Best of January: The top things we ate in SWFLA

Will Watts
Two pork tacos al pastor and one steak quesadilla at Taqueria San Julian, Naples.

It’s time to take a look at some of the best things we ate in January!


Zen Asian BBQ amazed with two tidbits, the crispy bok choy and the red curry dumplings.

More:Best of January: The top things we ate on Marco Island

I usually like pan fried dumplings, as the steamed just can’t compete. But let them soak up some coconut-milky red curry sauce and it’s a whole different ballgame. An unexpected turn led to a great taste destination.

Red curry dumplings from Zen Asian BBQ, Naples.
Bok choy from Zen Asian BBQ, Naples.
Philly cheesesteak eggrolls at the Marco Island Brewery.

The bok choy was on a whole other level. This dish dealt with the leafy side and looked as if you had attempted to make potato chips out of kale. And it worked! Delicious and fun to eat; the crushed candy-like nuts and hot plum soy created a flavor explosion in my mouth.

It’s rare to come across something new, but the Marco Island Brewery surprised us with the Philly cheesesteak egg rolls ($8.95).

When I first saw the photo of the dish on our table, I exclaimed, “that’s interesting.” Followed by, “why hadn’t anyone thought of that sooner.” The egg rolls come with marinara for dipping. I preferred them au natural.

Food Trucks are all the rage. And while this next entry technically came from a stand at the Marco Island Farmer’s Market, it represented Cordobesita, the Argentinean food truck. And it’s a new twist on an old favorite: empanadas.

Baked empanadas, actually. It’s about time we find a convenient, healthier option for these delicious finger foods. Cordobesita offers empanadas in organic spinach and cheese, organic corn and cheese, a no nitrates ham and cheese, a no antibiotics ground chicken and a lean ground beef.

Assorted baked empanadas from Cordobesita, Argentinean Food Truck.
Anita's Guacamole also comes from a family recipe; and its makers are on a mission to "provide all natural, wholesome goodness."

I loaded up on all of them. Each was amazing, but my favorite was the ground chicken. The texture, flavor and quality were as good as the unhealthy variety, without all those things I don’t need.

Another delicious find at the Marco Island Farmer’s Market, Anita’s Guacamole, which stems from a family recipe, and its makers are on a mission to “provide all-natural, wholesome goodness.”

This guac is “strictly vegan,” made with only natural ingredients. I sampled this dish with chips (amazing) and with a homemade chorizo dish on the night of purchase. Having fresh guac without messing up a single dish is nice.

Anita’s uses Hass avocado and a hint of citrus. To be honest, I added some more lemon juice after sampling and it only heightened the taste.


Mediterrano of Naples featured the aptly named Mediterranean seabass (Branzino) ($38). Oven baked and topped with figs, apricots and raisins, the dish featured a hint of lavender and Mediterranean spices. It was served over heavenly parmesan risotto, glazed with citrus saffron butter sauce; in addition to house roasted vegetables.

If it’s Tuesday and you’re looking for Tacos, look no further than Bayshore Drive in Naples. There’s this place called Taqueria San Julian with some of the best tacos in Southwest Florida.

Tasso Beouf (aka Haitian fried beef) from Hi Lands, Golden Gate.
"Island Bleus" burger from Marco Island Brewery.
Mediterranean seabass (Branzino) from Mediterrano, Naples.

I had the tacos al pastor and a steak quesadilla. Al pastor is one of my favorites; the Mexican version of shawarma spit-grilled meat. If you’ve never had the quesadilla, it’s not served in the same fashion as many restaurants, like a pizza cut into slices. No each quesadilla is taco sized; looks very much like a taco; except for the melted cheese inside. The steak was tender, juicy and cooked to perfection.

More:Watts for Dinner: Authentic Haitian flavor in Golden Gate

In the mood for Haitian food? I certainly was. Hi Lands in Golden Gate – and no, that’s not a typo. Hi Lands. Not Highlands – offered up the Tasso Beouf or Haitian fried beef. This dish packs a robust flavor. Flank steak is marinated in garlic, peppers, scallions, citrus juices and spices before being fried. My entrée was served with fried plantains, a spicy slaw and Haitian black rice.

Haitian black rice should not be confused with the black rice grains. This black rice is a traditional Haitian rice dish that is made by using black mushrooms; native to the northern part of Haiti. Considered a delicacy, when boiled, they release a gray-black coloring, giving this recipe and many others a distinctive aroma, flavor and color. This rice is usually served with a meat or fish dish.

More:‘Watts for Dinner’: Zen Asian BBQ offers fun, fusion and fulfillment

If you are looking for a good burger with a nice twist, head over to the Marco Island Brewery. The “Island Bleus” burger ($13.50) is smothered in melted Gorgonzola dressing, sautéed mushrooms and onions. And the fries are amazing!


Green tea crepe cake from Zen Asian BBQ, Naples.
Green tea crème brulee from Zen Asian BBQ, Naples.

Zen Asian BBQ features house made desserts such as green tea crème brulee, hot lava cake and cocoa in a jar (their version of an ice cream sundae); and a green tea crepe cake which was named “most insane dessert in Southwest Florida.”

My dining companion had the green tea crème, which was good and gets high marks for presentation. It came packed in ice and surrounded with flowers and other decorations carved from a carrot.

More:‘Watts for Dinner’: Join The Oyster Society for some unbelievable perks

I had to go for the “insane” crepe cake. And it was. Thin layer upon layer of sugary green tea goodness served alongside a scoop of green tea ice cream. Our hostess explained that the proper way to eat this dish was a bit of ice cream and cake in the same bite. And she wasn’t wrong.

"One toasted coconut" from The Oyster Society, Naples.
Craving salty? Or maybe sweet? Uncle Dan's has got you covered.

The “one toasted coconut,” from The Oyster Society features rum cake, coconut mascarpone rum cream, toasted coconut and a lemon mango glaze. It was the perfect end to a beautiful meal.

Although it could have used a tad more rum (just saying).

Lastly, if you’re craving sweet and salty at the same time, you won’t want to miss Uncle Dan’s Olde-Fashioned Kettle Corn.

The company is family owned and you can find their booth at many Southwest Florida events (you can also arrange to have them at your event).

The corn comes in three sizes and is said to be made from a “secret family recipe.”

There are only four items listed as ingredients — corn, corn oil, sugar and salt. You can’t beat that.

If you go


  • 336 13th Ave S., Naples.
  • 239-261-7498

Taqueria San Julian

  • 3575 Bayshore Drive, Naples
  • 239-775-6480

Zen Asian BBQ

  • 10823 Tamiami Trail North, Naples
  • 239-260-7037

Hi Lands Restaurant

  • 4963 Golden Gate Parkway, Naples
  • 239-352-9771

Marco Island Brewery

  • 1089 N. Collier Blvd., Marco Island
  • 239-970-0461

The Oyster Society

  • 599 S. Collier Blvd., Marco Island
  • 239-394-3474

Uncle Dan’s Olde-Fashioned Kettle Corn

  • 239-825-0939
  • uncledansoldefashionedkettlecorn. com

Anita’s Guacamole



  • Find them here: facebook. com/CordobesitaNaples/