Floridians are experts on al fresco dining so it should come as no surprise that 11 businesses made OpenTable’s annual list of the “100 Best Restaurants for Outdoor Dining.” It should also come as no shock that two of those places happen to be right here in our backyard, and appear on my annual list of the best waterfront restaurants in Sarasota – with another among my top spots to visit in Tampa along the Riverwalk.
OpenTable, the popular online restaurant-reservation service, reported that the number of establishments listing outdoor dining as an option has grown 54% compared to pre-pandemic 2019, and that their “best restaurants for outdoor dining” report was curated from more than 13 million verified diner reviews.
“The list identifies restaurants coast-to-coast with great views, delicious cuisine and above all, an incredible outdoor dining experience,” OpenTable said in a press release issued July 13. “This year, 25 states feature restaurants on the list, making seeking out one – or many – a breeze, whether at home or away.”
Restaurant reviews: The best things to eat in Sarasota and Bradenton area, July 20-26
Dry Dock Waterfront Grill on Longboat Key named ‘100 Best Restaurants for Outdoor Dining’ by OpenTable
The restaurants are presented in no particular order (at least not one that I could figure out) with Dry Dock Waterfront Grill on Longboat Key appearing first among the two Sarasota picks. The seafood restaurant, opened in 1989, is given four and a half out of five stars, based on 6230 reviews. “Been coming here with my family for several years now at least once a year on our vacations trips,” reads the Dry Dock user quote OpenTable chose for the “100 best” story. “This place doesn’t miss a beat the food, service, staff and ambiance is top notch.”
The national honor is the second for Dry Dock in as many months. I recently wrote about Dry Dock being among the four Sarasota-Manatee restaurants appearing in the “15 Best Seafood Restaurants in Florida” article by travel website Trips To Discover. Overlooking Sarasota Bay – with covered open-air seating as well as umbrella tables that place you right on the water for prime pelican and dolphin watching – Dry Dock definitely deserves a place on any list of best restaurants for outdoor dining thanks to those awesome views.
Plus, Dry Dock serves excellent seafood. Their blackened grouper sandwich is one of my favorite grouper sandwiches in town and same goes for their citrus grouper entree. Like I noted in my dining review last summer, the fillet is lightly breaded and sauteed, locking in all that juicy grouper goodness, with a citrus cream sauce that lovingly recalls liquified Key lime pie.
Ophelia’s on the Bay on Siesta Key named ‘100 Best Restaurants for Outdoor Dining’ by OpenTable
Farther down OpenTable’s list, but no less impressive, you’ll find Ophelia’s on the Bay, which overlooks Little Sarasota Bay from Siesta Key, and was given four and a half out of five stars, based on 4994 reviews. “Everything was delicious,” reads the user quote OpenTable chose for the “100 best” story. “I loved the crab cakes with fried green tomatoes. Lamb was tender and generous. Tuna delicious and the snapper was yummy. No I didn’t order all these myself, just enjoyed tastes from everyone at my table! What a great place!”
A Siesta Key landmark opened in 1988, Ophelia’s on the Bay is one of the great special-occasion restaurants in Sarasota. It’s where you go for birthdays, anniversaries, and third dates for exceptionally prepared local seafood, perhaps a sous vide rack of all-natural lamb, and a gorgeous dining area that places you right on the water.
11 Florida restaurants make OpenTable’s annual list of ‘100 Best Restaurants for Outdoor Dining’
If, like me, you’re interested in visiting as many great restaurants as possible in the Sunshine State, listed below are all 11 restaurants that made OpenTable’s recent list. In addition to Dry Dock and Ophelia’s, I highly recommend Ulele, which is owned by the Columbia Restaurant Group that also owns and operates the Columbia Restaurant open since 1959 on St. Armands Circle and sister restaurant Cha Cha Coconuts, which I reviewed for my Best Things to Eat column last September. Ulele, by the way, appears in my 2021 story, published by our sister publication USA Today, about “famous places for outdoor fun in and around Super Bowl host city Tampa.”
Citron Bistro – Vero Beach, FL
Continental Naples – Naples, FL
Dry Dock Waterfront Grill – Longboat Key, FL
Kyle G’s Prime Seafood – Jensen Beach, FL
Latitudes Key West – Key West, FL
Mediterrano – Naples – Naples, FL
Ophelia’s on the Bay – Sarasota, FL
Palace – Miami Beach, FL
Raintree Restaurant – St. Augustine, FL
The Boathouse – Lake Buena Vista, FL
Ulele – Tampa, FL
Read more recent Ticket Editor columns by Wade Tatangelo
Wade Tatangelo is the Herald-Tribune’s dining and entertainment editor overseeing the weekly Ticket publication. He’s also author of the Best Things to Eat and Top Things to Do columns and co-leader of USA Today Network’s Uniquely Florida team creating statewide content. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. He may be reached by email at [email protected]. Support local journalism by subscribing.
This article originally appeared on Sarasota Herald-Tribune: Sarasota waterfront restaurants named best in U.S. for outdoor dining