Sarasota’s love affair with Italy goes back to the city’s earliest days. There’s the Ca’ d’Zan, John Ringling’s immense Venetian-style mansion on Sarasota Bay, plus, of course, the man’s immense Renaissance art collection, which includes the famous replica of Michelangelo’s David—so recognizable that the City of Sarasota made it its logo. But that’s just scratching the surface. There’s also the city of Venice, not to mention the Asolo, named after a small town in Italy’s Veneto region where the 18th century interior of the theater was sourced, and Lido Key, which shares a name with a barrier island in the Venetian lagoon.
The romance with Italy extends to our restaurant scene, which overflows with ristoranti, trattorie, osterie, taverne and, of course, good ol’ red sauce joints. Is Italian food Sarasota’s favorite cuisine? Based on the sheer number of restaurants, we’d wager yes. We scoured the area’s deep list of Italian restaurants to find the best.
2085 Siesta Drive, Unit 1, Sarasota, (941) 951-9200, andreasrestaurantsrq.com
Chef Andrea Bozzolo serves an exquisite mix of fan favorites and lesser-known Italian items at his namesake midtown eatery. So while you’ll see veal scallopini, gnocchi and lasagna on the menu, you’ll also encounter baked polenta fortified with Fontina cheese, cacio e pepe that luxuriates in a white truffle emulsion and tripe cooked in the style of the Piedmont region, Bozzolo’s home. Want a sampler? Try the restaurant’s three-course prix fixe menu, which rotates with the seasons.
Bavaro’s Pizza Napoletana & Pastaria
27 Fletcher Ave., Sarasota, (941) 552-9131, bavarospizza.com
Owner Dan Bavaro is the guy who brought Neapolitan-style pizza to Florida with the help of a century-old, Naples-born yeast that brings life to this small Tampa Bay chain’s dough. But Bavaro’s does much more than just pies. The pasta menu includes straightforward comfort items like tagliatelle Bolognese and spaghetti and meatballs, while a charcuterie board comes stocked with prosciutto, mortadella and other imported delicacies. If the weather’s nice, sit on the patio and enjoy the live music.
1371 Main St., Sarasota, (941) 951-6896, cafeamicisrq.com
Quiet early evening dining leads to loud and entertaining late-night partying at Café Amici. With a fantastic sparkling wine list, it’s a great spot for a night on the town. But it doesn’t have to be all party all the time. At Amici, they mean business when it comes to food. The star of the menu is the braciole and orecchiette, an Apulian dish of beef rollatini with garlic, Parmigiano Reggiano and parsley served over pasta.
935 N. Beneva Road, Unit 409, Sarasota, (941) 203-8542
Hidden away in one of the best-fed shopping plazas in town is a tiny pizza shop where the owners know everyone by name. Atmosphere’s handful of tables are topped with personalized reservation signs because everyone becomes a regular, usually sooner rather than later. The pizza is cooked in an imported Italian wood-burning oven to create an authentic Neapolitan-style crust, charred and crunchy. Takeout is available, but the pizzas are best enjoyed in-house.
Cassariano Italian Eatery
313 W. Venice Ave., Venice, (941) 786-1000; 8209 Nature’s Way, Unit 103, Bradenton, (941) 355-8615; cassariano.com
Cassariano is one of the most delicious restaurants on Venice Island, and while there is a second location in Lakewood Ranch, we love the original spot the most. It’s fun to walk the Venice Avenue strip after dinner here and admire the looming palm trees overhead. For a lighter meal, opt for the panzanella di granchio—a bread salad made with crab and avocado.
Marcello Ristorante Italiano
4157 S. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, (941) 921-6794, marcellosarasota.com
They call chef Marcello Aquino “the king of Brunello,” because of his immense wine list, which includes more than 500 vintages and five pages that are devoted just to Brunello di Montalcino, a Tuscan wine Aquino swears by. The bottles go great with whatever Aquino is cooking in the restaurant’s open kitchen. The selection changes daily, but Aquino is particularly skilled when it comes to fresh fish. You’ll also find excellent duck, veal and steaks.
1298 N. Palm Ave., Sarasota, (941) 366-5648, cafeepicure.com
Open for lunch and dinner, Café Epicure is an easy hunger slayer when you’re touring downtown. Choose a table outside to take in the winter weather or cozy up to the sleek backlit bar for an espresso martini. No matter what you choose, you are in for a treat. Start the meal with the carpaccio rucola—thinly sliced raw beef dressed with arugula and Parmigiano. We also love the rigatoni quattro formaggi. It may just be dressed up macaroni and cheese, but it hits the spot every time.
1213 N. Palm Ave., Sarasota, (941) 366-1840, casanticasrq.com
If you only order one thing at CasAntica, make it the strozzapreti al salmone, twisty noodles tossed with chunks of salmon in a creamy white wine sauce adorned with Kalamata olives and heaps of parsley. It is heaven on a plate—salty, creamy and vegetal—and will have you diving back in again and again. The restaurant is located in an old home decorated with antiques, and the vibe is quiet and intimate. We love it.
Fiorella Italian Bistro
3809 S. Tuttle Ave., Sarasota, (941) 210-3607, fiorellabistrosrq.com
Fiorella is a new addition, and while chef Francesco Giovannucci peppers in some subtle French influences, the menu screams Italy. Giovannucci draws influences from the ocean and executes seafood flawlessly. Try the mare fregola, toasted spherical pasta bursting with saffron and highlighted with an array of shellfish. Or go for the shrimp and scallop truffle risotto for a decadent dish in which freshly grated truffles rain down from above.
6670 Superior Ave., Sarasota, (941) 237-8742, romansq.com
Every other Italian pizza spot on our list offers a comprehensive menu in addition to excellent pies. RomanSQ only features pizza, which means it must be amazing for them to make the list. Naturally leavened with a sourdough starter, the shop’s Roman-style pizza (think toppings on focaccia) is somehow dense but also pillow-soft. Feed a hungry crowd by ordering a whole pan and watch your guest’s faces light up when they sink their teeth into RomanSQ’s incredible creations.
4837 Swift Road, Sarasota, (941) 927-8716, laviolettasrq.com
The owners of La Violetta hail from Parma and bring our community the flavors of northern Italy with dishes like panna cotta di gorgonzola (a blue cheese pudding with pears and walnut) and polenta fritta lardo e tartufo—fried polenta with sliced cured pork fat and truffles. The menu explores the rest of Italy, as well, with gnudi Toscani, ricotta dumplings with a fresh tomato sauce like they do in Tuscany. No matter where the menu leads you, you are destined to have a memorable meal.
1970 Main St., Sarasota, (941) 365-4122, mediterraneorest.com
Mediterraneo is a place to see and be seen, and yet you will still feel welcomed as though you are part of the team. Everything on the menu is a hit, especially the spaghetti carbonara and the chitarra al ragù. But it’s the lasagna Bolognese that keeps us coming back for more. Thin sheets of fresh pasta are layered between a hearty meat sauce and rich bechamel for a meal that will cure anything that ails you.
5239 Ocean Blvd., Siesta Key, Sarasota, (941) 349-0995, flaviosbrickovenandbar.com; 1766 Main St., Sarasota, (941) 960-2305, flaviosonmain.com.
A Siesta Key Village mainstay, the original Flavio’s has been a popular spot for a romantic night out near the beach for years, while its companion restaurant is younger, but no less appealing. Pasta dishes include a carbonara studded with peas and pappardelle dressed with a ragù made from braised short ribs and bone marrow, while the secondo options include roasted branzino and veal Marsala. Please note: Excellent pizza is served at the Siesta Key location, but not at the Main Street spot.
6551 Gateway Ave., Sarasota, (941) 921-7007, dolceitaliarestaurant.com
Everything at Dolce Italia is lovely: the location in Gulf Gate, the accommodating service and the homey feeling. This spot captures the essence of Italian entertaining thanks to chef Tiziana Di Costanzo’s coastal Italian upbringing. It’s not uncommon to see tables talking to one another from across the dining room, since this place has a serious regular following. We love the trenne dolce Italia, a triangular tube pasta tossed in a tomato cream sauce. The restaurant earns major points for serving us a pasta shape we’ve never seen before.
5104 Ocean Blvd., Siesta Key, Sarasota, (941) 349-1423, cafegabbiano.com
Everyone at Café Gabbiano is having fun. The diners are having fun, the staff is having fun and the chefs are having a great time, too. The menu skews Italian American, with popular dishes like linguine pescatore and chicken Parmesan. We love to visit in the off-season because the restaurant can become a madhouse during peak season. Pull up to the bar for a sneak peek into the server’s station, where smiles abound—the true sign of a spectacular restaurant.
23 N. Lemon Ave., Sarasota, (941) 365-1020, salutesarasota.com
Bevardi’s Salute! captures the essence of Italy thanks to the excellent people-watching made possible by its central downtown Sarasota location. It’s easy to pretend you’re sitting in the Piazza Navona while viewing passersby hurrying off to neighboring party spots like The Gator Club or Mattison’s City Grille. It’s no tourist trap, though. The food rivals the location, and the menu is highlighted by authentic dishes like a giant veal chop with sage, garlic and a white wine sauce.
1418 13th St. W., Bradenton, (941) 741-8646, ortygiarestaurant.com
This place makes the list for its unbelievable charm. The restaurant occupies a small house in the historic Village of the Arts in Bradenton. The front two rooms hold a handful of tables, and the atmosphere is so intimate that the chef brings your courses out to you personally and checks between bites to make sure you are enjoying yourself. The environment and food take you right back to Nonna’s house on a Sunday night.
Lucile Pizza & Wine Bar
1660 Main St., Sarasota, (941) 330-0101, lucilesrq.com
This one goes out to all our plant-based people. Everything at Lucile is vegan, from the cashew cream sauce to the walnut meatballs and even the coconut bacon. Pizza takes center stage here, but don’t sleep on the rest of the menu. We love the mushroom gnocchi with a sauce so creamy you would never suspect it is made from plants. If you’re feeling adventurous, opt for the macho pizza, a meatless play on a meat lover’s that is equally satisfying.
Speaks Clam Bar
8764 E. State Road 70 E., Lakewood Ranch, (941) 232-7646; 29 N. Boulevard of Presidents, St. Armands Circle, Sarasota, (941) 232-7633; speaksclambar.com
Conceived as an homage to the Italian American clam bars that are popular on Long Island and throughout the Northeast, Speaks’ two locations are fun, boisterous destinations where you can find a mean cocktail and tons of fresh shellfish. Start your meal with raw or steamed clams and oysters and then double down on the seafood fest with a straightforward plate of linguine with clams, or lasagna layered with shrimp and lobster.
69 S. Palm Ave., Sarasota, (941) 951-0866, caragiulos.com
The Caragiulo brothers have been hiring neighborhood kids and training them to be excellent servers for years. As a result, this place possesses a rare familial spirit. Located in the endangered Mira Mar plaza, Caragiulos offers a full range of Italian American specialties like chicken piccata and spaghetti with sausage.
5770 S. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, (941) 702-8582, sardiniasrq.com
Of all the amazing Italian restaurants in Sarasota, Sardinia does the best job of adhering to the cuisine of one specific region. Born on the island of Sardinia, chef Dino Carta executes traditional dishes from his home with such precision that you will think you’ve been transported to the Mediterranean. Pastas are showered with bottarga (dried fish roe), citrus or Sardinian cheese, which dance on the palate. Try the spigola al sale, a salt-crusted sea bass, for a taste of the ocean.
7129 S. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, (941) 556-9639, napulesarasota.com
A sizzling South Trail hot spot ever since it opened in 2017, Napulè bakes exceptional Neapolitan-style pizza in a golden wood-burning oven while also cranking out pastas and seafood and meat entrées from the main kitchen. A dish of pappardelle comes tossed with speck (smoked prosciutto) and a pistachio cream, while the bucatini all’amatriciana is prepared with guanciale (cured pork jowl).