where to eat on Anna Maria Island

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First of all, you should eat where you can view this sunset, which is at the Gulf Drive Café on Bradenton Beach. Two of my all-time favorite sunsets have been here; our first night on this trip and two years ago on Valentine’s Day. Both times, I had the shrimp tacos. I think that must be the good luck charm because this was the only real sunset we saw this year. Our days were mostly sunny, but low-lying clouds moved in around 5 the rest of the week.

Shrimp tacos at the Gulf Drive Café.

We also enjoyed breakfast at the Café this year. It was just as good, but I forgot to take any pics…at any of the three places we went for breakfast. Obviously eating great food anytime of day with your toes in the sand looking out at the Gulf Coast is setting you up for a memorable day.

Related: Do’s and Don’ts while visiting Anna Maria Island

My second favorite breakfast spot was Minnie’s Beach Café in Holmes Beach. Important things to know about Minnie’s: it’s closed on Mondays, cash only and go early to shorten your wait. It opens at 7. The food and service were very good. Four thumbs up! Have I mentioned we were staying with our best friends Tony and Jill who recently bought a vacation place on the island? That’s where the extra thumbs came from.

Seafood roll and yummy beach drink at The Beach House.

A new favorite, The Beach House Waterfront Restaurant on Bradenton Beach, has food and service as good as its views, which is saying a lot. (See this week’s Travel Tuesday for the view!) It’s a little pricey, but well worth it for this world-class dining experience. Their dedication to sustainability and the environment is impressive. There’s also a nice gift shop in the lobby where I bought a bracelet that tracks a sea turtle with proceeds benefitting endangered wildlife and a hat just because I liked it.

We started with the Brussels sprouts, which were quick-fried, tossed in ginger soy plum sauce and finished with a sriracha aioli. I’m drooling a little just thinking about them. It’s a “shareable” side. The quotation marks are because if I didn’t really, really like my friend Jill, I would have just eaten them all.

Crab-stuffed shrimp in a beurre blanc sauce at The Sandbar on Anna Maria Island.

Owned by the same family as The Beach House, the Sandbar Restaurant was already a favorite from 2020. It has the same commitment to sustainability and the environment, which makes me love it even more. Located on the north end of the island, it offers Gulf Coast views that stretch on and on, and you can eat with your toes in the sand here as well.

The tradition of entertainment and relaxation at the site that is now the Sandbar dates back as far as 1911. Today, you can dine indoors, on the covered patio or on the beach. The menu is heavy on seafood, but also features a New York Strip, a burger, a chicken sandwich, and my husband’s favorite, pumpkin waffles and chicken. I’m not of the opinion that those foods should be combined, but the waffle by itself was amazing.

More yummy beach drinks, this time at the Bridge Tender Inn’s dockside bar on Sarasota Bay.

The Bridge Tender Inn is another one we loved from our first visit to the island. Our friends were our inspiration for that trip and for the restaurants we chose. We have the best best friends, don’t even try to argue. I once again had shrimp tacos, which were as good as I remembered. I made a mistake and had clam chowder on the side this time. Their black bean soup is so good I’ve been trying to replicate it at home, and I’m sad I didn’t stick with it. They’ve got live music every day and lots of TVs playing sports. I love the laidback island-feel of the place.

The BTI has been around since 1989 and is just across from the Bradenton Beach Pier on Bridge Street, which is my preferred place to shop. We stopped in for beach drinks a its dockside bar on Sarasota after stocking up on new shirts, shoes, gifts and souvenirs at the Bridge Street Bazaar.

Sangria at the world-famous Columbia Restaurant on St. Armands Circle in Sarasota.

My last recommendation is Columbia Restaurant, Florida’s oldest dining establishment and largest Spanish restaurant in the world. The first location, which is in Tampa’s Ybor City, opened in 1905. 117 years later, it is still in the same family, now in its fifth generation.

In addition to its flagship restaurant in Ybor City, locations include St. Armands Circle in Sarasota where we went, the Historic District in St. Augustine, Sand Key on Clearwater Beach, Central Florida’s town of Celebration, the Columbia Cafe on the Riverwalk in Tampa and the Columbia Restaurant Café at Tampa International Airport. All locations are owned and operated by 4th and 5th generation members of the founding family, except for the Café at Tampa International Airport that’s operated in partnership with HMSHost.

The Cuban at Columbia Restaurant has been named Florida’s best sandwich by Food & Wine magazine.

We went to the St. Armands Circle location in Sarasota, which is a beautiful place to spend an afternoon. This is a sizeable but popular place; make a reservation several days in advance to ensure you get the time you want.

The wine list is unlike anything I’ve seen. You can check it out, learn about Spanish wines and read the family’s philosophy on wine in this 345-page PDF. Really. We ordered a pitcher of their Sangria, which is made at your table. A longtime favorite “taste of Spain” made with Spanish red or white wines, Spanish brandy and fresh citrus juices. Try it!

Both of the guys both ordered the Original Cuban Sandwich, which has been named Florida’s best sandwich by Food & Wine magazine. From the menu:

The “Mixto,” as it was known in the beginning, was created in the 1890s for the cigar workers as they walked to and from work. The sandwiches underwent changes as immigrants from different countries came to Ybor City. The City of Tampa was like the sandwich, a mixture of cultures and food. The Spanish brought the fine ham, the Sicilians the Genoa salami, the Cubans the mojo-marinated roast pork, the Germans and Jews the Swiss cheese, pickle and mustard. Put it all together between sliced, freshly baked Tampa Cuban bread from La Segunda Central Bakery and life is great. Today we are using the original 1915 recipe of Casimiro Hernandez, Sr., with the same proportions of meat and each ingredient layered atop the other, placed on Cuban bread brushed with butter on top and pressed to a crispy finish.

Columbia Restaurant Menu

My friend Jill had the 1905 Salad, which look fantastic, and I had the Cannelloni de Langosta, which is a seafood lover’s dream. With so many locations, Columbia Restaurant should be on everyone’s Florida bucket list. Naturally, there is a wonderful gift shop. I had to take an extra carry-on to bring home my purchases and gifts from this trip.

Note about visiting in March: None of the restaurants on Anna Maria Island takes reservations. Most days, we opted to go out for a late lunch rather than waiting for a table a dinner time.

Thanks for reading about our March vacation! I’ll leave you with some final pics from the trip. Stay tuned for more Tales From the Empty Nest. © TalesFromtheEmptyNest.com. All rights reserved.

3 thoughts on “where to eat on Anna Maria Island

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