Best of Sarasota 2019

Our Editors' Picks for the Best New Restaurants, Shopping and Services in Sarasota-Manatee

We celebrate the best in dining, shopping, the arts and attractions.

By Susan Burns, Cooper Levey-Baker, Megan McDonald, Kay Kipling, Ilene Denton, and Giulia Heyward April 30, 2019 Published in the May 2019 issue of Sarasota Magazine

Artisan Cheese Company's Louise Kennedy Converse at her new Rosemary District space.

Best New Food and Drink

Best New Way to Drink for a Good Cause

The Shark Lady

In the middle of last year’s red tide crisis, the folks at Gecko’s Grill & Pub decided to raise money for Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium in the most delicious way: They created a new cocktail. The Shark Lady, named in honor of Mote founder and shark expert Eugenie Clark, is made with Don Q rum, blue curaçao and a few mixers and garnished with a gummy shark. Six locations,

Best New Meal in a Glass

The Ultimate Bloody Mary

Tailor-made for Instagram posts, the star of the new Brick’s Smoked Meats brunch menu has to be the restaurant’s absurd new Bloody Mary. Just to get to the booze, you need to devour a day’s worth of calories in the form of a smoked pork rib, nuggets of house-made bacon and pickled vegetables. Sunday morning done right. 1528 State St., Sarasota, (941) 993-1435,

Best New Tea Shop

TeBella Tea Company

Budding tea empire TeBella Tea Company brought its hand-picked selection of loose-leaf teas to the Mall at University Town Center in 2018. Stop in for a matcha latte or an Earl Grey lavender fog, and pick up tea accessories, too—everything from mugs to steepers to those super-cool Smeg kettles. 140 University Town Center Drive, #124, Sarasota, (941) 926-6056,

Best Move

Artisan Cheese Company

Artisan owner Louise Kennedy Converse has some room to breathe, thanks to a half-mile move from lower Main Street to the Rosemary District. The vastly expanded space (and a successful Kickstarter campaign) also have allowed Artisan to open an apprentice kitchen that also will offer food-industry mentoring to young women through nonprofits such as Girls Inc. 550 Central Ave., Sarasota, (941) 951-7860,

Best New Biscuits

Maple Street Biscuit Company

We rejoiced when this Jacksonville-based chain landed in Sarasota, thanks to its blessed sweet-sour biscuits, served on their own or used as sandwich holders. “The Sticky Maple” features ultra-crispy fried chicken, crunchy bacon and a generous drizzle of maple syrup. It’s so delicious it will leave you lightheaded. 8491 Cooper Creek Blvd., No. 107, Sarasota, (941) 358-5200,

Best New Thai Food

Spice Station

If you hang out in the Rosemary District for an hour on any random evening, you’ll spy a steady stream of food delivery drivers popping in and out of Spice Station. In their food-warming containers: some of the best Thai food in town. We love the restaurant’s Massaman curry brisket and its red curry salmon, whether we’re eating it there or at home in our PJs. 1438 Boulevard of the Arts, Sarasota, (941) 343-2894,

Best New Pacific Food Trend


When poke finally arrived in Sarasota, it arrived with a bang, thanks to a pair of new restaurants—downtown’s Fushipoké and University Parkway’s Smilefin Poké—that quickly became lunchtime standbys. The best poke bowls are cobbled together from distinct, powerful ingredients that elevate one another when mixed, and both new go-to spots know how to craft an excellent blend. Fushipoké: 128 N. Orange Ave., Sarasota, (941) 330-1795,; Smilefin Poké: 8196 Tourist Center Drive, Bradenton, (941) 500-1011,

Best New Restaurant

Summer House

With a name that pays homage to a legendary Siesta Key restaurant, but an approach to food all its own, Summer House seems poised to remain a fine dining institution for years to come. The menu, designed by chef Evan Gastman, revolves around sustainable steaks, succulent oysters and a roasted half-chicken that is already iconic, all served in a setting that blends Old Florida fish camp and Mad Men. 149 Avenida Messina, Siesta Key, (941) 260-2675,

Best New St. Armands Bar

Speaks Clam Bar

The food at Speaks is a tribute to Italian-American clam bars popular on Long Island and around the Northeast, but it’s the cocktails that are pulling in the crowds. The bar offers spectacular, lightly updated Prohibition-era classics like the Penicillin, made with two types of Scotch, lemon juice, ginger and honey, and a Manhattan touched with Grand Marnier and Combier. 29 N. Boulevard of Presidents, St. Armands Circle, (941) 232-7633,

Best New Bradenton Coffee Shop

Oscura Café & Bar

With wooden tables, soft hues and enough plants to brighten up anyone’s social media feed, it’s hard not to fall in love with this café-by-day, bar-by-night. As the sun fades, cortados and cappuccinos are swapped for an array of wine, beer and ciders, and the menu of salads, sandwiches and fancy toasts changes seasonally. Oscura wants to be a hub for Bradenton’s local artist scene, and guess what? It is. 540 13th St. W., Bradenton, (941) 782-8798,

Best New Sweet Treat

The Hyppo

Whether you’re making a pit stop on St. Armands Circle after a day at the beach or just circling the Circle on a shopping jaunt, consider popping into The Hyppo. The low-ceilinged popsicle shop is part of a chain based in St. Augustine that creates 450 different flavors over the course of a typical year, with unique creations like pistachio and orange, peanut butter pie and more. 438 St. Armands Circle, Sarasota, (941) 388-3330,

Best New Pizza

Mellow Mushroom

Mixing a far-out stoner sense of humor with corporate professionalism, Mellow Mushroom brought its creative specialty pies to the South Trail last July. The crust here is soft on the inside, crunchy on the outside, with a hint of garlic and sweetness in every bite, and the toppings are innovative and fun. We dig the “Holy Shiitake” pie—flavored with four types of mushrooms, three types of cheese, garlic, caramelized onions and chives. Groovy. 6727 S. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, (941) 388-7504,

Best New Hangout

The Overton

It doesn’t matter what time of day it is. If you’re looking for a great place to meet up, opt for The Overton. When paired with Varietal Coffee Bar, its sister operation next door, the space functions around the clock as coffee shop, bar and restaurant. And with its huge rollup doors and breezy inside-outside flow, it’s always a pleasant place to unwind. 1420 Boulevard of the Arts, Sarasota, (941) 500-9175,

Best New Food Truck

Spice Boys

Most food trucks excel at one or two items—tacos, burgers and the like. Spice Boys, meanwhile, offers an expansive range of dishes with flavors rooted in the Tel Aviv street food scene specifically and the Middle East more broadly. The truck’s short rib flatbread (dressed with a carrot and fennel salad, harissa, labneh and almonds) and its sabich (an eggplant pita seasoned with tahini, schug and amba) are already legendary. (941) 928-0125,

Best New Lakewood Ranch Hot Spot


With a bar and dining room that can seat 350 and an adjacent ballroom that brings the property’s total capacity to 750, Grove has tons of space to fill, and, based on early reactions, it’s doing just that. Happy hour here is nuts, with people hanging out at the bar and lining up at the host stand hoping to get a table on the huge patio. 10670 Boardwalk Loop, Lakewood Ranch, (941) 893-4321,

Best New Sushi

Bushido Izayaki

After more than a decade running a Japanese restaurant in New York, chef Jon Woo headed for warmer climes to open Bushido last December. The restaurant is serving some of the city’s best maki rolls, with spectacular specialty platters (the “Fast & Furious” roll is to die for), as well as topnotch takes on classic combos. 3688 Webber St., Sarasota, (941) 217-5635,

Best New Fish Shack

Spearfish Grille

On Siesta Key, but worlds away from MTV glitz, you’ll find Spearfish Grille, a small eatery hidden inside a marina on the Intracoastal side of the island. The restaurant specializes in freshly landed Gulf seafood presented in simple, direct ways. Think grouper sandwich, peel-and-eat shrimp and hogfish tacos. And don’t sleep on the small but nice selection of craft beers. 1265 Stickney Point Road, Siesta Key, (941) 349-1970,

Best New Rooftop Bar


These days, downtown Sarasota offers a number of rooftop drinking destinations, but we were overjoyed when the new restaurant Sage revived one of our favorite long-shuttered rooftop hangouts. Best known as the former home of Ceviche, the historic downtown destination offers beautiful skyline views, gentle breezes and tasty adult beverages. 1216 First St., Sarasota, (941) 445-5660,

Best New Downtown Reinvention

Umbrellas 1296

The vine-covered restaurant space next to the Sarasota Opera House sat sadly vacant for many moons before Umbrellas 1296 opened, and we couldn’t be happier that there’s finally life there again. We enjoy Umbrellas, in particular, at lunch: The “lambwich,” served with mint yogurt, pickled onions and arugula, is a delight. 1296 First St., Sarasota, (941) 500-4810,

Relaxing at the Sarasota Modern's pool.

Best New Shops & Services

Best New CBD Shop

Second and Seed

Cannabidiol (aka CBD) is all the rage, with a crew of loyal users who say it eases migraines, menstrual cramps and anxiety and even helps those who suffer from epilepsy and Parkinson’s. But because there are few regulations around how CBD makers market their products, finding a trustworthy source is tricky. Luckily, we have Second and Seed, a stylish farm-to-bottle boutique where employees can tell you precisely where their organic hemp comes from and provide scientific readouts on exactly what’s in the bottle you’re purchasing. 1231 Second St., Sarasota, (941) 260-9971,

Best New Facial Treatment

Gua Sha

At Pure Skincare By Elizabeth, a tiny skincare studio nestled off Cortez Road in Bradenton, aesthetician Elizabeth Thomas specializes in gua sha, a form of Chinese medicine that uses a jade or rose-quartz tool to massage the face to increase circulation, release fascia, drain lymph and unlock qi (or blocked energy). The results: relaxed muscles and smoother, more hydrated skin—and peace of mind, too. $85 per treatment. 4012 Cortez Road W., Suite 2204, Bradenton, (941) 448-0512, 

Best New Hotel

Sarasota Modern

The Sarasota Modern, the new Rosemary District hotel designed as a tribute to the Sarasota School of Architecture, wowed us when it opened for business in December. The boutique 89-room hotel packs in the amenities: two pools, cool outdoor tubs on balconies in some rooms, 10,000 square feet of meeting space, spa services a swanky bar with great craft cocktails (and a gator hanging from the ceiling), and a restaurant named Rudolph’s. 1290 Boulevard of the Arts, Sarasota, (941) 906-1290,

Best Doggie Outing

Canine Club at Gillespie Park

Dogs love to romp off leash, so the new Canine Club on the north side of Gillespie Park, which opened in September, gives them green space and freedom. The park has two separate fenced areas, one for large dogs and one for small. It also has doggy drinking fountains, trees and shade structures. The dogs get along wonderfully; if only their human masters accepted one another so quickly. Gillespie Park, 710 N. Osprey Ave., Sarasota 

Best New Parking

St. Armands Parking Garage

Luck, timing and masterful parallel parking skills once dictated whether you’d find a parking space on St. Armands Circle. But since its $15 million parking garage opened in February, the stress is (almost) gone. The four-level garage has 484 parking spaces, slots for electric vehicles and—drumroll, please—public restrooms. No more having to buy a coffee at Starbucks when you have to use the bathroom. Charge is 50 cents an hour; free on Sundays and city holidays. North Adams Drive,

Best New Free Gym

Arlington’s Outdoor Gym

Sometimes it’s just nice to work out in fresh air. Arlington Park and Aquatic Complex’s free outdoor gym, right next to the kids’ playground, uses Kompan equipment, a slick cross-training setup that uses resistance, so you can train according to your own level of fitness and get a full-body workout. A downloadable app teaches you how to use everything. What could make it better? A sunshade over the entire gym and fitness trainers to keep you motivated. 2650 Waldemere St., Sarasota, (941) 554-2110

Best New Way to Fly

SRQ Airport

We’re ecstatic over Sarasota Bradenton International Airport’s new direct flights. Allegiant Air expanded its nonstop flights from three cities to 12 this past year (Asheville, North Carolina, and Baltimore are the latest) and Frontier Airlines entered the market in December with direct seasonal flights to Atlanta, Cleveland and Philadelphia. American Airlines and United also added flights, and Elite Airways has a weekly nonstop between Cherry Capital Airport in Michigan and SRQ. Fly local! 6000 Airport Circle, Sarasota,

Best New RosemaryDistrict Oasis

Pura Vie

In December 2018, Noemi Pareja opened Pura Vie in the Rosemary District, and it’s fast become an oasis of calm in that bustling neighborhood. With a focus on clean beauty products and Ayurveda, Pareja and her team offer yoga classes, meditation, herbal remedies, yoga breathing and massage therapy, and accessories like candles, bracelets and necklaces. 1460 Boulevard of the Arts, Sarasota, (941) 312-4402,

Best New Turkish Delight

Karavan Treasures from Turkey

Located next to Bay Plaza on Palm Avenue, this new shop is packed full of Turkish treasures, from glowing lanterns to brightly colored mosaics to one-of-a-kind carpets and pillows. Packed to the brim, the store is a feast for the senses. 1262 N. Palm Ave., Sarasota (941) 316-0516, 

Best New Vintage Modern

Art of Living Collective

Annalise O’Brien and Kristi Weaver’s design studio and home store opened in early 2019 and it’s quickly earned a reputation for its one-of-a-kind finds. Don’t miss the cool accessories, like glassware, vases, pillows and locally made wood charcuterie boards. 2139 Siesta Drive, Sarasota (941) 260-8437,

Best Water Fun


Looking for sun, exercise and a cold beer? Try Sip-N-Cycle Cruises for a fun party boat experience. The cycleboat is outfitted with two rows of five stationary bike stations that face one another. You and your friends pedal your way down the Intracoastal while your beverages—bring your own beer and wine—stay chilled in coolers. The cycleboat leaves from Pop’s Sunset Grill in Nokomis (a full boat required here) and Bayfront Excursions on Siesta Key. $40 a passenger. Group rates, too. (833)-SIP-AWAY,

Best New Hotel Restaurant Design

Embassy Suites

Who knew that the Embassy Suites By Hilton Sarasota, which opened late last year, would have such a cool restaurant/bar space and killer view? The ninth-floor Bridges Restaurant is in a unique circular room with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking Sarasota Bay. The bar, under a spectacular modern chandelier, is circular, too, and placed right in the middle of the space and part of all the hubbub. Bridges Restaurant, 202 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, (941) 256-0190, 

Raddest Retail Reinvention

Compound Boardshop

More than a store, Compound Boardshop is a community of outdoor enthusiasts who live to skate, surf, skim, paddleboard and fly-fish. Owners Jacob and Rachel Shields moved to their cool new in-town location after 15 years out east and are offering tons of free clinics (fly-tying night for women, anyone?) and charitable events for groups like Captains for Clean Water. Plus, 10 percent of all sales supports an orphanage in Mexico the Shields have “adopted.” That’s pretty rad. 3604 S. Osprey Ave., Sarasota, (941) 552-9805,

Best Way to Heat Things Up

Purify – An Urban Sweat Lodge

Burns Court’s Urban Sweat Lodge doesn’t want you to beat the heat, it wants you to embrace it. Mother-daughter owners Samantha and Sandy Albano say the heat helps improve health, detoxify the body and promote relaxation. We can’t vouch for the science, but after spending an hour between compression wraps, with temps climbing to 140 degrees, our muscles and mind sure did feel relaxed. 533 Pineapple Ave., Sarasota, (941) 993-1391,

The Cocoon House on Siesta Key

Image: Jenny Acheson

Best New Arts & Entertainment

Best New Architectural Tour

The Cocoon House

It’s one thing to admire photos of midcentury gems like Paul Rudolph and Ralph Twitchell’s Cocoon House on Siesta Key. But to really appreciate these architectural marvels, you have to step inside. The Sarasota Architectural Foundation leased the Cocoon House last summer, sensitively spiffed it up, and is offering tours the first and third Saturday of each month. Visit to book yours.

Best New Filmgoing Experience


Located in a rehabbed warehouse just north of the airport, the Sarasota Film Festival’s Cinematheque facility allows you to absorb classic movies on a full-sized screen, with comfortable seats and couches and all the snacks you’re accustomed to. The lineup so far has included Hollywood classics like North By Northwest and a meticulously restored edition of the Russian masterpiece Andrei Rublev. 500 Tallevast Road, No. 105, Sarasota, (941) 364-9514,

Best New Art Gallery

GAZE Modern

Housed in downtown’s new Arcos apartment complex, GAZE opened its doors last November, and has been busy enough with exhibitions showcasing local artists (Joseph Patrick Arnegger, Mary GrandPré, Polly Johnson and more) that it expanded its original limited hours to 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday. It’s easily accessible to those strolling Central Avenue, and definitely worth popping in to take a look at new contemporary work. 340 Central Ave,. Sarasota, (941) 400-0598,

Best New Arts Party Space

The Binz Building

The historic Binz Building, formerly vacant and shabby, has sprung back to vibrant life as part of Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe’s campus after extensive renovation. Besides providing facilities for the theater's education and outreach, it offers event spaces available to the public; try the 6,000-square-foot rooftop deck with those downtown skyline views for your next arty gathering. 1012 N. Orange Ave., Sarasota, (941) 366-1505, ext. 111,

Best Public Art Additions

Hollow Figure, Bravo, Jumping Fish

Arcos is also responsible for the unveiling of a sculpture by internationally known artist Daniel Arsham on its site, a rather ghostly cast aluminum figure that just might slow traffic on Fruitville Road. And catching the eye of motorists and pedestrians alike: the new works at the roundabouts at Orange and Ringling (Jorge Blanco’s 18-foot-tall Bravo) and Palm and Cocoanut (Jeffrey Laramore’s colorful Jumping Fish).

Best New “Cool” Circus Spot

Sailor Circus Arena

The nearly 40-year-old Sailor Circus arena on Bahia Vista Street is beloved, but desperately needed renovation, including an air conditioning system. Now it has one for the first time ever, courtesy of a $4.5 million reno led by architect Michael Carlson that also added new seating, office space, restrooms, concessions and more. A grand opening celebration last month welcomed circus lovers of all ages to the cool new home. 2075 Bahia Vista St., Sarasota, (941) 355-9335,

Coolest New Sports Venue

Cool Today Park

With room for 7,200 fans, six full fields, two half-practice fields and a 360-degree concourse that allows for optimal viewing, the new Cool Today Park in North Port hits a home run with fans of the Atlanta Braves—its spring training team as of 2020—and baseball followers everywhere. Look for special events there throughout the year.

Best New Public Building

William H. Jervey Jr. Venice Public Library

After library lovers howled at the thought of not replacing the old Venice Library (closed due to mold issues), the community got on board with a brand-new version in the same spot on Nokomis Avenue. Named after its biggest donor, the $8.8 million William H. Jervey Jr. Venice Public Library, designed by Sweet Sparkman Architects, opened in December. It was immediately swarmed by users of all ages eager to sample its reading nooks, conference room and Creation Station with 3D printer. 300 S. Nokomis Ave., Venice, (941) 861-1330,

Filed under