Gulf-side towns like Venice, Englewood, Nokomis, Osprey and Casey Key are beloved for their shorefronts, but there’s more to enjoy along the waterfront than the pristine sand. Along with sunshine and scenery, we’re blessed with a diverse blend of restaurants serving everything from sustainable seafood straight from local waters to Old Florida-style, down-home fare. Watch a live band perform while sipping frozen cocktails under a tiki hut as boats glide across the Intracoastal Waterway, or catch a sunset from an al fresco patio seat. We have it all for you—the bites, the bays and the beachside bounty. Here are 17 spots you’ll want to savor.

Beach Road Wine Bar and Bistro 

Inhale a view of Englewood’s Lemon Bay at Beach Road Wine Bar and Bistro, which serves seasonal seafood and allows boaters to pull right up to the property. There are more than 70 varieties of vino at the bar, as well as options for pet-friendly outside seating. On the wild-caught menu: Argentinean pink shrimp in a chardonnay-jalapeño-asiago cream sauce; spicy macaroni and cheese with penne, garlic and Andouille sausage; and cane sugar-seared, sashimi-grade ahi tuna with a sweet-spicy rub, wakame seaweed salad and carrot-ginger slaw. Bring a pup and an appetite.

1350 Beach Road, Englewood, (941) 474-9500, beachroadbistro.com

Downunder Bar and  Seafood House

At Marker 33, just before the historic swing bridge in Osprey, the Downunder Bar and Seafood House offers a fusion of cuisines from countries below the equator as well as a sampling of American favorites. Rotate between rounds in the Boomerang Lounge upstairs or the downstairs Downunder Bar. Try an entrée of pistachio-crusted garlic chicken marinated in New Zealand sauvignon blanc, or give the Mount Cook New Zealand Alpine freshwater king salmon (flown in fresh from New Zealand and lightly spiced with a lemon-Dijon-tarragon blend) a shot. For dessert, it’s all about the “Kiwi” Key lime pie.

576 Blackburn Point Road, Osprey, (941) 966-4816, downundergroup.com

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A colorful shrimp and pomegranate salad at Marker 4

 Marker 4 Restaurant

Marker 4, which sits on the Intracoastal Waterway at Fisherman’s Wharf Marina in Venice, is known for locally caught seafood. The regularly rotating menu has plenty of sophistication, but there’s also simple grub, like fried grouper bites or a Fisherman’s Combo with grouper and crab cakes. For a meal that’s a little more complex, try the mussels with Aji Amarillo pepper and garlic crostini, the lobster bisque with super lump crabmeat, the seared Gulf red grouper Marsala with Yukon gold mashed potatoes, or the vegetarian stuffed eggplant with port-fig syrup. Yum. Top it off with the seasonal caramel apple cobbler or maple-pumpkin crème brûlée. Marker 4 boasts an unpretentious atmosphere with more than above average cuisine.

509 N. Tamiami Trail, Venice, (941) 786-3291, marker4.com

 Pop’s Sunset Grill

Three decades in, the tucked-away Pop’s Sunset Grill on the Intracoastal Waterway is still one of Nokomis’ most popular waterfront dining destinations. Regulars spy the sunset while sipping cool cocktails and digging into Sunset Starters like fried pickles, Pop’s in Paradise burgers like the Harbor Island Bahama Mama, ribs from the wood-burning grill, and pizzas from the brick oven. Romantic revelers or extra-hungry solitary diners can order a Steamship Pot like the Full Steamship for two, with its array of shrimp, clams, oysters, two pounds of mussels and two lobster tails. Take some home.

112 Circuit Road, Nokomis, (941) 488-3177, popssunsetgrill.net 

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Pop's has al fresco dining at a firepit table

Evie’s at Spanish Pointe Restaurant & Tiki Bar

New owners have taken over this 1950s-established Old Florida hangout on Little Sarasota Bay and renamed it Evie’s at Spanish Pointe Restaurant & Tiki Bar. The hotspot now features the same fare and libations found at most Evie’s throughout Sarasota-Manatee. Pull up to the dock, have a seat at the tiki bar, and relish craft beer and cocktails while noshing on burgers, chicken sandwiches, hot dogs and soft pretzels. As the sun dips into the horizon, acoustic melodies fill the air and create the kind of laid-back ambiance that’s synonymous with this bayside stretch of Osprey.

135 Bayview Drive, Osprey, (941) 966-5746, facebook.com/spanish.pointe.restaurant.pub

Fins at Sharky’s

This is a two-for-one dining hotspot. Feeling casual? Try Sharky’s on the Pier, which has a tiki bar, frequent live entertainment and classic grouper sandwiches at the entrance of the Venice Fishing Pier (flip-flops welcome). Want something fancier? Head upstairs to Fins at Sharky’s, where the cosmopolitan, Miami-style coastal vibe brings seafood, steaks and cocktails to an elevated level (it’s also a posh place to sport those stilettos). Fins’ specialties include the Strawberry Blush Salad with fresh strawberries, Gorgonzola cheese, chili caramel sunflower seeds and Row Eleven Pinot Noir vinaigrette, as well as char-grilled, jerk-rubbed Gulf of Mexico cobia.

1600 Harbor Drive S., Venice, (941) 999-3467, finsatsharkys.com

Pelican Alley

Known for an atmosphere of “Old Florida meets New England,” Pelican Alley has had a 50-year following in Nokomis. And no wonder: The address features stunning glimpses of the Intracoastal Waterway, seats on the covered patio and window views of a sweet, fenced-in garden. On the menu are Cajun-grilled fish tacos, Dynamite Shrimp with Thai chili sauce, Alley Seafood Chowder, Scallops Soprano and seafood nachos with lobster meat. At the bar, sample cocktails like the Casey Key Rum Punch (a whimsical, pink tropical drink with fruit juices) as well as the more classic Sweeney Martini with Absolut Vodka in a Scotch-washed glass with a tomolive garnish.

1009 W. Albee Road, Nokomis, (941) 485-1893, pelicanalley.com

 

Snook Haven

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An Old Florida catfish dinner at Snook Haven

Image: Chad Spencer

In a jungle-like setting that evokes images of Tarzan swinging from tree vines, Snook Haven is a tried-and-true Venice landmark. This is Old Florida at its most authentic, nestled on the banks of the Myakka River apart from civilization and brandishing a “Back Woods Smokehouse” menu. (The place is run by the team at Sharky’s, which means you can expect good things.) Bravely sample the smoked-fried frog legs and fried gator bites. Then move onto the River Bread (baked French bread topped with roasted red pepper and artichoke butter, shredded cheddar and Parmesan cheeses), iron-seared catfish, pulled pork and smoked bratwurst with sauerkraut. Relish it all while watching live banjo players on the always hopping outdoor stage.

5000 E. Venice Ave., Venice, (941) 485-7221, snookhaven.com

The Crow’s Nest Marina & Restaurant

With its own marina right on the Venice Inlet, the Crow’s Nest has been serving its “famous fish sandwiches” and other seafood faves since 1976. This is a sandals- and sailboats-friendly getaway; boaters can pull right up to the restaurant and wander inside for a slice of Chocolate Fallen Cake or Banana Split Ice Cream Pie. On the savory side, try grilled Gulf red grouper with sweet chili-mango sauce or an über-fresh inventory of Pacific and North Atlantic oysters. Snack on middleneck clams at the raw bar or satisfy your hunger with a more filling brisket burger with smoked Gouda cheese. Happy Hour even has 75-cent buffalo wings!

1968 Tarpon Center Drive, Venice, (941) 484-9551, crowsnest-venice.com

Snook’s Bayside Bar & Grill

As tiki bar-goers savor their frozen libations and the soothing water setting, Snook’s at Royal Palm Marina in Englewood jams with live, local melodies. Patrons eat Key West-style—deep-fried conch fritters with Creole dipping sauce, fried green tomatoes, seafood po’ boys and cornmeal-crusted, deep-fried grouper sandwiches with zesty chipotle aioli. Sweetening the deal is this decadent clincher: the Chocolate Marquis, Snook’s signature dessert, with layers of chocolate genoise, milk chocolate mousse and a dark chocolate ganache, all dusted with pure 24K gold. Tough to resist that finale.

779 W. Wentworth St., Englewood, (941) 475-3712, royalpalmmarina.com/dining

The Gulf View  Grill

An Englewood Beach eatery for more than 30 years, the Gulf View Grill is as much about the fare as it is about the frozen drinks and martinis. The Key lime pie, Georgia Peach, Raspberry Kiss and Dutch Chocolate cocktails serve as sweet introductions to the savory menu. Must-sample dishes: the Black Grouper à la Grecque with sautéed local grouper, artichoke hearts, Kalamata olives, garlic and feta cheese; the Seafood Neptune with jumbo stuffed shrimp, sea scallops and a black grouper filet in a lemon garlic and white wine butter sauce; the lobster mac ’n’ cheese with toasted broccolini; and the Chocolate Eruption Cake or Nutella Chocolate Torte for dessert.

2095 N. Beach Road, Englewood, (941) 475-3500, the gulfviewgrill.com

 

NoKoMo’s Sunset Hut

On Dona Bay in Nokomis, this no-frills, tiki-style haven welcomes visitors with inexpensive bar bites and cold ales. Daily Happy Hour is from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m., and late-night Happy Hour runs from 8:30 to 10 p.m., with discounts on well liquors and drafts. While you sip you can listen to live music and devour casual mahi island sliders, mahi bites and mahi wraps, as well as entrées like the Aloha Salmon with Spanish rice, purple cabbage and fresh cilantro. Down a freshly squeezed, handcrafted martini or share a $15 beer bucket filled with domestic brews.

690 Tamiami Trail, Nokomis, (941) 488-1324, nokomos.com

Farlow’s on the Water

Along Angier Creek on Englewood’s west side awaits a trove of Southern and Caribbean fare at Farlow’s. Go for the fried green tomatoes, crab-stuffed mushrooms, slow-roasted Cuban ribs and slices of turtle ice cream pie or guava cheesecake. Nightly specials include the Anguilla hogfish, a coconut and macadamia-encrusted hogfish topped with a tropical rum glaze. Then there are the unique Farlow’s goat tacos with fresh goat tenderloins. These gems are marinated in West Indies spices for 24 hours, slow-cooked and topped with cilantro, goat cheese, caramelized balsamic onions and mango-jicama slaw. Wrap your mouth around that.

2080 S. McCall Road, Englewood, (941) 474-5343, farlowsonthewater.com

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Farlow's garden-like dining room

Image: Chad Spencer

The Old Salty Dog 

The newest of three area Old Salty Dogs, the Venice locale (which joins its sister landmarks on Siesta Key and Sarasota’s City Island) has the same pub grub that Dog regulars crave. Located along the Intracoastal Waterway by the Circus Bridge, this Dog gives diners glistening marina views from the deck. Guests can wander in from a beach afternoon in swimsuit cover-ups and sunglasses and feel right at home, too. The menu offers Caribbean fish tacos with jerk-spiced mahi mahi and cilantro lime cream, a fully loaded Salty Dog (a quarter-pound hot dog that’s been battered and deep-fried; never mind your cholesterol), traditional English fish ’n’ chips, oyster or breaded shrimp po’ boys, Maine lobster rolls and New England clam chowder. Eat up, my hearties.

1485 S. Tamiami Trail, Venice, (941) 483-1000, theoldsaltydog.com

WaterfronToo Grill & Steakhouse

On a culinary quest for the “finest steaks and seafood” during your Nokomis night out? WaterfronToo, a family-run eatery at Marker 20, promises to deliver, whether you arrive by land or sea. Take in the sunset from a well-placed patio chair or indulge in after-work cocktails at the full liquor bar. Sunset specials are on offer from 4 to 5:30 p.m. nightly, with such scrumptious meals as 12-ounce prime rib, grilled mahi mahi, chicken teriyaki or pan-seared tilapia. Other specialties: Tuesday night barbecue ribs, fresh Greek salads, saganaki flamed with brandy, a petite filet and a lobster tail entrée, and even a gyro sandwich.

2205 N. Tamiami Trail, Nokomis, (941) 918-4591, waterfrontoo.com

White Elephant Pub

Dock the sailboat in the deepwater harbor and wander into this pub/eatery on Chadwick’s Cove in Englewood, right across from the public beach. The menu here is amply stocked with fried chicken, barbecue ribs, 12-ounce sirloin steaks, chili dogs, fried oyster po’ boys, hot corned beef sandwiches, pulled pork and turtle cheesecake slices. At the bar, order an Elephant Punch (a tropical specialty cocktail with Southern Comfort whiskey, Amaretto liqueur, pineapple and orange juices and a splash of grenadine) or a White Elephant with vodka, white chocolate liqueur, crème de cacao and vanilla ice cream. Elephants never forget, and you won’t, either.

1855 Gulf Blvd., Englewood Beach, (941) 475-6801, whiteelephantpub.com

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Festive Key lime pie at Casey Key Fish House

Casey Key Fish House

This Osprey attraction draws both down-home locals and well-heeled snowbrids from Casey Key to its chickee-style tiki hut and indoor restaurant on the Intracoastal Waterway. The nautical-styled bar with rope-wrapped décor serves up rum-rich mango daiquiris and pub bites. On the regular menu you’ll find more upscale specialties, like the almond-encrusted snapper with lemon butter; the bouillabaisse with a lobster tail, mussels, shrimp and scallops in a broth with a splash of Pernod; the sesame-crusted, pan-seared tuna with a Thai chili glaze; the tempura-fried soft shell crab; and the black grouper with black beans and corn salsa. Don’t be intimidated by the often star-studded regulars; the vibe is as chill as it gets.

801 Blackburn Point Road, Osprey, (941) 966-1901, caseykeyfish.homestead.com

 

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