Best Of Sarasota 2020

Editors' Picks: The Best New Restaurants, Shops, Arts Experiences and More in Sarasota

When the coronavirus pandemic is over, our editors have chosen the places you've got to visit. We're counting on them pulling through.

April 30, 2020 Published in the May-June 2020 issue of Sarasota Magazine

Image: Shutterstock

Last winter, our editors curated this list of the best new options for food and drink, fun and functional services, and arts and entertainment thrills by combing through our articles, asking our expert freelancers for their ideas and visiting businesses. To qualify, these businesses and experiences must have opened in the previous 12 months. That, of course, was before the coronavirus pandemic changed our lives. But this period will be over. And when it is, our editors have chosen those places you’ve got to visit. We’re counting on them pulling through. We’ve updated the list to let you know who’s still operating with takeout and delivery, so you can still enjoy the best of the new!

Image: Shutterstock

Best New Food and Drink 

Best Reinvented Restaurant

Libby’s Neighborhood Brasserie isn’t just a smart reinvention of a popular Sarasota restaurant. It’s a testament to the timeless appeal of traditional cuisine at a time when many restaurants are busy chasing trends driven by social media and health-fad diets. Libby’s roasted half-chicken, grilled skirt steak or watercress salad aren’t avant-garde, folks, but they’re pretty close to perfect. 1917 S. Osprey Ave., Sarasota, (941) 487-7300,

Best New Coffee Shop

You’ll feel virtuous about spending your money at Project Coffee, where baristas are paid $15 an hour, plus tips, and the menu is 100 percent vegan. But the real reason we keep coming back is the quality of the brews. The drip coffee is exceptional, as are the espresso drinks, all made with non-dairy milks. Don’t sleep on the vegan biscuits, either. Currently offering takeout service only. 538 S. Pineapple Ave., Sarasota,

Currently offering takeout service only.

Best New Chinese Restaurant

The menu at Dim Sum King is a brightly colored grid of tantalizing Chinese small plates whose cost tops out at $7.99. That makes it great for loading up on dishes to share. Dumplings stuffed with chives and shrimp before being pan-fried are excellent, as are steamed Shanghai-style pork dumplings and formidable shu mai. 8194 Tourist Center Drive, Bradenton, (941) 306-5848,

Currently offering takeout service only.

Best New Restaurant 

When Shore’s second location, on Longboat Key, opened, chef Dylan Elhajoui wasn’t content to just cut and paste the old menu. He redid everything, introducing several new dishes to the original Shore on St. Armands and perfecting them before bringing them to the new restaurant. The mussels are amazing, the grouper sandwich is one of the area’s best and the waterfront setting will knock you out. 800 Broadway St., Longboat Key, (941) 259-4600,

Best New Distillery 

Loaded Cannon Distillery said, “Ahoy, matey!” to Lakewood Ranch last year, and residents have been lining up to sample the pirate-themed booze maker’s vodka, gin, rum and bourbon. The tasting room is open during limited hours Wednesday-Sunday, but we recommend taking the full tour, which gives insight into the alchemy of spirit-making and lets you sip the distillery’s different products. 3115 Lakewood Ranch Blvd., Suite 110, Bradenton, (941) 900-1482,

Best New Brewery

3 Car Garage Brewing Co has fortified the Lakewood Ranch craft beer scene, pouring a mix of IPAs, wheats, lagers, porters, kolsches and more. But it’s not just the beers that keep people coming. The taproom always has a good game on, and when the weather’s nice, the party spills out into the parking lot. 3 Car Garage also pulls in some top food trucks. 8405 Heritage Green Way, Bradenton, (941) 741-8877,

Best New Mediterranean Restaurant 

The closure of El Greco hit us hard. Where would we find a good Greek salad downtown?! Luckily, Avlí Mess Hall stepped into the former El Greco space and, while keeping an emphasis on Greek cuisine, expanded the menu’s range to take in flavors from Syria, Turkey and beyond. Don’t skip the “spreads”—savory, spicy concoctions that go great on a pita. Bonus: Avlí offers one of the best lunch deals in Sarasota. 1592 Main St., Sarasota, (941) 365-2234,

Best New Taqueria

Circo is less a restaurant than the hangout you’ve always dreamed of, where you can scarf down tacos, enjoy a cocktail and play pinball while listening to primo ’90s rap. Of the tacos, we’re enamored with the Asian flavors, particularly the Mongolian beef taco and the Korean pork taco, each elevated by a splash of Circo’s blistering “firewater” hot sauce. 1435 Second St., Sarasota, (941) 253-0978,

Best New Bar 

Mark Tuchman, who opened 99 Bottles with his wife, Christine Tuchman, last year, likes to say that the bar celebrates “extraordinary liquids” of all types. That means plenty of great beer, but also rare wines, cold brew on tap and aperitif-style cocktails, all served with a scientific attention to detail. A great place to meet up after work, and a lively after-party spot as well. 1445 Second St., Sarasota, (941) 487-7874,

Best New German Restaurant 

At Siegfried’s Restaurant, René and Kim Zimmermann are introducing Sarasota to the culinary treasures of their native Rhineland, in one of the most charming settings in the city. Sit out back in the beer garden and indulge in enormous, warm, fresh pretzels served with zingy mustard, plus huge steaks, crispy wiener schnitzel and plenty of sausages. 1869 Fruitville Road, Sarasota, (941) 330-9330,

Best New All-Vegan Restaurant 

The small corner space that houses Leaf & Lentil has been home to many restaurants over the years, but we think this latest incarnation is likely to stick. Chef Michael Schoening and his wife, Sheila Siegel, have created a charming, light-filled lunch and dinner destination, but it’s Schoening’s truly outstanding, tasty plant-based menu of mix-and-match salads, sandwiches and sides that’s winning raves. 2801 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, (941) 413-5685,

Currently offering takeout and delivery only.

Best New Vegan-Friendly Restaurant

You can get burger or a steak at Lemon Tree Kitchen, but the heart of the menu is its vegetarian selections. Start with a tartare made with a beef substitute, deviled eggs that aren’t made with eggs and addictive roasted Brussels sprouts, then continue with a vegan Caesar salad or a cauliflower steak. Many who do eat meat are trying to eat less of it; Lemon Tree makes that task easier. 1289 N. Palm Ave., Sarasota, (941) 552-9688,


Best New Beachy Diner 

Fashioned from a long-empty, Art Deco-style gas station, Whitney’s diner and beach bodega across from Longboat Key’s Whitney Beach, instantly became a hot spot for tourists and locals for its retro curved walls, original tile and roll-up doors, a creative breakfast-to-dinner menu and killer outdoor dining space with a firepit and grove of newly planted coconut palms. And, yes, there is an outdoor shower, too. 6990 Gulf of Mexico Drive, Longboat Key, (941) 383-4606,

Currently offering takeout service only.

Best New Intimate Dining 

Dreamy little Rosemary & Thyme, on the edge of the Rosemary District in Citrus Square, is still a secret, but not for long. Billed as an American bistro, the menu is outstanding, and all dishes are charmingly served on unmatched bone china. The ambiance of the dining room and bar is eclectic, filled with old photos and WWII memorabilia. In nice weather, we like dining in the courtyard. 511 N. Orange Ave., (941) 955-7600,

Best New Neighborhood Restaurant

On a recent visit to cozy Blasé Bistro & Martini Bar in Southside Village, waitstaff bustled about the packed dining room with platters of homemade pasta, the bartender poured his signature martinis for people lining the bar, and three couples danced among the tables to a lively jazz duo. Now that’s what we mean by dinner theater. 1920 Hillview St., (941) 312-6850,

Best New Fried Chicken 

Popeyes nabbed frenzied headlines last year when it introduced its fried chicken sandwich, but here we yawned, because we already had a great place to go for a fried chicken sandwich: Daily Bird. We love the blazing “Kim Chee Yum” sandwich, made with kimchi slaw and Korean hot sauce, but the other, less spicy varieties are equally delicious. 1534 State St., Sarasota, (941) 306-3103,


Best New Lakewood Ranch Restaurant

Nancy Krohngold expanded her footprint in Lakewood Ranch in a big way when she opened her third location, on State Road 70. The restaurant offers the same lovingly smoked pulled pork and ribs you’ll find at the downtown location but adds a twist to the Nancy’s formula with its full bar, great happy hour deals and occasional live music. 14475 State Road 70, Lakewood Ranch, (941) 999-2390,

Best New Use of a Horse Trailer

Jill Martini bought an old horse trailer off Craigslist, gave it a fun new Instagram-friendly look and voilà, her mobile bar, The Wandering Whale, was born. Martini tows her trailer to weddings, bridal showers and corporate parties, where she shakes up unique cocktails and pours wine and Champagne. With its whimsical, rustic-chic look, Martini’s trailer adds a stylish backdrop to any gathering. (941) 650-9950,

Currently closed.

Best New Reason to Drink Beer

We’ve been feeling philanthropic while indulging in our love of craft beer, thanks to the good people at two of Bradenton’s best breweries. First, Darwin Brewing Co. pledged to donate a portion of its profits from the sale of two beers to Mote Marine to aid coral reef and waterway restoration. Then, Motorworks Brewing began offering cans featuring the faces of shelter dogs in need of adoption, giving exposure to animals in need of a home. Darwin: 803 17th Ave. W., Bradenton, (941) 747-1970,; Motorworks: 1014 Ninth St. W., Bradenton, (941) 567-6218,

Best New Farmers' Market Vendor 

We dropped to our knees and wept when we spotted local bacon at the downtown Sarasota Farmers Market. That rave-worthy pork is the product of Tatum Ridge Farms, an east Sarasota farm that raises hogs and chickens and sells eggs, sausage, ham and more besides that bacon. For years, it’s been difficult to find local meat in Sarasota. Tatum Ridge is helping fill that gap. (941) 780-5641,

The farmers’ market stand is currently closed, but Tatum Ridge is offering pickup and delivery services.

Best New Grocery Store 

People love Detwiler’s Farm Market. That was apparent last November, when the locally owned grocery store chain opened its fifth location, in south Sarasota. People lined up early in the morning for the ceremonial “cutting of the pie” that opened the store, as well as a chance to win a gift card and get a first look at the space. 2881 Clark Road, Sarasota, (941) 378-2727,

Open regular hours for walk-in shopping; check the calendar for special senior hours. Also, express drive-through.

Image: Shutterstock

Best New Arts and Entertainment 

Best New Art Museum 

At long last, the Sarasota Art Museum opened its doors in reimagined Sarasota High School buildings originally designed by M. Leo Elliott and Paul Rudolph. A triumph of preservation and progress, the museum (part of the Ringling College Museum Campus) hosts exhibitions by nationally known artists, educational programs and more in a beautiful, centrally located spot. Head to the museum website to see online exhibitions during this time when the building itself is closed. 1001 S. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, (941) 309-7662,

Best New Look for a Theater 

Have you visited the extensively renovated Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe home with its new spacious lobby, real theater seating, quadrupled restroom capacity and more? Head over there when the company reopens with its 2020-21 season, planned to begin in October. 1012 N. Orange Ave., Sarasota, (941) 366-1505,

Best New Speaker Series

After the longtime Fine Arts Society of Sarasota rebranded itself as Arts Advocates, leaders also came up with the “Speaking of the Arts....” series hosted at downtown’s Art Ovation Hotel. We’ve heard fascinating insights from Baltimore Symphony Orchestra music director Marin Alsop and lyricist Lynn Ahrens. Stay tuned for more this coming season.  (941) 330-0680,

Best New Wardrobe Buy

No, not your wardrobe. We’re talking about the Sarasota Opera’s acquisition of more than 30,000 costumes from Malabar Ltd., including clothing worn by such stars as Luciano Pavarotti and Beverly Sills at opera houses throughout the world. Now we get to see them here; plus, the opera can boost its revenues through rentals to other companies. That’s something to sing about. (941) 328-1300,

Best New Bridge Lighting

Best New Bridge Lighting

We suppose it depends whom you ask when it comes to the 60 new LED lights installed last fall on the columns of the Ringling Causeway; not all neighbors are thrilled about the intense purples, reds and yellows that rotate through each half hour after sunset. They sure do stand out, though. And at least walking the bridge is something we can do despite COVID-19.

Best New Escape From Reality

Need a break from day-to-day life? Hop into a virtual world at Escape Reality, downtown Sarasota’s first virtual reality hangout. Just put on a headset, grab the hand controls and begin interacting with the three-dimensional, computer-generated landscapes. Games include everything from zombie shooters to immersive underwater experiences. It’s easy to lose yourself in the virtual world around you. 1900 Main St., Suite 104, Sarasota, (941) 806-5858,


Best New Civic Project

Florida Studio Theatre has brought together more than 55 organizations for The Suffragist Project, a year-long celebration of the centennial of the 19th Amendment, giving women the right to vote. Among the highlights: a documentary, an art exhibit, an educational touring program, and four commissioned plays that will culminate in August in—best fest title, don’t you agree—The Dangerous Ladies Festival.

Click here for the latest status on Suffragist Project offerings.

Best New Remodeled Park 

The Paul Thorpe Jr. Park on Lemon Avenue downtown finally opened in March and immediately became an oasis in a growing city. With pavers, new trees, comfy benches, a shady trellis covered in flowering vines, visitors now have a quiet place to rest. And no worries! The mermaid fountain is still the center of attention.

Image: Shutterstock

Best New Shops & Services 

Best New Golfer's Store 

Sure, the PGA Tour Superstore at The Shoppes at University Town Center is heaven for golfers, with 40,000 square feet holding all kinds of golf merchandise and a “Fitting Van Experience” for custom fitting your clubs. But it has plentiful products for pickleball and tennis players, too. That’s a win. Right now, the store is offering online ordering and a “Curbside Caddie” pickup service. 8563 Cooper Creek Blvd., University Park, (941) 554-2777,

Best New Members-Club Deals 

If you’re a Costco shopper living in Manatee County, the news last summer that you no longer had to travel to south Sarasota or Brandon for deals on Chanel handbags, bulk products or gasoline (or to indulge in an all-beef hot dog for $1.50) was huge. So is the 155,000-square-foot warehouse in Heritage Harbour, open to serve you during the pandemic while observing restrictions for safety. 805 Lighthouse Drive, Bradenton, (941) 213-0747, 

Best New Airline at SRQ 

Welcome, Sun Country Airlines, the third new airline for Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport in two years. And howdy, Minnesotans, who started flocking here from the Twin Cities with the inaugural flight in December, a perfect time to flee colder climes. The nonstop seasonal service operates twice a week, Fridays and Mondays; we hope to start flying again soon. (651) 905-2737,

Best New Location For a Beloved Boutique 

Browsers and buyers of vintage clothing, housewares and curios were thrilled when their favorite store, Canned Ham Vintage, expanded from its original Rosemary District locale to a venue with three times the room. All the more Chanel designs and midcentury furniture to snap up. For now, we recommend calling ahead to see if the brick-and-mortar store is open, but you can also browse online. 2081 12th St., Sarasota, (941) 313-1280,

Best New Skincare Line 

Stylist Jackie Rogers and aesthetician Natasha Crow, cofounders of Sarasota-based House of Hilt skincare, want people to think about what they put on their skin the same way they think about what they put in their bodies. Using plant-based, nontoxic ingredients, their 10-range product line turns your skincare routine into a luxe experience that’s also good for you.

Currently offering local delivery and curbside pickup, plus online ordering as usual.

Best New Beauty Indulgence  

Celebrity dermatologist Donna Messenger’s Microjuvenate Skin Care Clinic promises high-tech answers to pressing skincare questions, like how to build collagen and reduce fine lines and wrinkles. One of the clinic’s most high-profile treatments: the “vampire facial,” which uses tiny needles and the patient’s own blood to rejuvenate the skin. You might raise your eyebrows, but the glow after a treatment is the real deal. 1250 S. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, (941) 552-9692,

Office is taking extra precautions, including heightened sanitation and limiting appointments limited to one patient at a time; for more information, click here.

Best New Barber Shop

Barber Andre Pergolese has earned a substantial local following over the years thanks to his stylish cuts and his perfectionist’s attention to detail. Last year, when he opened his own shop, APX Barber Co, the crowds came with him, building a loyal community of guys who appreciate a well-cut fade. 1269 First St., Sarasota, (941) 552-9663

Best New Set of Wheels

Bike sharing, a popular transportation mode in cities across America, has come to Sarasota in the form of cruiser bicycles stationed in the St. Armands and North Palm Avenue parking garages. No, it won’t end the miles of backed-up traffic across the Ringling Bridge during season, but it’s a smart start.

Best New Way to Service Cars

No smelly oil or clanging tools greet customers at the new Tesla service center off McIntosh Road. Instead, you’ll find a huge white room with a coffee station and a rectangular table manned by two millennials with laptops. Tesla mechanics work behind this white space, but those young IT folks handle a good chunk of the issues, and service techs also do house calls. Welcome to the driving future. 5231 McIntosh Road, (877) 798-3752,

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