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Sanibel Restaurant Recommendations: What I Liked & What I Didn’t

This post was written before Sanibel, Captiva, and parts of the surrounding area were absolutely blasted by Hurricane Ian in September 2022. While the intention is to rebuild, the causeway has been fixed, and the island is expected to begin opening to tourism in January 2023, things are not “back to normal” and likely won’t be for a long time. If you’re planning to visit the area, make sure to do plenty of research to find out what’s open, what’s available and what’s just not even there anymore. 

Sanibel is a great island…it’s no secret. While there’s a lot to love, one of my favorite things about Sanibel is that it’s CHOCK FULL of local mom and pop restaurants. No Bubba Gump or TGIF Fridays here. You could easily spend the week and do a different spot for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and part of what’s fun about coming back over and over is revisiting all your favorite spots. 

This is by no means an exhaustive list of everywhere to eat on Sanibel, this is just the rundown of what I thought about the places I ate on this trip, plus some places that I have on my list for next time:

The Hits

Lighthouse Cafe: Best Breakfast on Sanibel

If you’ve only got time for one restaurant on Sanibel, make it this one. This place is a Sanibel institution and I’ve eaten here several times on previous trips. I’m happy to report that it was just as good as I remembered and this is 100% the place you should go if you only have time for one breakfast on Sanibel. It’s actually the place you should go if you have 2 or 3 also ; ) The breakfast sandwich was divine as were the pecan waffles. Honestly, everything is good here and the staff couldn’t be more friendly and attentive. 

Mad Hatter: Sanibel Restaurants on the Water

So…I’ve had an obsession with Alice in Wonderland since I was a child. Well…turns out there’s an Alice in Wonderland themed restaurant right on the island and with only two nights on the island, it definitely earned a spot. 

The Mad Hatter is one of the few restaurants on Sanibel that actually sits on the gulf side of the island so sunset is very popular. It’s also not a very big restaurant and since it’s more high end/fine dining (there are crumb scrapers, people!) it definitely attracts an older crowd so when we showed up right at 5PM with no reservations, we got one of the last tables!haha 

It was a very cute place and everything I ate was PHENOMENAL (bread, cesar salad, lobster tails, cheesecake) and I was very satisfied with the pick, but it’s probably a one and done for me. And it’s probably not a spot I’d go with kids.

The Bubble Room: A Don’t Miss Experience

This was easily the most recommended thing when I told people I was going to Sanibel.

The Bubble Room is actually on Captiva and it’s a tradition that’s not to be missed. It started as a quirky little restaurant that kept their Christmas decorations up all year round and today it’s a full blown attraction. The best way I can describe it is a “local Buca di Beppo”…kind of chaotic but a lot of fun! 

It’s a maze of a restaurant that’s overwhelmingly decorated with old Hollywood memorabilia, vintage toys, and every kind of vintage colorful display you can think of. Everything on the menu has a fun name and they’re famous for their cocktails and desserts. 

The food was surprisingly good (you don’t always expect it to be at a place like this) and the dessert was fantastic. If you only want dessert, you can stop in Boop’s by the Bubble Room next door, but eating INSIDE the Bubble Room is really part of the experience. 

Cheeburger Cheeburger

Surprisingly, this was the place with the 2nd most recommendations on Sanibel. So when I needed a last minute late lunch before I headed to the airport, I stopped in Cheeburger Cheeburger. I’m never one to pass up a cheeseburger, especially when it comes so highly recommended, but I laughed a little bit when I walked in and realized it was a (Florida) chain. You know…the Elvis/Marilyn Monroe 50s style diner variety. But it was actually an incredibly good burger and shake!

RELATED: The Best Shelling Beaches on Sanibel

Shopping on Sanibel: A Must Visit Bookstore & Cute Boutiques

A Visit to the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum

Cayo Costa Shelling Tours with Captiva Cruises

The Best Sanibel Island Tennis Resorts

The Misses

Island Cow

Ouch. On my other trips to Sanibel, we ate at the Island Cow numerous times and LOVED it so I was excited to go back. It’s a super cute place and it is always PACKED when you go by. But gosh it was disappointing. I seriously hope that we just ordered wrong and had an isolated bad experience because I had such good memories of this place, but there was really nothing positive about our dinner. 

The Island Cow has a HUGE menu which should probably be a warning sign because a restaurant can’t do EVERYTHING great. I think my mistake was going with something that was listed as a dinner “special” on a separate menu. It was strongly recommended by our waitress which is probably what swayed me, but in hindsight I should’ve gone with something simple like a shrimp basket. (If you really like details, it was the “Bubba Gump” Shrimp we got which was four shrimp prepared four different ways and only the fried ones were really very edible.) Also, the salads came with fruit in them (like the cesar salad has cantaloupe, honeydew, and blueberries IN the salad) which was just kind of weird plus it just wasn’t a good salad. 

Okay, okay so now I know what NOT to order next time but we also had problems with timing. Our entree came out before our salads and our waitress was mad at the kitchen and sent it back and then they brought our salads and 10 minutes later our entree and it wasn’t very hot so we figured it was probably our original one that had been sitting under a heat lamp and then that was confirmed when they tried to bring out a fresh version of our entree about 15 minutes later. 

Anyways, the bottom line is…if this was the only time I’d been to the Island Cow I would say you should seriously avoid this place. But because I loved it so much in the past (and it was packed every time I drove by), I’m tempted to say go for breakfast. Or order something basic from the regular menu. But there are soooo many great restaurants on Sanibel so it’s tough to say. Your call. 

Over Easy Cafe

This is the #1 rated breakfast spot in Sanibel on TripAdvisor. Really??? Man, I can’t believe I had back to back flop meals because this one was hardly edible folks. And breakfast is pretty hard to mess up! Pancakes were ok, bacon was completely burned up, eggs were dry, and service was very lackluster (plenty of staff and it didn’t take long, but very flat and unfriendly). 

I guess this is the time I feel like I have to say…I’m not that hard to please! I’m not a discerning foodie/critic with impossible taste! I like good food, but I’m pretty easy going. All this to say…just go to the Lighthouse Cafe. The food is divine and the service is friendly. You don’t need to eat anywhere else. Just have all of your meals there ; ) 

Other Places (That I Want to Try Next Time)

East End Deli: If you’re going to Lighthouse Beach, stop in here for a grab and go picnic. Their stuff looked amazing. 

Doc Ford’s Rum Bar & Grille: There’s one on Sanibel and Captiva

Sanibel Cafe: Is it better than the Lighthouse Cafe? Probably not, but I’ll give it a chance. 

Gramma Dot’s Seaside Saloon: All the seafood with ample outdoor seating on the water? Yes, please. 

The Blue Giraffe: For Mexican food (but they have other stuff too). Apparently the street corn isn’t to be missed. 

Matzaluna: Pizza! Pasta!

Thistle Lodge Beachfront Restaurant: If the Thistle Lodge was good enough for Thomas Edison and Henry Ford, it’s probably good enough for me. Views of the gulf. 

The Tipsy Turtle: Breakfast, lunch, and dinner. 

The Lazy Flamingo: If a place has “flamingo” in the name, I’m in. 

RC Otter’s: Breakfast, lunch, a dinner on Captiva

The Mucky Duck: The only gulfside restaurant on Captiva

More posts about the area:

Sanibel vs Marco Island

Sanibel vs Captiva

Edison & Ford Winter Estates in Fort Myers

Luminary Hotel & Co in Downtown Fort Myers Review

Matlacha Isles & Pine Island: A Great Fort Myers Day Trips

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