Best Restaurants 2017

Sarasota's Best Restaurants 2017

In no particular order, sixty-one great places to eat right now.

By Staff January 31, 2017 Published in the February 2017 issue of Sarasota Magazine

Veronica fish oyster yz8ix6

Image: Chad Spencer

Our food critics and bloggers go bold and big with an up-to-the-minute guide to the 62 dining spots to try right now. 

Work your way through Sarasota's top dining spots by downloading our new restaurant app, Gastronaut, available in the App Store and in Google Play


Miracles emerge from the minuscule kitchen in the downtown cottage that houses Indigenous. Chef/owner Stephen Phelps is a fisherman who reveres local seafood and can tell guests what boat caught their dinner today and who the captain was. A menu with nightly specials focuses on regionally sourced seasonal vegetables and heritage grains paired with those fresh fish—including Mote Marine’s farmed  sturgeon—luxurious lamb, short ribs and a grass-fed red beef burger that’s a gourmet meal. Don’t dare to request substitutions; this captain runs a tight ship. The cottage is postcard charming, so enjoy the views in one of the tiny rooms, front porch or covered sidewalk amid Florida foliage and stars. Dinner only, reservations a must. 239 Links Ave., Sarasota, (941) 706-4740 

Indigenous 023 m3sugb

An appetizer at Indigenous.

2. Crab & Fin

This sophisticated eatery on international St. Armands Circle attracts discriminating foodies looking for global seafood, from a flight of raw oysters from various oceans to rich cioppino made with local red snapper. The sprawling menu offers fine-dining temptations such as Dover sole, blue lump crab cake or a 16-ounce grilled pork porterhouse. And it’s one of the best spots around for local grouper sandwiches and stone crab claws. Relax in the formal dining room or outside under umbrellas and watch the world waft by as the piano player tinkles out tunes from behind a screen of palm trees. Lunch and dinner. 420 St. Armands Circle, Sarasota, (941) 388-3964 

3. Lucky Pelican

Consider yourself lucky if you can get into the Lucky Pelican, a big, noisy, friendly seafood house in the part of the county where hordes of baby boomers have headed for a happy Florida retirement. These people like to eat out. The lure is familiar but expertly prepared seafood and lots of choices, many of them generous fried or grilled platters of assorted fish and shellfish with excellent sides and sumptuous salads. There’s a small outside seating area and booths, tables and a raw bar inside. Groups of friends and neighbors meet here regularly. They’re on to something good, and if you have to stand in line for 20 minutes, remember it’s just another day in paradise and the sun feels good on your bare legs. Lunch and dinner. 6239 Lake Osprey Drive, Lakewood Ranch, (941) 907-0589

4. Veronica Fish & Oyster Bar

The ambiance at the new Veronica Fish & Oyster Bar has a chic and theatrical mix of rustic and lux, making for a contrived but completely enjoyable and comfortable place to hang out. A gorgeous marble raw bar and the liquor bar are separated from the main dining area and appointed with green velvet vintage settees placed in the windows. The good-looking crowd loves to lounge around there and have a craft cocktail or maybe a small plate of mini-lobster rolls. Very good, if sometimes pricey, seafood, is the big draw. Veronica is nicely nestled in the enclave of Southside Village, a mix of upmarket family homes, retail and restaurants. Dinner and late nights on weekends. 1830 S. Osprey Ave., Sarasota, (941) 366-1342

5. 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. Lunch and dinner. 1576 Main St., Sarasota, (941) 296-1042 

6. Oak & Stone

This cavernous but comfortable new place is a little bit sports bar, a little bit beer garden, and somewhat of a pub. But mostly it’s a modern tavern that welcomes families, seniors, date-night crowd, and beer aficionados who want to indulge their passion amid more than 50 kinds of beer for sampling arranged on a tap wall. Two wood-fire ovens turn out exceptional thin-crust pizzas, but there are also hamburgers, meatball sliders, chicken quesadillas, bison chile nachos, batter-fried mozzarella balls and salty-savory entrées that pair well with beer. Lunch, dinner. 5405 University Parkway, UTC Square, Sarasota, (941) 225-4590 

Pomona3 q6g1u2

Pomona Bistro & Wine Bar

Image: Chad Spencer

7. Pomona Bistro & Wine Bar CLOSED        

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. Dinner. Reservations suggested. 481 N. Orange Ave., Sarasota, (941) 706-1677 

8. The Table

High-level creativity is the hallmark of The Table, where chef Pedro Flores has a nimble global reach and insatiable curiosity about how other cultures cook. French, regional American, Peruvian, Spanish, Caribbean, Korean—you name it, The Table will try anything with an astonishing success rate. The short ribs are incomparable. Bread service is a plate of warm, pillowy yuca-mozzarella coin-size rolls. Nibble with a craft cocktail while making tough decisions about where your palate will travel on any given night. Reservations necessary. Views of historic Phillippi Creek are a bonus, and you can fine-dine inside the chic minimalist dining room or outside on the rustic deck. Dinner. 5365 S. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, (941) 921-9465

 q8a5923 y5jvxm

9. Sophie’s

The surprise is discovering an upscale, clubby restaurant in a department store at the UTC Mall, but fashionable Sophie’s, which occupies a corner upstairs at Saks Fifth Avenue, delivers a quality experience that’s true to the tony Saks atmosphere. You’ll see ladies lunching on light lunches of salads or digging into hearty comfort foods such as a rich and creamy mac ’n’ cheese or an upscale burger with truffle-French fries or a petite beef tenderloin. Attentive service, refreshing cocktails, fancy desserts—Sophie’s might cut into your shopping, but you won’t mind the chill time. Lunch and early dinner—because the restaurant keeps the same hours as the store. 120 University Town Center Drive, Sarasota, (941) 364-5300

10. 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. Breakfast, lunch, dinner. 1419 Fifth St., Sarasota, (941) 952-3172 

Cms 22312 60031 mylyxm

Image: Chad Spencer

11. 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. Breakfast, lunch, dinner. 1111 Ritz-Carlton Drive, Sarasota, (941) 309-2266

12. Shore Diner

The midcentury modern ambiance here is reason enough to stop in for a cocktail and a meal. The upper-deck restaurant provides a view of the St. Armands Circle streetscape, but in the back part of the dining room, the ceiling retracts so you can suddenly find yourself eating under stars. American coastal bistro food (Key West shrimp, scallop risotto, local red snapper, tuna tartare) is served informally but attentively, and much of it is sourced from nearby farms and the Gulf. The bar is a great place to mingle; try the house cocktail, which mixes gin, elderflower, cucumber and mint for the ultimate refresher after a day on the beach. Shore conjures up a carefree vacation attitude, and you don’t have to be a tourist to celebrate it. Lunch, dinner. 465 John Ringling Blvd., St. Armands Circle, Sarasota, (941) 296-0301

13. Marina Jack

Marina Jack is often the first place new arrivals choose for a meal, and it’s a favorite spot for locals to take tourists. The reason is obvious once you get there (by boat or car)—it’s all about the postcard vistas of the sparkling bay, the bustling marina dotted with boats and the walking paths along the art-filled waterfront. Dine rather formally upstairs, where huge windows overlook the water. Or eat on the family-friendly, open-air Blue Sunshine Patio Bar & Grill at street level and sample American regional specialties with an emphasis on seafood. The Deep Six Lounge and Piano Bar is another option, but just for grown-ups. Lunch, dinner, late night. 2 Marina Plaza, Sarasota, (941) 365-4232

14. Tommy Bahama Restaurant & Bar

The quintessential tropical vacation destination. The retro decor reminds you of adult summer camp (with cocktails), the food is colorful and orchid-accented, the drinks are sunny, and the desserts deliriously rich. You’ll feel like you’ve walked into a laid-back party, and you’re dressed just right in flip-flops and a, well, Tommy Bahama-style floral silk shirt. Just take a long cool sip of something like a coconut cloud martini and let the bliss unfold. Later you can walk around the Circle and drop into the Tommy Bahama clothing store for your Sarasota wardrobe. Lunch and dinner. 300 John Ringling Blvd., St. Armands Circle, Sarasota, (941) 388-2888 

15. Capital Grille

A well-respected, sophisticated chain restaurant, Capital Grille lives up to its own high standards at the UTC mall in Sarasota. Guests can expect to be pampered by an extensive and expert staff and treated to a fine wine list, excellent bar, and a menu that excels in contemporary American regional specialties. Everything that contributes to a glamorous experience is here, from the sensitive lighting to the art on the walls to the artful presentation of lavish dishes. You cannot go wrong with anything, from the steak to lobster. Lunch and dinner. 180 University Town Center Drive, in UTC Mall, Sarasota, (941) 256-3647 

16. Ophelia’s

Romantic, intimate and perched on the pretty Intracoastal water at the southern end of Siesta Key, Ophelia’s is an obvious choice for those wanting a leisurely and lovely dinner with good wines amid people who want to make you feel special. A lot of marriage proposals take place in this polished dining room or on the scenic deck. Sophisticated in its approach to food and service, Ophelia’s has a relaxed Florida elegance that puts everyone who dines there in a vacation state of mind—a luxury vacation, that is. The menu is global with creative local seafood dishes, and the tiny bar with its shelves of well-lit bottles is so enticing that locals sometimes stop by just for a drink and appetizer there. Dinner, Sunday brunch. 9105 Midnight Pass Road, Siesta Key, Sarasota, (941) 349-2212

17. Fins

Eating on the second-story deck at Fins on Caspersen Beach in Venice will reward you with one of the best sand and Gulf views anywhere in Florida. Sip a cocktail while you feel the slow glow of a stunning sunset, and then tuck into local seafood and wide-ranging specialties served with artistic flair. It’s fine dining in a place that puts you into a flip-flop-don’t-tuck-your-shirt-in frame of mind. There’s a long list of refreshing craft drinks and wines that pair nicely with seafood, including excellent sushi. Dinner. 1600 Harbor Drive S., Venice, (941) 999-3467

Dps 9451 bgopje

Peruvian food shines at Brasa & Pisco

18. Brasa & Pisco

This is the place to rejoice in authentic Peruvian food prepared by two young brothers and their mom, who is often in the kitchen offering advice. Traditional regional foods, including outstanding rotisserie-style meats, are served informally in a large dining room. There’s a separate, handsome bar for wine, beer and mixed drinks, including the Pisco sour, the zesty national cocktail of Peru. Family-friendly and relaxed, Brasa & Pisco also caters to the date-night crowd, and there are as many fine nibbles as full meals. Emphasis on seafood specialties and spit-roasted chicken. Special ceviches, too. Live music often. Lunch, dinner. 8347 Lockwood Ridge Road, Sarasota, (941) 363-1655  

19. Louies Modern

A contemporary urban restaurant and bar that exudes a chic vibe and has a creative menu that changes often to reflect international culinary trends. The downtown place is popular with both locals and seasonal visitors, who appreciate the ingenious dishes, the topnotch bar and the atmosphere, which is smart in the most au courant kind of way. Award-winning wine list, too, and plenty of options for those who want to order lots of little things and share. Often a pre-theater or pre-opera destination. Dinner. 1289 N. Palm Ave., Sarasota, (941) 552-9688 

20. 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. Lunch, dinner. 1578 Main St., Sarasota, (941) 955-2683

21. 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. Lunch, dinner. 1572 Main St., Sarasota, (941) 955-8404

22. 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. Dinner. 1219 First St., Sarasota, (941) 444-7072

Cms 112412 30022 ydsnis

Wild boar ribs with squash and bacon cobbler at Melange.

Image: Chad Spencer

23. 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. 1568 Main St., Sarasota, (941) 953-7111

24. Muse

Art museums all over are paying attention to the quality of their restaurants, and that’s true in Sarasota, too. Muse at the John & Mable Ringling Museum of Art is a classy and comfortable place to stop for a nibble or a full meal after viewing the collection. Choose from indoor or outdoor seating that overlooks the grounds and a pretty pond, and order from a contemporary American bistro menu and full bar. Because you don’t need a museum ticket to eat at Muse, many locals meet friends there for lunch and dinner, drawn by the reliably tasty food, elegant setting and unhurried pace. It’s also a pre-theater destination for those going to see a play at Asolo Rep right across the street. 5477 Bay Shore Road, Sarasota, (941) 360-7390

25. Libby’s Cafe & Bar

Libby’s Cafe & Bar has a fashionable, big-city energy and is always bustling, from the noisy bar where people dote on the creative craft cocktails to the dining rooms buzzing with chatter and clinking wine glasses. Just as lively is the New American menu, which changes with the seasons to offer the newest, best and freshest in sharing plates, salads, sandwiches and full meals. Killer grilled cheese sandwich and the same for the meatloaf, brisket short-rib burger and the deviled eggs with a smudge of black opal caviar on top. Eat inside or on the covered streetside patio that’s in the middle of the action in Southside Village. Lunch, dinner. 1917 S. Osprey Ave., Sarasota, (941) 487-7300

26. Tide Tables

Make the scenic drive up Longboat Key to Cortez (bonus points if you do it while the sun is setting) and settle into a waterfront picnic table or inside in the nautically themed dining room. Seafood here is fresh and handled with respect. House specialties include fish tacos, gumbo and grouper from the fishing docks next door, and you’ll want to make sure you save room for the homemade Key lime pie, too. Lunch, dinner. 12507 Cortez Road, Bradenton, (941) 567-2606

27. Phillippi Creek Oyster Bar

You eat with your eyes first at this popular local spot, where picnic-style tables overlook the water and sometimes offer views of manatees drifting by. But the staff doesn’t rely on that view alone. The food is great, too. The seafood-heavy menu features standards like fish and chips, oysters and fish tacos, but they’re all prepared with a gourmet twist thanks to chef Pedro Flores, who helms the Oyster Bar kitchen as well as the one at its neighbor, the swanky Table Creekside. And there are some surprises here, too, including excellent tuna taco salad and an Asian-inspired mahi mahi noodle bowl. Lunch, dinner. 5353 S. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, (941) 925-4444 

28. Mar Vista Dockside Restaurant and Pub

Old Florida cuisine gets the spotlight at Mar Vista, where grand grouper sandwiches and rich, croquette-like tater tots go hand-in-hand with the laid-back charm of the 1912 cottage. The waterfront setting is as appropriate for flip-flops and steamer pots as for anniversary celebrations and red snapper curry. Inside offers an intimate, pub-like atmosphere, but Mar Vista gets magical out back. On the deck and the shell beach beyond, diners sit at wrought-iron tables under a spreading, ancient oak tree festooned with strings of lights, channeling the calm of the Intracoastal in the soothing sea breeze. 760 Broadway St., Longboat Key, (941) 383-2391

29. Jpan

When everyone is in an Asian mood, but each wants something different, compromise on Jpan, which is reliably and authentically pan-Asian—and lots of fun. From bracing udon noodle soup to seaweed salad, sushi (lots of sushi), teriyaki, crispy duck, ginger sea bass and even tempura cheesecake, there’s something on this huge and deep menu to satisfy all. The restaurant is big and outfitted in airy Asian decor. There’s a sushi bar for watching the masters, a full liquor bar for those who want to relax and sip. It can get noisy, but there’s outdoor seating where you’re welcome to bring your dog. It’s always packed, so make a reservation. Lunch, dinner. Three locations; original location 3 Paradise Plaza, Sarasota, (941) 954-5726 

Cms 92212 20043 owgobe

Image: Chad Spencer

30. 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. 1345 Main St., Sarasota, (941) 362-4427

31. Star Fish Co.

Who needs plates? At this exalted waterfront dive, the food is served in cardboard bait containers the size of shoeboxes, unassuming packages that conceal the greatness within. Star Fish sources most of its seafood from A.P. Bell Fish Company next door, and then treats Bell’s outstanding Gulf catches with the care and respect they deserve. The grouper is grilled just until it’s done and no more, oysters are transformed in the deep fryer into crispy marine nuggets, and the smoked mullet, whipped into a spread or served on its own, tastes of pure fire and wood. No fancy recipes, no fancy presentation—and no credit cards, either. 12306 46th Ave. W., Cortez, (941) 794-1243 

32. 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. 1990 Main St., #112, Sarasota, (941) 953-2900

33. Sandbar

Chowing down with your feet in the sand never gets old, particularly when the cuisine is as simple yet refined as it is at the Sandbar. The menu is heavy on prized creatures from the Gulf, such as mullet, grouper, oysters, clams, lobster and on occasion, lionfish, a venomous and invasive predator that devours native species and leaves coral reefs denuded. The local focus even extends to the vegetables, culled from Southwest Florida farms and served alongside braised meat from the region’s wild hogs. All that, plus one of the area’s most romantic beachfront vistas. 100 Spring Ave., Anna Maria, (941) 778-0444 

34. 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. 1532 Main St., Sarasota, (941) 363-0604. 

Cms 91714 20012 jhhqlx

Image: Chad Spencer

35. Apollonia Grill

On an afternoon reserved for retail therapy at the UTC mall or surrounding shopping centers, take a lunch or dinner respite at Apollonia Grill, an intimate storefront spot with a semi-open kitchen. It’s always busy, with shoppers and regulars enjoying the bright flavors of Greece—moussaka, gyros, dolmades, grilled Kesseri cheese and a wonderful avgolemeno soup. But it also serves well-executed dishes from other parts of the Mediterranean and a few American standards. Hearty, rich lamb shank osso buco comes with perfectly cooked vegetables and rice; octopus is meltingly tender; and a simple Greek salad offers a feast of flavors. 8235 Cooper Creek Blvd., University Park, (941) 359-4816 

36. Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse and Wine Bar

Valet the Benz and pair a top-caliber steak with fine spirits at Fleming’s. The Sarasota restaurant lives up to the chain’s reputation for faultless service and outstanding food, including some of the best beef—prime and dry-aged—around. Try the New York strip steak with a porcini mushroom and Gorgonzola cream rub, along with several sides to share, and end with a slice of walnut turtle pie. The wine list is as good as the food, and the happy hour attracts a chic crowd, with nightly promos featuring selected drinks and small plates for $6 from 5 to 7 p.m. A comfortable hotspot with entrancing eats. 2001 Siesta Drive, #101, Sarasota, (941) 358-9463

5584 x2blpj

37. 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. 35 S. Lemon Ave., Sarasota, (941) 366-7788

38. The Waterfront Restaurant and Craft Bar

Relish the views of Egmont Key, Tampa Bay and the Sunshine Skyway Bridge while dining on some of the most sustainable seafood dishes in Manatee County. The long-running island eatery has kept up with the times, serving modern takes on local and world seafood—for example, house-smoked Pacific salmon ($15) with Bermuda onions, capers and dilled cream cheese. And you’ll find contemporary sips such as a lime-ginger-infused smoked margarita at the full craft bar. Sit indoors or out before strolling over to the boutiques along Pine Avenue, and have an Anna Maria Island-style evening. 111 S. Bay Blvd., Anna Maria, (941) 778-1515

39. Yummy House

Authentic Chinese, at last! Lots of local prayers were answered when this Sarasota outpost of a Tampa restaurant opened several years ago. Now regulars flock to the casual, black-and-gold decorated restaurant for dishes such as salt and pepper calamari, the whole Hong Kong-style roasted duck, and (our personal favorite) a dazzling array of dim sum. We always order way more than we can eat, but that’s what those cute Chinese take-out boxes are for. Grab a buzzer and take your place in the line for lunch or dinner. It’s worth the wait. 3232 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, (941) 351-1682 

40. Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse

One of the first of the upscale steakhouse chains, Ruth’s Chris still sets a high bar. It’s a great place to impress a client, seal a deal or romance your sweetheart with prime cuts of meat enhanced with truffle butter, shiitake demi-glace and extravagantly indulgent sides. Pomegranate martinis are among the drinks poured at happy hour from 4:30 to 7 p.m. We like to end by sharing the white chocolate bread pudding with crème Anglaise. Businesspeople hold satellite events here by broadcasting meetings in high definition from private dining rooms. 6700 S. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, (941) 924-9442

41. Kazu’s 2.0

Gulf Gate has a growing food scene, with restaurants and specialty shops proliferating on several blocks around the Sarasota Pavilion shopping center, and this sleek, small Japanese gastropub is one of the best of the lot. You’ll find some of the city’s finest sushi, and daytime and late-night happy hours with unique items like two-for-$4 sake floats (order the lychee mist with lychee sake and lychee sherbet). Until 6 p.m., grab $4 sushi rolls and $4 Japas (Japanese tapas). Late happy hour runs from 10 p.m. until closing with $4 beer floats (say yes to the chocolate ice cream scoop dropped into the stout beer). Bust out those chopsticks and take a seat at the bar filled with friendly strangers. 6566 Gateway Ave., Sarasota, (941) 922-5459

42. Casey Key Fish House

This is the place every visitor dreams about: a casual, waterfront eatery with a tiki hut and food as good as the views. Start with a drink at the nautical, chickee-style bar nestled along the Intracoastal Waterway. Then take a seat inside the rambling restaurant. You can’t go wrong with seafood here; lots of choices, but the baby calamari with homemade marinara sauce and the Willie Tia’s best bouillabaisse (lobster tail, mussels, shrimp, scallops and grouper in broth with Pernod) are longtime favorites. Arrive in Bermuda shorts and flip-flops for another night in paradise. 801 Blackburn Point Road, Osprey, (941) 966-1901

43. Blu Kouzina

For a St. Armands Circle experience that feels a bit like vacationing on the Greek isles, take a seat at an outdoor café table or in the blue-and-white interiors at this authentic Greek taverna, our editors’ pick for Best New Restaurant in 2015. All the Greek standards shine here, from moussaka to grilled lamb, and you’ll find a big assortment of small plates and appetizers to share or even compose a meal. The seafood especially, from prawns to grouper, is fresh and sublime. Take note of the finely sourced, imported ingredients on the menu, including olive oil from the owners’ own Greek groves, the rigani (oregano), the sea salt and the Greek thyme honey. 25 N. Boulevard of Presidents, (941) 388-1801 

44. Puccini's 

Puccini’s is like a clandestine private club you learn about from a friend. One that serves delicious food. Read more >>

45. Sardinia

Italian cooking guru Victor Hazan follows Dino Carta to SardiniaRead more >>

46. Boca Kitchen Bar Market

Everybody comes to Boca

Beachbistro ambience 004 v1 siub8y


47. Beach Bistro

In 1985, Sean Murphy and pastry-chef wife Susan converted a shacky old beach store into a fine-dining restaurant right smack on the sand on romantic Anna Maria island. The place has been collecting awards ever since. Read more >>

48. Bijou Cafe

In 1986, chef Jean-Pierre Knaggs and his wife Shay revamped a dilapidated downtown gas station across from the opera house into a white bungalow with a French-inflected menu. Read more >>

49. Columbia

Casual and carefree during the day, the restaurant is jazzy and glamorous at night. Some of the formally dressed Latin waiters have tended to tourists and locals for decades. Read more >>

50. Euphemia Haye

The continental menu celebrates classics such as veal sweetbreads Grenobloise, crisp roasted duck, Key West snapper and Grecian lamb shank. The accomplished service, wine list and ambiance combine with the food to invite guests to appreciate how pleasurable the ritual of relaxed fine dining can be. Read more >>

51. Michael's On East

This sophisticated destination for contemporary American cuisine is always being influenced by the global-travel passion of founder Michael Klauber. Read more >>

52. Maison Blanche

In a restaurant world hurtling toward casual, communal, loud and fast, Longboat Key’s 15-year-old Maison Blanche is an anomaly: formal, private, hushed and leisurely. Read more >>

53. Caragiulos

Everybody’s favorite downtown pizza and pasta place. Read more >> 

54. Pino’s      

Seafood done supremely well in a chef-driven dining room. Read more >>

55. Bologna Cafe 

Drive to Osprey for dinner in Bologna, Italy. Read more >>

56. Chianti

For dependable Italian classics and rich red sauce in a family atmosphere. Read more >>

57. Made in Italy

Join the chic, boisterous crowd for pizza and more in a lively Venice hotspot. Read more >>

58. Cassariano 

In little downtown Venice, contemporary Italian cuisine with big-city cred. Read more >>

59. Marcello Ristorante Italiano

For a romantic interlude, make reservations and tell the babysitter you’ll be home late. Read more >>

60. Mediterraneo

When you want an uptown experience with the in-crowd. Read more >>

61. Flavio's Brick Oven and Bar

Take an instant Siesta Key vacay while enjoying great pizza and Italian favorites. Read more >>

62. Owen's Fish Camp 

This fish place looks like it’s been in business since at least 1950. And that’s a good thing. Read more >> 

Filed under
Show Comments