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Sanibel Island where to eat dinner

going to sanibel island resort and spa for a quick get away with the wife .I am looking for a great local dinner spot (not a chain ) .. need good bar and wine list , great food prepared simply. no french crapola..

open to any location

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  1. My favorite in Sanibel is Doc Ford's for an inspired, creative menu that is executed superbly.

    2 Replies
    1. re: laurie

      Sorry, but I disagree about Doc Ford's. Been there twice and found the food to be average at best and the service abysmal. Recommend Timbers, Jacaranda, Thistle Lodge, Grandma Dot's (lunch), Lazy Flamingo, Ellington's (jazz dinner), Lighthouse Cafe (breakfast), Old Captiva House and Trader's. Mad Hatter has become overpriced and "precious".

      1. re: laurie

        We were all happy with Doc Ford's. Agree, the shrimp with Yucatan sauce was awesome. So was the shrimp and grits. I am a Southerner and that has to be some of the best grits I have tasted. The buffalo mozerlla dish was great. The only downsides were the drinks (tasteless mojito in an unappetizing presentation and watered down Manhattan) and the crab cakes, which were not chunky but kind ground up. The fish tacos were so-so. Still, I recommend it heartily. Go for their strong suits.

      2. The Bubble Room was / is a fine establishment on Sanibel / Captiva.....Eaten there many times in the past and it was extremely good....pricey....worth it.....On the flip-side....loved the Chee-Burger/Chee-Burger there!!...(LOL)......But if the Bubble Room is in operation then that's a great place to start.....It's been a few since I've been over that way....Choice are limited on Sanibel / Captiva....If they still have the Saturday night seafood buffet at South Seas Plantation on the end of Captiva that was very good as well....


        1. in sanibel, timbers restaurant, definitely. old school fish market type atmosphere and wonderfully fresh fish. if you want to go all the way to captiva, hands down go to the sunshine seafood cafe. no view, but excellent food and nice wine list. on a 5 day trip, we ate there twice.

          2 Replies
          1. re: faq

            We are hoping to return there soon. Can anyone tell me if The Twilight Cafe is still open on Sanibel? We had a nice meal there and the gallery was really fun. And is RC Otters still open on Captiva? We loved the breakfasts there.

            1. re: 3catsnh

              The original RC Otters owner sold to Sandy Stilwell, who owns most of the Captiva restaurants now. The place is still fun for breakfast but not as good as it once was.

              Twilight Cafe has been gone for a few years. Red Fish Blue Fish has taken its place, but I am not sure if it is still around. It had the great misfortune to open right after Hurricane Charlie.

              To the comments on Timbers. I think it is dreadful. Fish there should be pristine and not farm raised. Not so.

              I love Sunshine Seafood. Excellent tripletail. They know their fish. Also owned by Sandy Stillwell.

              Bubble Room survives in some sort of nostalgic haze. Food stinks, and one had better pray that the house lights don't go up in this place. It is so busy, it never gets cleaned. Kiddies love it I guess and when they grow up they want to take their children there. Gruesome desserts weighing in at a pound per each. LMF

          2. Jacaranda(for the Lobster Bisque & Crab stuffed Mahi-Mahi), Dolce Vita(anything with Pasta & seafood) & has a dance floor & live music, & Doc Ford's(for an appetizer of delicious mussels & other sandwiches & meals) . The Mucky Duck is great for sunsets,but the food is so-so.Both Lazy Flamingos are casual & have delicious grouper baskets & steampots of yummy seafood.The Timbers has fresh fish,but the service isn't always attentive.Keylime Bistro has delicious nachos,huge fish sandwiches(Mahi or grouper) & quenching drinks.

            5 Replies
            1. re: linleedo1

              Re: Keylime Bistro

              We had dinner there over the Memorial Day weekend & can't really recommend this place. We had two pricey entrees ($35 & $26) and both were indifferently prepared. Had a much better dinner at the Green Flash, not to mention at a more reasonable price.

              1. re: linleedo1

                ditto on the Mucky Duck and the Lazy Flamingos and Key Lime Bistro. Bubble Room for drinks if you have to see the place. Sunset Grill for apps and wine.

                1. re: edible complex

                  Interesting side bar on the Bubble Room...we stopped in for after dinner drinks, which were the cheapest on Captiva. My B&B was a strangley priced $6.13, before tax. While at the bar, saw of lot of the famed desserts being served. Hearing about them does not prepare you to actually seeing how big they are. Unless you have a huge sweet tooth, these things will serve 3, at a minimum.

                  1. re: cavandre

                    yes, I remember those ginormous desserts well. we always took them back to the condo and fed on them for a week.

                    1. re: edible complex

                      Trust me, the hype is all they are about. You could make a comparable cake by picking up a cake dr cookbook! Enough said!

              2. The Sanibel restaurants I went to were mostly disappointing. The Hungry Heron, the Timbers, Lighthouse Cafe (all three were from the Frommer's guide); and the Tarpon House and Charlie's Cabana Bar at the Sanibel Harbour Resort and Spa were universally so-so and expensive. Both the Tarpon House and Charlie's Cabana bar had great water views and friendly service. The only restaurant I loved was the Courtside Steakhouse at the Sanibel Harbour Resort and Spa. The food and service was phenomenal, but the bill was also phenomenally expensive ($145/per person for our tab). The view wasn't anything to mention (the tennis courts), but the interior decor was nice and formal. They even have high-chairs for little ones, but it isn't a great place to take a screaming baby.

                1. Sanibel is great except for the restaurant scene. Overpriced and pretentious food is the norm. For example, Melissa's (AKA Redfish/Blufish) fashions itself a really special chef-centered place. But the food is nothing special and a double order of the shrimp appetizer yields a total of 6 medium shrimp -- for $26. This is typical. Best place in town is Schnappers Hots. At least you get what is advertised.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Cueball

                    I'd hardly call therestaurants on Sanibel pretentious. As for their pricing, it is no more than other restaurants in SW Florida unless you only go to places like Schnapper's or the big chains. I love Schnapper's fries and their Buffalo style grilled hotdogs.

                  2. I actually enjoy Trader's on Sanibel a lot. The food is by no means fantastic, but for a decent meal its quite good. The only worthwhile place there I think.

                    1. Red Fish/BluFish is one of my faves..

                      1. Redfish Bluefish is gone. Sweet Melissa's has opened in its place. No news and I know of no one who has eaten there yet. Sounds like high concept. Not sure. LMF

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: LilMsFoodie

                          Sweet Melissa's, formerly Redfish/Blufish, is the same. Melissa is the same chef of the past couple years or so, who just changed the name, to her own.

                          Gaye Levine, who co-owned RedFish with Bridgit Stone, passed away a year ago, and Melissa may have purchased her share. I've not eaten there, it's said to be good. Not a funky as Doc Fords, not as high end as Thistle Lodge.

                          1. re: LilMsFoodie

                            Ellington's is a fantastic place to eat, drink and listen/dance to old-fashioned jazz!

                            1. re: EmeraldIsle

                              Sanibel's Casa Ybel Thistle Lodge has had major shakeups. Chef Davidson left suddenly a few months, ago and there are now two new chefs. Also, Suzanne Watral suddenly left a week or so ago; she was their great F&B person.

                              Change happens.The summer should give all time to get a new menu up and going for the next season.

                          2. Even as a teenager...many years ago, I remember thinking The Bubble Room was a joke. It's like a theme restaurant with no real theme...and average food.

                            1. Two more restaurants that haven't been mentioned are the Mucky Duck and McT's.
                              The Mucky Duck on Captiva is one of my family's favorites. It is a must eat place anytime we visit. We tend to go there for lunch, but dinner is really good. It started out as an English Pub and always has good seafood. It's right on the beach so ask for a table by the window.
                              McT's on Periwinkle has good early bird specials of prime rib and fresh seafood.

                              4 Replies
                              1. re: Beckybuu

                                How long since you were on the island. Both of these have really gone downhill. I haven't heard anyone mention McT's for several years and the Duck has had poorer and poorer food for the past 4 years. He has had it for sale for a long time but it is too expensive, especially with the declining fortunes of the near by resort: South Seas.

                                1. re: LilMsFoodie

                                  We spent the Memorial Day weekend on Captiva. Got to the Duck just in time to watch the sunset on Friday. We then inquired how long a wait there would be for a table. We were told it would be at least 1.5 hours. I won't wait that long if Emeril was cooking. Also was a little confused by the timing. The posted hours for dinner end at 9pm. We asked at 8:20, so they were talking about seating us at 9:50. Got a little leery about never getting served so we went elsewhere. Where we went was a disaster, but that's for a differemt thread.

                                2. re: Beckybuu

                                  Last two years we've gone to Sanibel, and I don't get the bad words about McT's. There just aren't enough AYCE shrimp places anymore, and you know you won't go away hungry.

                                  My wife's meal was great; so was mine.

                                  1. re: jrshooter

                                    When we went to McT's, we had a HORRIBLE waitress. She was extremely rude and made the experience terrible. It could just be that people who happen to have her have a bad experience... otherwise, McT's was fine.

                                3. We've been on the island for a few weeks now and have had dinner at a few places. RC Otter's was only average food and fairly poor service. For the price I don't think it was worth it. The Old Captiva House was visited by some friends of ours that highly recommended it, a bit pricier though.

                                  I've not seen the Island Cow recommended here yet. Thus far, I thought is was the best we've visited. The prices are not cheap but not overly expensive. The food that comes for the price is definitely a full plate. Service was great and the food was very tasty.

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: aztraveler

                                    Island Cow is mentioned frequently. Nice family place. The original owner of RC Otters opened it with the same menu as RC's. This was quite a few years ago. I think of it as a place for kids.

                                    I like Old Captiva House very much. Great pastry chef, by the way. LMF

                                    1. re: LilMsFoodie

                                      I found this post, and figured I'd add my 2 cents, months later!

                                      I recommend Sweet Melissa's, which will move ~Feb, 2009 to a new location on the island. I wrote them up, with photos, at:

                                      Mermaid Kitchen has new owners and chefs, and it's delicous, beautiful, and well worth a visit. Dine on the side porch, if possible, or check out dozens of mermaids.
                                      Thistle Lodge's new chefs are tops, and the view can't be beat.
                                      Island Cow is good food at good prices, and it's ideal for kids, too. Lots of them!
                                      Sunset Grille has a top chef, Amy Visco, with beautiful presentations.

                                  2. Doc Ford's IS wonderful. Mad Hatter is pricey, but the fare is very good. Pass on the Bubble Room. Tired atmostphere and the food has really suffered.

                                    6 Replies
                                    1. re: cjklutz

                                      We were on Sanibel this past weekend. We had a great meal at Doc Ford's and the bonus was our server shared my love for premium rums and made great recommendations. There are not enough rum bars in my opinion.

                                      We had a fantastic meal at the Mad Hatter and I thought the prices were more than fair for the quality of the food, service and view (in that order). I would kill to have the recipe for the appetizer. Bite size beef filet in a spicy decadent sauce tossed over homemade tender gnocchi and served in a martini glass. And I had the Waqyu special with exotic mushrooms as my entree. The roasted beets with the vegetables just added to the dish

                                      Dolce Vita on Valentine's night was a madhouse but they still managed to pull off well executed dishes with great service at a non rushed pace. I can close my eyes and still taste the mediterranean bouillebaisse that was under the saffron couscous and grouper.

                                        1. re: sarapeater

                                          We also had a great lunch at Gramma Dot's. I agree about the chips. Service was great and the grouper fish sandwich special we had was great. The only downside is how close the tables are but the view of the boats in the marina is enough to make you get past it.

                                          1. re: folprivate

                                            not too bad to sit at the bar, but seems to be a wait for a table no matter when you go

                                        2. re: folprivate

                                          Been in Sanibel a few days now and we've enjoyed everything we've had so far! Part luck, but this thread has been very helpful. First night we had dinner at The Lazy Flamingo - the one on Periwinkle - and the food was great, the service was even better.

                                          Hit the Sanibel Cafe for breakfast yesterday and the food was good, reasonably priced, good service. Doc Ford's last night for dinner and no complaints. Nice sports bar atmosphere, clean, comfortable, very good food, good service. Even tried one of those fancy rums - now I'm a fan. Liked it so much I bought a hat.

                                          Did the Island Cow this morning - don't miss this one. Very busy for this time of the year, but didn't wait for a seat (haven't waited for a seat anywhere yet this trip). Great food, fun atmosphere and excellent service. Great coffee! Dinner tonight was the Blue Giraffe. Food was tasty, great service here again.

                                          So far, no complaints except that the DQ (ice cream for those of you not familiar with Dairy Queen) is useless. Friday night stopped after dinner, closed up tight around 9:30 pm. Ok, maybe they close early. Saturday night stop after dinner again at 8 pm - they were cleaning up and no longer serving again. WTH? You sell ice cream, but you can't stay open until 9 or 10 pm on Friday/Saturday night? Won't bother trying again, we'll hit Pinocchio's which was rated best on island it appears.

                                          1. re: zaph0d

                                            I really do enjoy Island Cow. In particular I like their salads, and the duck quesadilla

                                      1. I am interested in hearing more about the Mad Hatter. Their food sounds out of this world! Does anyone out there know an email address for the owners? I would love to get in touch with them. Please, if anyone can get that info you can IM me on yahoo's IM my screenname is natalierae2. And we will be heading to Florida in Dec. so if anyone has any suggestions on where my children and I can go,and I do get time for myself as well,so any suggestions would be helpful. Thanks again

                                        Mad Hatter Restaurant
                                        6460 Sanibel Captiva Rd, Sanibel, FL 33957