Where to eat by the water: Dinner, lunch, and brunch picks in Greater Fort Lauderdale
For more than 20 miles north to south, the Intracoastal Waterway and its canals divvy up the Fort Lauderdale area, creating alcoves of local culture and cuisine. That’s how we got the nickname the Venice of the Americas.
The number and variety of waterside dining options in the Fort Lauderdale area span seven towns. That means even your long-time locals will find one or two new places to try in this article.
So, without further ado, here’s a curated list of the very best Intracoastal Waterway dining options our area has to offer.
Laid-back Spots for Brunch and Lunch
Sometimes, after sleeping in on a Saturday or Sunday, flip-flops and a t-shirt are all the clothes a person has the patience for. When that’s the case, here are three picks where you can toss a cap over your bedhead and dine by the dockside without shame.
Started by three siblings at their family-owned Lighthouse Point Marina, Nauti Dawg Marina Cafe is a dockside spot tucked away deep in the neighborhoods of Lighthouse Point. You’d never find it by accident, but plenty of word of mouth and consistently great reviews keep the place packed on weekend mornings.
But even if you can’t be bothered to show up early, the wait at Nauti Dawg is never unpleasant when accompanied by one of their delicious sake- or wine-based brunch cocktails.
You really can’t go wrong with anything on the well-curated menu, so order whatever strikes your fancy without fear. But if you’re undecided, allow us to be your tie-breaker. The Nauti Dawg’s variations on eggs benedict and conch fritters are to die for.
It’s worth waiting to grab a table on the dock to dine outside. You’ll be surrounded by the gentle lap of the water against the pylons and the locals dining with their dogs. Bonus points: If you’re the DIY type, Nauti Dawg offers a You Hook, We Cook service where their chef will perfectly prepare and serve your own fresh catch.
Don’t be fooled by the proximity to the swanky Las Olas Beach area. Coconuts is a perfect spot for laid-back atmosphere while enjoying some of the best brunch and lunch choices around. Check out the braised octopus salad or savory seafood bread pudding. You won’t be sorry.
Coconuts is also situated in an area that has more docks per square mile than anywhere else in the county, so you’re in for some great boat-watching at pretty much any time of day.
If you’re looking for some of the best raw bar fares along the water, Jimbo’s Sandbar is your destination. Whether you’re in the mood for oysters, stone crab or sushi, you’re going to be happy with the selection at Jimbo’s.
Now, if you’re hankering for more traditional island or southern seafood fare, check out the smoked fish dip or a variety of fried choices – from clams and conchs to gator bites.
Oh, did I mention the Saturday and Sunday unlimited mimosas? Yeah, I rest my case.
Fine Dining, Date Night and Special Occasion Picks
Some events demand a bit of additional refinement. If you’re looking to put on your warm-weather dress attire, here are a few local spots to celebrate your occasion.
Dinner as GG’s Waterfront is an occasion in and of itself. Come hungry with plenty of friends who like to share plates.
Between the raw bar choices and starters, like the spiced octopus, you’ll want to order several things to taste. But be sure to leave plenty of room for filling mains like the whole fish, which rotates daily, or other local catches like grouper and swordfish.
And lest you think Fort Lauderdale doesn’t do steaks, check out GG’s selection of dry-aged steaks and slow-cooked beef selections, like the braised short rib. You won’t be sorry.
Boathouse Restaurant is a newer addition to the Fort Lauderdale dining scene. The restaurant is situated along the New River behind the aptly named Riverside Hotel, so you’re sure to get plenty of boaters coming and going along this major waterway artery in the heart of downtown.
An eat coastal, eat local philosophy drives the menu at Boathouse, so selections rotate based on season and availability. More impressively, Boatyard has cultivated several hooks to table partnerships with local fishermen, so the catch of the day always offers something new to try.
Menu staples include a shellfish cart and Florida paella, which are crowd favorites. You’ll also almost always find salmon, Mahi, swordfish, and grouper alongside whatever Boatyard’s fishing partners have on offer for the day.
Kaluz is a dream for Fort Lauderdale carnivores. Between bone-in pork chops, beef ribs, prime rib, crab cakes, and duck confit, you’ll find something amazing to satisfy your need for umami. But be sure to leave room for desserts like banana cake and bread pudding.
Situated conveniently along the Intracoastal Waterway at Commercial Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale, Kaluz is easy to get to by car or by boat.
Full disclosure: after my wife and I tried the Rusty Hook Tavern for the first time, it immediately became our mutual pick to host our wedding reception. We still eat there at least every couple of months.
The Pompano Beach restaurant was started by a Gordon Ramsay protege, and the menu offers inventive twists on seafood favorites, like graham cracker-breaded calamari and Cheetos-crusted Mahi, just to name a couple. This affinity for putting together interesting flavors extends to the cocktail menu with picks like Beer & Honey and The Troublemaker.
Fish fans take note: The Rusty Hook is one of the area restaurants that regularly features hogfish on the menu. This species has a one-per-fisherman Atlantic water daily limit and is commonly caught by spearfishing, so it’s a rare treat. If you or someone you love is a hogfish fan, call ahead and plan your trip to The Rusty Hook for when it’s available.
Oh, and while you’re in the area, follow the dockside path under the renovated Atlantic Avenue drawbridge spanning the Intracoastal Waterway. You’ll be rewarded with a view of the beautiful new marine life-inspired mural painted by local artist Dennis Friel.
Try Two Distinct Dining Experiences at 15th Street Fisheries
Situated in one of Fort Lauderdale’s marine landmarks – the Lauderdale Marina, 15th Street Fisheries offers excellent seafood in both its upstairs fine dining room and its more laid-back The Fisheries Dockside venue. Upstairs, we’re talking white table cloths and stunning panoramic views out across the water. Downstairs is your choice for live music and a more lively bar and grill atmosphere. If you time it right on the weekends, usually late afternoon/early evening, you’ll get an up-close view of the cruise ships sailing out of Port Everglades. Cheers to vacations.
Happy Hour and Late Night Restaurant Choices
Not all happy hours are created equal. These waterside spots offer views that give them a decided leg up. They also happen to have awesome food to go along with some of the area’s best drink specials.
Shooters Waterfront is a Fort Lauderdale institution. But even though it draws large daily crowds, the expansive outdoor seating means that waits usually aren’t all that long.
The Water Taxi stops right by the restaurant, making Shooters a convenient stopover for flatbreads, sushi, sandwiches or seafood. Seriously, this menu is full of awesome choices to please any palate. Fridays and Saturdays the restaurant stays open until midnight, serving a more limited but still delectable bar menu.
Here is a Cliff’s Notes history of one of the area’s best waterside burger joints: The Le Tub Saloon used to be a gas station. Most of the decor is repurposed flotsam and jetsam the owner collected from Hollywood Beach during less environmentally conscious days of yore. Yes, that includes the bathtubs. Yes, the burgers have been featured on Oprah and in GQ Magazine. Yes, they are that good.
So you can see why Le Tub is a local favorite hangout. This Intracoastal dockside spot is on the Water Taxi route right across the street from Hollywood Beach. The drinks are well made and reasonably priced. The food is awesome. What more do you need to know?
Roughly 25 steps from Le Tub on the other side of the Water Taxi stop, you’ll find 5 O’Clock Somewhere Bar & Grill. The Jimmy Buffett-inspired joint is an extension of the Margaritaville Hollywood Beach Resort that’s right across the street.
It’s an awesome place to enjoy indoor/outdoor dining and drinking with a day's end mindset – all day long. If you’re feeling energetic, use it as your put-in point for paddle-boarding or kayaking. Or just order a floater on your next frozen drink and watch someone else do the balance work.
So that’s a roundup of must-try Intracoastal Waterway dining choices. Come check out the tastes of the Venice of America, and be sure to sound off with your favorites on social media so we can keep this article fresh.