Home Travel The 15 Best Restaurants in Sarasota, Florida

The 15 Best Restaurants in Sarasota, Florida

by Atlanta Business Journal

Whether you’ve come to this beautiful stretch of Florida’s Gulf of Mexico coastline for business or pleasure, chances are you’re ready to feast on the bounty of Sarasota’s local waters and dive into the tastemaking ingenuity of its chefs. Sarasota does not disappoint when it comes to fine dining restaurants, authentic Italian eateries, atmospheric local spots for great fish tacos and absolutely every type of cuisine you can imagine in between.

With the help of expert knowledge and dozens of restaurant, dining and travel industry review sites, U.S. News has compiled this list of the top restaurants in Sarasota.

Napulè

You don’t need to travel all the way to Italy to enjoy a proper salumi bar and delicious pizzas served piping hot from a real wood-burning oven. Just over 5 miles south of downtown Sarasota, Napulè impressed recent visitors with its authentic Italian menu – especially the pizzas and homemade pasta – and beautiful presentation. Start your meal with a platter of the chef’s selection of meats and cheeses, perfect for sharing, then segue into an Abruzzo-style orecchiette pasta dish with homemade sausage or a giant tomahawk pork chop stuffed with mushrooms and fontina cheese. Homemade desserts are a treat here, too, and you won’t miss tiramisu if you opt for the Baba Napoletano, a rich rum cake filled with cream.

Venezia

Settle into a table overlooking St. Armands Circle (Sarasota’s main retail and restaurant drag), order an Aperol spritz and get ready to enjoy one of Sarasota’s best dining experiences. Recent diners at Venezia rave about the pasta dishes prepared perfectly al dente, the excellent veal marsala and the restaurant’s overall ambiance. Venezia appeals to couples and solo diners as much as families. Appetizers that are great for sharing include stuffed mushrooms and the bruschetta served on toasted crostini. Seafood fans won’t want to miss the Risotto di Mare dish, loaded with mussels, shrimp, calamari and clams.

La Mucca Ballerina

Right in downtown Sarasota, this family-owned restaurant – whose name means “The Dancing Cow” – is run by the Zappaterreno family. They moved to this Florida destination from just outside of Rome and put the focus on traditional Italian dishes from their homeland and farm-to-table dining. Lunch dishes spotlight simple salads and sandwiches with fresh mozzarella, prosciutto, arugula and other classic Italian ingredients. Dinner is a heartier spread of homemade pastas like cacio e pepe and vongole with clams as well as meat and poultry dishes such as chicken marsala and veal saltimbocca. Recent restaurantgoers have raved that the eggplant parmigiana was as good as anything they tried in Sicily and that dining here feels like you’re in the owner’s home – the setting is that convivial and welcoming.

Selva Grill

(Courtesy of Selva Grill)

Located in downtown Sarasota – with another location in University Town Center – this popular Sarasota seafood restaurant is known for its delicious ceviches and artful cocktails. Recent diners have raved about the menu’s Latin fusion and Peruvian fare; two top starters are the empanadas and the crab cake. For landlubbers, the skirt steak and short rib spring rolls are among the meatier favorites for an entree. Don’t miss the ceviche options – particularly the Selva Wild Ceviche – for a traditional Peruvian seafood dish made with raw fish.

Owen’s Fish Camp

Fresh fish from the Gulf waters lapping at Sarasota’s doorstep star at this diner-favorite seafood restaurant with strong Southern flair. Recent visitors to Owen’s Fish Camp in the heart of downtown Sarasota enjoyed its old Florida appeal and live music, as well as the local, fresh and unpretentious seafood presentations. On the menu are baskets loaded with fried oysters, shrimp or soft-shell crab and true Southern food specials, too, from shrimp and grits to jambalaya and cornmeal-crusted catfish. A Key lime bar or slice of bourbon pecan pie is a sweet way to finish a satisfying fish camp meal.

JPAN Sushi & Grill

One of Sarasota’s best restaurants for sushi and fresh seafood and sashimi, JPAN Sushi & Grill provides a pleasant experience for travelers in search of good food and service. One of the favorite rolls among visitors is the Volcano, loaded with tuna, asparagus, cream cheese and avocado. Low-carb rolls and vegetarian rolls round out the vast sushi menu here. Among the sashimi and seafood options are ocean delights you won’t find everywhere, such as uni, toro, mackerel and conch. In addition to its location in the Shops at Siesta Row mall, you can also find JPAN at University Town Center.

El Toro Bravo

About 5 miles south of downtown Sarasota, near Gulf Gate Estates, this welcoming Mexican restaurant has impressed recent travelers with authentic cuisine and warm service. Grab a high-top table in the bar area at El Toro Bravo or settle into a seat in the dining room, and get ready to try popular dishes like the Relleno Plate – two stuffed green chiles smothered in cheese – or seafood dishes like the shrimp chimichanga. Diners rave about the margaritas and sangria and call out the taco salad as a top menu item. New Mexico-style enchiladas topped with red or green chile sauce round out the tempting options, tying in flavors from the Southwest in addition to the Mexican standards.

Mariscos Azteca Mexican Seafood Restaurant

Don’t let its nondescript setting – tucked into a strip mall across from the baseball stadium 2 miles north of downtown – dissuade you. Past guests call this spot a hidden gem for good reason: Mariscos Azteca Mexican Seafood Restaurant is worth seeking out for the bold flavors and tasty dishes that recent diners have raved about. Try an agave margarita for an extra kick. The vast menu includes a range of shrimp, octopus and fish ceviches as well as aguachiles: a tasty dish made with raw shrimp or fish with red, green or mango habanero salsa. While all types of Mexican seafood dishes are the house specialty at Mariscos Azteca, Tex-Mex favorites find a place on the menu too, including nachos, burritos, fajitas and the like.

Circo

Tacos at Circo.

(Courtesy of Circo)

This taco joint may not be known for traditional Mexican cuisine, but the fusion flavors here delight diners nonetheless. Right near downtown Sarasota’s Rosemary District, Circo pulls in crowds to try its artisan Tex-Mex tacos, weekend bottomless mimosa brunches, and a vibe focused on fun and good food. Guests praise the yummy and inventive tacos and the fresh chips and salsa, recommending the happy hour specials on food and drinks. If you like your tacos with a twist, try the buffalo chicken, edamame falafel or Mongolian beef tacos, among other creative varieties on the menu.

Phillippi Creek Oyster Bar

Phillippi Creek Oyster Bar sits less than 5 miles south of downtown Sarasota, and locals often call this longstanding waterfront restaurant simply “the Creek.” This eatery is known in particular for its excellent oysters on the half shell, seafood paella and stone crab (which is in season in Florida every year from October through April). The restaurant overlooks Phillippi Creek, offering waterfront views whether you dine inside or alfresco. Grab one of the picnic-style tables near the water and settle in for expertly cooked seafood like the grilled swordfish and snow crab. Recent guests enjoyed the waterfront dining, but some felt the food was overpriced.

Drift Kitchen & Bar

Views of the sparkling Gulf of Mexico beyond the dunes are unbeatable at this elegant restaurant inside Lido Beach Resort, located on the barrier island of Lido Key only a few miles from downtown Sarasota. Recent diners at Drift Kitchen & Bar praise the atmosphere and Lido Beach vistas – especially at sunset – and note fresh seafood dishes like the cobia with lobster succotash or pan-seared grouper among the restaurant’s highlights. Other entree options include personal pizzas and pasta dishes. Complement your meal with a selection from the wine list and a charcuterie board appetizer.

The Old Salty Dog

Head to the City Island neighborhood to dine at one of the Sarasota outposts of this beloved local waterfront seafood restaurant; you’ll be treated to sparkling water views across Sarasota Bay and hamburgers lauded by recent diners. The Old Salty Dog sits on stilts over the bay, with pelicans and boats making frequent passes as you dine on seafood entrees loaded with fried mahi-mahi, shrimp, or the restaurant’s signature fish and chips. Breakfast is even served here – with a full British breakfast of bangers and baked beans or a serving of shrimp and grits among the offerings – should you want to start your day with sunrise views over the water. Visitors rave about the coconut shrimp as much as the incredible views.

Daiquiri Deck

Exterior of St. Armands location of Daiquiri Deck.

(Courtesy of Daiquiri Deck)

Right near downtown Sarasota, the St. Armands Circle location of this Florida Gulf Coast chain beckons families and friend groups with its frozen drinks and tasty food. The Daiquiri Deck is the place to be if you want to enjoy some people-watching with your meal. Grab a seat on the split-level outdoor patio to watch the passersby as you dine on a flavorful shrimp corn chowder, mahi-mahi wrap or gator bites, among other menu favorites that recent visitors have enjoyed. Calamari, nachos, salads and build-your-own-sandwich options also round out the menu. The Daiquiri Deck runs a daily happy hour special with frozen daiquiris whipped up in flavors that range from watermelon and mango to electric lemonade. A few nonalcoholic daiquiris and other mocktail options are offered as well. When the weather outside is beautiful, you’ll find it particularly hard to leave. Travelers appreciate the fun atmosphere and crowd-pleasing drinks at this spot.

Blue Dolphin Cafe

Situated in St. Armand’s Circle – with another location on Longboat Key – this popular breakfast and lunch spot boasts plenty of egg dishes, waffles, burgers, sandwiches and more. Visitors laud the generous portion sizes and enjoy the cozy diner atmosphere of Blue Dolphin Cafe. The St. Armands Circle location, closest to downtown Sarasota, stays open for dinner on Fridays between December and April, when the city’s social and snowbird season is in full swing.

Columbia Restaurant

Florida’s original Columbia Restaurant was established in 1905 and sits roughly 60 miles north in Tampa; luckily its Sarasota location offers just as wonderful an experience in St. Armands Circle with delicious Cuban and Spanish food crafted from family recipes. You can come as casual or dressed up as you prefer to the restaurant’s venerable dining room for lunch or dinner. Diners here appreciate the tasty food and casual environment. Start your meal with appetizers and fruity drinks – like the house sangria – then fill the table with a meal of more Spanish tapas to share (think: empanadas, black bean cakes, baked scallops and more) or go all in on an entree, with options ranging from paella to various seafood and steak dishes. Salad lovers shouldn’t miss the house favorite, the 1905 Salad, with Columbia Restaurant’s signature garlic dressing.

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