Valentine’s Day is nearly here and that means it’s time to make sure that special someone in your life will be very happy on Feb. 14 – which, if we must remind you, is this coming Sunday. To help, we compiled our annual list of great romantic restaurants in Sarasota and Manatee counties, with the focus this year on places with premium outdoor seating. And as we continue to contend with the coronavirus pandemic, we mention a few restaurants that also specialize in to-go offerings.
Keep in mind, though, that most of these restaurants offer takeout and/or curbside pickup. Simply call ahead. And if you’re dining in, reservations are highly recommended at the majority of these places. These 21 great romantic restaurants can be found from Anna Maria Island to downtown Sarasota to Venice, with locations ranging from fine dining to more casual places featuring amazing sunset views.
6600 Gulf Drive, Holmes Beach; 941-778-6444; beachbistro.com
An Anna Maria Island icon opened in 1985, Beach Bistro offers fine dining right on the sand or indoors with its impressive new air filtration system. Menu classics include the Bistro Bouillabaisse (one of the greatest seafood creations in the region), Grouper Floribbean and the American Ranchlands domestic lamb.
200 Gulf Drive N., Bradenton Beach; 941-779-2222; beachhousedining.com
Placing diners right on Bradenton Beach in a casual-chic setting that recalls a trendy tropical resort, Beach House serves popular dishes like Gamble Farm house salad (with produce from the local restaurant group’s own farm), the seafood roll and fried shrimp.
1287 First St., Sarasota; 941-366-8111; bijoucafe.net
Open since 1986, The Bijou Cafe offers fine-dining in the heart of downtown Sarasota’s theater district with a menu inspired by owner Jean-Pierre Knaggs’ French and South African heritage. Popular dishes include the crab cakes, shrimp piri piri and roast duckling.
121 Bridge St., Bradenton Beach; 941-896-9737; bluemarlinami.com
Featuring fresh seafood from neighboring Cortez fishing village, Blue Marlin places diners under the stars in its Trapyard, where you can enjoy live music on the weekend. Menu favorites include the Cortez chowder, grouper prepared “Fulford” style, and the shrimp and grits.
431 St. Armands Circle, Sarasota; 941-388-4415; cafeleurope.net
Cafe L’Europe remains a top destination for classic Continental cuisine such as the brandied duckling that has been popular since the place opened in 1973. Other menu favorites include the French grouper, French onion soup and, if you stop by for lunch, the Lido-Style Corned Beef served on potato pancakes.
411 St. Armands Circle, Sarasota; 941-388-3987; columbiarestaurant.com
Opened in 1959, Columbia continues to impress with its Cuban and Spanish cuisine, honored recently for the best sandwich in Florida by Food & Wine magazine. In addition to the famed Cuban, other popular menu items include the “Columbia Original 1905 Salad,” the paella, and the roast pork “a la Cubana.” Also, if you imbibe, be sure to order a pitcher of one of their masterful sangrias.
1968 Tarpon Center Drive, Venice; 941-484-9551; crowsnest-venice.com
A Venice landmark dating back to 1976 that overlooks the South Jetty, Crow’s Nest was named one of the “100 Most Scenic Restaurants in America for 2019” by OpenTable. Popular menu items include the Grouper Key Largo, Walnut Crusted Salmon and the filet mignon served with circus legend and longtime Venice resident Gunther Gebel-Williams’ steak sauce.
Dry Dock Waterfront Grill
412 Gulf of Mexico Drive, Longboat Key; 941-383-0102; drydockwaterfrontgrill.com
Hidden behind the Boathouse marina on Longboat Key and hugging Sarasota Bay, Dry Dock was also named one of the “100 Most Scenic Restaurants in America for 2019” by OpenTable. Popular menu items include the grouper sandwich (one of the best around), lobster rolls and the Boathouse Burger.
Fins At Sharky’s
1600 Harbor Drive S. Venice; 941-999-3467; finsatsharkys.com
Overlooking The Venice Fishing Pier and the Gulf of Mexico on the south end of the island of Venice, Fins at Sharky’s is best known for its steak and sushi with popular menu items including the smoked rib-eye. Looking for something a bit more casual? Stop by neighboring sister restaurant and bar Sharky’s on the Pier.
10670 Boardwalk Loop, Lakewood Ranch; 941-893-4321; grovelwr.com
Located in the heart of downtown Lakewood Ranch, Grove is a great spot for everything from sushi and steaks to fabulous breakfast and brunch on the weekends plus one of the best happy hours (for drinks and food) around. Like its sister restaurant Pier 22, Grove’s upcoming holiday specials include a Valentine’s Dinner for two to-go featuring a 16-ounce Chateaubriand, chocolate dipped strawberries, truffles and a bottle of prosecco.
Harry’s Continental Kitchens
525 St. Judes Drive, Longboat Key; 941-383-0777 or harryskitchen.com
This Longboat Key landmark dating back to 1979 offers patio seating in a lovely lush setting. Classic menu items include the crab cakes, baked grouper, sauteed veal medallions and the seafood Cobb salad featuring poached shrimp, crab meat and smoked salmon with a creamy dill dressing.
239 S. Links Ave., Sarasota; 941-706-4740; indigenoussarasota.com
Home to James Beard nominated chef/owner Steve Phelps, Indigenous occupies a handsome remodeled home in the Towles Court artists colony found in the center of downtown Sarasota, with ample porch and patio seating. Phelps is all about using locally sourced, sustainable and seasonal ingredients, so the fish dishes in particular change often – sometimes even from one day to the next. Also, if you’re planning on having a romantic evening at home, Indigenous posts its menu on Facebook around noon most days with phone orders starting at 3 p.m. for scheduled curbside pickup between 5:30 and 8 p.m.
Mar Vista Dockside Restaurant and Pub
760 Broadway St., Longboat Key; 941-383-2391; marvistadining.com
Occupying a gorgeous, wooded swath of waterfront land on the Manatee County side of Longboat Key overlooking Sarasota Bay, Mar Vista’s popular menu items include the signature tater tots, grilled grouper, and Gamble Creek Farm butter beans, shrimp & sausage.
multiple locations: mattisons.com
Chef/owner Paul Mattison has three locations, with the one in downtown Sarasota right off Main Street and the newer location on Bradenton Riverwalk both offering large, open air dining areas with covering and plenty of space heaters for when us Floridians get chilly in the winter. Popular menu items include meat offerings from sustainable farming network Niman Ranch: the bistro steak (Sarasota), classic meatloaf (both locations) and a pork rib-eye (Bradenton). Also, the Mattison’s in Bradenton recently added some highly addictive Durham Ranch bison beatballs with root beer barbecue sauce.
Michael’s on East
1212 S. East Ave., Sarasota; 941-366-0007; bestfood.com
If you (or your loved one) are craving an amazing steak paired with a world-class wine, be sure to make a reservation at Michael’s On East, now offering outdoor dining in its enchanting courtyard. While the main attraction is the premium beef aged a minimum of 25 days, Michael’s also offers alluring seafood and pasta dishes as well as a bunch of exciting vegetarian and vegan options.
Ophelia’s on the Bay
9105 Midnight Pass Road, Sarasota; 941-349-2212; opheliasonthebay.net
The best waterfront restaurant on Siesta Key, Ophelia’s overlooking Sarasota Bay has been a romantic dining destination since opening in 1988. The menu changes daily with tataki loin of yellowfin tuna, filet mignon and Gulf grouper among the regularly appearing favorites.
The Point restaurant and Tiki Bar
131 Bayview Drive, Osprey; 941-786-3890; eviesonline.com/location/the-point
One of the biggest restaurant and bar openings of 2020, The Point places guests right on Little Sarasota Bay with multiple dining areas including a third floor for optimum viewing of the location’s famed sunsets. The menu features a mix of Northeast and Florida favorites including the Hot Baltimore Crab Pretzel, North Atlantic Lobster Roll and a blackened grouper pizza.
1200 First Ave. W.; 941-748-8087; pier22dining.com
Located right on the Manatee River with gorgeous views of the sun sinking into Tampa Bay, Pier 22 is the top spot for waterfront dining in Bradenton. Like sister restaurant Grove, Pier 22 does an outstanding job with everything from sushi to steaks to breakfast and brunch of the weekends; plus one of the best happy hours (for drinks and food) around.
100 Spring Ave., Anna Maria; 941-778-0444; sandbardining.com
Sandbar places diners right on the beach of north Anna Maria Island for classics such as the fried shrimp platter, seafood and grits, and stuffed shrimp. Open since 1979, Sandbar is the oldest of Ed Chiles’ three impressive waterfront restaurants that also includes Beach House and Mar Vista.
St. Armands Circle and Longboat Key: dineshore.com
You can’t go wrong with either of Shore’s prime locations: St. Armands Circle or on the Manatee County side of Longboat Key overlooking Sarasota Bay. Popular dishes include the spice grilled filet mignon, miso marinated black grouper and the vegan kale caesar salad. Interested in adult beverages? Shore makes some of the best craft cocktails around.
111 S. Bay Blvd., Anna Maria; 941-778-1515; thewaterfrontrestaurant.net
Occupying an adorable historic home with open-air patio dining providing spectacular views of Tampa Bay, The Waterfront’s favorites include the lobster bisque, the scallops and pork belly fried rice, and the wasabi crusted tuna. Also, the restaurant is located right by the newly reconstructed Anna Maria City Pier, if you’re looking to take a romantic walk before or after your meal and perhaps some drinks. Waterfront makes some quality cocktails including a deliciously mind-blowing jalapeno margarita.