Top 10 lists are subjective. No matter what the topic, they're tailor-made for arguments. Especially restaurants. Different tastes, different palates, different experiences. What's hot today could be closed for business tomorrow. On the west coast of Florida in the 941area  we're blessed with some of the best sunsets in the country and often, the food to match. With that in mind, MyArea Network is offering up our Top 10 restaurants in Sarasota and Bradenton, alphabetically listed for great dining in Sarasota and Bradenton. Ready, set, debate!

Café Baci

4001 S. Tamiami Trail

As one of the charter members of the Sarasota Originals, Cafe Baci has been a power player in the restaurant game for nearly three decades. And it shows, with multiple top dining and wine awards from heavy hitters such as Wine Spectator, Open Table and Trip Advisor. Owner Roberto Mei's family brings a taste of the old country to Sarasota, having opened their first restaurant in Rome and in 1952, the first Northern Italian restaurant in Manhattan.

"We will do anything for anybody," said Manager and Head Server Suzanne Lisi. "Our service is top-notch and we treat everyone like a guest in their home. And on top of that, we'll do special things for our Open Table guests." Chef Eldis Rodriguez, who worked his way up from dishwasher 20 years ago, is one of several long-time employees at Cafe Baci. The Osso Buco and the Vitella Di Abondanza, comprised of three veal dishes are the top two items on the menu. "Although we do have many regulars, who our staff greets by name and they like that," said Lisi. "We also know that people read online where and what people ate and that brings us new business all the time."

Crab & Fin Restaurant

420 St. Armands Circle
Since 1978, this St. Armand's Circle classic has been flexing its culinary muscles as soon as Jim and Pam McDonald opened the doors. And son Scott is carrying on the tradition in style. Thanks to a menu which changes daily, not to mention locally and globally sourced seafood (such as the Giant King Crab from the Bering Sea), Executive Chef Troy Torman and his staff have plenty of room to get creative. And it's not just about the food at Crab & Fin, it's about the veteran staff who helps keep this two-story restaurant humming. McDonald has 14 people who have worked at least ten years at Crab & Fin.
"The competition is bigger and better than ever, so you have to stay on your game," McDonald said. We have a lot of big-city offerings for a small coastal town and today's diners are discerning and educated. We're going to stay current, but stay true to our product. Our clients have traveled and experienced things around the world and they want to see that in their hometown, too."


239 S. Links Avenue

At the other end of the spectrum, in many ways, is Indigenous. Located in a cool, hip, refurbished bungalow-style home with brick pavers and surrounded by an herb garden with a wood fence adorned with colorful flowers, Indigenous lives up to its name. Ditto for Owner/Chef Stephen Phelps, a James Beard Foundation semi-finalist for Best Chef, South in 2014-15. Since opening in 2011, the restaurant has made its mark by being a Florida Trend Golden Spoon Award winner along with being a Seafood Watch Program Partner, committing to serve only seafood caught or farmed in ocean-friendly ways.

"Our concern is being able to source food, have sustainability issues," said Phelps, who fell in love with cooking after learning at the feet of his uncle, a former military chef. "We save food for use in compost programs and make sure we don't leave a carbon footprint behind. We reduce single-use plastics and have been doing it since day one. We want to be a leader in environmental issues." However, it's not just about the feel-good moments for Indigenous. The food makes its own mark with dishes such as Smoked Fish Sea Saltine "Nachos" and Shrimp Wafu Garlic Noodles. "Sometimes I spy on people when they take that first bite," said Phelps. "You peek, you see the nod. The guest across the table nods, like the Seinfeld episode. That's an accomplishment for me every day - to see that look and make them happy."

Jack Dusty at The Ritz-Carlton 

111 Ritz Carlton Drive
First, the catchy name - it was the 18th-century term for a naval store clerk, whose responsibilities included doling out rum to sailors and maintaining a ship's food inventory. That should let the diner know that they're in for a special seafood experience. Toss in its location on the marina, the views of Sarasota Bay and oh, by the way, the fact it's in a Ritz-Carlton, then the recipe for success has been stirred to perfection before the wait staff strolls over to take a drink order. You might want to make it a Siren Cocktail, which has been voted the best cocktail in Sarasota three years in a row

"It's a lively, fast, contemporary restaurant that truly embodies the Ritz-Carlton culture for enlivening a variety of senses," said restaurant General Manager Anthony Aviles. Thomas Borrelli is the new Chef de Cuisine and Aviles says the menu often tells a story of what they call "Jack's Journeys." "For example, one of our new items, the grouper entree," said Aviles. "Chef came up with the idea while he was traveling down to Ecuador. He was on a tour given by people who lived off the land. The way they cooked the grouper was wrapped in a banana leaf with seasoning and parts of palm. Even though 60 percent of our clientele is local, we're always on the cutting edge and never really say no."

Louies Modern

1289 N. Palm Avenue
It was several years ago when tennis Hall of Famer Andre Agassi (the former pupil of 941area IMG guru NIck Bollettieri) made the famous statement that "image is everything." When it comes to a pretty restaurant catering to pretty people with an image - think the pre-theater, pre-opera crowd, Louies Modern fits the bill. From the stunning dining room to the bar to the lounge area, which was designed by the award-winning DB Kim, the Seidensticker family has captured the "experience" portion of the dining experience.
And the food percolating from the wood-burning oven and grill in Jose Rojas' open kitchen adds to the mix. Toss in the award-winning wines, craft cocktails such as The North Palm #2 and The Ernest, and this stylish, contemporary space named after self-taught culinary master Louie Seidensticker will continue to see and be seen on the Palm Avenue scene for years to come. It's great dining in Sarasota

Michael's On East

1212 S. East Avenue
As Sarasota's only AAA Four Diamond Award Restaurant (for the 28th consecutive year!), a 2009 inductee into the Nation's Restaurant News Fine Dining Hall of Fame and too many other awards to count, Michael's On East has earned the right to be on just about any restaurant list co-proprietors Michael Klauber and Phil Mancini want to be on. And Klauber isn't close to slowing down after 30 years in the game. Watching him bounce from table to table while working the lunch crowd, it's easy to imagine him doing this another 30.
"We keep reinventing ourselves," said Klauber. "Fun for me is still bringing new ideas and new concepts back. Case in point, our Epicurean Adventures where we highlight a different region in our monthly menus. I believe we're the cultural arts center of the state, for sure - if not the Southeast. People are passionate about food and wine for sure. The expectations are very high from our clientele and that's driven us."


1568 Main Street
The philosophy at Melange is that food, art and drink are essential to a fulfilled life. Owner and Executive Chef Lan Breeden puts those principles to work every day at Melange and next door at Pangea Alchemy Lab, the sister lounge which provides the drinks for the eclectic and adventurous menu. Established in 2007, the small restaurant with a big punch doesn't have televisions caters to diners who crave face-to-face time. Or as Breeden puts it, "people need a digital break. You can't live-stream dinner." 
"Downtown is getting younger and people are not afraid to try adventurous food," said Breeden. "For example, our signature dish rabbit tacos, was something that was kind of on a whim, just a special at first. It just became a hit. And the duck and brie crepes are extremely popular. It has a comfort food feel to it. I think people would strike if I took it off the menu!" This is why this Melange makes our list of Top 10 Restaurants in Sarasota!  

Ophelia's on the Bay

9105 Midnight Pass Road
If you're looking for that special place to celebrate a special occasion, maybe pop the question? It'd be tough to find a location better than Ophelia's On The Bay. With a backdrop of Little Sarasota Bay and a view of the bird sanctuary at the Mangrove Islands available from outside or the floor-to-ceiling windows in the dining room, this work of art was chosen by Candlelight Dining in America as one of the Most Romantic Restaurants in America and earned accolades from In Gourmet Magazine and Wine Magazine. Plus, to show its versatility, Ophelia's also was named as the best "Dock and Dine" restaurant in America by Motoryacht Magazine.

With a daily rotating selection of globally inspired cuisine that includes fresh fish flown in daily for Owner/Chef Dan Olson, who also uses exotic proteins in his creations, (case in point, the Rack of Lamb with Candied Walnut Chevre Crust, Black Truffle Demi-Glace, Port Wine Syrup, Merguez Sausage and Potato Gratin Dauphinoise - whew!) Opheila's is about much more than the views, even if diners are occasionally distracted by dolphins or manatees swimming by. According to Restaurant Manager Don Mitchell, the Sunday Brunch Buffet is outstanding. "We have great music with our Jazz Brunch," said Mitchell. "In addition, our Crab Cakes Egg Benedict gets a lot of attention and our signature dish are the Eggplant Crepes, made with pasta and vegetables."

Selva Grill

1345 Main Street
Cool. Not hard to define, but you know it when you see it. That feeling, that vibe, that look. It can't be bought or manufactured. Selva has it, even after 14 years in business. Named to the Golden Spoon Hall of Fame in 2017. Named as one of the Top 100 Hot Spot Restaurants in America by Open Table in 2018. Quoted by the New York Times as "serving possibly the best food in Sarasota. You know what else is cool? This Peruvian eatery takes care of its people, offering full benefits to its full-time employees - a rarity in the restaurant business.
"We're a lot different (than other places)," said Managing Partner Jeremy Osment. We're Latin fusion, blending exotic flavors and colors. Our presentation is outstanding. Creating with citrus doesn't get old for Executive Chef Yesse Sanchez, because we use exotic fruits and herbs and pair it with high-end American proteins. It shows in our Chilean Sea Bass, Rack of Lamb and Ceviche, which are our three most popular dishes. "Even though we're on the higher end of things on price points, we try to run the company like we're on the entry level."

The Waterfront Restaurant of Anna Maria

111 S. Bay Blvd.
Anna Maria

As we reach the final restaurant on our list, one thing they ALL have in common is that more than one national publication, magazine or website thinks they belong on a "Best Of" list. And that's no different with The Waterfront Restaurant & Craft Bar. Bona fides include the 2016 Certificate of Excellence by Trip Advisor and a spot as one of the 100 Best Al Fresco Dining Restaurants in America in 2016 by Open Table. With open-air patio views of Tampa Bay and the proverbial long walks on the beach at sunset beckoning after a great meal and a glass (bottle?) of wine, The Waterfront checks multiple boxes for inclusion.

Chef Billy Hermenau has been given a lot of room to roll in the kitchen by owner Jason Suzor. "We are an upscale, casual American-style restaurant with the best and freshest ingredients as far as fish and meat," said Hermenau. "My inspiration has a Spanish-French fusion mode with an Asian twist. And we're doing some things I know no one else is doing, such as the Marinated Mahi-Mahi, where it's char-grilled and paired with a warm lobster salad with chili vinaigrette dressing. Or the mint chimicurri crust of lamb or the Black Garlic Peppercorn-Seared Filet Mignon with Aioli. Our staff is close-knit and goes far beyond our expectations to deliver for our customers."

And that wraps up our list of what we feel are the Top 10 restaurants in Bradenton and Sarasota. What are yours? Do you agree with the list? Feel free to weigh in and send us your picks. By the way, here's four more that were strongly considered for inclusion:  Anna Maria Oyster Bar (4 locations), Fins at Sharky's in Venice, Owen's Fish Camp in Sarasota and Speaks Clam Bar (2 locations). 

For more dining in Sarasota and Bradenton ideas, register with us on 941area, we're your free local go-to guide! 

Feature image provided by Crab and Fin, Louie's Modern, The Waterfront and Selva Grill photos are from the restaurant Facebook pages, all other photos were taken by the author or provided by the restaurant.