The Best Restaurants in Sarasota, Florida

The food scene in Sarasota, Florida, has a laid-back, but sophisticated, feel
The food scene in Sarasota, Florida, has a laid-back, but sophisticated, feel | © James Schwabel / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Jennifer Agress
30 October 2020

Sarasota’s food scene has a laid-back, but sophisticated, feel. Not surprisingly, seafood is a big deal here, with fresh-caught peel-and-eat shrimp, Gulf Coast oysters, stone crabs, mahi-mahi, snapper and more on local menus. Here are Culture Trip’s top six restaurants in Sarasota, Florida.

Sarasota’s restaurants are as diverse as they are popular, with James Beard Award semifinalists, local dives, romantic and fine-dining haunts serving everything from American, Mexican and Peruvian to Indian, Ethiopian, fusion food and more.

Walt's Fish Market, Restaurant and Tiki Bar

Restaurant, Market, American, $$$
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There’s no better place to get fresh-caught seafood than Walt’s. Part fish market, part fun place to eat and drink, this local haunt only serves fresh fish that was caught within the last 24 hours. For over 100 years, locals and visitors alike have visited Walt’s for grouper, red snapper, flounder, cobia, mahi-mahi, tripletail, shrimp, mullet and more. For a real treat, do as the locals do, and head to the Tiki Bar to wash it all down with a Brittany’s Margarita. It’s a classic margarita with a twist of freshly squeezed strawberry-and-orange juice.

The Bijou Cafe

Cafe, Market, Restaurant, American, French, $$$
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Occupying a 1920s-era gas station in Sarasota’s theater district, The Bijou Cafe has been a family-run staple since 1986. Choose from four themed rooms – The Bird Room, The Patio Room, Main Room and The Gossips Lounge – or for al fresco dining, sit in two lit, palm-lined courtyards. Here, the upscale fare is made with locally sourced seafood and veggies and includes favorites like crab cakes with creole remoulade.

Ophelia's on the Bay

Restaurant, American, $$$
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If you want a romantic dinner, Ophelia’s is where you want to go. Open since the 1980s, this Siesta Key spot has two all-glass dining rooms and patio dining right on Little Sarasota Bay. The menu changes nightly and always includes fruits and vegetables grown in Florida. During the meal, take your eyes off your lover for just a few minutes to gaze at the water – there’s a pretty good chance you’ll see dolphins darting by.

Owen's Fish Camp

Restaurant, American, $$$
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It doesn’t get more “Florida” than a live backyard band and local Florida fish in an Old Florida shack. At Owen’s Fish Camp, eat “naked fish” caught in Sarasota Bay, dressed in lemon-caper butter and served with the spot’s famous collards and succotash. Year-round Christmas lights give the haunt a low-key, welcoming feel, while subtle nods to history are everywhere. That Banyan tree out front? It was given to Owen Burns, who owned most of Sarasota and who Owen’s is named after, by none other than Thomas Edison.

Columbia Restaurant

Restaurant, Cuban, $$$
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Columbia Restaurant is a Cuban classic. Florida’s oldest restaurant opened right on St Armands Circle in 1959 and has been making Sarasota locals feel like they’re dining in Havana ever since. Make sure you order the ropa vieja and “1905” salad – the latter is made tableside with iceberg lettuce, ham, Swiss cheese, tomatoes, olives, cheese, Worcestershire sauce and the spot’s signature garlic dressing. It’s quite the show.

Indigenous Restaurant

Restaurant, American, $$$
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The brainchild of two-time James Beard Best Chefs in America semifinalist, fisherman Steve Phelps, Indigenous is a laid-back “farm-to-table” spot that has Sarasotans clamoring to get in. The focus here is sophisticated American cuisine with an innovative twist. The service is great, and chef Steve – who owns Indigenous – is always keen to tell you what boat caught the fish you’re eating and who the captain was. Pro tip: the restaurant is housed in an Old Florida bungalow and it can get a little loud, so sit outside for the best experience.
These recommendations were updated on October 30, 2020 to keep your travel plans fresh.

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