Best of Sarasota 2018

Best New Food and Drink

Here's what we ate, drank and loved this year.

Photography by Staff April 26, 2018 Published in the May 2018 issue of Sarasota Magazine

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Napulè’s crowd-pleasing gold-tiled, wood-burning oven.

Best New Sushi Restaurant: Star Thai and Sushi

Owner Tony Supharat has three restaurants in Sarasota: a family-style Thai restaurant on Beneva, an upscale lounge-style restaurant in Venice and, opening late last year, an izakaya-style restaurant on Siesta Key, which has become the real star. Patterned after the popular Japanese after-hours hangouts called izakaya, the Siesta establishment, part bar, part restaurant, is swanky and romantic, and serves  a long list of Thai and Japanese classics. But you’ll also find less-common noodle dishes like lad na and a more inventive than usual sushi menu. The bar also offers an impressive pick of Japanese whiskeys, one of the most popular spirits in the world right now.

Best New Breakfast: Lila

Feel good about starting your morning at Lila, Ryan Boeve and Arthur Lopes’ vegetable-forward Main Street eatery. The restaurant began serving breakfast in December, offering hearty fare with a healthy twist, like organic coffee, cold-pressed juice, kombucha, buckwheat pancakes and waffles, gluten-free quiche, Lopes’ signature pastries, and, of course, avocado toast. 

Best Doughnuts: Five-O Donut Co.

If we eat with our eyes first, Christine Nordstrom’s Five-O Donut Co. is a total smorgasbord—the tiny Ringling Boulevard shop’s centerpiece is a case of rainbow-colored doughnuts that have been iced, filled, topped and piped within an inch of their doughy lives. These fried treats aren’t just pretty, they’re delicious, too. Our pick: the croissant doughnut, a square-shaped treat with a crispy crust and buttery, flaky layers doused in vanilla bean glaze. 

Best New Butcher Shop: Southern Steer Butcher

Greg Snyder grew up in Sarasota before opening a butcher shop in Clearwater five years back. When it came time for location two, he came home, opening Southern Steer Butcher last June. The shop carries all your beef, chicken and pork favorites, but sources unusual meats like elk, venison and rabbit, too, plus a pick of pre-marinated cuts that make fixing dinner a breeze. 

Best New Barbecue Restaurant: Brick’s Smoked Meats

You can pick a favorite dish at Brick’s Smoked Meats, but it probably won’t last. At first, we couldn’t pass up the brisket platter, then we settled on the “bacon burnt ends” taco, and after that we fell in love with the poblano brisket melt. Then the restaurant had the nerve to add one of the best burgers in the city to its menu. 1528 State St., Sarasota, (941) 993-1435,

Best New Fried Chicken: Metro Diner

One of the perks of the slow rebirth of Southgate mall (now Westfield Siesta Key) has to be the fried chicken at Metro Diner. Brined for more than 24 hours before being breaded and deep-fried, the bird is served next to a waffle and drizzled with maple syrup and exactly seven drops of Louisiana hot sauce. Two additional local Metro locations opened in March, and the fried chicken is a big reason why. 

Best New Italian: Napulè

Wait times for a table told us that Napulè was a favorite, but the fresh daily pastas, homemade sausages and pizzas baked in a gold-tiled wood-burning oven convinced us. Napulè’s owners, Alessandro Di Ferdinando and Giuseppe Del Sole, designed Napulè with a fun industrial chic vibe; diners watch chefs hand-tossing pizzas, a movie screen plays old Italian comedies and the mixologists concoct signature cocktails at one of the area’s most gorgeous bars. 

Best New Asian Restaurant: Ssam Bar

Yup Namgoong opened the Seoul-centered Ssam Bar on north U.S. 301 last year, delivering immense cauldrons of noodle-stuffed soups, a bibimbap served in a crackling hot stone bowl, small side dishes known as banchan and more. The restaurant has become a bustling lunchtime destination; it’s also great for a low-key weeknight date. It’s not on the menu, but ask for a cup of boricha, a barley tea. 

Best New Bakery: OfKors Bakery

Lines form early at OfKors, Main Street’s newest wakeup spot. Those in the know swing by for tasty croissants, crêpes and loaves, and linger over espresso concoctions in a low-lit, intimate atmosphere vibrating with Brazilian jazz. We’re partial to the tightly wound cream-filled rolls, as well as the crinkly elephant ears. 

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Best New Empanada Shop: EmpaCurious

Alfonso Abreu and Sylvia Noguera first started delivering their globetrotting empanadas all over Anna Maria Island under the name EmpaCurious in 2016. They went brick-and-mortar last fall, opening a full-on restaurant in Gulf Gate. Their delicate doughy half-moons are packed with ingredients that pay homage to nations as disparate as Cuba, India and China, with creamy sauces that complement each bite. 

Best New Farmers Market Stand: Fermentlicious

Sauerkraut may be most famous for partnering with mustard to decorate a hot dog, but fermented cabbage has earned an unlikely second life as a health food. Sharon Juraszek’s one-woman company sells 100 percent raw, unpasteurized krauts flavored with ginger, turmeric, fennel seeds and more. You can find her stuff on many local store shelves, and at the Saturday morning downtown farmers market. 

Best New Bar: Sabrosa Kitchen + Bar

Who would have thought that an old breakfast diner would become one of 2018’s best bars? That’s what happened when downtown’s Word of Mouth was converted into Sabrosa, and Adrian Langford, formerly bar manager at the St. Pete restaurant The Mill, took over the booze selection. With inventive cocktails, dozens of mezcals, a laid-back vibe and one of the best soundtracks around, this watering hole is a winner. 

Best New Hope For an Old Location: Wicked Cantina

We’ve lost track of how many restaurants occupied the building located at 1603 N. Tamiami Trail, but we think the Tex-Mex eatery Wicked Cantina, which opened last fall, is here to stay. Owners Mike and Janice Dolan gutted the building, converting a tired, nondescript shell into a bright, playful breakfast, lunch and dinner destination, with a beautiful bar to boot. 

Best New Brewery: Good Liquid Brewing Co.

After a dramatic surge over the previous decade, growth in nationwide craft beer production has slowed, while overall beer production has flatlined. Not here, where newish breweries are coming into their own and new spots like Good Liquid Brewing Co. keep popping up. Husband-and-wife team Mike and Sandra Krail opened Good Liquid last December, serving pours like a raspberry jalapeño cream ale and a double IPA. 

Best New Way To Eat Your Veggies: Bravo Coastal Bar & Kitchen

We like the utilitarian industrial-chic vibe at Westfield Siesta Key’s Bravo Coastal Bar & Kitchen, but what brings us back is its deliciously creative way with vegetables. Try the buffalo cauliflower steak with Gorgonzola or the colorful roasted red and gold beets with whipped feta and marcona almonds—both on the “small plates” menu, but big enough for sharing. 

Best New Steakhouse: Connors Steak & Seafood

Why wait for dinner when Connors Steak & Seafood offers a sumptuous prime rib sandwich at lunch with a side of mac ‘n’ cheese, an outstanding value at $11? One of the wave of new restaurants at Westfield Siesta Key, Connors is winning fans for its unstuffy ambiance and approachable wine list.

Best New Fast Casual: Zoë’s Kitchen

If you’re looking for a place that’s healthy, fast and not too fancy, Zoë’s will be your next pick. This Mediterranean-style kitchen doesn’t use fryers or microwaves, and the food is made from scratch every day. They cover all the bases, from snack boxes to soups and sandwiches, kabobs to kid meals and everything in between. Walk in the door, scan the menu, order, find a table and get served all in less than 10 minutes. 

Best New Health Craze: Kombucha on Tap

Aside from being an energizing, bubbly tea, Kombucha contains probiotics, antioxidants, electrolytes, organic acids and much more. Growler’s Pub has Kombucha on tap as its nonalcoholic option for those seeking a healthy alternative, rotating flavors so there’s always something new to try. Mr. Beery’s craft beer bar features Lavender Mojito Kombucha on tap; Mandeville Beer Garden also has Kombucha options available on tap.

Best New Chocolate Shop: Noela Chocolate

For a creative spin on chocolate, choose Noela Chocolate on First Street. Owners Shane and Ande Grant use natural spices, juices and organic nuts with locally sourced ingredients and then handcraft chocolates in their downtown Sarasota shop. Colorful chocolates are housed in a glass case at checkout, and the walls display decorative boxes of various sizes. Choose your box, choose your treat, and enjoy. They deliver, too. 

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Best Excuse To Go Food Shopping: Specialty Grocery Stores

Lucky’s, Sprouts, Earth Fare, Whole Foods at University Station—you couldn’t blink last year without another specialty organic grocery store popping up. And Sarasotans were here for it, thronging to each store on its opening day to fill their carts with goodies. Each offers a wide selection of produce, meat and seafood, cheeses, fresh juice, craft beer and wine, and private-label goodies, as well as prepared options, like Lucky’s popular ramen, or the salads and sandwiches at Whole Foods’ Brasserie Honore. If you hear us saying our grocery bills are going up, well, now you know why. 

Best New Farmers Market Trend: Night Markets

This past season, we rejoiced that we could head to a farmers market after work (or after cocktail hour?) for fresh fixings for dinner. Two evening markets opened: Wednesday’s Market at Lakewood Ranch (3-7 p.m.) and Thursday’s Rosemary Sunset Market at Cityside (5-8 p.m.). Both offer organic produce, eggs, juices, prepared food, honey, soap and more. The two markets closed for the summer season in April, but we’re looking forward to their return in the fall. 

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