'orange, coq au vin, boeuf Bourguignon, and seafood vol-au vent stuffed with Maine lobster tail, shrimp, and scallops in a sherry cream sauce. A carefully-cultivated international boutique wine list is available to complement all meals, available by the glass or by the bottle.
2430 Periwinkle Way Suite A, Sanibel, FL 33957, Phone: 239-565-1608
© Cip's Place
Cip's Place is a delightful local dining destination named after former Sanibel Island resident Jimmy Cipriani, the original owner of the restaurant's property. The restaurant, which opened in 2010, carries on Cipriani's tradition of dinner parties featuring great conversation and excellent cuisine, recalling the old days of the island in the 20th century. Lovely decor elements include a mural painted by two local island artists, showcasing some of the island's most important historical figures, including J.N. "Ding" Darling, Porter Goss, and the Bailey Brothers. Diners can enjoy high-quality seafood offerings at lunch and dinner, including fresh daily catch cioppino, ginger shrimp stir-fry, and fresh daily catches prepared blackened with housemade mango rum salsa. Casual lunch fare includes crab cake sandwiches, barbecue rib plates, and Southern-style fried buttermilk chicken.
2055 Periwinkle Way, Sanibel, FL 33957, Phone: 239-472-0223
4.Mad Hatter Restaurant
© Mad Hatter Restaurant
Mad Hatter Restaurant is one of Sanibel Island's most eclectic dining destinations, serving up inspired modern fare prepared with fresh, locally-sourced ingredients. The restaurant is considered to be one of the island's top culinary destinations, known as a popular dining spot for vacationing foodies. Unique decor is meant to evoke the whimsy of the classic children's story Alice in Wonderland, a nod to the restaurant's name. Contemporary seafood fare is crafted by executive chef Kurt Jarvis, including favorites like black truffle sea scallops with caramelized shallot beurre blanc and Portuguese oysters with cilantro lime compound butter. Other main courses on the menu include gourmet land selections like Australian free-range rack of lamb with walnut and cherry pesto crust and Harris Ranch filet mignon smothered in bearnaise sauce.
6467 Sanibel Captiva Rd, Sanibel, FL 33957, Phone: 239-472-0033
5.Matzaluna: The Italian Kitchen
© Matzaluna: The Italian Kitchen
Matzaluna: The Italian Kitchen has become known as Sanibel Island's premiere Italian dining destination since its opening in 1994, operated under the umbrella of the Prawnbroker Restaurant Group. The restaurant is helmed by award-winning chef Sal Velez, acclaimed for his appearance on the popular Food Network television series Iron Chef. It is home to Sanibel's only wood-fired pizza oven, serving up delectable Old World-style pizza variants such as eggplant-topped primavera and white basil Caprese. Traditional Italian-style favorites such as veal marsala, chicken puttanesca, eggplant parmesan, and shrimp carbonara feature prominently on the menu, along with a wide variety of pasta choices, including create-your-own pasta options offering a choice of sauce. Gourmet house specialties include Mulberry Street shrimp, crafted with capers and sage cream sauce, and Sal's Guava Salmon, pan-seared with cilantro and guava citrus butter.
1200 Periwinkle Way, Sanibel, FL 33957, Phone: 239-472-1998
© Sunset Grill
Sunset Grill is located at Sanibel Island's westernmost end just prior to the island's bridge to nearby Captiva, showcasing gorgeous views of the island's beachfront from its outdoor patio seating. The restaurant is one of the island's hidden gems, great for couples looking to avoid long waits or advance reservations. High-quality seafood offerings are served up at breakfast, lunch, and dinner throughout the week, including favorites like grilled salmon in pineapple teriyaki sauce, pan-seared scallops topped with choron sauce and lump crab meat, and Gulf shrimp penne pasta in tomato cream sauce. Diners can also enjoy land fare like half roasted chickens drizzled in lemon thyme demiglace, served up with hearty homestyle sides like Yukon gold whipped potatoes.
6536 Pine Ave, Sanibel, FL 33957, Phone: 239-472-2333
7.The Sanibel Sandbar
© The Sanibel Sandbar
The Sanibel Sandbar is a lively beach cottage-style restaurant on West Gulf Drive, opened in 2013. The restaurant showcases eclectic decor emphasizing its island vibe, including artwork by local artist Myra Roberts depicting mermaids and other whimsical tropical scenes. Wild-caught fish and seafood entrees take center stage throughout the day, including jumbo lump crab cakes, Jamaican jerk-style salmon, blacked grouper, and Gulf shrimp penne rustica. Couples can also share delicious appetizer and raw bar selections like oysters Rockefeller, spicy Mayan mussels, and boom-boom sweet and spicy shrimp. An open-plan kitchen highlights food preparation, while cozy, romantic seating overlooks stunning outdoor garden views.
2761 W Gulf Dr, Sanibel, FL 33957, Phone: 239-472-0305
8.Thistle Lodge Restaurant
© Thistle Lodge Restaurant
Thistle Lodge Restaurant is the premiere restaurant of Sanibel Island's Casa Ybel resort, acclaimed for more than a century as the one of the world's top travel destinations. The resort, which has historically attracted international luminaries such as Henry Ford and Thomas Edison, was voted as the world's top travel destination by Frommer. Award-winning menus are offered at brunch, lunch, and dinner throughout the week, focusing on Floridian and European culinary techniques and recipes. Couples can enjoy classics like parmesan-herb crusted sea bass with roasted beet beurre blanc, stuffed free-range chicken with spinach and sun-dried tomatoes, seared yellowtail snapper with crawfish ragout, and seafood Provencal served over angel hair pasta. Steakhouse fare is also served up, accompanied by a carefully-cultivated wine list.
2255 W Gulf Dr, Sanibel, FL 33957, Phone: 239-472-9200
9.Traders Cafe and Store
© Traders Cafe and Store
Traders Cafe and Store is one of Sanibel Island's best-kept secrets, known as a local favorite for dinner throughout the week for more than two decades. The restaurant, which is helmed by executive chef Mike Patnode, serves up succulent steak and seafood selections at dinner, complemented by live entertainment from local artists several nights a week year-round. Couples can choose from entree favorites like macadamia-encrusted grouper with Thai peanut sauce, pan-sauteed diver scallops over lobster ravioli, and pesto-brushed salmon with English pea risotto. Classic barbecue baby back ribs and ribeye steaks are also served, along with creative small plates like veal meatloaf, fish tacos, and beef short rib flatbreads.
1551 Periwinkle Way, Sanibel, FL 33957, Phone: 239-472-7242
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10.Traditions on the Beach
© Traditions on the Beach
Traditions on the Beach is Sanibel Island's oldest dining destination, inviting guests to enjoy its contemporary cuisine since 1895. The restaurant offers world-class cuisine crafted by its award-winning executive chef, serving up in a spacious dining room and sunset lounge with gorgeous waterfront views. Fresh, local ingredients are used in delicious dishes that pay tribute to the region's Olde Florida heritage. Diners can enjoy oak-grilled land and sea fare like prawn scampi, Colorado lamb chops, or center-cut filet mignon or select from entree favorites like hazelnut-crusted tuna with basil citrus sauce and Moroccan-style lamb tagine with golden raisin compote. A full cocktail menu is served up from the restaurant's lounge, which showcases live music performances and DJ sets throughout the week.
3111 W Gulf Dr, Sanibel, FL 33957, Phone: 239-472-4559
10 Best Restaurants on Sanibel Island, Florida
- Sweet Melissa's Cafe, Photo: Sweet Melissa's Cafe
- Bleu Rendez-Vous Bistro, Photo: Bleu Rendez-Vous Bistro
- Cip's Place, Photo: Cip's Place
- Mad Hatter Restaurant, Photo: Mad Hatter Restaurant
- Matzaluna: The Italian Kitchen, Photo: Matzaluna: The Italian Kitchen
- Sunset Grill, Photo: Sunset Grill
- The Sanibel Sandbar, Photo: The Sanibel Sandbar
- Thistle Lodge Restaurant, Photo: Thistle Lodge Restaurant
- Traders Cafe and Store, Photo: Traders Cafe and Store
- Traditions on the Beach, Photo: Traditions on the Beach
- Cover Photo: sarsmis/stock.adobe.com