The only thing people like doing more than eating pizza? Debating about pizza. Which regional variety is the best? An O.G. Neapolitan? A classic New York slice? Pizza from Chicago? Detroit? Pittsburgh? New Haven? California? Do you like it thin and crispy, or thick and layered? Laden with outrageous toppings, or kept simple and traditional?

In Sarasota, you’ll find a huge variety of pizzas in places that range from stylish fine-dining restaurants to hole-in-the-wall, strip-mall joints that specialize in takeout and delivery. To help you whittle down your endless list of options, we’ve compiled our first guide to the area’s best pizzas. To do it, we crisscrossed Sarasota and Manatee counties, measuring the dimensions of crusts, quizzing pizza makers about the heat of their ovens and eating our weight in mozzarella. It wasn’t an easy task, and plenty of more-than-decent pizzas fell by the wayside as we put together our final rankings.

Behold: Sarasota’s best pizzas.

Baker & Wife

2157 Siesta Drive, Sarasota, (941) 960-1765, bakerwife.com

In years past, Baker & Wife owner and chef Isaac Correa has hosted pizza-making lessons on evenings when the restaurant is closed for business. During the sessions, Correa shares his ultra-simple dough and sauce recipes and offers tips on how to achieve a restaurant-quality crust in a home oven that probably doesn’t burn as hot as the one at Baker & Wife does. But why try to recreate the original when you can just order a Baker & Wife pie to-go? The selection of toppings here is limited but inspired. The “Clemenza,” named after Vito Corleone’s closest confidant, walks the line between spicy and sweet, with multiple types of hot salumi and a drizzle of maple syrup, plus dollops of creamy goat cheese to provide respite from the heat. I’d wager it’s better than what you can come up with at home.

1592's grilled merguez pizza

1592's grilled merguez pizza

Image: Kathryn Brass

1592

1592 Main St., Sarasota, (941) 365-2234, 1592srq.com

It’s the creative toppings that make the pizzas at this newish downtown spot stand out. My favorite: the grilled merguez pizza, which is dotted with circles of spicy lamb sausage flavored with cumin and harissa, and then dressed with stripes of tahini. It bridges the narrow gap between Southern Italy and Northern Africa.

Bavaro’s

27 Fletcher Ave., Sarasota, (941) 552-9131, bavarospizza.com

The takeout box at Bavaro’s doubles as an educational seminar, with a description of how the pizza is prepared (baked for 90 seconds at 900 degrees Fahrenheit) and how it is supposed to be eaten (with a fork and knife). Whether you follow that rule or not, you’ll love the pizza. The center is soft and floppy, with a raised ring around the edge that’s lightly blackened and wonderfully yeasty. I love the burrata pizza, coated with creamy burrata cheese and decorated with slices of cherry tomatoes, a bit of arugula,
grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and slices of prosciutto, then drizzled with olive oil.

Local Pizza's "Meat Me at the Corner" pizza

Local Pizza's "Meat Me at the Corner" pizza

Image: Kathryn Brass

Local Pizza

66 N. Tamiami Trail, Osprey, (941) 909-0743, thelocal.pizza

Pulling up to Local Pizza, you’d never think that it used to be a gas station. A handful of picnic tables are set out front, next to a stretch of fake grass and a cornhole set. A white paint job has given the front a clean new look, and big windows give you a peek inside at a wide bar. One ingenious touch: the takeout window on the left, where locals stopping by after work can grab a preordered pizza without even leaving the parking lot.
It helps that the pizza is terrific. The “Meat Me at the Corner” pizza might sound like your typical meat lover’s choice, but it’s elevated by plenty of roasted garlic, as well as a bacon jam that spreads sweetness all over the pie.

Caragiulos

69 S. Palm Ave., Sarasota, (941) 951-0866, caragiulos.com

Pears on a pizza? Downtown mainstay Caragiulos makes it work by pairing (get it?) the fruit with prickly Gorgonzola cheese and gilding the lily with caramelized onions and a balsamic vinegar and honey drizzle.

Flavio’s

5239 Ocean Blvd., Siesta Key, Sarasota, (941) 349-0995, flaviosbrickovenandbar.com

A Siesta Key standout, Flavio’s is known for its romantic environs, quality pastas, Italian entrées and, of course, its pizza, cooked in a brick oven that gets hotter than a summer afternoon on the beach. The ingredients here skew mostly traditional Italian, although you will find a Hawaiian pizza, too. Tastes great when your skin is crusty with salt and glowing. (Flavio’s also has a spot on Main Street, but that location does not serve pizza.)

RomanSQ

6670 Superior Ave., Sarasota, (941) 237-8742, romansq.com

Crafting the perfect Roman-style crust takes a full 96 hours at this Gulf Gate shop, where the pies are rectangular and served in either “half trays” that feed four or “full trays” that serve eight. The crust has a crisp, crackly bottom, but above that, it’s airy and delicate, and the toppings are elevated and unique. A pesto pizza features thinly shaved potatoes, while the “fra diavolo” highlights guanciale, cured pork jowl.

Diners enjoying a vegan pizza at Lucile.

Diners enjoying a vegan pizza at Lucile.

Lucile

1660 Main St., Sarasota, (941) 330-0101, lucilesrq.com

Pizza without cheese might seem like heresy, but Lucile is winning converts with its impressive list of vegan pies served in an intimate wine bar space. The restaurant’s “Macho” pie is a meat lover’s pizza for people who don’t love meat, with mushroom and coconut “bacon” and plant-based “pepperoni” and “sausage.” The “Spicy Peppers” pizza, meanwhile, substitutes cashew cream and cashew cheese for traditional mozzarella, and delivers a jolt with multiple types of hot and sweet peppers.

Made in Italy

117 W. Venice Ave., Venice, (941) 488-8282, madeinitaly-venice.com

Situated in Venice’s historic downtown, Made in Italy is a date-night pizza destination, where you can order a couple pies to split and sip a cocktail from the well-stocked bar. Pull together your own selection of toppings here, or just lean back and put yourself in the hands of the capable pizza makers. Even non-vegetarians will dig the “Genovese” pizza, a meat-free pie punched up with earthy hunks of roasted eggplant, outrageously sweet charred red peppers and shavings of ricotta salata, a harder, saltier aged version of typical ricotta.

Mellow Mushroom

6727 S. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, (941) 388-7504, mellowmushroom.com

For decades a fixture of college life across the Southeast, Mellow Mushroom has expanded its customer base to include people whose undergraduate years passed many moons ago. Today, the restaurant offers a lively, family-friendly ambiance, and is committed to serving well-executed cocktails and a good pick of craft beers. I adore the “Holy Shiitake Pie” (puns are a way of life at Mellow Mushroom), which features a garlicky crust dressed with multiple types of mushrooms and cheese. A garlic cream swirl adds a bit of sweetness to the proceedings, while chopped chives provide a unique herbal flourish. Whether you’re cramming for finals, or just going out for a Friday night meal with the fam, Mellow Mushroom has you covered.

Il Panificio

1703 Main St., Sarasota, (941) 366-5570; 2053 Reynolds St., Sarasota, (941) 921-5570; 215 Avenida Madera, Siesta Key, (941) 800-5570; panificiousa.com

An excellent destination for a quick and tasty lunch, Il Panficio expanded to Siesta Key with its third location earlier this year. You can order whole pizzas, but the fun part about eating at Il Panificio is by mixing and matching a variety of pre-made New York-style slices that are tossed in the blistering oven for a quick reheat before hitting your plate.

Napulè

7129 S. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, (941) 556-9639, napulesarasota.com

An image of Sophia Loren mounted atop a Vespa decorates the wall at this South Trail restaurant, and Loren fixes her gaze on one of the most alluring dining rooms in the area. There’s the sexy bar in the far corner, the second floor that offers great views of the classic Italian movies being screened silently above the open kitchen and, of course, the seats near a pizza oven adorned with golden tiles that glow like the inside of a cathedral’s dome. The Neapolitan-style pizza is just as attractive as the vibe. The “tartufata” is light, but rich, with plenty of sliced prosciutto, gooey mozzarella, porcini mushrooms, a smattering of arugula and a drizzle of black truffle oil. A place where it’s easy to fall in love.

Tavern-style pizza from Shaner's

Tavern-style pizza from Shaner's

Image: Kathryn Brass

Shaner’s

6500 Superior Ave., Sarasota, (941) 927-2708, shanerspizza.com

Eating at Shaner’s delivers pure nostalgia. The longtime sports bar and pizzeria, founded by former pro baseball pitcher Shane Rawley, specializes in what’s known as tavern- or bar-style pizza, defined by its ultra-thin crust, its rectangular slices and the fact that it goes great with a pitcher of cold lager.  If you’re hoping to celebrate a softball victory, or just want to recapture the feeling of rounding third with a head of steam and your eyes on home plate, head to Shaner’s.

Palermo

7515 S. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, (941) 312-5410, palermopizzasrq.com

This small South Trail shop makes classic New York pizzas, with a crust that crunches when you bite down but is still soft enough to bend. Add some salty, funky anchovies to heighten the old-school vibe.

Oma’s

201 Gulf Drive N., Bradenton Beach, (941) 778-0771, (941) 778-0772, omaspizza.com

Oma’s is part of the fabric of life on Anna Maria Island. When the weather turns sour and you need to leave the beach, just try getting through on either of the restaurant’s takeout lines. They’ll be jammed with hungry customers just like you, jonesing for the “Oma Special,” a generous New York-style pizza covered in slices of pepperoni and sausage and crumbled ham, plus plenty of mushrooms, onions, green peppers and black olives.

Venezia

373 St. Armands Circle, Sarasota, (941) 388-1400, venezia-1966.com

Whether you’re a longtime resident of Lido or St. Armands or (gasp!) partying in one of the area’s much-loathed “hotel houses,” you’ll want to order from Venezia to get your pizza fix. The St. Armands Circle restaurant crafts a number of 14-inch pies, with toppings that range from simple to outrageous (“shrimp pizza,” anyone?) and a crust that splits the difference between Naples and New York. Our favorite is the “pesto della nonna” (“grandma’s pesto”), a white pizza decorated with basil pesto, mushrooms and plenty of mozzarella and slices of tomato.

Michelangelo

2957 University Parkway, Sarasota, (941) 355-7810, michelangelosrq.com; 11255 U.S. 301, #101, Parrish, (941) 776-1160, ordermichelangelo.com; 11517 Palmbrush Trail, Lakewood Ranch, (941) 739-5656, michelangelopizzarestaurant.com

Opt for the Sicilian pizza at this local mini-chain. About as thick as a Lego mini-figure is tall, the crust is light and fluffy, with a toasted, buttery exterior.

Polpo Pizza Co.

Polpo Pizza Co.

Image: Chris Lake

Polpo Pizza Co.

Various locations, (941) 993-5263, polpopizzaco.com

The Polpo pizza truck roared back into public consciousness last year, after the Covid-19 pandemic put the kibosh on the company’s lucrative event-catering business. These days, the truck sets up at the Sarasota Farmers Market every Saturday, and mixes in other appearances and private events. The “Bee Sting” is famous for good reason, thanks to its perfect balance of heat from Calabrese salami and a chili-infused oil, and sweetness from a drizzle of homemade “hot honey.” The Neapolitan-style crust is some of the New World’s best.

Sarasota Brewing Co.

6607 Gateway Ave., Sarasota, (941) 925-2337, sarasotabrewing.com

You’ll want to get in some upper body reps before you attempt to lift a box that contains one of Sarasota Brewing Co.’s deep-dish pizzas, which weigh slightly less than a Chevy. Cooked in the traditional Chicago way, in which sauce is applied to the top of the pizza to cover cheese that might otherwise get burned during the long baking time, this thing is a beast. The “Chicago Seven” somehow layers in sausage, pepperoni, nubs of bacon, black olives and plenty of sliced onions, mushrooms and green peppers.

Pizza Social's "AMI" pizza.

Pizza Social's "AMI" pizza.

Pizza Social

308 Pine Ave., Anna Maria, (941) 251-4070, mypizzasocial.com

The cooking platform inside the pizza oven at this Anna Maria Island shop rotates slowly, allowing the company’s 10- to 14-inch pizzas to cook evenly while entrancing hungry customers waiting in line. The pizzas come out blistered and fragrant, with toppings coating them all the way to the rim. Pizza Social goes a little nuts with a taco pizza and pizzas covered with barbecued chicken and ranch, but I’d recommend the “AMI,” which carries a sweet heat thanks to sliced banana peppers strewn all over.

Vertoris

6830 14th St., Bradenton, (941) 751-0333, vertorispizza.com

Vertoris has scaled back its operations since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, offering only takeout and delivery. The hole-in-the-wall shop makes excellent New York-style pizza. The eggplant is a personal favorite, with breaded eggplant offering a satisfying crunch. The stromboli are also rave-worthy.

A Margherita pizza from Atmosphere

A Margherita pizza from Atmosphere

Image: Kathryn Brass

 

Atmosphere

935 N. Beneva Road, Unit 409, Sarasota, (941) 203-8542

Amazing Neapolitan pizza is emerging from this nondescript shop located in a north Beneva strip. The crust is sensational—lightly charred, but still puffy and elastic, with an intoxicating tanginess. I’m in love with the “mortazza.” The pizza is draped with thin slices of pistachio-flecked mortadella—one of the greatest culinary products from one of Italy’s greatest food cities, Bologna—and then anointed with spoonfuls of a thick pistachio pesto. It’s so good it will make you shudder with pleasure

 

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