When it comes to top chefs, Italy is a feeder market for Sarasota, with incoming native-born restaurateurs operating everything from mom-and-pop pizzerias to fine-dining destinations. And even when the chef comes from Philadelphia, if he or she cooks Italian, locals love it. Out of our astonishing array of Italian restaurants, these top our list.
Everybody’s favorite downtown pizza and pasta place.
The vibe: Busy, friendly hotspot where vintage Italian posters line the wall, the bar is always buzzing, and Mama makes her own small-batch limoncello.
What to order: Pizzas, meatballs and spaghetti, lovely linguine with clam sauce, lasagna, and Sicilian eggplant.
What to Instagram: Your kids or grandkids happily crafting their own pizzas with hand-selected toppings.
69 S. Palm Ave., Sarasota. (941) 951-0866.
Seafood done supremely well in a chef-driven dining room.
The vibe: Serious food and service but a casual, low-key atmosphere in a cavernous place owned and run by one of the town’s most gifted chefs.
What to order: Seafood anything (especially the octopus), since Pino Luongo is from the Italian island of Ischia, famous for seafood and fresh, local ingredients. Tip: Regulars just order the nightly special.
What to Instagram: The glorious whole fish.
3800 S. Tamiami Trail (Paradise Plaza), Sarasota. (941) 366-1440.
Drive to Osprey for dinner in Bologna, Italy.
The vibe: The Bologna-born owners have recreated the food and feel of a northern Italian Village here; native Italians swear by it.
What to order: Lasagna Bolognese, veal scaloppine in Gorgonzola sauce, baked eggplant with Parmigiano Reggiano cheese.
What to Instagram: The after-dinner cheese board with warm cheese from the Piedmont region drizzled with truffle honey.
3893 Destination Drive, Osprey. (941) 244-2033.
For dependable Italian classics and rich red sauce in a family atmosphere.
The vibe: Big room, big menu, yet feels like going to your Italian Nonna’s for a Sunday feast. (But the servers don’t ask why you’re not married yet.)
What to order: The owner’s family is from Abruzzo and uses authentic ingredients, house-made pasta and fine red sauce. Don’t miss: Sole Livornese (fish with tomato, olives, capers and basil sauce); risotto with shrimp, lobster and asparagus; pasta with Sunday sauce (on Sundays).
What to Instagram: Carpaccio with beef tenderloin, arugula, capers and shaved Parmigiano.
3900 Clark Road, Sarasota. (941) 952-3186.
Join the chic, boisterous crowd for pizza and more in a lively Venice hotspot.
The vibe: A stylish, all-ages crowd gathers around the bar, while families and friends have fun at tables or on the outside patio. Reminds you of a Roman bistro, but with a better service attitude.
What to order: Pizza from wood-burning ovens prepared by two Italians recently transported to the Isle of Venice, Florida. Dependably good Italian specialties with homemade pasta.
What to Instagram: The pizza al metro, or pizza by the yard. A long rectangle of crispy crust sectioned off with whatever toppings each diner ordered.
117 Venice Ave, Venice. (941) 488-8282.
In little downtown Venice, contemporary Italian cuisine with big-city cred.
The vibe: Comfortable, busy neighborhood bistro, attracting Italian cuisine aficionados from Sarasota as well as locals
What to order: Transplanted Italian owners Luca Cassani and Antonio Pariano create contemporary Italian standouts—roasted duck breast with figs and risotto, grilled halibut with a sundried tomato crust, walnut and ricotta-filled ravioli with pears and Gorgonzola sauce, delicious polenta.
What to Instagram: Swordfish caprese (shards of raw swordfish atop spicy field greens and garnished with caper berries).
313 W. Venice Ave., Venice, (941) 786-1000.
For a romantic interlude, make reservations and tell the babysitter you’ll be home late.
The vibe: Cozy, comfortable, passionately food-centric, a place to watch chef Marcello Aquino cook and to linger over old and new dishes prepared simply but in abundance.
What to order: Dishes on the changing menu that maximizes fresh fish and produce; Veal Milanese; cioppino with clams, mussels, shrimp, squid, octopus, grouper.
What to Instagram: Your server preparing a superb Caesar salad.
4155 S. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota. (941) 921-6794.
When you want an uptown experience with the in-crowd.
The vibe: As chic and modern as an upscale spot you’d find in Milano; sophisticated crowd, well-paced service; high standards all around.
What to order: Pizza and contemporary Northern Italian entrées done extremely well, such as veal chop and osso buco; stellar bottles from a good wine list.
What to Instagram: Roasted red peppers stuffed with mozzarella cheese and garnished with basil.
1970 Main St., Sarasota. (941) 365-4122.
Take an instant Siesta Key vacay while enjoying great pizza and Italian favorites.
The vibe: Larger than it looks from the strip-mall storefront, with a big bar and comfortable, casually elegant dining rooms buzzing with festive regulars and tourists—many with kids.
What to order: Authentic pizza from wood-burning brick ovens, as well as Torino-born Flavio Cristofoli’s from-scratch pasta and Italian specialties like veal saltimbocca.
What to Instagram: The bucatini pescatora—fresh mussels and clams and calamari in a garlic tomato sauce.
5239 Ocean Blvd., Siesta Key. (941) 349-0995.