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It’s a hopping new year already for many area restaurants among the first to launch in 2024. Some of the long-delayed ventures have been greatly anticipated and are expected to be among the top new restaurants of the year. 

Keewaydin’s on Fifth 

The first out of the gate is Keewaydin’s on Fifth, the new dining concept from Phelan Family Brands that replaced Yabba Island Grill on Fifth Avenue South in downtown Naples. The local restaurant group acquired Yabba last summer with the rest of the Naples-based Culinary Concepts restaurants. Two others—Chops City Grill and Pazzo Cucina Italiana—also are longtime restaurants on Fifth Avenue South. The acquisitions brought Phelan’s total restaurants to 25 while it was celebrating the 25th anniversary of its Pinchers brand. 

Keeywaydin’s—named for Keewaydin Island, a popular boaters’ hangout off Naples—started its three-day run of soft openings on the afternoon of Jan. 2—the same day it received its certificate of occupancy. It opened to the public on Jan. 5 at 711 Fifth Ave. S., next to The Naples Players’ Sugden Community Theatre, which is still in the midst of major renovations. 

While initially planning to create a “super high end” restaurant at that location, CEO Grant Phelan said they decided to target the upscale casual market, creating a space comparable to the Tommy Bahama restaurant—“a lot of seafood, steaks and great cocktails and happy hour,” Phelan said. 

Keewaydin’s is open for dinner now and plans to offer lunch service starting Jan. 25. 

J. Alexander’s Restaurant 

A contemporary American restaurant known for its hospitality and wood-fired cuisine, J. Alexander’s opened its first location Jan. 10 at 8860 Tamiami Trail N., just south of Vanderbilt Beach Road, in North Naples. The nearly 8,000-square-foot longtime location of Buca di Beppo Italian restaurant was gutted to create the seventh restaurant and full bar in Florida for Nashville-based J. Alexander’s, which has 37 locations throughout 15 states. Its Tampa restaurant is the only other location on the Gulf Coast. 

“Naples is a thriving community with a vibrant food and restaurant scene. We are excited to bring our high-quality dining experience to the area,” said Josh Kern, CEO of Houston-based SPB Hospitality, which operates and franchises many full-service dining restaurant concepts, including J. Alexander’s. “Our team is committed to crafting great tasting cuisine that is paired with extraordinary service, which are signature to our brand.”

J. Alexander’s menu features a wide selection of American classics, including prime rib, steaks, fresh seafood, sandwiches, entrée salads and indulgent desserts. The restaurant serves a varied and rotating selection of dishes, including the imaginative appetizer Avocado Bomb with fresh avocado, hand-cut Hawaiian tuna and crispy wontons. The restaurant has a full-service bar that includes a selection of wines served by the glass and bottle. 

In addition to dine-in, online ordering and delivery, the Naples location features a private dining room for special events. The restaurant is open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday. 


Unidos, a modern, sophisticated fusion restaurant and bar with dishes inspired by a traditional Latin kitchen, had its soft opening Jan. 8 in the combined former longtime spaces of Starbucks coffee shop and Valento’s Pizza & Hoagies on the southeast corner of U.S. 41 and Central Avenue in Naples. The new 3,200-square-foot space at 1 Ninth St. S. will have a full bar and indoor and outdoor seating. Restaurateurs Salvador and Jaime Muñoz, who also operate the Unidad Latin restaurant in a Chicago suburb, are behind Unidos, the Spanish word for united, combined or together. 

Its menu leads with a variety of tacos: baja, birria, carnitas, ropa, shrimp, tinga and even Mama’s taco—a gluten-free creation with steak, bacon, poblano peppers, onion, tomato, cotija cheese, crema and cilantro. Appetizers include guacamole, pico de gallo, empanadas, ropa vieja, elote fritters and queso fundido. 

Entrees include Venezuelan arepas with plantains, chicken enchiladas and Steak Tampiqueña, an 8-ounce skirt steak and a cheese enchilada with mole, guacamole and grilled onion and jalapeño. The signature burger features a patty of short rib, brisket and chuck with pineapple-bacon jam, jalapeño aioli, Chihuahua cheese, fried onions, lettuce, tomato and steak fries. 

Imperio Taqueria 

Imperio Taqueria, specializing in Mexican cuisine for breakfast, lunch and dinner, launched Jan. 5 in the Galleria Shoppes at Vanderbilt in North Naples. 

Imperio moved into the space at 2355 Vanderbilt Beach Road, Suite 142, that previously was home to Vampire Penguin Shaved Snow & Desserts and Philly Pretzel Factory.  

The new local restaurant is owned by the Cruz family, which has lived in Golden Gate Estates for 40 years, brothers Felipe and Juan and sisters Angelina and Maria, said another co-owner, Monserrat “Monsi” Cruz, who is the daughter of Juan Cruz. 

Imperio, Spanish for empire, basically starts with a proud family empire passionate about their culture and traditions rooted in Mexico City. Some of their authentic recipes, such as mole sauce, can be traced back to their great-grandmother in Mexico 

“We are just going back to our origins. Our main idea and main mission is to bring people the best quality and the best tastes with the ancient traditional cooking methods and flavors,” Monsi Cruz said. “It’s something that’s been going on in our family for many years. Although this is our first brick and mortar, we’ve always carried that cooking passion for many years.” 

The Cruz family has been known for its “big red truck” in the area for years that started with their specialty—street tacos—and subsequently added more Mexican cuisine such as burritos, enchiladas and tortas—a Mexican sandwich.  

Desserts include flan, tres leches cake, rice pudding, mosaic gelatin, smoothies and sweet and savory fruit cups. “It’s like a small Mexico City in there. Anything you might find on the streets of Mexico, you might find it right here,” Cruz said. 

“We’re doing breakfast all day, so if people come in and they want a breakfast burrito at like 12 in the afternoon, they can do that. We don’t have different menus—one whole menu for the whole day.” 

Rooftop at Riverside 

After a couple of days of preview events in Bonita Springs, the long-awaited Rooftop at Riverside food truck park officially opened Jan. 11 in the heart of the historic downtown at 27333 Old 41 Road, across the street from the bandshell at Riverside Park.  

The new local business features a two-story full bar anchoring a space with six food trucks on a corner lot across from Riverside Park on Old 41 Road. The food truck lineup features a variety of cuisines: Butcher’s Blvd (burgers and sandwiches), Crooked Cow Creamery (ice cream, sorbet, shakes, sundaes, donuts and popcorn), Ma Petite Crêperie (sweet and savory crepes), OCN Seafood Co. (seafood boils, bowls, appetizers and handhelds,) and Zoey’s Pizza (pizza and wings). No Manches MX, a food truck with Mexican cuisine, will be joining the others soon.
Some of the unique menu items at Rooftop at Riverside include Crooked Cow’s alcohol-infused ice cream, such as The Nutty Irish Cow with amaretto liquor, vanilla custard and cinnamon sugar; OCN’s Shrimp Melt with Gulf shrimp, cheddar-jack cheese, chipotle sour cream and salsa in a flour tortilla; Butcher’s The Riverside bougie burger with Wagyu beef, smoked brisket, a fried onion ring and mustard BBQ sauce on a potato bun; and Zoey’s Fun-Guy pizza with goat cheese, roasted mushrooms, garlic confit, parmesan cheese, truffle cream, scallion and cracked pepper.  

Some unique craft cocktails have been created, too. The Magnus family behind the new venture hired Phil Wills, a mixology expert seen on The Food Network’s “Bar Rescue” to create the bar program and train the bartenders on technique and efficiency. 

The two-story bar at Rooftop at Riverside is open 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays and 11 a.m. to midnight Fridays and Saturdays. The food trucks are open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays and 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. 

Many more new venues in the area are still planning to launch this month. 

The “Tim Aten Knows” weekly column answers local questions from readers. Email Tim at 

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