By: Larry Hoffman
Sarasota is on lots of lists. And, I mean lots. Best beach in the U.S., best places to retire, best places to live in the U.S… I could go on for a while, but, I won’t.
In Sarasota’s vibrant dining community, one of the most talked about “best of” lists is the Conde Nast Traveler, “Best Food Cities in the U.S.”. I’m sure you can guess, Sarasota Florida made that list! This is a list of the top fifteen food destinations in this country. And, we’re in there. This isn’t some lightly regarded thing mind you. All the culinary heavy hitters show up on it. Chicago, New York, NOLA, San Fran, Boston, and SARASOTA!
For those of us who write about, observe and dine out in this city, it’s not a surprise to be included. OK, well, maybe it’s a wee bit surprising. But, anyone who has been around here long enough knows, we’ve got some fantastic places to dine.
Obviously, seafood is big here. I shouldn’t have to tell you that. Anything from a plate of peel and eat shrimp, to gulf coast oysters, to our delicious (when in season) stone crabs. But, Sarasota’s seafood scene goes way deeper than that.
We’ve had our share of James Beard nominated chefs in Sarasota. One of those standout chefs, Steve Phelps, is working hard to make the sustainable seafood movement part of our dining culture. Through the national culinary organization, Chef’s Collaborative, Chef Phelps sponsors “Trash Fish” dinners at his Indigenous Restaurant. These get-togethers are more than an opportunity to sample some sumptuous seafood. These events highlight undervalued and underutilized species of fish that make their home in our local waters. Knowledge is a good thing!
It’s one thing to have a Mexican restaurant over here and maybe an Asian spot over there. And, hey, let’s throw in a Greek place just for good measure. Our local dining scene goes way beyond that. I mean WAY beyond. Ready? Here we go…
Peruvian, Indian, Thai, Vietnamese, Laotian, Greek, Mexican, Baja, BBQ, French, Irish, Italian, Cuban, and vegetarian, Oh, did I miss any? Yeah, I did. We even have an Ethiopian restaurant. Stir in more sushi bars than you can count on two hands and a ceviche bar (or two) and you’ve got a dining scene that can satisfy the craving of any moment.
Explore Gulf Gate
Sarasota’s Gulf Gate neighborhood is a major foodie find. It’s not on the radar of visitors to our area (it should be). But, I guarantee you that every local has it on their dining map. The business district is compact to say the least. Four streets. But, boy do they pack a lot of dining options into that small space. There are twenty plus restaurants to pick from. But, who’s counting?
Gulf Gate is a prime example the culinary diversity we just mentioned. This dining destination has it all. There are no blank spaces. These are “mom and pop” spots. On the whole, they are small, intimate and personal places to dine. Not a cookie cutter chain in sight! Opa Opa, Tony’s Chicago Beef, Kiyoshi’s Sushi, and Piccolo’s Italian Market really capture the essence of the Gulf Gate dining experience.
Explore Downtown Sarasota’s Restaurant Scene
In the past few years, Sarasota’s downtown has gone through some changes. It’s no longer a sleepy little semi-urban area. It’s alive! Alive with food, sounds and above all, people. Importantly, the downtown dining scene has evolved right along with everything else.
You can walk along Main Street at night and feel a buzz. Stop by Café Epicure and catch a bite in a European inspired, outdoor café setting. Dessert or a “later” night cup of coffee? The Pastry Art Bakery can scratch that itch. Live music? Yes, downtown has that too. It’s a REAL downtown scene. Most importantly it’s getting better and better all the time. New restaurants are opening in every nook and cranny. Great for food finding expeditions!
Sarasota—A Foodies Paradise
Don’t think just because we’ve got some incredible beaches, shopping, and weather that we’re only about casual food. Sure, you can wear shorts into about 95% of our restaurants (maybe 99%). But, we’ve got a super vibrant and nationally recognized fine dining scene mixed in among the fish tacos and grouper sandwiches.
Sarasota’s has small, but, highly recognized “fine dining” community. Finding the more traditional fine dining experience here is no problem at all. It’s represented by Maison Blanche, Michael’s on East, Pomona, Euphemia Haye, and Beach Bistro.
Looking for something a little more laid back, but, where food and service are still a top priority? We’ve got that covered too! Boca Kitchen & Market, Veronica Fish & Oyster, Ophelia’s on the Bay, The Rosemary, and Lila should be on your to-do list.
Get Out There And EAT!
As you can probably tell, when it comes to food, the Sarasota area has more than a little something for everyone. It has lots for everyone! Whether it’s a white tablecloth dining experience or a white sand beach picnic adventure. Casual or fancy. Breakfast, brunch, lunch, or dinner, we’ve got it right here. Now get out there and EAT!