Culinary department at the Art Institute: Masterchefs in the making
Having visited the Art Institute a couple of times, I have to give major credit to these chefs-in-training. The food at the grab-n-go cafe and the sit-down restaurant is fabulous, and better than a lot of restaurants in Tampa! Enjoy a fresh sandwich or reasonably priced meal almost everyday on campus.
Buddy Brew: Strong local coffee
Sip on Tampa's finest at the tiny little local cafe - Buddy Brew. This place is a fun stop for us when we head into Tampa. Books, magazines and a general boho vibe + the humongous grinder keep the energy up. They don't serve food, so don't go hungry!
Favorite Dish: Cafe Mocha
Kona Grill: Happy Hour with the locals
Happy Hour at Kona Grill is awesome!! Almost all afternoon and evening on weekdays, you'll see all of Tampa's corporate professionals wining and dining on yummy sushi, delightful noodles and other asian inspired apps.
Favorite Dish: Sushi, Pan Asian noodles
Columbia Restaurant: Spanish/Cuban with history+ambience!
Columbia is hands down one of the most gorgeous restaurants in Tampa Bay! Located in Ybor, it is set in the original cigar factory time location. Enjoy spanish and cuban cuisine in a grand atmosphere (without the price!) Sip on tableside sangria, break off some hot Cuban bread and delight in afternoon conversation like it was the 50s. The restaurant features stunning, hand-picked decor, tiles, even a specially flown in fountain and more than 12 dining/banquet areas + a store. Make a reservation and catch a flamenco show!
Favorite Dish: The bread, the chorizo tapas and tableside mojitos and sangria!
Bavaro's: Thin delicious pizza and intimate ambience
Bavaro's is without doubt my fave Italian place in all Tampa Bay! The place is intimate, delightful and makes for a romantic night out:) Enjoy the coal oven thinnnn pizza, fresh salads, and yummy desserts.
Favorite Dish: Margarita with garlic!
Steak 'n Shake - Tampa
Steak 'n Shake is a fast food restaurant, but a bit better and more original than your average McDonald's or Burger King. The restaurant specializes in steak burgers, fries, and milkshakes. The burgers are tasty and thick and the fries very thin and crispy. Supposedly the burgers are called steakburgers because they contain a mix of T-bone, sirloin, and strip steak.
Datz Deli - South MacDill Ave, South Tampa
The place is called Datz Delicatessen, and their signs and exterior have a distinct 1950s deli vibe. Maybe just a place to get lunch on a Sunday?
Don't be fooled by the name or the exterior. Yes, they have sandwiches and lots of them (around 40), 15 bagel varieties, 20 kinds of bread, and tons of cheese varieties. But Datz also has three bars, 75 types of unique beers, 1,700 bottles of wine, and live music on the weekends, meaning this deli is so much more than your average neighborhood deli. This is a neighborhood destination for unique nightlife, tasty beverages and excellent food.
We arrived late one Friday night, around 9:30pm, hoping to get dinner. The parking lots and local street parking were packed, so we drove around and finally found a place to park. When we entered the deli, we were told it would be about 30 minutes for a table, so we went to the bar hoping to get a drink and find a few stools where we could order dinner. We got the beers no problem--Laura had a Southern Pecan and I had a hefeweizen. Later I also had a local Cigar City Brewing Company Jai Alai IPA.
We were seated right at 10pm, just as their kitchen was closing, so we quickly ordered some food. For dinner, I had sandwich #25, called "'Cue The Brisket," with sliced smoked brisket, cole slaw, Datz bbq sauce, on a sweet sourdough bun, served with their special homemade sweet-n-salty chips drizzled with blue cheese dressing and topped with green onions ($11). Laura had the homemade pan-seared meatloaf served with garlic mashed potatoes and peas ($15).
We have also had food delivered from Datz, using Tampa's local delivery service, Mealcab. Laura had "Roger’s Rockin’ Reuben" which is served with corned beef, sauerkraut, Swiss cheese, and Russian dressing, on grilled Jewish rye for $12. I had "Matt’s Wild, Wild West" which has smoked beef brisket, roasted green chilies, provolone cheese, zesty bbq sauce, lettuce, and tomato on a sweet sourdough bun for $14.
The food was tasty and unique, the beers outstanding, and the service OK. The worst things here are the parking and the long wait for a table, both of which testify to the popularity of Datz.
In 2011 Tampa Bay Metro Magazine named Datz the "Best Lunch Menu" in the Tampa Bay area!
El Puerto Argentinian Grill - Ybor City
El Puerto is a great Argentinian restaurant that features a huge assortment of grilled meats, but also offers a variety of seafood. We had dinner here one busy Saturday night and the only available seats were at the crowded bar. We squatted down on two stools, ordered a few Dos Equis beers, and looked over the menu.
I quickly decided on what is probably the biggest dinner on the menu, called the Parrillada, which is $22 for one person or $40 for two people. This massive meal consists of seven grilled meats, a grilled onion, and two sides. The meats are Argentinian sausage, short ribs, skirt steak, chicken breast, pork chop, sweet bread or molleja (some kind of internal organ), and morcilla (blood sausage). The sausages were tender and juicy, as was the skirt steak. The short ribs were a bit gristly, and the chicken and pork ended up overcooking on the hot iron skillet upon which they serve the meats. For my sides, I ordered the black beans and yellow rice; the rice never arrived, but I was stuffed after all that meat anyway.
The food was really good, and served in a massive quantity--they really could cut the portion in half and satisfy most customers! The service was OK, but nothing special, especially at the bar, where there was no dedicated bartender. They only charged me for one of my two beers, so I guess that made up for the missing rice and average service.
La Creperia Cafe - Ybor City
La Creperia Cafe is one of the most highly rated restaurants in Ybor, so we had to give it a try. We stopped in late one Saturday morning for lunch. The restaurant was full, so we sat at the counter where we could watch the staff make crepes.
They have a gigantic menu with about 66 different options for crepes, many with cheesy names that don't really describe the contents of each crepe, meaning it will take you 20 minutes just to dig through the menu and make a decision (a good example is the "stallion" crepe. Does it contain horse meat? No, it is Italian sausage. Why not just call it an Italian sausage crepe?).
I actually had the stallion crepe, which contained the aforementioned Italian sausage, along with eggs, cheese, onions and green peppers. Basically an Italian sausage sandwich in a crepe. It was OK, but I wouldn't get this next time. I think I'd stick with something more traditional.
California Tacos XPress - World of Beer, S. Howard
World of Beer on South Howard has been one of our favorite spots in Tampa since it opened in 2011 or so. However, one of my biggest complaints has always been its lack of food. Sure they let you order from some of the good South Howard restaurants, like the Deck, deliver here. But it just isn't the same.
During a recent visit, I was looking the delivery options on the menu, and the waiter said, "hey, try the tacos!" I didn't even notice the California Tacos stand right there next to the building and the back parking lot. I had one of their huge "Amped Tacos" with carne asada, tomatoes, onions, shredded cabbage, and cilantro. It was fantastic and dirt cheap at about $4. All of their food is cooked to order, so it is fresh!
Diners, Drive-ins and Dives visited their original location near USF once.
Hula Bay Club - South Tampa
Hula Bay is a very cool place right on the water with views to the south west. The bar, restaurant, and club seems to be very popular among a younger crowd, who enjoy their pool parties and DJs. Older customers probably prefer the deck overlooking the water for dinner and drinks.
We arrived around 8pm and the restaurant and other businesses in this area in an industrial district looked packed because people were parking in the grass on the street and next to the rail road tracks. We pulled into the parking lot and saw a few free spots, but I decided to loop around the front of the restaurant to get a better look; luck I did because the sign said the whole parking lot was reserved for the Yacht Club or some such fancy thing. We drove back out and parked in the wet grass with the others, then walked into the restaurant.
As we walked up the steps, the first thing we noticed was the outdoor lounge around the pool--so thins is where the famous pool parties take place. Inside the restaurant, there is a large bar to the left, and a modern, trendy dining room to the right. Outside is a nice desk over the water.
To avoid a wait to sit outside, we decided to get a table inside. The dining room was nice, but very empty. We quickly decided to have a couple of hamburgers. I chose the Malibu Beach burger ($8.50) with chipotle mayo, provolone, crumbled bacon, avocado, pico and sprouts on a ciabatta roll. Laura had the Hula Bay burger ($9) with garlic teriyaki and honey Dijon sauce, bacon, Swiss and grilled pineapple. Both were cooked to perfection and served with unique U-shaped fries. We also tried the two house hot sauces on the table; I certainly preferred the green chili sauce. For drinks I had the Landshark Lager ($4.20) and Laura had a Pina Colada ($6).
We'll be back, as this is one of the most comfortable yet trendy places we've found in the city.
We returned a few months later, this time in the summer, and the inside was pretty busy at around 9pm. We just wanted a few drinks so we sat at the bar, where we could also watch a Rays baseball game. The bartender was so preoccupied with trying to pick up girls that we had to wait about ten minutes just to let him know what we wanted to drink. Laura had a pina colada ($9!!!) and I just stuck with a trusty old Yuengling ($3). I paid with a $20, and shortly after the bartender brought change, he came back and grabbed it off the bar thinking it was his tip.... an $8 gratuity after being ignored for 10 minutes seems a bit steep to me, so I quickly stopped him and left a dollar... I felt that was more than generous.
Warnings on parking at Hula Bay: They have a big paved lot that seems to be reserved entirely for valet parking. People who do not want to pay for parking usually park on either side of Tyson Ave in the grass. These spots are OK, as long as you avoid the fire hydrants, the train tracks, and the swampy ditch. I have seen the bar staff track down car owners and ask them to move their vehicles because a train was coming (they come slow). I also almost got stuck in the muddy ditch one day... it took me 10 minutes of trying to get out; later in the evening someone parked right next to me and really got stuck.
In 2011 Tampa Bay Metro Magazine named Hula Bay the "Best Laid Back Eatery" in the Tampa Bay area!
Red Elephant Cafe - Dale Mabry & Kennedy
The Red Elephant in Tampa opened in summer of 2012, but it has nothing to do with the Republican convention. Red Elephant is a new Florida restaurant chain that is one of many Tampa-area restaurants that has been started by gentlemen with close ties to Outback Steakhouse (the others include Lee Roy Selmon's, PDQ Chicken, World of Beer and Carmel Cafe).
While this is the eighth Red Elephant restaurant, this is the first to employ the fast casual restaurant model. Fast casual restaurants are a growing trend of restaurants (that includes PDQ and Pei Wei in Tampa) where you order at the counter and have quickly made, high-quality food delivered to your table.
I had their mojo rice bowl, a bowl of black bean, mojo sauce and chicken ($7), steak ($8) or veggie ($6.50). The food was delicious, and the atmosphere of the restaurant clean and comfortable.
That's Amore - Harbor Island, Tampa
Wes topped at That's Amore one night after fireworks at Channelside. We didn't know this restaurant existed until we walked past it earlier in the evening. At around 9:30 pm, the sidewalk tables were mostly full, so we grabbed a seat at the nearly empty bar, where some old guy was hitting on some even older lady.
We had a few beers and their homemade tiramisu while we watched the entertaining old people. The tiramisu was really good, ans the beers relatively inexpensive.
If you come for dinner, you will find That's Amore has a wide variety of pastas and seafood, with a nice view over one of Tampa's channels towards the Tampa Bay Times Forum.
Ciro's Speakeasy - S. Howard & Bayshore
Ciro's is a throwback, Prohibition-style speakeasy hidden in an apartment building near the intersection of South Howard and Bayshore in South Tampa. Even if you know exactly where it is located, you might have trouble finding it the first time. You will need to pay for valet parking or park on the street a block or two away. When you approach the building, you will enter on the side facing South Howard, next to a swimming pool. There is a big wooden door, with an old school hatch where they will request the password of the day... if you make reservations, they will call you back the day of the reservation with with password.
Once we were inside, we had a seat at one of their tiny tables and we ordered drinks. I settled for a beer, but the others had Ciro's specialty mixed drinks, all homemade with fresh ingredients. We had a few entrees, including the steak tenderloin and the duck fat fries, both were excellent!
Really a great place to eat, as long as you know to expect an old-fashioned style speak easy, but not a fancy New York City bar. This is still Tampa!
Taco Bus - Hillsborogh Ave, Seminole Heights
Taco Bus is one of Tampa's most highly discussed restaurant, surprisingly on par with Bern's Steakhouse and the Columbia Restaurant when it comes to publicity. Taco Bus, as you might guess, is a much lower class experience than the other two, but it is delightful in its own way. This is the front runner in Tampa's ever expanding food truck scene.
Taco bus has some buildings, but they really do serve Tacos out of a bus. The bus certainly looks inoperable, as it is attached to the building with electricity, water, sewage, and other utilities. You order from the window on the side of the bus, pay, and take your number to one of the tables located in the dirt parking lot, under a flimsy roof. The food will be brought out quickly, and it is very good. We shared four different tacos (choose from carne asada (steak), carne de res desebrada (shredded beef), babacoa (braised beef), pollo (choicken), pollo verde desebrado (chicken with green tomatillo sauce), cochinita pibil (Mayan shredded pork), lengua (beef tongue), fish, and shrimp.... and we had sides of refried beans and Spanish rice.
The food was good, but you really come here for the atmosphere and the experience.
Besides the Seminole Heights location, Taco Bus can be found in downtown Tampa, near USF in Tampa, and downtown St. Pete. The USF location has abandoned the bus concept and is located in a traditional restaurant setting.
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