(Many restaurants have adjusted their offerings and service options because of the Covid-19 pandemic. We recommend double-checking with the restaurants listed below before heading out to eat.)
1592 Main St., Sarasota, (941) 365-2234, 1592srq.com
1592, known as Avlí Mess Hall until a trademark-forced name change, has maintained the old El Greco space as a destination for solid Greek food. But the new owners have also expanded the menu, adding flavors from Turkey, Syria, Portugal and Italy. A great place for a lunchtime meetup, 1592 offers one of the best lunch deals in town, two generous courses for just $14.
1287 First St., Sarasota, (941) 366-8111, bijoucafe.net
Bijou has been serving fine dining fare in the heart of downtown Sarasota’s arts district since 1986. Owner Jean-Pierre Knaggs’ French and South African heritage is reflected in his innovative lunch and dinner menus.
19 S. Lemon Ave., Sarasota, (941) 256-3565, bocasarasota.com
Boca, a small Tampa-based chain, serves a globe-trotting mix of meats and seafood, but what really sets it apart is its commitment to working with Florida farmers, ranchers and fishermen.
1817 Fruitville Road, Sarasota, (941) 366-6860, restaurantji.com/fl/sarasota/breakfast-house-
We may be exaggerating a bit by saying that The Breakfast House has revolutionized the art of the pancake, but we do love them. A pancake here marries a lovely, tight griddled skin to a creamy interior pocked with air holes and bearing subtle toasted notes. The package is enlivened by butter and genuine maple syrup. The ’cakes taste even better when eaten as part of “Uncle Harry’s hearty breakfast,” a belly-busting sampler of most of what the House does best.
1298 N. Palm Ave., Sarasota, (941) 366-5648, cafeepicure.com
A lovely trattoria on the corner of Main Street and Palm Avenue, Epicure offers a nice selection of unfussy pasta dishes, salads and pizzas and an excellent mix of wines by the glass. The carbonara is great, as are the chicken milanese and the oriecchiette with broccoli rabe and sausage. To start, order some bresaola or carpaccio.
69 S. Palm Ave., Sarasota, (941) 951-0866, caragiulos.com
Caragiulos is the ideal neighborhood pizza-pasta place where vintage Italian movie posters are the theme. Children are encouraged to craft their own pizzas while adults nibble house-made foccacia and peruse the array of Italian-American specialties. Meatballs and spaghetti, of course, but also lovely linguine with clam sauce, lasagna and Sicilian eggplant, too.
1553 Main St., Sarasota, (941) 906-9575; 8527 Cooper Creek Blvd., Sarasota, (941) 355-2323; cestlaviesarasota.com
For almost two decades, C’est La Vie! has delivered a cup of joie de vivre to Main Street diners in the mood for crêpes, quiches, croissants, sandwiches and salads. Just gazing at the pastry cases filled with fresh-baked French concoctions—oh, those chocolate and almond croissants!—can bring on a sugar rush. The downtown location eventually proved so popular that a pair of Parisian transplants struck a deal with the original owners to open a second location out east.
1572 Main St., Sarasota, (941) 955-8404, drunkenpoetcafesrq.com
A small bohemian-styled place with poetry scribbled on the wall, Drunken Poet serves Thai and other Asian delectables expertly prepared in a small kitchen. This is also a good place for vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free dishes. The sophisticated dishes include Thai crispy duck, lamb shank in tamarind-scented curry, preserved duck eggs, stir-fry creations and tempura dinners.
1435 Main St., Sarasota, (941) 312-4001, duvalsfreshlocalseafood.com
If you spend any time at all downtown, you can’t miss the Duval’s shuttle—an aquamarine van that circles the area, conveying passengers for free to one of the city’s best seafood outposts. Duval’s chef Nils Tarantik rotates his selection of fresh fish throughout the year, meaning you can go each month and still not taste the same filet twice, and he’s just as adept with shellfish. The restaurant’s lunchtime po’ boys, stuffed with fried shrimp or oysters, are fantastic.
239 S. Links Ave., Sarasota, (941) 706-4740, indigenoussarasota.com
We’re running out of adjectives to describe chef Steve Phelps’ Towles Court cottage, where the tiny kitchen continues to deliver one-of-a-kind plates with an emphasis on sustainability. Phelps has a magical touch with Gulf fish, and whatever the seafood special on the menu is, we recommend it. But Indigenous isn’t just a special occasion spot. The restaurant’s rotating fish sandwich specials offer one of the best dining deals in town.
Inside The Ritz-Carlton, 1111 Ritz-Carlton Drive, Sarasota, (941) 309-2266, ritzcarlton.com
Hotel restaurants are a tough go. You have to please travelers from morning to night, while also plating up food that’s unique and delicious enough to reel in locals. Jack Dusty does it all. Start with extensive raw seafood options, a well-curated pick of meats and seafood entrées that change regularly, then throw in blissful water views and topnotch cocktails. That’s a winning formula.
1576 Main St., Sarasota, (941) 296-1042, lilasrq.com
More than any other restaurant in recent years, Lila has changed the face of Sarasota dining. While the city had been home to a handful of vegetarian, vegan and even raw restaurants before the restaurant opened in 2016, it was Lila that pushed vegetables to the forefront of Sarasota menus. The restaurant’s zingy Burmese bowl will leave you slurping up the dregs of its curry-coconut broth, while the macro bowl’s tahini-turmeric dressing should come by the barrel. Lila proved that Sarasota was finally ready to embrace meat-free cuisine.
1990 Main St., #112, Sarasota, (941) 953-2900, maderestaurant.com
The name Made is an acronym for “Modern American Delicious Eats,” a perfect encapsulation of chef Mark Woodruff’s mission, which is to present soulful comfort food with lux flourishes. His menu is a blend of high and low, containing everything from street food like grilled corn dogs and Nashville hot chicken to fancier fare like scallops seared in a cast-iron skillet or house-cured salmon. It’s all fantastic.
1 N. Lemon Ave., Sarasota, (941) 330-0440, mattisons.com
Chef Paul Mattison’s award-winning menu includes fresh seafood, aged beef, duck, tapas, creative cocktails and first-rate wines and brews. Dine al fresco on the corner of Main Street and Lemon Avenue, where there's also live music at night.
1970 Main St., Sarasota, (941) 365-4122, mediterraneorest.com
Mediterraneo has a loyal following of discriminating diners. The menu is contemporary northern Italian, and you can expect a fine wine list and a relaxed pacing to your meal. Impress your in-laws or take a client who knows good food and you’ll seal the deal over a stellar bottle of red wine and a plump veal chop.
1568 Main St., Sarasota, (941) 953-7111, melangesarasota.com
You never know what will take your breath away at Mélange. At one recent dinner, it was the soup—a delicate concoction that combined a flan made with Dry Sack sherry, a tangle of blue crab bits and pebbles of ginger “caviar,” with a hazelnut crumpet on the side. Sipping it was a revelation of the kind that executive chef Lan Bradeen has been delivering to diners regularly since the restaurant opened in 2007.
516 Burns Court, Sarasota, (941) 951-6936, owensfishcamp.com
A joy to visit, Owen’s prepares some of the area’s best seafood and serves it in a rowdy Old Florida shack where the boisterous conversation is soundtracked by twangy folk standards from a live band in the back yard. We love whatever’s fresh on the “Naked Fish” menu dressed with either the brown butter Hollandaise or lemon-caper butter. A meal isn’t complete without a side of the restaurant’s perfect collard greens, and the succotash is a home run. Don’t miss the chance to snap a pic on the tire swing out back.
1703 Main St., Sarasota, (941) 366-5570, panificiousa.com
What puts Il Panificio head and shoulders above Sarasota’s rich and varied collection of crust-creating cafés? For one thing, the plethora of specialty slices, which allows pizza pursuers to cobble together custom lunches that can include everything from the breakfast pizza with egg and bacon to more traditional options like pepperoni and sausage. Panificio’s crackling crust, with a flavor like toasted cereal and a texture like a cat’s tongue, underpins all that variety, and it’s always on point.
1578 Main St., Sarasota, (941) 955-2683, phocalisarasota.com
Consistency is a must at every great restaurant, but Pho Cali must be the most consistently consistent restaurant in Sarasota. No matter how many times you order your favorite dish, the talented cooks will prepare it correctly every single time. We love the pho. The broth contains a riot of spices, while the fresh flavorings—bean sprouts, basil, lime juice and sliced jalapeños—are bright and herbal. We like to order our soup with all the trimmings (that means three cuts of beef, tendons and tripe), but whatever proteins you choose, rest assured that it will come out just like it did the last time.
1216 First St., Sarasota, (941) 445-5660, sagesrq.com
You’ll drop ducats at Sage, where a romantic dinner for two recently cost us $250, but you won’t have any complaints about the food. The menu changes often, but we licked our fingers after polishing off executive chef Christopher Covelli’s lamb—a thick double chop marinated in Indian spices—and a Thai bouillabaisse with an intense red curry base. Even the Caesar salad was impeccable, peppery and assertive. Be sure to make a reservation, and arrive early for a cocktail on the roof, one of the best places to spend a sunset in Sarasota.
1345 Main St., Sarasota, (941) 362-4427, selvagrill.com
With its extensive ceviche menu and cavalcade of small plates meant for splitting with friends, Selva helped kick off Sarasota’s mania for Peruvian food early in the century, and the restaurant is still going strong. It boasts one of the area’s coolest environments: a dim dining room pulsing with colorful lights and a lush lounge with one of the best happy hour menus in town. The restaurant is also a rarity in that it offers a late-night menu, stuffed with satisfying bites like ceviche and a juicy skirt steak.
1869 Fruitville Road, Sarasota, (941) 330-9330, siegfrieds-restaurant.com
Siegfried’s includes two separate areas: an indoor sit-down dining room in a historic cottage and a beer garden with long picnic tables and a food trailer out back. Don’t miss the pretzels, as big as a hubcap and served with an addictive spicy mustard that comes from the Rhineland hometown of owners René and Kim Zimmermann.
1533 State St., Sarasota, (941) 951-1533, statestreetsrq.com
We already loved State Street, home to one of the city’s best bars, but when the eatery added ramen to its menu, we fell head over heels all over again. Not in the mood for noodles? The restaurant also makes one of the city’s best burgers and some terrific salads.
1532 Main St., Sarasota, (941) 363-0604, yumerestaurant.com
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.