Sarasota is a foodie city south of Tampa that lies along the southwestern coast of Florida. The area encompasses a series of barrier islands along the Gulf Coast that provide some of the best off-shore fishing in the warm, shallow, and calm Gulf waters. The subtropical climate makes it perfect for alfresco dining most of the year.
Sarasota is a city dedicated to the arts, thanks to John and Mable Ringling's generosity. The Ringlings were art collectors and real estate investors who made Sarasota their winter home. Best known for his Ringling Brothers Circus operation, John Ringling opened The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art after Mable's death in 1931. Ringling's mission was to display their extensive collection of European paintings to "promote education and art appreciation, especially among our young people." Upon his death, he left his estate to the people of Florida, now part of a larger campus of art buildings and performance space for Florida State University. Sarasota has a creative, international vibe that feels similar to Miami but is more laid-back. The dining scene embraces all of these elements showcasing the freshest seafood, produce, and flavors from Florida and cuisines worldwide. Here are seven places to enjoy the best food in Sarasota in no particular order.
1. Flavio's Brick Oven And Bar On Main
Italian cuisine is usually a solid choice because there's a dish for every diner on the menu. At Flavio's Brick Oven and Bar on Main, there is something for everyone and even more. How about pasta made fresh daily and a selection of brick oven pizzas and entrees that include fresh-caught seafood? That's authentic Italian food heaven. With two locations, one on Siesta Key and one in downtown Sarasota, you have all the traditional Italian favorites made from scratch. Flavio's is a recommendation from locals who love all the dishes, especially the brick oven pizza that comes out of the oven crisp and piping hot. My source was spot on.
While the ambiance inside Flavio's is upscale-casual with Venetian glass accents and a neutral palette, the back garden offers an outdoor setting that is romantic and cozy. The area has low lighting, white tablecloths, and flora everywhere. The menu is extensive with appetizers, plates of pasta, and entrees, including gluten-free options. But, before you decide, listen to the specials, which are always tantalizing. The waitstaff is well-versed in wine pairing as well. The portions are large, and splitting dishes is highly recommended.
Pro Tip: Try the gnocchi, it is made fresh every day by Flavio's mom.
2. Selva Grill And Lounge
Selva Grill and Lounge is a Latin Fusion restaurant that feels modern and vibrant. Selva's focus is on Peruvian dishes, with a nod to the Asian immigrants in Peru who influence the cuisine. The restaurant is famous for large, creative cocktails and the Ceviche de la Casa, fresh, raw fish cured in citrus juice, which originated in Peru. Selva's menu has 10 different ceviche choices, all with distinct flavor profiles prepared and plated beautifully. The restaurant is consistently ranked as a top pick, including raves from The New York Times, which said, "Selva is serving possibly the best food in Sarasota."
Whether you enjoy ceviche or not, you will have a fabulous experience here. The appetizers and entrees have selections from both land and sea, and all are presented with incredible flair. The plating and the food are absolutely unbelievable. There are vegetarian selections and gluten-free options. There is a late-night menu for an after-dinner experience with a selection of cocktails like their signature mojito. And, for an even later evening, they have a DJ on Saturdays who spins music for a South Beach club vibe.
Pro Tip: If you like small plates, make a meal out of the appetizers and cocktails. The selections are out of this world.
3. Shore Restaurant
Shore Restaurant is a mid-century diner but with chic decor inside and a large dining terrace outdoors. The design inspires memories of a deck on a summer day. The menu is relaxed with handheld sandwiches like burgers and elevated entrees like shrimp and scallop risotto paired with a signature craft cocktail. This is the perfect spot for Sunday brunch for couples or girlfriends, with the sun shining down and the wind blowing through your hair, Pear Old Fashioned in hand. But lunch and dinner are available as well.
There are two locations in Sarasota, one on St. Armands Circle and one on Longboat Key. Both have the same fresh, delicious food with healthy or more decadent options. If you choose brunch, there are eggs, French toast, and benedicts, but a lobster, shrimp, and crab cobb might be a lighter choice. There is a retail store attached to the restaurant with chic beach clothes and accessories. This proximity makes it convenient to shop until you drop, then head upstairs for some much-needed food and refreshment. The service and attentive staff make this a lovely place to enjoy a meal while spending the day on St. Armands.
Pro Tip: There is a staircase up to the terrace level right outside the store, but an elevator is available inside to take you up to the restaurant.
4. Owen's Fish Camp
Owen's Fish Camp is dedicated to a Sarasota real estate visionary and avid sport fisherman, Owen Burns, who arrived in the area in 1910 and knew it would be a great place to spend the winter. He saw the fish camps along the bay and was inspired. He bought land and built up much of what Sarasota is today. Owen's is old Florida and everything a fish shack should be. A relaxed environment, fresh fish caught in the waters nearby, Southern favorites like low country boils, baskets of fried oysters, soft shell crab, shrimp, and cold beer and wine. The kitschy decor is fun, too.
The second best part of Owen's is the backyard. The picnic tables, mixed-matched chairs, and string lights remind you of a friend's backyard. There is a regular slate of live music, an outdoor bar that includes snacks like roasted oysters and peel-and-eat shrimp. There is a tire swing, so it's kid-friendly and comfortable while you wait for your table or just hang out and enjoy the warm evenings. For even more Florida history, the enormous Banyan Tree outside the restaurant was given to Owen by Thomas Edison and is absolutely beautiful.
5. Pho Cali
Pho Cali is a simple, no-frills, family-owned Vietnamese noodle house located in downtown Sarasota. Every item is homemade by talented chefs with fresh ingredients from the local waters and farms. No matter how many times you order your favorites, they come out delicious every time. Pho Cali is known for their Pho, Vietnam's national dish. Pho is a soup consisting of broth, rice noodles, herbs, and meat; there are at least 19 different beef, seafood, and chicken varieties.
The menu is several pages long but mostly dedicated to rice, broken rice, and stir-fried noodle platters and bowls. They also serve whole fish on sizzling platters. There are plenty of vegetable dishes to choose from and an entire page of authentic Vietnamese specialties. No matter when you come, you might find a line, but the efficient service moves customers in and out quickly. They also serve tea, smoothies, and bubble tea.
Pro Tip: Do not miss the pho. The broth can be made mild or spicy with your choice of protein. It is always accompanied by a plate of bean sprouts, fresh basil, lime wedges, and jalapeno slices so you can add nuances of flavor.
Indigenous is an American restaurant located in the historic Towles Court district in downtown Sarasota. The Florida bungalow was restored to provide comfortable, relaxed spaces to dine indoors and out on their private patio. The seasonal menu changes throughout the year, but you can always count on fresh, sustainable seafood in partnership with local fishers and Monterey Bay Aquarium. The Aquarium's Seafood Watch Program helps businesses choose seafood that is fished or farmed in ways that support a healthy ocean.
Chef Steve Phelps creates an ambiance from his food to his restaurant that is pure enjoyment. His staff is well trained and provides excellent service. They know the dishes and the wines that pair well with their offerings. The menu is pared down, but the choices are unique and tempting. There is an item or two for the fish, meat, and vegetarian eater alike. An evening here is romantic, relaxed, and enjoyable, inside or out.
Pro Tip: Reservations are required and can be challenging to get. If you come to Sarasota on vacation, make sure to call and arrange this meal first.
7. Dry Dock Waterfront Grill
Regulars know Dry Dock and recommend it for the casual bayfront dining, locally sourced seafood, and craft cocktails. The decor inside is fishermen chic, with taxidermy fish mounted on the walls, nautical-themed items adorning shelves, and photos of guys with their big catch of the day hung proudly around the room. But the windows along Sarasota Bay are the best decor of all. The view here is stunning. Dry Dock won Open Table's Diner's Choice Award in the 100 Best Alfresco Restaurants in America for 2019 and 2020.
The menu focuses on fish, but there are a few meat items like steak and chicken if you aren't a fish fan. If you are a seafood lover, this is the place for you. There are lobsters and domestic shrimp, Florida Grouper and Red Snapper that are locally caught, and they have Stone Crab Claws as a special (October to May). The outdoor patio looks right over the bay, where you can enjoy a drink, some fresh seafood, and views of boats and birds right in front of your table. This is a casual spot where you can kick back and relax in true Florida style.
Sarasota has so many restaurants that range from upscale to casual. This list is a mix of both. One thing you can count on is the local seafood will always be the freshest you've ever tasted. The combination of waterside spots with views or downtown spots with patios, gardens, or sidewalk seating makes Sarasota's dining scene eclectic and exciting. New offerings are always opening regularly. It is a seafood lover's paradise and foodie playground.
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