The Best of Sarasota 2022

Sarasota is booming, with a rapid influx of new residents throwing themselves into the city’s cultural life, and an equally explosive list of new restaurants, bars, arts offerings and more that are catering to all those newcomers and longtime residents alike. Here are some highlights from a year of profound change for Sarasota.

Food & Drink

Best New Date Night Destination

Step into Kojo, and it’s hard to believe it’s owned by the same team behind Speaks Clam Bar. While Speaks recreates the vibe of boisterous Italian-American clam bars, Kojo is an elegant, sexy space with a menu that encompasses flavors from Japan, China and Korea, with a little Italy thrown in, too. The mushroom rice pot, finished tableside, is pure oozy mushroom goodness, and the sushi is simple and perfect. Order a cocktail,
and don’t forget to order the matcha doughnut holes for dessert. 1289 N. Palm Ave., Sarasota, (941) 536-9717, eatkojo.com

Best New Dinner and a Show

At Meliora, the food is just part of the experience. If you’re lucky, snag a seat at the chef’s counter in the rear. From there, you get to watch chef Drew Adams direct a team of meticulous cooks who crank out detailed plates, like the restaurant’s already famous raw scallops, which are sliced and lathered with an addictive scallop cream. It’s a mesmerizing performance. 1920 Hillview St., Sarasota, (941) 444-7692, meliorarestaurant.com

Best New Use of Eggplant

Ka Papa isn’t just one of Sarasota’s best new options for vegan diners. It’s one of Sarasota’s best new restaurants, period, thanks to owner Kim Fraederich’s creativity and her skilled touch with ingredients like mushrooms and eggplant, which is cooked until it’s so tender it barely hangs together and then dressed with grapefruit, sesame seeds, radish slices and cilantro. 1830 S. Osprey Ave., Suite 104, Sarasota, (941) 600-8590, kapapacuisine.com

Best Restaurant Rebrand

Taste of Asia closed last fall and was reborn as Stiks, a fast-casual reinvention that still focuses on the terrific Laotian, Thai and Vietnamese dishes that made Taste of Asia a favorite in the first place. Now you place an order at a counter and bring your food to the table yourself, or order online with a simple pickup system that makes it a breeze to grab dinner on the way home. 4413 S. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, (941) 923-2742, stiksfood.com

Best Use of Spam

For a fun taste of the Pacific, swing by L&L Hawaiian Barbecue and order some Spam. The canned pork product is a staple in the diet of Hawaiian islanders, and appears in L&L’s saiman (a ramen-like noodle soup) and its musubi, in which a slice of seared Spam is bundled with a hunk of sticky rice à la sushi. 5445 Fruitville Road, Sarasota, (941) 315-9008, hawaiianbarbecue.com

Best New Gas Station Cuisine

The new Rogers Market attached to a Marathon is likely the swankiest gas station you’ve ever set foot in, with a sleek black, white, gray and yellow color scheme; gleaming subway tiles; and a grow wall overflowing with flowers. The food offerings are as considered as the look, with meaty options like brisket and ribs paired with roasted vegetables, plus plenty of sandwiches and other quick items. 1135 S. Beneva Road, Sarasota, (941) 953-3551, rogers.market

Best New Smoothie Shop

Thanks to Dream Earth Bowls, eating healthy has never been easier. Its signature smoothie bowls are jam-packed with good-for-us stuff like açaí, blue spirulina and granola. Since its  opening in 2019, we have been able to find these chilly treats at the Sarasota and Lakewood Ranch farmers markets. But now, thanks to their newly opened storefront, we can satisfy our smoothie bowl craving seven days a week. 1058 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, (239) 672-5612, dreamearthbowls.com

Best New Sweets Shop

At Kookies & Kream, nostalgia has never been sweeter. Each massive half-pound cookie and one-pound cookie bar is inspired by some of our favorite childhood snacks—think Oreos, Little Debbie snack cakes and frosted animal crackers. Once inside, we’re zapped back to the ’90s as we find ourselves surrounded by a rad, colorful decor and toys that would have made us the coolest kids on the block. 39 S. Beneva Road, Sarasota, kookiesandkreamsarasota.com

Best New Frozen Treats

For an alternative to your usual ice cream run, head to Vampire Penguin, which makes delectable mounds of soft, fluffy shaved ice (or “snow”) with flavors that range from traditional (chocolate and vanilla) to creative (one is made with the spicy Mexican seasoning Tajín), and toppings like boba, marshmallows, graham cracker crumbs and more. 4976 S. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, (941) 923-8155, vampirepenguinsrq.square.site

Best New Dining Destination

Waterside Place is poised to become the area’s next great destination for food lovers, with a new brewpub (Good Liquid Brewing Co.) and a new Korean steakhouse (Korê), plus plans for a pizza place from one of the owners of Napulè (Osteria 500), a doughnut shop (Duck Donuts), a coffee shop (O & A Coffee and Supply) and more. The neighborhood is also home to a Sunday farmers market. 7500 Island Cove Terrace, Lakewood Ranch, (941) 755-0512, watersideplace.com

Best New Bar

Dive Wine & Spirits is both a well-stocked liquor store and home to a cozy, somewhat hidden backroom bar that serves up a select pick of unique drinks, plus whatever classics you call out for. Don’t miss the tiki drinks, which are a calling card for the bar. They walk the line between fruity, sweet and bitter, with plenty of boozy oomph. 2881 Clark Road, Units 19-21, Sarasota, (941) 888-0382, diveliquors.com

Best Beer Scene Shakeup

The region’s beer scene has been in major flux recently, with a number of closings, consolidations and openings. Sarasota’s Big Top Brewing Company took over the legendary beer bar Cock & Bull and Lakewood Ranch’s Naughty Monk Brewery, while also building a brand-new production facility on Fruitville Road. Tampa’s Magnanimous Brewing, meanwhile, opened in the old Darwin Brewing Co., whose brand was acquired by another out-of-town brewery, Clearwater’s Big Storm Brewing Co. At the same time, Indiana’s Sun King Brewery & Spirits is in the midst of taking over the old JDub’s Brewing Company space.

Best New Food Trucks

After being forced to leave Bobby Jones Golf Club because of renovations to the property, chef Gordon Gregory took his restaurant G’s Southern Kitchen on the road, serving his colossal wings, exceptional fried chicken sandwich and succulent shrimp out of a mobile trailer. Miss Susie’s Newtown Kitchen is also a streetside mainstay, offering affordable comfort food while trying to build momentum for the completion of the much-hyped Newtown restaurant that remains half-built. G’s Southern Kitchen: (941) 284-6615, gssouthernkitchen.com; Miss Susie’s Newtown Kitchen: (941) 479-9895, misssusiesnewtownkitchen.com

Travel & Outdoors

Best New Way to Fly

For decades, Sarasota Bradenton International Airport was a relatively quiet outpost beloved by locals for its easy access and short security lines. That’s all changed in the past couple years. Airport traffic is soaring, in part because of a bevy of new nonstop flights to fun cities like Austin, Texas, and Asheville, North Carolina. 6000 Airport Circle, Sarasota, (941) 359-2770, srq-airport.com

Best New Sports Facility Upgrade

The Sarasota City Commission voted in January to spend $535,000 to upgrade the Payne Park tennis center’s lights in preparation for the Sarasota Open. A pretty penny, perhaps, but they’ll make the courts camera-ready for shooting tennis matches and attract collegiate and pro-level tennis events for years to come, upping Sarasota’s court cred.

Best New Accessibility Upgrade

The City of Venice recently installed a mobility mat on Venice Beach to make the sand accessible to those who use wheelchairs and scooters. The six-foot-wide, 76-foot-long AccessMat leads straight to a 12-foot AccessDeck that overlooks the Gulf. Visitors who haven’t been able to get close to the water can do so now. 101 The Esplanade S., Venice, (941) 486-2626, venicegov.com

Best Environmental News

The Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast is doing its part to protect our environment amid a whirlwind of new single-family homes popping up. Part of this includes the acquisition of 228 acres in Old Miakka—land that links Sarasota County’s Old Miakka Preserve and the foundation’s Tatum Sawgrass Scrub Preserve. Home to many species, this now-protected land is an essential part of maintaining water quality. (941) 918-2100, conservationfoundation.com

Best New Biking Destination

The Legacy Trail just got even more legendary. After years of planning and construction, three new segments of the paved trail that cut through Sarasota have opened. We can also expect the North Port Connector—a trail connecting Venice and North Port—to open this fall. friendsofthelegacytrail.org

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