The 17 best restaurants in North Naples: JLB selects top eats for 2020
It's "best of" season.
I shared my list of the 27 best restaurants in Cape Coral last week. Naples is up next.
But I'm doing things differently in Collier this year.
In 2019, I crafted a singular list of Naples favorites. A list like that can leave some feeling unfulfilled. Naples has so many great restaurants from which to choose, just one list hardly does it justice.
I hereby declare that lists shall be made throughout the land, regionalized, concise and fair, with liberty and justice for all.
Ahem, I mean, keep checking naplesnews.com for more of my localized lists on the Naples culinary scene in the weeks to come.
First up to bat: North Naples.
I'm talking restaurants from the Lee-Collier line south to Pine Ridge Road and east to Logan Boulevard. It's a tasty bit of real estate. As I did last week in the Cape, I've ranked my five North Naples favorites, with the rest listed in alphabetical order.
Let's get eating.
5. Fernandez the Bull
Fernandez has been a Naples fixture since 1985, and it has some of my favorite homemade hot sauce this side of Alligator Alley. That's on top of the superb collection of Cuban goodness the Bull serves on a daily basis. Crisp mariquitas, pressed Cuban sandwiches and perfectly tender and citrus-y vaca frita are frequent regulars at casa de Le Boeuf, as Fernandez offers takeout and dine-in options. The restaurant has two Naples locations and a new restaurant in Key Largo.
(In North Naples at 3375 Pine Ridge Road and 1201 Piper Blvd. No. 10; fernandezthebull.com)
4. The Local
This has been a favorite since it opened in 2013. The Local sits in an unassuming strip-mall space near Airport-Pulling and Pine Ridge roads. But there's nothing ordinary about this food. Chef-owner Jeff Mitchell was one of the first in Collier to dedicate a menu to locally harvested ingredients. The Local's dishes are honestly seasonal, with items coming and going as produce becomes available. Ingredients come from Florida producers such as Palmetto Creek Farms in Avon Park, Blue Star Seafood in Fort Myers and Circle C Farm in Bonita Springs. Mitchell's dishes are creative, too. Right now, mushroom bruschetta, melon salad and cowboy-rubbed beef brisket top the dinner menu, while coffee-chia-seed pudding, brisket hash and ricotta-sour-cream pancakes grace the breakfast one. Despite the near constant change, I’m consistently appreciative of what The Local accomplishes with its plates.
(5323 Airport-Pulling Road, Naples; 239-596-3276; thelocalnaples.com)
3. True Food Kitchen
One step inside True Food Kitchen and I let out a sigh. I didn't realize I was holding in so much stress until I saw this serene dining room painted soft white with emerald-green booths and a soaring ceiling styled with light-wood accents. It felt like stepping into an oasis. True Food opened in Waterside Shops in March 2017. It's one of more than 30 locations across the country. But this is not your typical chain. True Food's menu follows guidelines set by founder and holistic health guru, Dr. Andrew Weil, whose anti-inflammatory diet replaces meaty, processed, high-fat foods with plant-based options. The menu is seasonal, changing as ingredients come into what the kitchen calls "peak freshness." Currently that means a fig and gorgonzola flatbread, spicy panang curry and spaghetti-squash casserole — all good for your body and even better for your taste buds.
(5375 U.S. 41 N., No. 15, Naples; 239-431-4580; truefoodkitchen.com)
2. The Bay House
Is it possible to talk about The Bay House too much? Sometimes I worry I'm cheering too hard for this place — until I go back to it. That's when I'm reminded how much there is to cheer for here: the stunning local seafood dishes; the outstanding raw bar; the Southern-inspired entrees. And that's just the food. The Bay House's service is as gracious as it is efficient. Its setting feels ripped from the pages of Coastal Living magazine. Add it all up and you get a wonderful restaurant that is worth many, many cheers.
(799 Walkerbilt Road, Naples; 239-591-3837; bayhousenaples.com)
1. Namba Ramen & Sushi
While so many Asian restaurants in town hand you a 40-page fusion menu of Japanese, Chinese, Thai and Korean, Namba has simplified things down to really good ramen, really good sushi and a few select complements that add to this unique izakaya-style experience.
It is proof that less can be so much more.
A Japanese-trained chef, Namba's Pitak Hermkhunthod takes pride in his work, importing handmade noodles from Japan and simmering a 17-hour broth for his milky-smooth ramen, which is, hands down, the best in the area. His sushi is done the right way, with room-temperature rice that's seasoned just so then layered with perfectly cut slivers of fish.
Tack on fried Brussels sprouts drizzled in miso, bacon and candied walnuts; grilled shiitakes tossed in red shiso and seasoned butter; and crisp Japanese-style fried chicken (and I'm drooling), and you've got just enough reasons to place Namba at the top of most any list.
(8847 U.S. 41 N., North Naples; 239-592-4992; nambanaples.com)
The best of the rest
Agave: It's clear a restaurant is going to be good when the first thing guests see is a masa-dough artist hand-crafting tortillas for the night's festivities. And at Agave, a weeknight dinner is certainly festive. This Mexican-inspired restaurant serves a host of cocktails such as the Agave lemon drop, the honey badger and the shimmering gold margarita. Then there's the menu bursting with Mexican classics and creative originals. agavenaples.com
Bites: OpenTable named Bites one of the 100 best restaurants in the U.S. in 2019. The restaurant serves tapas-style dishes in the lobby of the Ritz-Carlton Beach Resort, and they're worth every pretty penny. From lip-puckering ceviche, to the simplicity of an artfully arranged charcuterie board or a hearty steak frites with Bearnaise, a favorite among Bites' regulars. "It's tried and true," Bites manager Jennifer Piccone said in a December interview. "Any time we try to make any adjustments to it, our guests say 'No, no, go back to the original.'" I concur, keep Bites exactly how it is and I'll keep coming back, time and time again. ritzcarlton.com
Cooper's Hawk Winery: The fun of this place starts at its wine bar, where I've been directed to wait before heading to a table. These wines aren't extraordinary. The chain makes them in Illinois (hardly a wine hot spot) from grapes grown in California. Though the wines are meh, the experience and food are solid. Cooper's Hawk is a great place for a big, mixed group. Wine, even the OK kind, keeps everyone happy. chwinery.com
Cote D'Azur: There's something elegantly old school about this dining room. It's comfortable with an almost cliched French flair — casement windows, a yellow-white striped awning. But this food, this food is anything but cliched. Salmon carpaccio is speckled with capers and caviar. Lobster is roasted, shelled and finished in a sauce of Champagne truffles and more caviar. To say "oh la la," would be a cliche. It would also be true. cotedazurrestaurant
Greektown Taverna: I once called Greektown a hidden dream, and while it's not so hidden anymore, it is still a dream. This Taverna serves some of my favorite Greek food in town. From char-grilled octopus to hearty moussaka and flaming saganaki with lemony pita slices to a baklava cheesecake that defies all odds. It seems Greektown can do it all — and do it all really well. greektownnaples.com
The Grill: When price is no object, The Grill is hard to match. Another resident of the Ritz-Carlton Beach Resort, this place is the picture of opulence: chandeliers dripping in crystals, fireplaces, plush chairs surrounding linen-topped tables. The menu is equally opulent: Dover sole, dry-aged Prime steaks, lobster bisque. This adds up, literally and figuratively, to a place that's hard to match. ritzcarlton.com
Hampton Social: This bright and breezy restaurant is oh-so Instagram-able. From the neon “Rosé all day” sign at the bar, to the enormous birch tree in the center of the dining room, to enchantingly creative cocktails — one step inside and you've entered a social media influencer's paradise. Beyond looks, Hampton Social's creative plates and specialty seafood dishes make this more than just a pretty face. thehamptonsocial.com/naples
Maria's Tacos y Mas: This tiny taqueria only has about three tables, but the food is so delicious, there's usually a line out the door come lunchtime. Maria's serves all the taco favorites, from chicken, al pastor, chorizo and carnitas to lengua, barbacoa and lamb. On Thursdays, Maria's offers a two-tacos-for-$3 deal and a three hand-made tamales for $8 deal, making Thursday my favorite day of the week. Find it on Facebook
Parmesan Pete's: Last year, Tony Bennett caused a hullabaloo when he dined here before a performance at Artis—Naples. I've been eating there for years, way before the legendary crooner made it cool. Of course, Pete's has been around for almost a decade, so maybe it's the hoards of loyal customers that have kept it cool. Pete's is reliably good, with Italian classics executed simply and beautifully for every meal. parmesanpetes.com
Seoul Korean Restaurant: This place is always packed, and for good reason. This small restaurant opened in Magnolia Square on the northeast corner of Goodlette-Frank and Pine Ridge roads in early October. I visited soon after. As soon as the door swung open, the smell of sizzling beef, red-pepper paste and earthy miso soup pulled me into one of Seoul's bright red booths. I believe my spirit never really left. Part of me stayed behind, eternally snacking on savory seafood pancakes and smoky grilled pork belly. I hope my physical body will rejoin that part of my spirit one day, back in that booth, ideally over more Seoul- (and soul-) filling food. napleskoreanrestaurant.com
Sunburst Cafe: I've spent many a morning at Sunburst with a hot cinnamon-bun latte, a Santa Fe scramble and a sticky chocolate-orange muffin. This cafe is one of my favorite rainy-day spots in Naples. Even when it's gray outside, it's sunny in Sunburst. Whether that's from the always-smiling baristas or the brightly colored decorative pillows and enormous tropical landscape mural, I'm not sure. Let's say: all of the above. sunburstnaples.com
The Turtle Club: Gulf-front dining is never cheap in this area. But at The Turtle Club, you get what you pay for. From one of the same owners as Bay House, Turtle Club brings that same level of grace and sophistication to the shores of Vanderbilt Beach. Sink your toes in the sand over a plate of roasted Gulf grouper with lump crab and citrus beurre blanc and, well, life is good. turtleclubnaples.com