Perhaps you were blessed with little darlings of children who sit like perfect little angels at the trendy restaurants in downtown Sarasota. The ones who sit patiently for their food at tables adorned with cloth napkins and glass stemware for their Fiji water.
I have 3 young children, ages 8, 4, and 8 months old. After many, many trips to local restaurants and repeated reminders of restaurant etiquette, eating out is still hit or miss with us. There was a good 12 month period where we avoided restaurants altogether or ordered our food to-go.
Now that the boys are a little bit older (oh yeah…did I mention that I have 3 boys??) we are venturing back out into the restaurant world. My 8-year-old is mostly well behaved at restaurants now. However, if the moon and stars are aligned just right, he and his 4-year-old brother can be quite the scene.
We still encourage and remind the boys of proper restaurant etiquette, but we have found there are a few golden gems in Sarasota that are our go-to restaurants if we want to enjoy good quality adult food and bring the kids along with us.
The top factors that I consider most important when choosing “family-friendly restaurants” are the following:
- Atmosphere that allows for loud noises
- Outdoor seating is a bonus
- Things for kids to do while waiting for food
- Delicious food options for both adults and kids
(This list does not include fast food restaurants.)
Here are my top 5 favorite family-friendly restaurants in Sarasota:
Mandeville Beer Garden
Address: 428 N. Lemon Ave. Sarasota, Fl 34236
Mandeville Beer Garden is a hidden gem I recently discovered. It is a trendy, downtown craft beer garden and restaurant that will make you forget you are there with your kids. The menu features gourmet bar food items such as panko crusted onion rings, chicken wings with choice of one of five sauces, a giant baked pretzel with beer cheese and honey mustard, homemade tomato and alphabet soup, and waffle cut sweet potato fries. The menu also features other items such as sandwiches, salads, hot dogs and burgers (must try: the MBG popper burger).
Why I Love It:
The food is amazing, but the reason this restaurant makes my top 5 list is the outdoor seating that features a giant gravel pit of play space. There are several long picnic tables on the outside astro turf where you can sit peacefully while you wait for your food. My husband and I have had numerous, uninterrupted adult conversations while our kiddos have played in the gravel play area. It is like a McDonald’s play space met a craft beer bar and the result is AMAZING.
Oleary’s Tiki Bar & Grill
Address: 5 Bayfront Dr., Sarasota, Fl 34236
OLeary’s is somewhat of a Sarasota tradition. It is centrally located near downtown Sarasota in Bayfront Park. Locals and tourists alike find the tropical, laid back atmosphere a popular place to unwind after a long day of working or playing in Sarasota. It is right on the Sarasota Bay, and there is a Margaritaville feel to the location. It features live music, outdoor seating, and gorgeous views of the water. The menu includes tropical favorites featuring seafood in many of the entrees, while it also serves burgers, hot dogs, chicken and salads.
Why I Love It:
You order your food at the counter, bring your buzzer to your table (first come, first served seating), and pick up your food from the window when it is ready. Sometimes, my husband will take our kids to the nearby Bayfront Park playground while we wait for our food. We usually sit at a picnic table in the sand area.
My 4-year-old loves playing in the sand. It is that extra little kinesthetic distraction that allows my husband and me to eat in a stress-free environment. The live music also drowns out any loud noises coming from my crew. It is a relaxed and casual atmosphere. Even if my boys are being loud and rambunctious, the happy people around us drinking adult beverages don’t even notice. Being at Oleary’s also makes us feel like we are on vacation, even if it is only for 30-45 minutes.
Anna Maria Oyster Bar
Landside: 6906 14thStreet West
Cortez: 6696 Cortez Road
Ellenton: 1525 51stAve East
Pier: 200 Bridge Street
I usually frequent the AMOB Landside location on US 41 near the airport. AMOB is a touristy, snowbirdy type of restaurant. The wait staff wear tropical shirts, the décor feels like you are in Key West, and the menu items feature…you guessed it…seafood. Menu items include shrimp, frog legs, nine different ways to order your oysters, local seafood favorites, salads, pasta and chicken. My husband orders the fish and chips every single time and is never disappointed. I usually order the Parmesan crusted tilapia.
Why I Love It:
The atmosphere is fun and relaxed. There is outdoor seating. My kids usually seem to be better behaved when we are outside for some reason. There is also a book program at the AMOB Landside location. A bookshelf is filled with books that children are allowed to take with them and read at the table; kids can even take a book home with them at the end of the meal. The program is supported by the Anna Maria Oyster Bar, the Suncoast Campaign for Grade Level Reading, and the Early Learning Coalition. And Sunday-Thursday, kids eat for a penny-an-inch. That means that my 53-inch 8-year-old eats for $0.53, with a paying adult. Win!
The best part about this restaurant, which is a major reason why it makes it in my top 5 family-friendly restaurants, is that off to the side of the building, next to the outdoor deck, is a large astro turf area that is set up for a game of cornhole. If my kids are getting antsy while waiting for our food, we go out to the cornhole area. Sometimes they play cornhole, other times they will make up their own games with the bean bags. Or they will simply play a game of chase in the open space.
The Old Salty Dog
City Island:1601 B Ken Thompson Pkwy, Sarasota, Fl 34236
Siesta Key: 5023 Ocean Blvd, Sarasota, Fl 34242
Venice Island:1475 Tamiami Trail South, Venice, Fl 34285
The Old Salty Dog has three locations, but our family most often visits the City Island location. The OSD is a pretty touristy establishment. Many vacationers visit the OSD for that Key West vibe in Sarasota. The City Island location is right on the water and offers beautiful views of Sarasota Bay. The atmosphere is light and casual. The kids menu food items are served on a take-home Frisbee. Adult menu items include a steamer and raw bar, salads, burgers, hot dogs (the famous “Salty Dog” is a battered and fried hot dog), and classic seafood favorites.
Why I Love It:
Outdoor seating provides a wide, open space if my kids are being less than silent. If my 4-year-old gets antsy waiting for our food, I can walk him around the nearby marina. There is also a small beachy area that he likes to dig in sometimes.
Jo-To Japanese Steak House
Address: 7971 N Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, Fl 34243
Menu: Jo-To Menu
This Japanese steakhouse offers a hibachi grill, where the chef cooks your meal in front of you. Food includes steak, chicken, seafood and vegetarian hibachi meals. This is somewhat of a wild card, as far as if your child will enjoy this restaurant. When my children were very young, they were scared of the fire and flames that flash during the cooking. We used to ask our chef to warn us when the fire was about to happen, so that I could move the little one away from the table. Now that my children are older, my 8-year-old loves it and my 4-year-old is warming up to it.
Why I Love It:
The reason that I put Jo-To on this list is because the entertainment of the meal being cooked in front of you keeps my children captivated and engaged while the meal is being prepared. The three-course meal comes out at appropriate intervals, and the cooking show makes it feel like you are not waiting for your food at all. I try to encourage my sons to try the Japanese soup and salad, and they have fun attempting to use the chopsticks. My husband and I can enjoy quality food while the kids get to experience something out of the ordinary. If you child gets scared or antsy during the meal, you can take them outside and watch the airplanes land and take-off from the nearby airport.
As much as I work with my children at all restaurants to learn the patience of waiting for our food, these 5 restaurants allow me to be off the hook and enjoy my meal away from home.
There are plenty of opportunities at other restaurants to teach my children the skills they need to dine out, but these restaurants give me a break from the stress and sweat of those lessons. They are my go-to restaurants if I want to enjoy a good meal and adult conversation with my husband.
I would love to hear about your favorite family-friendly restaurants in Sarasota where you like to dine with your kids. Please leave your favorites in the comments!