The Bricks of Ybor - 7th Ave, Ybor City
Ybor restaurants can really be hit or miss; there are some great little gems like the Laughing Cat tucked next to loud clubs, weird gay bars, and out of place biker bars. The Bricks of Ybor is definitely one of Ybor's precious stones. The restauranteurs describe their establish as a cross between a bar, a cafe, and a restaurant, but the comfortable interior and great food really make the Bricks shine.
We stopped in for a late lunch one Saturday in December. Though Ybor was quiet, the Bricks was surprisingly busy, with what seemed to be mostly locals. We grabbed a small table for two along the Brick wall decorated with painted skateboards, and Laura grabbed a coke, and I chose a local Cigar City Jai Alai IPA.
The menu is small, specializing in salads, four types of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, four different grilled cheese sandwiches, and about 10 other more standard restaurant sandwiches. Laura chose the deluxe grilled cheese ($8), made with mozzarella, tomato, spinach, red onion, and pesto on a pressed baguette. I decided on the blackened Ahi tuna BLT ($12), served with bacon, lettuce and tomato on sweet Hawaiian bread.
Jasmine Thai - Westshore Ave, South Tampa
Jasmine Thai, located on Westshore between Gandy and Bay to Bay (nearby Roberts BBQ, Galley Pizza, Green Iguana, The Wooden Door, and other local places), is a nice restaurant with solid, authentic Thai food. We decided to try this spot for dinner one Sunday night, and it was all but deserted.
We began our meal with great fried egg rolls, wrapped with rice paper, stuffed with shrimp, ground pork and crab meat, mushrooms, carrots, and onions for $6. For my meal, I decided on the light, but delicious "nam sod," a spicy Thai salad featuring ground pork mixed with ginger, peanuts, onions, bell peppers and flavored with spicy lemon dressing ($9). L had a great noodle dish, also around $9. We also had a few Singha Thai beers with our dinner.
The waitress on this night was about as authentic as you could get, struggling a bit with her English, but friendly and efficient.
There is another Jasmine Thai in North Tampa near Carrolwood. I'm not sure if it's under the same ownership.
Big Mo's Sports Bar-South Dale Mabry, South Tampa
Big Mo's Sports Bar, located in the SOGA (south of Gandy) area of Tampa, is a very popular, yet surprisingly disappointing place in South Tampa, just a half mile or so north of MacDill Air Force Base. We arrived on a random Wednesday night in December, and they had live rock and blues music by a one-man band guy, who encouraged others to play tambourine and join him at the microphone in song. The music was pretty good, but certainly not great.
The bar was packed, so we grabbed a small table near the singer and in view of about six nice flat-screen TVs. We ordered a few Yuengling bottles for just $3 each as we looked over the menu. Laura selected the burger, which was good and juicy, served along with some tasty tater tots. I chose the buffalo chicken sandwich, which was a sorry piece of ground, factory processed chicken, that absorbed a mild buffalo sauce. At least the fries were good.
Our meal was pretty cheap for two entrees, at 20 bucks, it is cheaper than a meal for two at IHOP.
PDQ Chicken, Salad, Sandwiches-Dale Mabry, S Tampa
PDQ--maybe it stands for Pretty Darn Quick or Particularly Damn Quirky--I don't know since it seems to be a trade secret. We stopped in one night thinking it would be pretty darn quick, but alas, the drive through lane had about 10 cars and the counter had another 10 or so people waiting to order, slowing down our meal.
The wait for our chicken salad and chicken sandwich was pretty darn quick, maybe 10 minutes from walking in the door until we had our food, but the place is particularly damn quirky, with old ladies who can't figure out how to use the soft drink machines and--for some reason--a hand washing station in the dining room next to the kitchen.
Luckily we got our food to go and enjoyed our quick meal in our quirky home.
This seems to be a new niche restaurant, focusing on fast American food in a modern, comfortable environment, similar to Pei Wei Asian restaurant or maybe Panera Bread. The customer base will likely end up being teenagers and young 20-somethings, so its location across the street from Plant High is ideal.
PDQ was created by the founders of Outback Steakhouse and Bonefish Grill (both also established in the Tampa Bay area), so it will probably be successful.
The Jerk Hut-3 locations: USF, S. Tampa, dpowntown
The Jerk Hut is a great Caribbean / Jamaican restaurant with three locations around Tampa including on in South Tampa on Gandy, one in downtown Tampa near Lykes Gaslight Park, and another near USF on Fletcher or Fowler Ave (is there a difference?).
We stopped in the South Tampa location, which is certainly the newest and smallest of the three. In fact, this location has just a drive through with out three tables outside along busy Gandy Boulevard. We pulled up to the store about 9pm, just minutes before they closed for the day. We ordered the jerk chicken and jerk pork dinners, but they informed us they were out of most side dishes... no problem, we'll take whatever you have! We ended up with a half chicken, a pile of tasty, juicy pork, a mound of macaroni and cheese, and their unique steamed cabbage, along with a huge salad that lasted about three days.
Th food was surprisingly good for fast food, and the staff very friendly.
SideBern's Restaurant - South Howard
SideBern's is an appropriately named restaurant located next to Bern's, the steakhouse that is famous across much of the land. SideBern's is also owned by Bern's, but has an almost entirely opposite atmosphere, but the food is equally good at both. While Bern's is stuffy and old-fashioned fancy, SideBern's is modern and trendy, yet still just classy enough for a great dinner. In either restaurant you can wear blue jeans, but you may stand out just a bit from the other customers in dress pants and button up shirts.
We made reservations, arrived at about 8:45pm, and after giving the car to the valet, we were quickly seated in the main dining room. I started with a Lost Coast Brewery's Winterbraun, a tasty English brown ale that is only brewed in the winter; later I had a Laginitas Little Sumpin' Wild beer.
For dinner we started with their ink braised octopus, cooked with tomato, capers, raisins, pine nuts, and red chile, and served with garlic toast for $13. It was a delicious, yet odd inky black, start to our meal. Laura's entree was the duck breast with cabbage, raclette cheese potato croquettes, mushrooms, and horseradish juniper sauce for about $34. I had the Mediterranean sea bass, also about $34. For dessert, we enjoyed a tasty apple tart ($10), with rosemary, walnuts, caramel, vanilla ice cream and served with creamy pecorino cheese.
This is a great restaurant in a nice environment with really good food and top-notch service.
Sa Ri One Korean Restaurant - Tampa
Sa Ri One (or, perhaps more properly Sa Ri Won) is the only Korean restaurant I have discovered in the Tampa area. It sits along I-275, clearly visible to passing motorists, but is kind of hard to find. They have a tiny parking lots that gets full even when only half of the tables in the establishment are full.
We arrived one Saturday night after Christmas shopping on nearby Dale Mabry St, and were starving after skipping breakfast and lunch. We started with the haemul jeon, which is a spicy Korean pancake stuffed with pieces of seafood such as octopus and squid. For our meals we decided on the traditional Kalbi ribs and the samgyopsal, with is basically bacon. The meals came with a variety of classic Korean sides such as bean sprouts, kimchi, and spinach.
The food was pretty good, but I was disappointed that it didn't live up to the great meals I enjoyed in Korea. The kalbi was cut wrong (across the bone rather than with the bone), and the only samgyopsal option had kimchi mixed in and didn't taste freshly cooked. Furthermore, I'd hoped the meat might be grilled on the table in front of us. Oh well, not a bad place!
Robert's Meat Market, Smokehouse & BBQ
Roberts Barbecue--officially known as Robert's Meat Market, Sandwich Shop, BBQ Smokehouse and Catering--is a hidden gem in an off-the-beaten-path location in South Tampa. The building barely looks llike a restaurant, perhaps more of an old school meat market, but the right side of the building does seat about 20 or 30 customers at the small tables covered with red checkered tablecloths.
We had a quick lunch here late on a Saturday afternoon. I had their 6 ounce grilled filet mignon sandwich ($7.99), topped with bacon, provolone, lettuce, tomato, and mayo and served with french fries. It was a tiny bit overcooked for a medium temperature, but it was still tender and flavorful. Laura had the blackended grouper sandwich ($10), with fries and cheese. I Thought it was a bit over seasoned, but just as good as the filet mignon sandwich.
They have a simple menu, just sandwiches and barbecue, but they have a huge variety of both. Their sandwiches include burgers, two kinds of steak sandwiches, Cubans, ham and cheese, turkey breast, chicken fajita, three kinds of fish sandwiches, and shrimp po' boys. Their barbecue includes ribs, pork, beef, brisket, chicken, and smoked salmon.
Good, friendly, unique spot in South Tampa, with a great variety of tasty smoked and barbecued meats
The Refinery - Seminole Heights, Tampa
The refinery is one of the up and coming restaurants in an up and coming neighborhood of Tampa. The interior is plain and sparse, but the food is top notch and spectacular. They do have an open-air deck upstairs that is probably a great place to relax in the spring and fall when the weather is pleasant.
We wanted to start with the poached oysters, but the waitress informed us they had run out, so we chose the "machacado con huevo" ($7), a Spanish dish which consists of shredded dry beef scrambled with eggs served over a thin buckwheat pancake, with potatoes and corn. For my dinner, I chose their hanger steak ($19), cooked medium and served with roasted potatoes and squash. Laura had the grilled pork chop ($18), served with purple pole bean casserole, roasted carrots, and tarragon-horseradish butter. The food was some of the best I've had in Tampa, and the service good, if a bit amateurish.
For our beers, Laura had the Pumpkinhead Ale from Shipyard Brewery in Maine, I had the Hop Strike Black Rye-IPA from Tommyknocker Brewery in Colorado. The Hop Strike was interesting and tasty enough to drink two; the pumpkin head, a pumpkin ale, was below average.
Love's Artifacts Bar & Grill-MacDill Ave, S. Tampa
Love's Artifacts Bar & Grill is a casual local restaurant in South Tampa, that started as a street stall and recently became an real restaurant with walls and a roof. From the outside Love's is pretty plain, but inside, it is rather unique, with antique furniture, models of historic objects, and old books.
When you walk in from the parking lot, the bar and lounge is on the left and a dining room is on the right. We sat in the bar area at a small table for two a few feet from the bar counter and the stage. Playing this night was a local guitarist and singer, who performed a variety of older 70s and 80s music like the Eagles.
For our meals we chose two of the house specials: the South MacDill Fried Chicken Platter and the "Did You See That Rack" of Pork Ribs. Both were great, but I particularly liked the tender, juicy chicken with crispy fried skin, which is served as a breast, a thigh and a wing. The ribs come with three big beef ribs, and both dishes are served with two side dishes.
Love's just opened in 2010 after converting from a used car lot to a food stand to a full scale restaurant.
Gogos Greek Grill - Kennedy Ave near Westshore
Looking for take out food in Tampa late on a Sunday evening? Good luck; there really aren't many options. While driving around trying to find something, I stumbled across Gogos Greek Grill, which is open until 10pm on Sundays.
Their set up is "fast casual," similar to a Subway, Chiplotle, Panera Bread, or Qdoba, where you order at the counter, pay, then take your food to the casual dining area to eat. I wandered up to the counter and decided to try two of their pitas, one with beef, the other with chicken. On both I got the standard vegetables: lettuce, tomato, olives, onions, and a squirt of tzatziki sauce. For sides, I selected the Greek lemon potatoes, and herb seasoned rice. My total bill for two sandwiches and two big sides was about $10, very cheap for Tampa. I got the food to go, so I could get home and watch football.
The pitas were very good, especially the tender, juicy chicken. The sides were also tasty and seemingly authentic for a Greek place like Gogos.
The owners of Gogos also have started a number of other successful restaurant ventures including The Rack in the SoHo area of Tampa. Gogos offers dine in, carry out, online ordering, and catering.
Tate's Pizza (Galley Pizza) - Westshore, S Tampa
On the way home from a bar one night, we decided to call Galley Pizza and order a large pizza with peperoni and mushrooms. We quickly made the call and were given a delivery time of 45 minutes. We arrived home, and shortly thereafter our pizza arrived, hot and fresh, for about $15 plus tip. This pizza was simple, but absolutely delicious due to the unique and flavorful blend of cheeses they use.
We've also stopped into the restaurant a time or two. The small establishment has a simple dining room on the left and a popular neighborhood bar on the right. We enjoyed a bit of baseball on TV while eating a few Philly steak sandwiches (some of the best around!). Our meals were less then $10 each, and the Yuengling drafts were only a few bucks.
They are conveniently located in South Tampa, near some other great spots like the original Westshore Pizza, the original Green Iguana, and the Wooden Door pub. The local establishment has been in business over 30 years. This is also the local Steelers and Eagles bar in South Tampa.
While we were there in 2011, we discovered the bar had recently been sold to the Tate family, and it will soon be renamed "Tate's Pizza." In the meantime, the bar is still open and offering the same good food in a friendly atmosphere.
The Pub - International Plaza
The Pub, located in the International Plaza near Tampa's airport, is a big, traditional pub in a popular shopping center. The Pub, which features a British atmosphere, is a small chain with locations in about 10 cities, including Orlando and Dayton, Ohio. They have dozens of beers on tap, including local and European beers. They also offer great food such as fish and chips, bangers and mash, and the like. Even better, the waitresses all wear short plaid skirts. The bad news: the waiters wear short plaid skirts, too.
We had dinner here one summer evening and the restaurant was busy but not packed. We grabbed a few stools at the bar. I had a few beers and a hamburger; Laura had a lamb burger. The burger was good, but not great.
Pei Wei Asian - South Dale Mabry
Pei Wei Asian offers very good Asian fast food, in a nice setting that feels almost like a real sit down restaurant. I guess the style--where you order at a counter, then the food is delivered to your table--is defined as fast casual, and is similar to Chipotle, Panera Bread, or Qdoba.
We arrived one evening and were surprised to find the Tampa Pei Wei restaurant full of young people, mostly teenagers and college kids. We ordered a few dishes-- I had the spicy Korean dish with beef, hot pepper sauce, garlic, mushrooms, onions, carrots, bean sprouts, and toasted sesame seeds. It definitely had all the right flavors and reminded me of my time in Seoul, Korea.
Pei Wei is owned by P. F. Chang's China Bistro, and they specialize in foods from China, Japan, Korea, Vietnam, and Thailand. All of the food is made to order, rather then pre-made like traditional fast food. The price are very reasonable, with nothing on the menu over about $8 or $9. The chain has a hundred or so restaurants nationwide, including 21 in Florida. They offer ordering online, with pickup in the store.
Laughing Cat Italian Restaurant - Ybor City
We went to a birthday dinner at the Laughing Cat in Ybor City. Ybor is known for its dance clubs, gay bars, biker bars, and other societal riffraff, so I didn't expect much of the Laughing Cat. But once we found the place, I was impressed with this nicer-than-average restaurant tucked away on 15th Street.
We sat at a big table that barely fit our huge 20-person group, but it was comfortable and enjoyable. The service was far better than I expected, and the food spectacular. We started with a San Giuseppe pinot ($9) and a Peroni beer ($5). For dinner, Laura had he ravioli del golfo with shrimp, sea scallops, and crab meat sautéed with cheese ravioli, Portobello mushrooms, tomatoes and basil, finished in
white wine with a touch of cream and topped with Parmesan cheese ($23). I had the Gnocchi di Colore di Tri ($17), which included Filet Mignon, prosciutto, mushrooms, and onions sautéed in white wine, served over homemade tricolor potato dumplings, finished in a tomato sauce with a touch of cream ($17). The food was excellent and the portions enormous.
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