Sarasota’s Top Four Strip Mall Eateries
When it comes to dazzling dining options, downtown Sarasota is an embarrassment of riches. But some of the best eateries in Sarasota may not even be on your radar. There is a whole world of culinary excellence outside of downtown, often in extremely unexpected places.
When it comes to dazzling dining options, downtown Sarasota is an embarrassment of riches. Over the space of just a few square miles you can find elegant craft cocktails, award-winning chefs, innovative contemporary cuisine, and killer ambience at any one of a number of places. You’ve probably dined at a few of them; we certainly have, and we’ve enjoyed ourselves in a big way.
But some of the best eateries in Sarasota may not even be on your radar. There is a whole world of culinary excellence outside of downtown, often in extremely unexpected places. We want you to take a little detour into the outer realms of Sarasota and experience these little gems we like to think of as Strip Mall Sensations. Their storefronts may be unassuming. Their neighborhoods may not be on your usual route. But for our money, these are hands down some of the best restaurants in Sarasota.
At the intersection of Proctor and Swift, there’s a quiet little shopping center that’s so unobtrusive you may not have even noticed it. The sedate blue overhang doesn’t scream for attention. If you’ve noticed it at all, it’s probably because of the neon signs from the convenience store at the very far side of the strip mall. But just a few doors down from that 7-11, you’ll find one of the most sumptuous dining experiences in Sarasota. Once you step into Bangkok Restaurant, you’ll feel like you’ve been transported to a palace. The chairs and booths are covered in rich-looking fabrics, and the majority of the interior consists of intricate, gleaming hand-carved dark wood accented with silk tapestries and eye-catching light fixtures. It truly is a stunning, transformative visual experience.
But even though the décor at Bangkok is an over-the-top feast for the eyes, the food is even more spectacular. Bangkok Restaurant delivers authentic Thai food with a Pan-Asian influence. The chefs use over 30 herbs and spices to take your tastebuds on a tour of the Far East, from the grilled marinated meats from the North country, to Cambodian and Indian-influenced coconut curries, to the delicate fresh seafood of Thailand’s Southern and Coastal regions. The menu is quite large and variegated, but we’ve never had a dish from there that was less than perfect. Special standouts include the tender and tangy Thai Crispy Duckling (and yes, it somehow manages to be both tender and crispy, deal with it) and the shrimp fried rice (the serving of which is so large it should easily last you for two or three meals, but is so tasty you’ll want to devour it all in one sitting).
Bangkok Restaurant; 4791 Swift Rd, Sarasota; 941-922-0703; http://bangkoksarasota.com/
Cali Tacos To Go
So, Cali Tacos To Go isn’t technically part of a strip mall. It’s in a free-standing building. But it is totally strip-mall adjacent as that building is located in the TJ Maxx shopping center at Tuttle and Bee Ridge so whatever, it counts. If you like good food (and a lot of it), you’ll want to check out this low-key San Diego-style Mexican eatery.
Cali Tacos To Go is renowned for their fish tacos, but in our opinion, it’s their burritos that can’t be beat. The standard burritos come with a half-pound of your choice of meat (our favorite is the pork pastor) and a variety of other fillings. Our favorite is the California Burrito which is stuffed with meat, veggies, and crispy French fries. Seriously, how has this combination not entered our lives until now? We would have eaten these all day, every day in college. If you’re extra peckish go for the Godzilla burrito which has a whole pound of meat (though Giant Japanase Lizard meat is not an option). But our favorite menu item isn’t even food: it’s their addictive horchata, which is a milky and cinnamon-sweet iced beverage that will knock your socks off.
Cali Tacos To Go; 2773 Bee Ridge Rd, Sarasota; 941-925-8226; http://store6.geomerx.com/calitacostogo/
Okay, so technically this restaurant is not in Sarasota yet. Their recently-opened second location is in Bradenton in the Fresh Market shopping center, but a little bird has told us that up to three new locations are planned in Sarasota (including a spot by the new mall). But don’t be fooled; even with its popularity and major expansion plans, this business is strictly family-owned and one-of-a-kind.
Poppo’s bring Mission-style Mexican food to Florida with a fresh and sustainable twist. The meat they serve is all antibiotic-free and hormone-free. Their produce is largely locally-sourced and organic whenever possible. They were even one of the first restaurants ever to serve USDA-approved wild hog. The result is cuisine that is authentic and creative all at once. Their menu is fresh and flexible so it’s easy to find filling and fantastic vegetarian and gluten-free options. For our money though, you can’t go wrong with one of their bowls with rice and beans and carnitas with their signature tangy honey-lime cabbage. It walks the line between decadent and delicate all at once.
Poppo’s doesn’t limit their local and sustainable ethos to their food, either. Their original location in Anna Maria serves craft beer on tap all sourced from local breweries within 15 miles of the restaurant. The owners and their family built much of the Anna Maria interior themselves from sustainable materials, including the handmade wooden bar and barrels repurposed into tables. For their Bradenton location, they hired Mark Nodeen of 390 Design to design custom furniture and décor for the space. The result is a casual laid-back atmosphere that’s just as vibrant and unique as the food.
Poppo’s Taqueria; 6777 Manatee Ave W; 941-254-7941; http://www.poppostacos.com/
The flavors at Sofrito Mama’s are so big, you won’t believe that just two people are responsible for running this tasty take-out mecca (which just so happens to be the #1 ranked restaurant in Sarasota on Trip Advisor). Owners Jason and Alicia Bolden serve up Puerto Rican comfort food with a Cuban twist six days a week from their storefront in the Publix shopping center on Beneva. The restaurant is licensed for take-out only, though there are a few outside tables where you can enjoy your meal if you just can’t wait to get it home. We like to order a little bit of everything and take it home for big family-style dinners.
There are so many standout items on their menu, it is impossible to pick just one or two favorites. Their spinach and cheese empanadas, deep-fried to golden perfection, are preposterously good. Their CubaRiqueno sandwich (think Cuban pressed sandwich with a Puerto Rican influence) is so flavorful you could probably eat it three meals a day and still not feel like it’s enough. Their yellow rice with pigeon peas is toothsome and perfectly seasoned. Their roast pork is tender and juicy. And guys, they have fried pork chunks. However good you think a fried pork chunk could be (because how could a fried pork chunk be anything less than stellar?) these are infinitely better. Even their fried sweet plantains (a pretty staple dish in many kinds of Latin cuisine) are exceptionally good with perfect their perfect caramelization. And that’s just the regular menu! Don’t even get us started on the daily specials, like mofongo and pasteles. We could go on, but we’re actually just going to go ahead and go to lunch now.
Sofrito Mama’s; 935 N Beneva Rd, Sarasota; 941-554-8786; http://sofritomamas.com/