You don’t come to the Gulf Coast of Florida waiting for salmon and trout, you come for hogfish and mullet and sweet shrimp tinted pink by the coral sands in which they live.
These are the seafood that this region thrives on.
And these are the restaurants that offer these local specialties directly from our waters to your plates.
Salty Papa Shrimp House
I once saw a commercial fisherman drop a cooler from his fresh catch in the kitchen, then sit at the bar, swap his sunglasses for reading glasses, and order lunch. It’s the type of approval money can’t buy, and it’s the type Salty Papa gets day in and day out.
15271, boul. McGregor, south of Fort Myers; 482-7272; saltypapasshrimphouse.com
FULL REVIEW: Salty Papa’s Brings Southern Flavor to Local Seafood
Timbers restaurant and fish market
For 40 years, this Sanibel joint has been promoting local seafood. Back in the days when restaurants in southwest Florida transported “local” fish from the north, Timbers owners cut out the middleman, buying directly from area fishermen before selling their catch to national distributors. Timbers’ Crispy Grouper Sandwich is practically famous. And the place is a must-see for oyster lovers, offering one of the biggest choices around.
703 Tarpon Bay Road, Sanibel; 395-2722; boisofsanibel.com
MORE: Timbers is a Sanibel hotspot popular with locals
Pass a 41
Gulf sweet shrimp researchers don’t need to look any further. Skip One has one of the largest fleets of fishing boats and shrimp boats in South Florida, if not the state. These boats sell their catch at Skip One’s sister market, Trico Shrimp and Seafood on Fort Myers Beach, and at this classic, no-frills southern Fort Myers institution that has been delighting seafood lovers for over 50 years. year.
15820 S. Tamiami Trail, south of Fort Myers; 482-0433; skipone41.com
Olde Fish House Marina
On the small island of Matlacha, there is art and there are fish. And Olde Fish House has both. This colorful and funky cottage serves the freshest seafood from the nearby docks. From simple stone and peel-and-eat crab claws, to grouper cakes, fish dip and puppies to die for. It’s everything you would expect from a seafood restaurant, with artistic charm to spare.
4530 Pine Island Road, Matlacha; 282-9577; oldefishhousematlacha.com
FULL REVIEW: Olde Fish House is old Florida through and through
These fishhouse-like restaurants are easy to mistake for tourist traps. But they do serve the types of seafood popular with locals and visitors alike. I go for the grouper tacos, the Gulf shrimp, the massive Caesar salad topped with the more perfect grouper. Add some serious wings, an ice cold craft beer and a cool breeze on the patio – and life is good.
Locations in southern Fort Myers, Bokeelia, Sanibel, Captiva; lazyflamingo.com
Island seafood market
The dock at the back is not for the show. This is where the fishermen moor to unload the fish, crabs and shrimp they have just brought back from the Gulf. After weeks on the water it’s a short sprint to the finish. The whole decomposed fish is taken outside, brought back inside through the kitchen, then served a few feet away in the dining room, or sold at the adjacent market. It’s just fresh, honest seafood. No show necessary.
4330 Pine Island Road, Matlacha; 283-2525; MarchÃ©fruitsdemerinmatlachafl.com
MORE: At Island Seafood, a fresh Matlacha sandwich
Fish Conte Grill
This South Cape favorite offers seafood from everywhere: lobster rolls and chowders, Alaskan crab, tuna and salmon tartare. But don’t sleep on its local offerings. Its daily menu features two types of groupers, gulf shrimp and oysters and nearby Pine Island clams. Everything is fresh (its sister seafood market is right next door), and everything is handled by the skillful hands of this well-run kitchen. What more could you ask for?
1229 SE 47th Terrace, Cape Coral; 257-3167; fishtalegrill.com
Dixie Fish Co.
This open-air dining room on the water overlooks the part of Matanzas harbor where the shrimp boats dock, the same boats that supply this delicious fish market-turned-restaurant. Dixie is one of the few places that (almost) always has hogfish on the menu (my favorite Gulf fish). But with or without hogfish, the place is a local delight.
714 Fishermans Wharf, Fort Myers Beach; 233-8837; dixiefishfmb.com
FULL REVIEW: No worries at Dixie Fish Co.
Blue Dog Bar & Grill
Blue Dog owners travel to Fort Myers Beach to collect their shrimp. They visited the nearby fisheries and farms of Matlacha and Pine Island for mullet, clams, mangoes, greens and just about everything else on this menu. This chef-led charmer packs local flavor into everything he serves (craft beers included). It’s home to my all-time favorite smoked fish dip and excellent mullet tacos that remind you of why this so-called “garbage fish” was once a staple for the region. It also looks like a tourist trap, of course, but I’d be happy to be trapped here anytime.
4597 Pine Island Road, Matlacha; 558-4970; bluedogfl.com
FULL REVIEW: Fresh, local, unfettered – Blue Dog tastes like Matlacha
Jean Le Boeuf is the pseudonym used by a lover of local cuisine who dines in restaurants anonymously and without warning, with meals paid for by The News-Press. Follow the review on facebook.com/jeanleboeufswfl or @JeanLeBoeuf on Twitter and Instagram.