Best of Sarasota 2013: Food & Restaurants

Sarasota Magazine editors and readers pick the best Sarasota restaurants of 2013.

By Megan McDonald May 14, 2013

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Best New Place for Chocolate: Sirard's Chocolate Cafe


Editors' Picks: Best of the New

Best New Late-night Food

Melange Sandwich Counter

The new sandwich counter at Melange, the Main Street restaurant formerly known as Lan, was an instant hit with downtown nighthawks, including restaurant and bar workers famished after their shifts. Stop in from 8 p.m. until 2:30 a.m. any night except Tuesday for a panini on housemade focaccia, soup and salads. Pair it all with an exquisite cocktail from Pangea, the restaurant’s tiny lounge. 1564 Main St., (941) 870-5555.

Best New Place for Chocolate

Sirard’s Chocolate Café

Chocolatier Carol Sirard has had a following around town for years, but when her new Sirard’s Chocolate Café added lunch and a coffee/pastry bar—with virtually every item containing chocolate—to her already famous handmade truffles and other goodies, our vehicular GPS started sending us there on its own. 5170 Palmer Parkway Blvd., (941) 923-2462.


Best Total Restaurant Reinvention

Jack Dusty

Talk about an extreme makeover. The transformation of the Ritz’s formal Vernona Restaurant into the hip and happening Jack Dusty seafood eatery, with an open concept and cool tones of driftwood and blue, is a complete jaw dropper right down to the beautiful water views. Stop by the bar for a hand-crafted cocktail and enjoy the scene. 1111 Ritz-Carlton Drive, (941) 309-2266.


Best New Menu Expansion

Phillippi Creek Village Restaurant & Oyster Bar

A family-friendly seafood icon, Phillippi Creek has raised its game with some modern new menu items, from avocado-topped fish tacos in blue-corn tortilla shells to Sarasota’s most sophisticated grouper sandwich—with Key lime mustard and avocado on crunchy ciabatta (ask for it special). Plus, there are sensational new salads at lunch, created by the chef at Table Creekside next door. 5353 S.Tamiami Trail, (941) 925-4444.


Best New Addition to Siesta Key

Eat Here

Sean Murphy had a stroke of genius when he created the casual, small-plate centered Eat Here on Anna Maria, and downtown Sarasotans were ecstatic when he brought its clone to north Main Street. Now Siesta Key Village-goers have their own Eat Here to cheer over. Same great formula and almost identical menu. 240 Avenida Madera, Siesta Key, (941) 346-7800.


Best New Stargazing

Shore Diner

On a balmy evening, follow the in crowd to the ultra-chic new Shore Diner upstairs on St. Armands. Open and airy, the design recalls the Sarasota School of Architecture, and although there’s a lively cocktail lounge and beautiful dining room, we love sitting on the back patio, where on most nights they peel back the retractable roof so you can wine and dine under the stars. 465 John Ringling Blvd., (941) 296-0301.


Best New Grocery Store

Trader Joe’s

For local foodies, Trader Joe’s arrival in Sarasota last September was a high point of the year. The specialty store is famous for delicious, healthy groceries at unbeatable prices. Relatively small but brimming with goodies, the store attracts diehard fans who rave about everything from its coffee and wine, including the legendary Three-Buck-Chuck, to freezers full of gourmet fare (don’t miss the Indian offerings). 4101 S. Tamiami Trail, (941) 922-5727.


Best New Reason to Try Raw

Ionie Raw Food Café

Forget raw food stereotypes: At Ionie’s Raw Food Café, offerings are packed with big-time flavors like garlic, ginger, coconut, cilantro, lemon and many more. The tiny café serves a selection of juices, smoothies and salads, as well as a handful of fascinating entrées—think kelp noodle pesto and even raw lasagna with macadamia cheese and zucchini noodles—that delight your palate and defy expectations. 1241 Fruitville Road, (941) 955-4599.


Best New Sandwiches

Mozzarella Fella

Mozzarella Fella quickly earned a legion of fans for its New York-Italian-style sandwiches. Wrapped in deli paper, the sandwiches span classics like chicken/veal/eggplant parm, deli creations like Boars Head ham with pesto aioli, and daily specials like the heavenly, quick-to-sell-out, gravy-soaked braised short rib—and almost all feature the Fella’s house-made mozz. 1668 Main St., (941) 366-7600.


Best New Southern Roadhouse

The Blue Rooster

Take the soul of chicken and waffles and the sophistication of a New Orleans Sazerac cocktail, add some Southern catfish, Cajun shrimp and all-American mac ‘n’ cheese, and you’ve got the Rosemary District’s Blue Rooster, where you’ll spot a lively mix of local hipsters and movers and shakers. After you’ve eaten your fill, don’t be surprised if a live bluegrass band gets you up and dancing. 1525 Fourth St., (941) 388-7539.


Best New Place to Study Tequila

Tequila Cantina

With a menu of 101 different types of tequila, you’ll find exactly the taste and texture you’re looking for at new downtown bar and eatery Tequila Cantina—and if you don’t know what you’re looking for, the knowledgeable staff will help you navigate the clear, un-aged blancos, wooden barrel-aged reposados, and añejos, aged no less than one year. ¡Salud! 1454 Main St., (941) 554-8586.


Best New Reason to Celebrate Cheese

Artisan Cheese Company

Cheesemongers-in-training and cheese novices alike will love downtown Sarasota’s Artisan Cheese Company, where owners Louise and Parker Converse source specialty cheeses, gourmet jams, jellies and nut butters and small-batch pastas, crackers, cookies and more. You’ll also find a small but excellent lunch menu, including an abundant salad and a grilled cheese to die for. 1310 Main St., (941) 951-7860.


Best New Urban-chic Restaurant

State Street Eating House + Cocktails

With its downtown location and mid-century-modern, industrial-chic décor, State Street Eating House + Cocktails was a hit the moment it opened its doors. Lovers of libations can gather around the bar for craft cocktails and tasty bar snacks; those who prefer to sit and savor can enjoy chef Christian Hershman’s sophisticated comfort food. 1533 State St., (941) 951-1533.


Best New Restaurant Tech

Carmel Café iPads

We love Carmel Café’s take on modern Mediterranean cuisine, but we love even more its individual iPad menus, which let you browse and select from small and large plate choices, along with the suggested wine pairings. With a swipe of the finger, your order is placed. Quick, easy and fun. 8433 Cooper Creek Blvd.; (941) 893-5955.


Best New Healthy Dining

Table to Farm dinners at King Family Farm

Picture this: A beautiful table set outside, the scent of orange blossoms wafting through the air and the stars shining above you. A collaboration between Bradenton’s King Family Farm and event-planning biz The Loft 5, Table to Farm: Redefining Dining dinners (only farm-fresh, local ingredients) showcase the beauty of both local produce and the farm’s pastoral environment. Visit or call (941) 779-9801.


Best New Brunch

The Table Creekside

The insanely creative chefs at The Table Creekside are wowing diners with what they call a “global” Sunday brunch. And globe-trot they do, with served choices like Kobe beef carpaccio, Nantucket scallop risotto, Napa grape salad, Venezuelan king crab quesadilla, Mediterranean lamb frittata—and much, much more. Choose a trio for $19.95 and make sure to order one of the excellent craft cocktails. 5365 S. Tamiami Trail, (941) 921-9465.


Best New Ethnic Restaurant

Yummy House

All you have to do is drive by the parking lot at Yummy House to know the winner here. Before it opened, fans of its Tampa Bay locations were buzzing with anticipation; once the kitchen’s chefs started cooking up dim sum for lunch and Hong Kong fare for dinner, they were willing to wait an hour or more just to order the salt-and-pepper tofu or roasted duck. 3232 N. Tamiami Trail; (941) 351-1688.


Best New Sweet Treats

The Short Giraffe

Toasted s’more truffles. Triple fudge chunk cookie bowls. Lemon blackberry cheesecake mousse. The Short Giraffe delights with an array of baked-from-scratch mini confections. Join the growing corps of devotees, including nearby opera and theater staff, who are finding it hard to get through a day without stopping in at the tiny First Street shop, owned by Leigh Growney. 1247 First St., (941) 704-2378.


Best New Reason to Stay Caffeinated

The Coffee Loft

The Coffee Loft not only offers a menu bursting with delicious treats; its locally roasted coffee is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to its community and cultural awareness. The nonprofit coffee shop provides customers, particularly college students, a safe, comfortable place to interact. And the profits go to both community and international humanitarian projects. Tastes good, feels good. 5025 N. Tamiami Trail, (941) 706-4047.

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Best New Reason to Celebrate Cheese: Artisan Cheese Company

Readers' Picks

Best Amish Restaurant


Der Dutchman (formerly Troyer’s Dutch Heritage), Dutch Valley


Best Japanese Restaurant


JPan, Pacific Rim


Best French Restaurant

C’est la Vie

A French Affair, Miguel’s


Best Latin American Restaurant


Columbia, Darwin’s


Best Italian Restaurant


Caragiulo’s, Carrabba’s


Best Mexican Restaurant

Mi Pueblo

El Adobe, Two Senoritas


Best Seafood Restaurant

Owen’s Fish Camp

Captain Brian’s, Walt’s Fish Market & Restaurant


Best Sushi Restaurant

Pacific Rim

JPan, Yume Sushi


Best Vegetarian-Friendly Restaurant


Simon’s, Sweet Tomatoes


Best Restaurant for Breakfast

First Watch

Station 400, Yoder’s


Best Restaurant for Brunch

First Watch

Station 400, Yoder’s


Best Romantic Restaurant

Ophelia’s on the Bay

Beach Bistro, Michael’s On East


Best Thai Restaurant


Thailand, Tropical Thai


Best Restaurant/Bar for Craft Beer

Mr. Beery’s

Darwin’s on 4th, World of Beer


Best Waterfront Dining

Marina Jack

Old Salty Dog, Ophelia’s on the Bay


Best Restaurant for Steak (chain)

Longhorn Steakhouse

Fleming’s, Ruth’s Chris


Best Restaurant for Steak (non-chain)

Michael’s On East

Alpine Steakhouse, The Waterfront Restaurant


Best Upscale Restaurant

Michael’s On East

Fleming’s, Ruth’s Chris


Best Restaurant Wine List

Michael’s On East

Fleming’s, Libby’s


Best New Restaurant

State Street Eating House + Cocktails

Darwin’s on 4th, Shore Diner


Best Burger

Square 1 Burgers & Bar

Patrick’s 1481, Five Guys


Best Barbecue

Nancy’s Bar-B-Q

Alday’s, Sonny’s


Best Caterer

Michael’s On East

Mattison’s, Morton’s


Best Coffee Shop (non-chain)

Pastry Art

The Coffee Loft, Simon’s


Best Dessert

Yoder’s peanut butter pie

Euphemia Haye’s chocolate cake, Morton’s peanut butter brownie cake


Best Pizza (non-chain)

Pizza SRQ

Il Panificio, Rico’s


Best Sandwich

The Surfer at Anna’s Deli

Cuban at Corkscrew Deli, Italian at Main Bar


Best Chef

Paul Mattison

Darwin Santa Maria, Steve Phelps


Best Specialty Food Market


Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods


Best Place to Buy Wine

Total Wine

ABC Fine Wine & Spirits, Norman’s


Best Bakery


Jim’s Small Batch Bakery, Morton’s


Best Sports Bar

Miller’s Sarasota Ale House

Evie’s Tavern, Gecko’s Grill & Pub


Best Cocktail

The Bramble at State Street

Bloody Mary at Libby’s, Chocolate Martini at The Ritz-Carlton


Best Happy Hour Menu

Libby’s Café + Bar

Fleming’s, Hyde Park, Roy’s (tie)


Best Outdoor Doggie Dining

Old Salty Dog

Mattison’s City Grille, O’Leary’s

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