It’s a place that for whatever reason calls to you. Maybe it’s the food, perhaps the ambiance or some lovely combination of the two. It’s your favorite place.
It might not be the fanciest. It doesn’t need to have Michelin stars or be Zagat rated. Heck, it could be a street vendor or a barbecue shack. But it’s your place.
We started thinking about our favorite places recently. Below is a list of our 10 favorite restaurants at the moment. The places we want to go to all the time.
A Table Apart, 4295 Bonita Beach Road., Bonita Springs. (239) 221-8540
If you are looking for a restaurant that serves sophisticated and refined fare at prices that won’t leave you broke, search no more. A Table Apart will wow you with an intelligent fusion of French and Hawaiian recipes at very reasonable prices. The bistro pomme frites with truffle oil are reason enough to drive to Bonita Springs. Clams, a pork chop "porterhouse" and organic salmon are reasons to visit this small, charming restaurant over and over again. (CA)
Campiello, 1177 Third St. S, 435-1166
Few restaurants can match Campiello’s combination of high-quality food and picture-perfect setting. A meal on the patio on a cool winter night might be one of Naples’ most perfect pleasures, though any time you eat at Campiello is a treat. The wood-oven pizzas are the closest thing in town you can get to a true Neapolitan pizza and the fried calamari might be Naples’ best appetizer. (JF)
Cosmo’s Pizzeria, 536 U.S. 41 N. 262-8181
In my never-ending search for the perfect pizza I stumbled across Cosmo’s Pizzeria, a small establishment a stone throw’s away from our Central Avenue offices. The Italian owner, Gianluca Corso, has created a friendly and easy-going atmosphere and his pizza recipe is simply delicious. With more than 15 toppings to choose from, Cosmo’s menu is a pizza lover’s paradise. And if you are not in the mood for pizza, ask Gianluca about his fresh pasta and gnocchi dishes: for less than $15 you can eat like an Italian king. (CA)
Escargot 41, 4339 U.S. 41 N, 793-5000
While there are certainly many other lovely French restaurants in town, they mostly favor the home cooking from Provence. Escargot 41 is as close you can get to a taste of classic French cooking in Southwest Florida. If you love escargot, there’s no better place to have them. From the decadent escargot and sweetbreads to the traditional preparation with parsley butter, there are always a dozen offers (JF)
Miramare Ristorante, 4236 Gulf Shore Blvd. 430-6273
For a more upscale, romantic dinner nothing beats the views of the Bay you can enjoy while dining on the terrace at Miramare Ristorante at Venetian Village. The cuisine is authentic Italian and the pizza is as close as it gets to the Neapolitan original. If I don’t want to stuff myself with pasta or pizza, the beef carpaccio and clam guazzetto are my favorite alternatives. The miniature desserts ($2.50 each) are not only to die for, they are also the perfect size to round up your meal without swallowing hundreds of extra calories. (CA)
Ridgway Bar and Grill, 1300 Third St. S. Suite 101, 262-5500
Tony Ridgway has had one restaurant or another in the Third Street South area for 30-plus years now. And while some folks might pine for the days of the Chef’s Garden or Truffles, Rigdway is about as good of a restaurant as you are going to find in Southwest Florida. The pan roasted shrimp in tasso ham gravy and sweet corn grits cake is a marvel of low-country cuisine. And the meatloaf is even better than what you remember your grandmother making. (JF)
Siam Thai, 81 Ninth St S., Naples. 649-5111
Everyone that knows me knows that I have a soft spot for Asian food in general and for Thai food in particular. Although the number of Thai restaurants in town is growing, my heart belongs to the first place where I had amazingly spicy and rich Thai food: Siam Thai. Their chicken basil is to die for, but don’t forget to check out their summer lunch specials: a collection of noodle soups that will leave you yearning for more. The spicy pork Tom Yum is particularly satisfying and it costs only $7.95. (CA)
Steamers, 5317 Airport Pulling Road, 593-3388
Don’t let the parking lot view dissuade you from trying Steamers. What it might lack in ambiance, it more than makes up for in fantastic fried seafood. Sure you can get your fish grilled, blackened or cooked any other way you might like it. But where Steamers really succeeds is in the batter-dipping and frying. Their onion rings are second to none and the batter-dipped lobster tails are about the closest thing to heaven you find. Steamers also boasts the closet you are going to get to a genuine New England lobster roll.(JF)
Taco Mix, 4288 Bonita Beach Road, Bonita Springs (239) 498-9448
There are some places that capture us because of their stunning setting or elaborate menus, and then there are others we love because their food is always fantastic, affordable and authentic. Taco Mix belongs to the second category: a combination of Mexican and Cuban recipes are masterfully prepared and served with a smile. Don’t let the commercial setting fool you: Taco Mix serves amazing Cuban sandwiches, delectable pork tacos and a Cuban black bean soup that is finger-licking good. Everything, including the beer, is extremely affordable. (CA)
Taqueria San Julian, 3575 Bayshore Drive, 775-6480
Yes they have other food, including tripe soup and shrimp cocktails the way God intended them. But really is there a reason to go to Taqueria San Julian other than the tacos. They are perfect in just about every way imaginable. They are simple, just meat, onion and cilantro with a radish on the side. But they are full of flavor. Plus, if you are adventerous and dare to push past the typical steak, pork, chicken tacos, San Julian rewards you with delicacies not likely to be found at many other local restaurants — tongue, tripe and head meat. (JF)
We asked you to tell us about places you love to eat, and boy did you ever. We received nearly 370 e-mails singing the praises of 62 different restaurants. They ranged from the highest of the high-end (The Grill Room at the Ritz-Carlton) to the humblest of the humble (Nana Vetta’s diner in Golden Gate). Here are the Top 10.
1. Lulu B’s Grill, 8795 U.S. 41 N, 594-5330
"I go to this restaurant at lease once a week , sometimes more. Yes, I do love the rock and roll theme and the friendly staff, but I go in for the specials. I can’t wait to see what the staff has created for the day." — Judith Jones
"The food is great, the prices are great, and the service is outstanding. I always feel I get a great deal when I have lunch or breakfast there." — Frank Dowd
2. Sea Salt, 1186 Third St. S., 434-7258
"I have been to many restaurants throughout the world and Sea Salt could be a star anywhere!" — Maryl Holley
"(The chef’s) selection of fish and fresh ingredients is unsurpassed." — Dean Corsones
3. The Pubs: Old Naples Pub, 255 13th Ave. S, 649-8200; Island Pub, 600 Neapolitan Way, 262-2500; and Village Pub, 4360 Gulf Shore Blvd. N, 262-2707)
All three of these sister pubs got a lot of support from the community.
"Great Food. Great Prices. Great Staff. And a terrific atmosphere. Island Pub ROCKS." — John and Pat Nigg
"My favorite pub is the Old Naples Pub. Great food, service and a wonderful piano player!" — Rose Furgal "The Village Pub at Venetian Village is our absolute favorite pub. Love their crab cakes, salmon with all the trimmings and the fantastic view." — Sue Bennett
4. Buzz’s Lighthouse, 9180 Gulf Shore Drive N., 597-2551
"Great food, a beautiful setting, reasonable prices and a staff that makes you feel that you are part of the family. What more could anyone ask?" — Libby Ford
"Great ambiance, view and super food at resonable prices." — William Galliers
5. IM Tapas, 965 Fourth Ave. N, 403-8272
"The food is genuine Mediterranean Spanish cuisine served to perfection tapas style." — John Gould
"The food is superb and the ambiance is wonderful." — A.S. Guzman
6. The Aurelio’s Pizza, 590 U.S. 41 N., 403-8882 and Shula’s Steakhouse, 5111 U.S. 41 N., 430-4999
"There is absolutely no pizza that can compare to (Aurelio’s)!" — Burt Appleby
7. Shula's Steakhouse "The best steak I have ever had. And it is owned by my favorite football coach — Don Shula." — Thomas Donahue
8. M Waterfront Grille, 4300 Gulf Shore Blvd. N, 263-4421
"This is an easy choice for my family. M Waterfront Grille is the place we all agree on. If my wife and I want a romantic dinner, we go alone for date night. A great lunch or Sunday brunch means the kids are hungry and along for the meal, or if we just want some creative appetizers with drinks and live music, we head over to the M Lounge with friends for a casual get together. We even bring our dog sometimes for an outdoor waterfront table. The staff is always welcoming and quick to bring Coco a refreshing bowl of water!" — Jake Strong
9. The Bayshore Break, 3570 Bayshore Dr., 331-8888 and
10. Sunburst Cafe, 2340 Pine Ridge Road, 263-3123.
"(Bayshore Break) has a wonderful neighborhood atmosphere with great breakfasts made by it owner. He simply asks you what you want and he makes it!" — Lindsey Thomas
"What I love about Sunburst is that they make everything fresh for me and they are not scared to create something for me if I ask for a special ingredient or way of cooking." — William Boyajian