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Downtown Sarasota's Lila, the newest restaurant from the team behind Pomona Bistro & Wine Bar.

Image: Chad Spencer

Lila

Lila could make you a vegetarian, but that’s not the intent of chef/owners Ryan Boeve and Arthur Lopes. The veteran restaurateurs (they also own Pomona) conjure vegetable dishes fanciful and layered with lush flavors. Get familiar with goji berries, farro, beetroot, or even bee-pollen basil kombucha. The kohlrabi slaw is a big hit, as is the quinoa-sweet potato burger. And the ice-cube-size portion of pork belly is rich and seductive beyond telling. Good duck confit, too. The airy room has a rustic vibe offset by a crystal chandelier and a stylish tile bar. Lila is fun, smart and surprising. Nobody says eat your vegetables; you just want to. 

Cask & Ale

What sets Cask & Ale apart from other beer-centric places of its ilk is the food. It’s original. Executive chef Justin Sells pays particular attention to what pairs nicely with beer and what just tastes good on its own. His menu of small plates and entrées is tightly curated and imaginative. A graduate of both The Culinary Institute of America and Cornell University School of Hotel Administration, Sells worked his way up through three Emeril Lagasse restaurants in New Orleans, Orlando and Charlotte, North Carolina. The recipes he’s brought to town are first rate, and the presentations are sophisticated and artistic. The quality of ingredients and the creativity of the chef are reflected in the prices.

Lolita Tartine

As its name implies, Lolita Tartine features traditional French open-face sandwiches. They’re named for famous painters—for instance, the Dali is smoked duck with a sweet onion marmalade, walnuts and cheese. But this spare and airy, red-and-white bistro also produces creative salads and heartier French fare with familiar names—beef burgundy, ratatouille, mussels mariniere, lamb tagine, quiche and savory crepes. Food is authentically French, while the ambiance is lighthearted and relaxed. A good destination for meals or for coffee and a snack in the late afternoon when you want to sit outside and be part of the rapidly gentrifying Rosemary District. 

Jack Dusty

High-life indulgence and relaxed elegance are what Jack Dusty at the Ritz-Carlton delivers. There’s a vacation-perfect view of Sarasota Bay from tables in the stunning coastal-contemporary dining room. The wine list is deep and impressive, and the signature craft cocktails are worthy of Instagramming before you sip. An eclectic menu balances international and local fare with lobster rolls, swordfish, serious steaks, fish tacos and shrimp and grits with andouille sausage. Or dine entirely from the luxurious raw seafood bar. Everything served Ritz-graciously, so you feel pampered from beginning of the meal to the end. Dine inside or al fresco on the covered terrace. 

State Street Eating House

Featuring modern takes on classic comfort food (think lobster mac ‘n’ cheese, fried chicken and lamb), State Street also features an ambitious cocktail program and separate lounge. 

Pho Cali

Small, plain and humbly designed, as if ambiance were an afterthought, downtown’s Pho Cali is nevertheless a Vietnamese restaurant that superbly delivers in flavor and breadth of menu. It’s always busy, and people stand in line to order by the numbers. This is a great place for meeting friends, because the family that owns it is friendly and welcoming, making everyone feel at home. Specialty of the house: the pho, generous bowls of noodle soup that come with all kinds of additions. The smell alone will draw you in. 

Pomona Bistro & Wine Bar       

An intimate urban-sophisticated restaurant that is refined both in ambiance and menu, Pomona Bistro & Wine Bar is a favorite with local gourmands and visiting culinary adventure-seekers. Chef/owners Ryan Boeve and Arthur Lopes (see also Lila) strike a balance between global and local dishes and include all the niceties, like a lavish charcuterie board, cheese course and glamorous desserts. Good wine list. Dine in a relaxed bistro setting or choose the formal dining room or the private enclosed patio.  

Mattison's City Grille

Chef Paul Mattison’s award-winning menu includes fresh seafood, aged beef, duck, tapas, creative cocktails and first-rate wines and brews. At the downtown location, dine al fresco on the corner of Main Street and Lemon Avenue, where there's also live music at night.

Drunken Poet Cafe

A small storefront Asian-bohemian kind of place with poetry scribbled on the wall (in a language you don’t know), Drunken Poet Café might seem a bit flaky and too offbeat for excellent Asian food. Be reassured; Thai and other Asian delectables are expertly prepared in the small kitchen. This is also a good place for vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free dishes. Everything is made to order. The highly sophisticated dishes include Thai crispy duck, lamb shank in tamarind-scented curry, preserved duck eggs, stir-fry creations and tempura dinners. Wonderful sushi. Beer and both hot and cold sake to drink as well as teas. 

Social Eatery & Bar

Social Eatery & Bar lives up to its name. With its city-chic interior design and outdoor patio with comfy sofas, it’s an excellent post-work happy hour or dinner spot. And it’s a natural stop for a late-night bite and libation, thanks to its late (for Sarasota) hours and proximity to Florida Studio Theatre and downtown attractions. Light bites and sharing plates are the way to go, including selections from the “Meatballeria” section of the menu, one of the restaurant’s signature wood-fired pizzas or the Butcher’s Table special. Great craft cocktails at the glam bar. 

Melange

Chef Lan Bradeen is a local superstar whose talent shines at her intimate downtown restaurant.  A French-trained chef with a Vietnamese mother and a New England upbringing, Bradeen creates indulgent, playful cuisine, blending culinary styles to make mind-blowing combinations of flavors and textures—think duck brie crepes with brandy cream sauce or rabbit tacos with curry and mango. The far-reaching menu suits well-seasoned palates as well as curious would-be gourmets alike, and Melange’s moody, adults-only (no children under 12) dining room invites diners to experiment away. If you’re looking for a late-night dinner in downtown Sarasota, this should be your first choice. 

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Selva Grill

Image: Chad Spencer 

Selva

You say “ceviche,” we say “Selva,” the Main Street hot spot for vibrant nuevo Latino cuisine. Every Selva experience should start with one of the eatery’s signature ceviches, a variety of seafood marinated in sweet-tart-spicy citrus concoctions along with onion, corn, avocado and more. From there, whether you’re settled into the colorfully lit dining room or the popular lounge next door, tuck into some tapas or go for gussied-up South American entrées like the arroz con pato (duck breast atop rich green pea beer risotto), salmon Chileno topped with crab and manchego or the famous skirt steak served atop plantains, beet relish and chimichurri.

Burns Court Cafe

Located in charming Burns Court, Burns Court Cafe serves up a French-forward menu featuring sandwiches, quiches, coffees and homemade baked goods. Don’t miss the twice-monthly Jazz Nights in the wine bar. 

Made

Excess is the name of the game at Made, where a club sandwich includes duck confit, a smear of Brie and garlic aioli, in addition to all your regular club fixings; and a brunch-time burger comes tricked out with bacon, sausage gravy, a maple-flavored pork link, cheese and an egg. Filling? Yes. Delicious? That, too. Little wonder that Made attracts a boisterous, youthful crowd eager to consume the restaurant’s bold dishes and Schwarzenegger-strong cocktails, especially on late, hangover-inflected Sunday mornings, when Made’s brunch outdoes everything else in town. 

Yume Sushi

If clarity, simplicity and focus are your sushi ideals, no one in town can match Yume. The chirashi here tells the story. Served atop a mound of sticky, grabable-with-your-chopsticks rice, it consists of simply the freshest and juiciest fish available—wedges of tuna and salmon and other species that carry an immensity of flavor all by their lonesome. Of course, delicate eel, tamago and piquant pickled items help, too. If you prefer to steer your own culinary ship, the restaurant offers plenty of maki rolls. Cobble together a platter of favorites both traditional and inventive. And don’t pass over the cocktail menu, heavy on fruity favorites. 

Patrick's 1481

A wide-ranging menu of casual comfort foods and a friendly atmosphere have made Patrick’s 1481 a favorite of locals for 29 years. Pro tip: Don't miss the Monday $5 burger deal, where you get a half-pounder for just a Lincoln (with the purchase of a beverage).

Hyde Park Prime Steakhouse

Snuggle up by the fireplace with a craft cocktail at this elegant, clubby downtown steakhouse, where dark woods and red-hued walls and furnishings create a romantic atmosphere. This is the place to take expense-account clients or celebrate a special anniversary—although younger, less deep-pocketed professionals bring their good looks and unflagging energy to the 4 to 6:30 p.m. weeknight happy hour with affordable drinks and bar plates. Cheers to old-fashioned, big-city glamour. 

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Boca Kitchen Bar Market

Boca Kitchen Bar Market

Boca,a small Tampa-based chain, opened a fourth location this summer in downtown Sarasota on Lemon Avenue, just south of Main Street. Boca serves a globe-trotting mix of meats and seafood, but what really sets it apart is its commitment to working with Florida farmers, ranchers and fishermen. 

Caragiulos

Caragiulos is the ideal neighborhood pizza-pasta place where Italian vintage movie posters are the theme, mama still makes her own small-batch lemoncello and if you’re a regular sometimes you get a little shot at the end of the meal. Children are encouraged to craft their own pizzas (they love playing in the dough) while adults nibble house-made foccacia and peruse the array of southern Italian-American specialties. Meat balls and spaghetti, of course, but also lovely linguine with clam sauce, lasagna, and Sicilian eggplant too. Eat inside or on the covered side pavilion or in the bar room where there is usually music. Casual, convivial, straight-up good food and personal attention by servers who have been there for years. Some of them know your name.   

Mediterraneo

Mediterraneo is chic and modern like an upscale spot you’d find in Milano and it has a loyal following of discriminating diners. There’s top-notch pizza and you can sit at the bar and nibble or move into the dining room for a superb osso buco. The menu is contemporary Northern Italian. Expect a fine wine list and a relaxed pacing to your meal. It is owned and run by Italians who understand how European and American urbanites want to dine--unpretentious ambience that caters to those with high standards. Impress your in-laws or take a client who knows good food and you’ll seal the deal over a stellar bottle of red wine and a plump and pink veal chop.

Owen's Fish Camp

Located in a historic Burns Court cottage, Owen’s presents Southern-style cuisine with an emphasis on seafood, including shrimp and grits and a Low Country boil. The fried black cherry pie with vanilla ice cream is semi-legendary.

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