For a town its size, Naples is virtually over-stuffed with restaurants. Good restaurants. Excellent restaurants. And for the area – known for its Midwestern retiree populations – darn good restaurants. It has a dining-out kind of populace that supports restaurants from the most casual seafood house to the finest Ritz-Carlton dining room year-round.
Although they may not keep pace with Miami and other Florida foodie scenes, the restaurants of Naples impress with fine technique and cutting-edge daring. Downtown restaurants in particular are breaking the seafood and steak mold with global touches and skilled daring. Osteria Tulia takes Italian dining – something of which Naples boasts plenty – to a new level by returning to farmhouse roots in a thoroughly modern way, while Sails Restaurant travels to coastal Europe. On Marco Island, the new Ario at JW Marriott too steps up its steak and seafood game with global flare and a touch of magic.
Besides Italian, you will find everything from French to Persian cuisine in the Naples area. For the latter, Bha! Bha! will tickle your taste buds with exotic flavors.
Bha!Bha! has served its popular brand of “Persian bistro” cuisine in Naples since 1997.
The name means “Yum! Yum!” in Iran, Chef Michael Mir’s homeland. He fuses his native background with his experience in fine American kitchens to present an intriguing menu that maintains the authenticity and boldness of Middle Eastern cuisine while employing a few tricks of classic Continental and experimental new American styles.
Prepare your palate for a magic carpet ride. The aash, a peasant-style herbed bean and noodle soup, introduces the complexity of the cuisine.
Best bets for entrees: the spicy kermani beef, char-broiled lamb kebab, garlic eggplant chicken and duck fesenjune.
Dine indoors in a chic setting with subtle Middle Eastern nuances or at a sidewalk table.
Recommended for Best Restaurants because: This ethnic twist adds boldness to the Naples dining scene while keeping up with local standards for fine food.
Chelle’s expert tip: End your meal with Turkish coffee service – a true delight.
The Continental serves all-American cuisine. Its niche is two-fold: name-ranch steaks and craft cocktails. The steak takes center stage, however. It dominates the dinner food menu, divided among the restaurant’s four beef providers. Each touts its own connoisseur-level characteristics, including the top-of-the-line Japanese Wagyu A5 and Italian Piedmontese. Yet The Continental is clearly no ordinary steakhouse. Owners break the mold with their menus, but also with the restaurant’s design. The dining room, which shows the telltale opulence of a typical steakhouse, opens onto the courtyard, where a convivial bar, bougainvillea-framed setting, cabanas and live dinner entertainment make this something wholly other.
Recommended for Best Restaurants because: It bends all the rules about steakhouses to do something entirely its own, entirely marvelous.
Chelle’s expert tip: The Piedmontese cuts have the tenderness of wagyu but without all the fat marbling – a good choice for a healthier diet.
Nothing beats a dinner out at the Ritz, where service, setting and culinary excellence combine to foment an experience that transcends mere eating.
The Grill excels in fine steaks, but also knows its way around seafood and vegetarian dishes. Dry-aged cuts include New York strip, ribeye and Delmonico, plus filet mignon, veal chop and Colorado rack of lamb. Why not splurge further and add a side of foie gras or half a lobster tail?
Signature seafood entrees run the gamut from salmon to Dover sole meuniere.
Despite its formality, the atmosphere feels relaxed. Live music, usually light piano, frequently entertains.
Recommended for Best Restaurants because: It consistently rates in Florida Trend magazine’s Golden Spoon Awards.
Chelle’s expert tip: It’s known for its dessert souffles – the Grand Marnier is best. Don’t forget to order it early in the meal as it takes some time to bake.
Subtitled “an American Bistro,” Verdi’s has been Marco Island’s culinary boast for well over a decade. Don’t be fooled by its simple strip mall setting: The kitchen offsets the simplicity with marvelously crafted seafood and meat dishes presented with style and multi-dimensional flavor.
Here’s a small sampling: chicken breast in phyllo; pork prime rib with applejack brandy sauce; scallops with Sambuca cream sauce; crispy duck with raspberry and ginger hoisin sauce; and its signature grilled New Zealand rack of lamb with garlic mashed potatoes, green beans, port, and lamb and mint demi-glaze.
Alcohol is beer and wine only, but the wine selection is robust and varied.
Recommended for Best Restaurants because: It is listed consistently among Marco Island’s top 10 restaurants.
Chelle’s expert tip: For small appetites, a selection of six small plates includes a petit filet and penne and meatballs.
The menu changes with the seasons at Wylds, but the tenderloin saga remains a constant.
Wading in a pool of demi-glace, the grilled filet mignon gets piled with shards of pommes frites and the glue of melted saga blue cheese. A take on steak frites that one-ups the French.
That’s just one example of how this Bonita Springs favorite creates buzz. Some other examples? Enigma Salad – tenderly sautéed duck, shiitake mushrooms, tomato, avocado, capers and romaine with parmesan-peppercorn dressing; tenderloin meatloaf; parmesan-crusted walleye pike; pan seared duck breast with blue cheese croquettes.
So don’t be put off by the strip mall location and plain dining room. This place is the toast of local foodies.
Recommended for Best Restaurants because: Wylds is roundly considered the best fine dining in Bonita.
Chelle’s expert tip: Never pass up on the cinnamon bread pudding when it shows up on the dessert menu.
The kitchen’s excellence stems from exquisite attention to detail – from a house-cured cherry in the Manhattan cocktail at the convivial bar to fanfare touches such as sage and brown butter with the ricotta pillows, citrus tomato sauce with Angelina’s long-favored butternut squash ravioli and parmesan and ziti cake with the halibut.
Other stellar dishes: fra diavolo pizzette with spicy salami and olives, mussels with lobster and shrimp broth, agnolotti pasta stuffed with slow-roasted veal and topped with wild mushrooms, and sea salt baked snapper for two.
An award-winning selection of wine occupies a three-story glass tower in the elegant, Old World-style dining room. The final superlatives go to the staff – friendly, unflappable and uncommonly capable.
Recommended for Best Restaurants because: With its award-winning wine list and new-wave Old-World cuisine, it reinvents Italian dining.
Chelle’s expert tip: Angelina’s is famous for its butternut squash and mascarpone handmade ravioli with orange sauce and candied pecans.
Chef Fabrizio Aielli comes from a stellar background that covers Italy, the Caribbean and two of his own highly hailed Washington, DC, restaurants.
At Sea Salt, he conceived dining centered around the sea. To carry the concept, he stocks more than 100 different varieties of salt and infused flavored salts. Dinner at Sea Salt begins with a three-flight sampler of salt to season dishes to come.
Convivial and inspired by chef’s Venetian birthright, the setting transitions from an outdoor, pet-friendly patio to indoor casual elegance via a bar that circles outdoor to in. Salt candle holders light the indoors, decorated in colors from the beach and sea.
The main menu intertwines cultures – fresh oysters, sea urchin poached in duck fat, ravioli stuffed with braised veal, salt-encrusted branzino, grass-fed ribeye and whole fresh fish from the showcase.
Recommended for Best Restaurants because: Its global menu is the utmost in creativity and quality, with emphasis on Mediterranean.
Chelle’s expert tip: For a grand splurge, reserve the Chef’s Table in the kitchen with a group of friends. The chef will cater specifically to your palates.
On its climb to reach JW Marriott status a few years ago, the former Marriott Marco Island Beach Resort created something rare and precious. It starts with fine beef aged 35 days in an on-premise aging room, but do not dismiss Ario as just another high-priced steakhouse. High-priced it is, but you get what you pay for – exquisite quality. Just sit at the display kitchen counter to see chefs at work – a cross between surgeons, artists and magicians. The totally original ice-fire décor of Ario carries the illusion of magic. Then there’s the magic in your mouth. Homemade sunflower seed rolls with cinnamon and citrus notes served with butternut squash butter. Sourdough rigatoni with cauliflower and butternut squash. Miso glazed seabass with charred broccolini. Colorado lamb chops and wagyu ribeye. Onion rings with foie gras gravy. Passion fruit creme brulee. Sigh!
Recommended for Best Restaurants because: Top chic in decor and cuisine, it sets new standards for Marco Island.
Chelle’s expert tip: The charred octopus appetizer with fried green tomatoes and chorizo vinaigrette: Don’t miss it.
The first dilemma: Sit al fresco and people watch along busy Fifth Avenue South or enter the embrace of “farmhouse chic” indoors, where repurposed barn wood creates warmth and character?
Then the food ordering decision! Like the décor, the menu, reflects the rustic side of Italian cuisine refined.
Culinary marvels range from piattini and antipasti selections such as Brussels sprouts caramelized with house-made fennel sausage, and Sicilian meatballs studded with the added serendipity of pine nuts and currants, to homemade pastas such as braised lamb neck sugo and sheep cheese with garganelli, creative pizzas, and wood-roasted Faroe Island salmon with coucous chili, Marcona almonds and yogurt.
Besides the pasta, Chef Vincenzo Betulia prepares most of his cured meats in-house. What he doesn’t make himself he imports from Italy or sources from local seafood and produce providers.
Recommended for Best Restaurants because: It has the most authentic Italian cuisine with a faithful following.
Chelle’s expert tip: For a refreshing warm-weather cocktail, try the Fiori – vodka with passionfruit nectar, St. Germain Elderflower liqueur, crushed raspberries and effervescent limonata.
“Excellence” describes Sails Restaurant from start to finish. From start: Owners meticulously sourced décor items such as a Greek marble bar in the shape of a sail, dish ware, and the finest seafood and steaks to create a modern European coastal setting and cuisine. Guests select their own fresh seafood, its poundage and its preparation: wood grilled, salt baked or seared a la plancha. Artistically presented seafood towers, crudos and tartares launch a memorable experience. Courses of seafood salads, house-made pasta and global entrees ensue. Try the Peppered Tuna Rossini with seared foie gras, black truffle and charcoal-roasted onions; or prime tomahawk rib steak with garlic confit. An exacting wine list and decadent, modern dessert menu are the final excellence icing on this lovely cake.
Recommended for Best Restaurants because: From cuisine to service to decor, every detail is perfect.
Chelle’s expert tip: Order a seafood tower for two – a stack of clams, tuna tartare, prawns, crab and lobster – to share for starters and the deadly sinful chocolate Grand Marnier souffle to finish.