(Many restaurants have adjusted their offerings and service options because of the Covid-19 pandemic. We recommend double-checking with the restaurants listed below before heading out to eat.)
4000 Gulf Drive, Holmes Beach, (941) 778-4757, amibeachcafe.com
Directly adjacent to the popular Manatee Public Beach, the Beach Cafe slings a big list of breakfast and lunch items from a small window facing the Gulf. Along with all-you-can-eat pancakes, you can find everything from Greek salads to clam strips, plus a huge, shady patio with white plastic tables underneath a web of clear fishing line that keeps the birds away.
6600 Gulf Drive, Holmes Beach, (941) 778-6444, beachbistro.com
One of the most romantic restaurants in the region, where the seared foie gras, the extravagant bouillabaisse and the tender rack of lamb all taste as great as they have for decades. The restaurant has an excellent selection of wines by the glass, direct views of the beach and servers who are formal but never chilly.
200 Gulf Drive N., Bradenton Beach, (941) 779-2222, beachhousedining.com
Panoramic Gulf views, grouper sandwiches and a bustling bar scene. Be sure to eat on the spacious outdoor beachfront patio.
5312 Holmes Blvd., Unit B, Holmes Beach, (941) 213-9926, doctorsofficeami.com
Anna Maria Island’s sexiest bar, this stylish drinkery serves stiff cocktails and even offers an old-school absinthe service. Bar bites include good duck tacos.
210C Pine Ave., Anna Maria, (941) 896-3172, thedonutexperiment.com
This small shop’s made-to-order cake doughnuts are so popular you’re likely to encounter a long line out the front door on a weekend morning. We love how you can combine icings and toppings to your liking. Chocolate and crushed Reese’s Pieces? Yes. Maple and bacon? Sure. Sriracha and chopped peanuts? Go for it.
5808 Marina Drive, Holmes Beach, (941) 778-2501, duffystavernami.com
Duffy’s has been a Holmes Beach institution since 1958, and its burgers pull in commuters from Sarasota and Tampa, as well as long-time islanders and kids back home from college. The restaurant has added some frou-frou options like blue cheese, caramelized onions and the like, but its calling card remains its standard cheeseburger.
5315 Gulf Drive, Holmes Beach, (941) 778-0411, eathereflorida.com
The rambunctious younger brother to the Beach Bistro, Eat Here opened in the midst of the Great Recession, a time when restaurants were scrambling to attract diners with lower prices and a less uptight ambiance. But while Eat Here might be a whimsical hangout, the food is no slouch. The fish tacos, made with whatever’s been biting lately, plus sharp, spicy, crunchy toppings that elevate the fish flesh, are the region’s best. We also recommend the veal meatloaf and the pot roast. Offers a great pick of Florida beers and affordable wines, too.
9807 Gulf Drive, Anna Maria, (941) 778-3170, ginnysandjanees.com
Located in a whimsical, cluttered shop stocked with postcards, handmade jewelry, T-shirts and plenty of antiques, Ginny’s & Jane E’s is a popular destination for baked goods, breakfast and lunch. The colossal cinnamon rolls and sticky buns are legendary.
900 Gulf Drive N., Bradenton Beach, (941) 778-1919, gulfdrivetiki.com
A charming café that sits right on a gorgeous spread of Anna Maria Island beach. We like to eat outside, on a patio next to the sand or underneath the tiki roof. Breakfast here is excellent.
304 Pine Ave., Anna Maria, (941) 900-2671, northshorecafe.net
This cute breakfast and lunch hangout spot opened in 2019, providing islanders with drip coffee, espresso drinks, smoothies, basic sandwiches and trendy items like avocado toast and açaí bowls. Sit in the back yard, which abuts a small inlet.
212C Pine Ave., Anna Maria, (941) 254-7941; several other locations around the area; poppostaqueria.com
A locally owned mini-chain that started in Anna Maria, Poppo’s serves fast casual burritos and tacos, with a plethora of ingredients and toppings you won’t find at most taquerias. Arugula? Tempeh? Pickled cabbage? We’ll take all of it.
875 N. Shore Drive, Anna Maria, (941) 778-1885, rodreelpier.com
Eating in this elevated shack on the northern tip of the island is like dining inside a boat bobbing above the waves, far from the shore. You’ll find great seafood sandwiches and plenty of entrées that feature catches straight from the Gulf.
100 Spring Ave., Anna Maria, (941) 778-0444, sandbardining.com
Kick off your flip-flops and dip your bare feet into the cool white sand at this longtime Anna Maria fixture, where the vibe is as friendly and blissful as if you were hanging out at a friend’s house. We can’t not order the steamed clams and shrimp appetizer, which features shellfish farmed in Tampa Bay, and while the seafood and grits entrée, made with shrimp, scallops, fish and ham, is a predictable winner, we also go for the surprisingly tasty buttermilk fried chicken and waffle. A great place to host a special event, too.
1701 Gulf Drive, Bradenton Beach, (941) 242-5340; 6112 S. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, (941) 923-9090; smoqehouse.com
The first Smoqehouse was opened by Andrew and Heidi Kubes in Minnesota in 2016; the restaurant expanded to Bradenton Beach in 2017 and then to Sarasota in 2020. The restaurant has a severe but dapper black and white color scheme and a limited selection of excellent sandwiches. The burger is a diner-style classic, with a thin patty that’s seared until it’s crispy on the outside and dressed with smoked cheddar, caramelized onions and a tangy house condiment called “Smoq’n sauce.”
111 S. Bay Blvd., Anna Maria, (941) 778-1515, thewaterfrontrestaurant.net
Wherever you sit at The Waterfront, you’ll find a bit of eye candy. On the large porch, you can gaze out toward the Rod & Reel Pier and the lapping waters of Tampa Bay. Sit inside and you’ll be mesmerized by the glowing fish tank near the bar. We like the food, but we’re just as nuts about the cocktails: The smoked margarita is made with mezcal, while the Mai Tai is a throwback to the drink’s original recipe.
101 Seventh St. N., Bradenton Beach, (941) 281-2990; 1603 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, (941) 706-2395; wickedcantina.com
A mix of Austin-style Tex-Mex, with an emphasis on enchiladas, quesadillas, tacos, burritos and nachos, plus an attractive pick of margaritas and craft cocktails.