The one place you must eat while in Tampa is the Columbia Restaurant. Since 1905 it has been a Tampa tradition, and one of the most celebrated restaurants in the city.
The Columbia has received numerous rewards including induction into the "Fine Dining Hall of Fame" in Nation's Restaurant News,, the "Golden Spoon Award" in Florida Trends "Award of Untimate Distinction", by Wine Enthusiast, Our Favorite Romantic Restaurant" by Southern Living. and others. Even the government of Spain has designated Columbia Restaurant "Five Forks" as an "Outstanding Spanish Restaurant in North America.
We were very appreciative that my old friends who live in Tampa, Ernest and Ann Roberts, took us to lunch here because they wanted us to have a unique Tampa dining experience.
Columbia Restaurant has become a small chain with 7 stores scattered around Florida. However, the one at Ybor City, in the old part of downtown Tampa, is the original. It is in it's 5th generation of family ownership and operation, holding the distinction of being the oldest restaurant in Florida and the largest Spanish restaurant in the world. Although it is BIG, seating 1,700 people, these are scattered in 15 dining rooms, giving the restaurant a much more intimate feeling.
Favorite Dish: We ordered a Columbia Restaurant speciality - baked chicken and Spanish Rice. It was very good and more than I could eat.
The Columbia opened in Ybor City around the turn of the century (1900), and it embodies the history and atmosphere of the city. The original restaurant is in Ybor City, however there are also newer locations in Clearwater and Sarasota. The interior of the restaurant is stunning with potted palm trees, ornate tile mosaics, and a huge fountain. The restaurant also has Flamenco dancing shows in the evenings.
This is where the locals go for special occasions. We take our parents there for mothers and fathers day, etc. It is really a Tampa Tradition.
The Columbia serves traditional Spanish food, and I've never had a bad meal there. The Clearwater location is directly on the water, but it lacks some of the perfection of the Ybor Restaurant.
Note: A trip to the Columbia can be kind of pricey. Consider going for lunch. Their lunch menu serves smaller portions of the dinner entrees at more affordable prices.
Favorite Dish: If you go to the Columbia you must try:
1. The Sangria (made in front of your table... delicious)
2. The signature 1905 salad
There are many excellent entrees. If you've never had Spanish food you may want to give the Roast Pork or the Paella a try. My personal favorite is the Palomilla steak (thin steak with lime juice and chopped onions).
My 2nd favorite local restaurant is La Columbia. (The best hole-in-the-wall place is crowded enough already without tourists showing up! :)
The Columbia Restaurant in Ybor City is the finest Spanish restaurant in town. Some have called it the best in America. It is a slice of what Ybor used to be. Simply put: if you're in town, you must visit.
The place is huge (an entire city block) with historical tile mosaics covering most of the exterior walls, indoor courtyards featuring a large fountain, traditional Spanish decor, and interesting upstairs rooms, passages, and balconies. Throw in nightly flamenco shows and a 100-year tradition of impeccable service and excellent food, and you've got a superior dining experience.
Favorite Dish: Paella, the gem of Spanish Cuisine. Mounds of local seafood cooked in perfectly seasoned yellow rice. We had our wedding reception at the Columbia and ordered up an enormously huge pot for everyone. By the end of the evening, it was empty. Mmmmm!!!
There was a restaurant called the Columbia Restaurant (I think) it was wonderful!!! It had lots of character. The menu featured a lot of authentic Columbian dishes.
There was a large fountain in the middle of the restaurant. Lots of Mosaic Tiles depicting pictures throughout the restaurant.