8235 Cooper Creek Blvd., University Park, (941) 359-4816, apolloniagrill.com
Apollonia will satisfy all your Greek cuisine cravings. You’ll find avgolemono soup, bountiful Greek salads, gyro and lamb platters and plenty more. Don’t miss the grilled octopus, which is cooked until it’s tender on the inside and charred on the outside.
215 N. Cattlemen Road, Sarasota, (941) 213-2178, blazepizza.com
A quick-fire pizza chain backed by none other than LeBron James, Blaze is a terrific destination for a quick, easy meal with the kids. We love the “Green Stripe,” which comes with grilled chicken and arugula and swirls of pesto, and the “Hot Link,” a spicy pie with sausage, peppers, jalapeños and more.
192 Cattlemen Drive, Unit 1, Sarasota, (941) 203-6966, cpk.com
The pizza is this restaurant’s claim to fame, but you’ll find plenty of other options here, too, including pastas, steaks, tacos and salads. The restaurant is even offering take-and-bake pizzas, a significant upgrade over the lame frozen pie gathering ice crystals in your freezer.
180 University Town Center Drive, Sarasota, (941) 256-3647, thecapitalgrille.com
There’s something comforting about the old-school high-end steakhouse experience. The tranquil mood lighting, the starched white tablecloths, the Flintstonian-sized hunks of beef—at this point, they’re almost a throwback to an earlier era of dining, when servers all wore ties and your seat was so comfortable you could fall asleep in it. The Capital Grille does this kind of evening out perfectly, with colossal steaks cooked to temp and sides like mashed potatoes and green beans, salads like a classic iceberg wedge and even a killer steak sandwich.
8194 Tourist Center Drive, Bradenton, (941) 306-5848, dimsumsarasota.com
The best Chinese restaurant in the area, Dim Sum King offers an extensive pick of small dim sum plates, as well as entrée-sized Chinese dishes. Opt for the dim sum. You’ll love the pan-fried chive and shrimp dumplings, steamed Shanghai dumplings filled with pork, shrimp wrapped in fried tofu skin and much more.
10670 Boardwalk Loop, Lakewood Ranch, (941) 893-4321, grovelwr.com
Lakewood Ranch’s premier gathering place, Grove has something for everyone: a huge dining room, a bustling bar and expansive banquet facilities. We like the “scallops Benedict,” made with enormous seared scallops paired with potato pancakes and multiple sauces. The cocktails are great, and you’ll also find a good beer and wine list.
239 N. Cattlemen Road, Sarasota, (941) 960-3997, jpanrestaurant.com
We love both JPan locations, but lately we’ve found ourselves coming back to the University Town Center spot. The restaurant added an incredible new bar area to its space in 2018, buttressing its impeccable sushi selection with some of the area’s most innovative cocktails. Killer ramen, too.
8445 Lorraine Road, Sarasota, (941) 357-1570, libbysneighborhoodbrasserie.com
Libby’s second location is a casual but stylish hangout that seems destined to serve as a neighborhood gathering place for years to come. The food is mostly classic French, with expertly constructed salads, satisfying roasted meats and quality steaks, priced so that you can visit regularly.
6239 Lake Osprey Drive, Sarasota, (941) 907-0589, luckypelicanbistro.com
One of Lakewood Ranch’s most popular restaurants, Lucky Pelican delivers outstanding seafood at solid prices. We order from the chalkboard menu, which lists fresh catches that can be either grilled and served with a Chardonnay lemon butter or blackened in a cast-iron skillet and paired with a roasted red pepper sauce. Craving something fried? Consider the buttermilk fried shrimp and oyster plate, a pile of golden crunchiness made for dipping in tartar sauce.
14475 E. State Road 70, Lakewood Ranch, (941) 999-2390, nancysbarbq.com
Nancy Krohngold has a special relationship with the pig, an intuitive bond that results in exceptional Western North Carolina- style smoked pork. Krohngold’s base recipe includes salt, three types of pepper, two types of sugar, dry mustard and cinnamon, plus the patience to let the meat cook slowly.
190 N. Cattlemen Road, Unit 1, Sarasota, (941) 413-1351, shakeshack.com
One of the chains that kicked off the “better burger” craze, Shake Shack came to the University Town Center area in 2019. It’s famous for its all-natural Angus beef burgers and its crinkle-cut fries. The frozen custards, meanwhile, will satisfy your sweet tooth.
8215 Lakewood Main St., Suite P103, Lakewood Ranch, (941) 907-0648, station400.com
A popular destination for breakfast, lunch and brunch, Station 400 serves fluffy pancakes, rich egg platters, huge salads and excellent sandwiches. No meal is complete with a plate of French fries tossed with truffle oil and parmigiano-reggiano.
8453 Cooper Creek Blvd., Bradenton, (941) 926-3077, tandoorsarasota.net
No one in the area does Indian fare as well as Tandoor, where the lunch deals rope in nearby office workers and sets them loose again once they’re stuffed to the gills. We like pretty much everything, but we particular dig the spinach-based saag bhaji, the braised butter chicken and the pakora curry. Throw in delicate basmati rice and flaky naan, plus one of the best condiment selections in town.