In our restaurant-rich region, you can spend a fortune dining out, but you don’t have to. From Caribbean-style comfort food to salads bursting with veggies and protein, we found eight delicious dishes that will satisfy your appetite—and soothe your wallet.
Cafe Evergreen’s Thai salad bursts with the vibrant flavors and colors of veggies, including Napa and red cabbage, green onion and carrot. They’re tossed with creamy Thai peanut dressing and topped with crispy rice noodles. ($7.99) To supercharge your salad, add the power of protein. Take your pick of falafel ($4), avocado ($3), or grilled chicken ($4). 801 Tamiami Trail S., Nokomis; (941) 412-4334; cafeevergreen.net
With Pop’s Sunset Grill’s Portobello Veggie Stack, even carnivores won’t miss the meat. Sink your teeth into a robust bun stuffed with a juicy Portobello and topped with grilled onions, lettuce, peppers, tomato and dill pickles. It’s meaty and sloppy and filling—everything a burger should be (except high in calories and fat). Choose from edamame salad, coleslaw or fries to go with ($10.25). Yum. 112 Circuit Road, Nokomis; (941) 488-3177; popssunsetgrill.net
Mango Bistro serves up a très délicieux selection of the iconic French crepe. The savory Normandy satisfies with smoked turkey, crunchy bacon, sweet onions and cheddar cheese. The Notre Dame is filled with fresh mozzarella and ham. (Each is $9.99 and comes with a salad.) If you’re flush with francs, accompany with a crisp Provençal rosé from the superb wine list. 301 W. Dearborn St., Englewood; (941) 681-3500; mangobistro.com
What’s a Hot Brown? If you have to ask, you’ve never been to Kentucky. Farlow’s on the Water will introduce you. According to legend, the Brown Hotel in Louisville cooked up this open-faced turkey sandwich in the late 1920s as a midnight snack. Farlow’s reinvents this classic sammie with slow-roasted turkey, tomato and bacon smothered with creamy cheddar cheese sauce atop sourdough bread ($11). 2080 S. McCall Road, Englewood; (941) 474-5343; farlowsonthewater.com
Snook Haven’s riverfront perch, old-Florida charm and live music add zest to its Southern fare (fried gator bites or smoked frog legs, anyone?). If you’re not here for the legendary barbecue, dig into the smoked salmon taco with spicy slaw and cheddar cheese wrapped in a corn or flour tortilla. It comes with Snook chips and, for an extra buck, pair your taco with a side of collard greens, rice and beans or black-eyed pea salad ($11.95). 5000 E. Venice Ave., Venice; (941) 485-7221; snookhaven.com
If you’re in a Southern state of mind, Darrell’s will do you right. The menu is chock-full of fare like crawfish and fried shrimp po’ boys ($10.99), catfish sandwiches ($9.99) and smoked pig wings ($9.99). But there ain’t nothing more belly-pleasing than a spicy bowl of Louisiana-style gumbo made from an old family recipe. It’s filled with purt’ near everything good, including shrimp, crab, chicken, andouille sausage and okra. ($7.99). 215 S. Tamiami Trail, Venice; (941) 485-9900; darrellsrestaurant.net
Old-school gnocchi are oven-baked with marinara and melted mozzarella. Allegro Bistro’s saucy upstart—Mamma’s gnocchi—is more savory, packed with fresh spinach, creamy Gorgonzola, bacon and roasted walnut garnish. Who dared to change this ancient Sicilian recipe? Nella Valenti, aka “Mamma.” “Mamma can do whatever she likes,” says her son, Cesare. ($12). 1740 E. Venice Ave., Venice; (941) 484-1889; allegro-bistro.com
If you’re looking for island-style comfort food, try Nokomo's Sunset Hut’s Caribbean Luau—a barbecue-style banquet of pulled pork, onion, sautéed peppers and island sauce on a bed of spicy Spanish rice and beans ($10.95). Located smack on the glistening waters of Dona Bay, this is a sweet spot to catch the sunset, and indulge in a specialty cocktail (a pineapple mango mimosa, maybe?) or locally sourced craft beer. 690 S. Tamiami Trail, Nokomis; (941) 488-1324; nokomos.com
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