Maybe it’s the fact that many of the strip malls haven’t been updated in decades. Maybe it’s the potholes in the parking lots. Maybe it’s because the area isn’t directly off any major thoroughfares.
Whatever the reason, Gulf Gate continues to be the area’s most diverse, interesting and densely packed neighborhood for bars and restaurants. In just a few square blocks, easily walked, you can find over 50 different places to eat or drink.
Want ethnic food? There’s Russian, Scandinavian, British, German, Japanese, French, Thai, Chinese, Polish and plenty of Italian. You can eat a 2,000-calorie sandwich at Munchies 420 Cafe or drink a vitamin-packed, organic juice blend from CROP. There’s a half-dozen pizza joints, multiple ethnic markets and the best sushi restaurant in the area.
Head to Gulf Gate to drink and you’ll find that some of the bars hearken back a decade or two, the air filled with cigarette smoke, the craftiest cocktail a Sex on the Beach. But turn a corner and there’s Mr. Beery’s, one of the best craft beer bars in town. On bar stools throughout the neighborhood you’ll find working class Joes, mustachioed hipsters, soccer moms and retired pensioners all listening to Neil Diamond on the jukebox.
It’s an incubator for food and drink entrepreneurs, with a unique combination of affordable space and high traffic. Turnover is high, but there’s always another restaurant or bar ready to fill an empty spot.
And there’s always another reason to stop by for a visit.
Brian Ries & Wade Tatangelo
A Taste of Europe: A smattering of European goods dominated by Russian items, such as caviar, groceries and religious icons. 2212 Gulf Gate Dr, Sarasota; 921-9084; sarasotatasteofeurope.com
Adriatico: This cozy and elegant restaurant serves refined Italian cuisine, including regular seafood specials.
6606 Superior Ave., Sarasota; 922-3080; adriaticosrq.com
Badda Bing: Full-liquor bar features happy hour from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily with heavy pours all night long to go with watching sports, billiards action and jukebox plays. 6574 Superior Ave., Sarasota; 921-5109; baddabingbar.com
Barrel 87: One of Sarasota-Bradenton’s few gay bars, Barrel 87 hosts Two Dollar Tuesday, Wild Wednesday, Karaoke Night on Thursday, Fabulous Friday and Sexy Saturday. 6587 Gateway Ave. Sarasota; 922-6969
The British Corner Shop: A must stop for Anglophiles, this spot sells everything from HP Sauce to Cadbury chocolate, tea sets to toys. The tea room serves finger sandwiches, pastries and more from 10:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m., Monday-Saturday. 2236 Gulf Gate Dr., Sarasota; 346-6004; thebritishcornershop.net
Chester’s Reef and Hair of the Dog Saloon: Party like it’s 1999 with Sex on the Beach, Grape Bombs and other specials on drinks dating back to the turn of the century at this big, open-air beachy bar and nightclub with the adjacent saloon. 6523 Gateway Ave., Sarasota; 922-4066
Chocolate Nuts & More: This shop sells and ships across the country, but you can also stop by for some of the specialty chcoolate bark, loaded with everything from quinoa and blueberry to salty pretzels. 2114 Gulf Gate Dr., Sarasota; 925-1111; chocolatebarkcompany.com
CROP: This specialty juice shop focuses on coldpressed, raw and organic juices, as well as flavored almond milks and smoothies. 2320 Gulf Gate Dr., Sarasota; 923-8640; cropjuicesrq.com (Read an interview with owner Karen Odierna.)
Dolce Italia: A classic Italian restaurant focused on veal, chicken and pasta, as well as a killer limoncello cake. 6551 Gateway Ave., Sarasota; 921-7007; dolceitaliarestaurant.com
Glass Gripper Hookah Lounge: Share some shisha from the communal hookah while also sipping on beer, wine and champagne at this lounge five days a week from 9 p.m. to 4:20 a.m. 6541 Superior Ave., Sarasota;
Ham Heaven & Devil Dogs: Owner Rocky Rocchio roasts his own spiral-sliced hams and makes his own soups, but the best thing here is his thick-cut, tender corned beef, especially on HH&DD’s famous reuben. 2647 Mall Dr., Sarasota; 923-2514; hamheavenanddevildogs.webs.com (Read a 2011 review of Ham Heaven & Devil Dogs.)
Heavenly Cupcakes: There a a variety of tasty cupcakes, sure, but you’ll also find plenty of homemade whoopies and sweets tailored to a paleo diet. 6538 Gateway Ave., Sarasota; 922-0024; myheavenlycupcakes.com (Read an interview with Heavenly Cupcakes owner Becky Schultes.)
Hurricane Mike’s: There are plenty of strong libations at this bar but none are probably more potent than the signature Hurricane made with three kinds of Bacardi rum including the flammable 151. 2639 Mall Dr., Sarasota; 923-9827
Il Panificio: Some of the best pizza in town thanks to a killer crust, as well as plenty of sandwiches, salads and other Italian-American standards served in an airy, beautiful dining room as well as outdoor seating. 6630 Gateway Ave., Sarasota; 921-5570; panificiousa.com
Jim’s Small Batch Bakery: Delicious baked goods from pastries to bagels, but the name doesn’t lie – get there early to make sure you have the best choice. 2336 Gulf Gate Dr., Sarasota; 922-2253 (Read a 2012 review of Jim’s.)
Kazu’s 2.0: Kazu’s 2.0 has plenty of great sushi, but it also has a lively Japanese gastropub vibe, with craft cocktails, craft beer and fusion tapas to soak it up. 6566 Gateway Ave., Sarasota; 922-5459; kazus2srq.com (Read a 2013 Bar Tab about Kazu’s 2.0, an interview with owner Kazu Tsuchiya, or a recipe for Kazu’s Sake Pina Colada.)
Kiyoshi’s Sushi: Longtime local sushi chef Kiyoshi Noro is back in business with this new spot, including conveyor-belt delivery. 6550 Gateway Dr., Sarasota; 924-3781
Molly Malones: Not as traditional as some other Irish pubs in Sarasota, Molly Malone’s is a great Irish bar, a place for Guinness pints, Jamo shots and loud, loud music on the jukebox. 6586 Gateway Dr., Sarasota; 925-2344
Monk’s Steamer Bar: Monk’s has long been the destination for people who want oysters, clams, shrimp and other raw bar hits, with an expansive outdoor space and a bar vibe inside. 6690 Superior Ave., Sarasota; 927-3388; monkssteamerbar.com
Mr. Beery’s: Gulf Gate’s only serious craft beer bar – and one of the best in Sarasota County – Mr. Beery’s is also one of the rare bars in Gulf Gate where you can grab a drink without being covered in a fog of cigarette smoke. 2645 Mall Dr., Sarasota; 343-2854; mrbeeryssrq.com
Munchies 420 Cafe: Famous for its appearance on Travel Channel, the stoner-friendly cafe also has a full-liquor tiki bar at the corner of Superior and Gulf Gate Drive. 6639 Superior Ave., Sarasota; 929-9893; munchies420cafe.com (Read a 2011 story about late night at Munchies.)
Piccolo Italian Market & Deli: This big Italian market serves fresh sandwiches, pizza, daily specials and prepapred salads, along with plenty of other Italian foods. 6518 Gateway Ave., Sarasota; 923-2202; piccolomarket.com
Off the Hook Seafood Co.: Seafood restaurant is also a classy cocktail and wine destination with a fully lit glass bar that grabs your attention immediately after entering. 6630 Gateway Ave., Sarasota; 923-5570
Oh Mamma Mia: An unassuming restaurant that serves fantastic Italian standards, with a wide-open kitchen that turns the experience into a show. 2324 Gulf Gate Dr., Sarasota; 706-2821; ohmammamiarestaurant.com
Ooh La La French Bakery: Incredible pastries, from eclairs to cakes, plus excellent brioche and some lunch-style snacks. 2705 Mall Dr., Sarasota; 922-0169; oohlalafrenchbakery.com
Opa! Opa!: This Greek restaurant serves the hits, as well as some killer grilled octopus. 6525 Superior Ave., Sarasota; 927-1672; opaopagreekrestaurant.com (Read a 2014 review of Opa! Opa!)
Oriental Food & Gifts: Along with the usual Asian grocery standards, you’ll find homemade Korean kimchi and other prepared foods. There’s also Korean sushi, bibimbap and more, made to order on Saturday mornings. 2212 Gulf Gate Dr., Sarasota; 924-8066; orientalfoodandgifts.com (Read a 2015 review of Oriental Food & Gifts’ Saturday morning food.)
Pasta La Pizza Baby: Standard New York-style pizza and Italian-American pasta classics in this small pizza spot. 6592 Superior Ave., Sarasota; 921-0990
Pierogi Inn: This Polish deli and grocery sells over a dozen different varieties of pierogi as well as fresh sausage and other Polish prepared foods. 6611 Superior Ave., Sarasota; 929-0101; polishdelipierogiinn.com
Poki Joes: This catering business also has a restaurant featuring a beautiful, quirky, funky dining room and some great exterior seating. 6614 Superior Ave., Sarasota; 922-5915; pokijoes.com
Pride of the South BBQ: Owned by the folks behind Munchies, Pride of the South has tasty barbecue, excellent meatloaf, killer mac ‘n’ cheese and – if you order right – it can be surprisingly cheap. 6616 Superior Ave., Sarasota; 926-0099
Rico’s Pizzeria: Not affiliated with the other Sarasota Rico’s, this spot still serves excellent New York pies, subs, salads and other pizzeria standards. 6547 Gateway Ave., Sarasota; 922-9604; ricospizzatogo.com
Sal’s Pizza & Pasta House: More tasty New York-style pizza, pasta and Italian classics. 6582 Gateway Ave., Sarasota; 926-0022; salspizzagg.com
Sarasota Brewing Company: Opened in 1989, brewpub keeps five unique beers on tap in addition to rotating cast of craft beers as well as macro specials and liquor libations to go with cozy sports bar atmosphere. Full menu includes burgers, Chicago-style pizzas and beef sandwiches. 6607 Gateway Ave., Sarasota; 925-2337; sarasotabrewing.com
Scandinavian Gifts: This spot has it all: textiles, gifts, clogs, carvings, rugs and delectable baked goods and groceries. 2166 Gulf Gate Dr., Sarasota; 923-4313; scandinavian-south.com
Shaner’s Pizza: After Shaner’s downtown location closed down, it moved it’s trademark crackling thin-crust pizza, hoagies, burgers and more to Gulf Gate. 6500 Superior Ave., Sarasota; 927-2708; shanerspizza.com
Schnitzel Kitchen: German classics, including the eponymous thin cutlets of veal or chicken topped with mushroom cream sauce, herbed butter, or a variety of other toppings. 6521 Superior Ave., Sarasota; 922-9299; schnitzelkitchen.com
Solorzano’s Italian Restaurant: Not to be confused with the pizza place down the street, Solorzano’s is an elegant, classic Italian eatery with a few sidewalk tables tucked into an arbor. 6516 Superior Ave., Sarasota; 906-9444
Solorzano’s Pizzeria: This pizza joint is known for its “Pay It Forward” wall, where customers can buy extra slices of great New York pies for random customers to come. 6670 Superior Ave., Sarasota; 924-5800; sbpsiestakey.com
Taste of Hong Kong: Standard Chinese cuisine with a buffet. 2224 Gulf Gate Dr., Sarasota; 922-6765
Thailand Restaurant: The local Thai spot also sports a sushi bar, open for lunch and dinner. 2238 Gulf Gate Dr., Sarasota; 927-8424; thailandsarasota.com
Thirsty Turtle: Known for a great happy hour, along with a quiet, cozy vibe, pool tables and a friendly staff. 2615 Mall Dr., Sarasota; 927-3426
Thomas German Bakery: There’s plenty of baked treats here, along with German breakfast and lunch served all day, including omelets, sandwiches, schnitzel, salads, and coffee. 2126 Gulf Gate Dr., Sarasota; 925-8100; thomasgermanbakery.com
Tommy Knockers: Billed as a “five star dive bar,” Tommy Knockers is another Gulf Gate spot for deals on liquor and beer while watching sports. 2641 Mall Dr., Sarasota; 925-9900; tommyknockerssaloon.com
Tony’s Chicago Beef: The hand-cut fries are excellent, as are sandwiches stacked high with thinly sliced Italian beef dunked in “jus” and hot dogs piled high with “hots.” 6569 Superior Ave., Sarasota; 922-7679; tonyschicagobeef.com (Read a 2013 review of Tony’s.)
Veg: Although the menu is pescatarian, there’s plenty for vegans, vegetarians and omnivores at this vegetable-focused restaurant. 2164 Gulf Gate Dr., Sarasota; 312-6424; vegsrq.com (Read an interview with owner Joe Hassett.)
Vizen: One of the best (if not the best) sushi places in Sarasota, thanks to the careful craft and innovative ingredients of the chef, Vizen is closed through August for remodelling. 6559 Gateway Ave., Sarasota; 926-0830; vizen-sarasota.com
West End Pub: Full-liquor pub also has a shady patio with shuffleboard. 6500 Gateway Ave., Sarasota; 554-8905
Word of Mouth: Not affiliated with the other Word of Mouth locations, this spot still has excellent breakfast and lunch fare in a cozy space. 6604 Gateway Ave., Sarasota; 925-2400; originalwordofmouth.com