For me, there are three restaurants in Ybor that really define the place: La Columbia, La Tropicana, and Carmine's. Carmine’s serves Spanish, Italian, and Cuban food as well as some “American” dishes. I don’t recommend the American food. I mean, it’s like going to Kentucky for sushi.
Anyway, as the sign says, "son of a son of a restaurant owner" - Carmine's is a family business. The wait staff even acts like family. That's a big part of what I like about Carmine's - - it’s just a very warm atmosphere. Also, the surroundings are fun to look at. Carmine's has expanded over the years, so part of what is now the inside used to be patio space. The tessellated tiles that made up the patio (and are uniquely Ybor) have been lacquered over to make the floor. There's randomly interesting things all over the walls (not in a T. G. I. Friday's way), too.
Besides the nice people and nice digs, Carmine’s has some pretty good food. It’s not the excellence of La Columbia, but you’re not paying Columbia prices, either. The Italian food is probably the worst genre of food here (besides American), but it’s still pretty good. The Cuban / Spanish food is definitely noteworthy. For vegetarians, the black bean soup, platinos, and yellow rice are all made without any animal products. For horrible meat eaters, the crab rolls (not like crab cakes – this is rolled crab meat in a spiced crust), picadillo, and Cuban sandwiches are supposedly really good. If you don't feel like going in, there's a window in the front that you can order from. Also, it’s fun to sit at the bar and watch the sandwich man make like fifty Cubans at once.
Favorite Dish: Hands down my favorite thing here is the Vegetarian Cuban. They roast their own red peppers and mushrooms to replace the meat. It's awesome.
The brewpub was modern with an oddly industrial yet cozy feel to it with huge copper vessels and a very long bar with copper affixed in sheets that while looking cold managed to add an overall warmth to the bar. The two beer engines looked ornamental but I'd happily read that this South Florida bar indeed sold cask conditioned ale and was a primary reason for making the stop. Since it was still early in the day and we had a bit of driving to do we opted for two beers, shared between us. It was a good thing since our choices were both quite strong.
Favorite Dish: I went for the cask beer, an Indian Pale Ale of 6.8%. The Elephant Foot IPA was an unfiltered golden amber with low carbonation, a floral nose and big hop palate. There was some malt for balance but finish was long, dry and bitter. Doreen's Iron Rat Imperial Stout weighed in at 8% and since she would be driving the next leg of the trip I helped her drink this monster beer. Well, I did drive the four hours to the brewery in the early AM. It was served via nitrogen so a full bodied, creamy brew with a thin tan head and espresso nose. It had a bitter coffee palate that went malty before a dryish bitter finish. It was gorgeous and it would have been all too easy to have another of either of them but I was being good. Well, I did notice a Barley wine and asked the bartender for a sample. It was again a good choice rather than a full pint as its 10% would have likely had us spending the night in Ybor City! The aptly named Moose Killer was an amber beer had a thin head and fruity nose of a tropical/banana variety. The big malty palate was well balanced with tons of hops though it managed well not to be overly bitter. It was all too drinkable for its strength. Needless to say the pretzel appetizer was barely enough to sustain us under the weight of these big beers but they were tasty and served well to cleanse our palate between beers. Sheppard's Pie was on the menu and would have done the job too.
My great-grandfather was a waiter at La Columbia back in the day, and I've been eatting there my whole life. There are several branches of La Columbia, but the original is in Ybor City, and in my opinion, if you're gonna go to the Columbia, it should be here. The atmosphere is half of it - very old school Ybor. There's all these weird upstairs rooms that I remember going in when I was little (I think they are for private parties now), a big, gaudy faountain in the main room, a bar area, and a new dining room. All of it is quite cool.
Also, this is the best food you will eat in Ybor City - possibly all of Tampa. And their vegetarian food is actually vegetarian - they keep the dishes used to cook it seperate. Very cool, La Columbia, very cool!
Favorite Dish: My favourite thing at La Columbia is the gazpacho. Bar none - its the best!
Quaint, warm atmosphere, playing acid jazz / downbeat house with inspired food and exceptional service. Very cute chef, Franco.
Favorite Dish: My favorite dish! Why, that would have to be Chef Franco's meatballs, sausage and his superb marinara sauce. Now I have not tasted them yet... because I'm a good girl. I eat meat sparingly. But I got a look at them and boy, did they make me drool! Huge balls and firm, large sausages, drenched in a very rich sauce. (I should stop. It's making me VERY hungry!)
I promised the Chef that I would l try them. I mean, I want to, but what about self-restraint? How will I feel if I gave in so easily to my carnivorous ways?
Better for me to wait a while. I think in a few weeks maybe I'll be in a proper frame of mind to eat his hand prepared meat.
But I confess right here: I draw the line at eating sauce.Too rich. Chef Franco will really have to bribe me to eat his meat along with the the insanely high caloric cream sauce. Yikes!
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U P D A T E:
I finally broke down and partook of the flesh. Not bad - and the sauce is low-cal, too!
Mangia! The Meat is FINE at The Laughing Cat.
On the weekends, the very smart Italian Club serves pizza out of a little window in the front for a couple of bucks a slice. It's cheap and fast and fairly good. For a lot of drunk people it's the different between a stomach ache and alcohol poisoning, too.
Gaspar's Grotto is a bar, but they do serve some food. The service is pretty good here, and it's a definite finalist for the cleanest bar in its zip code.
The thing that really annoys me about this place is how (even though it's independently owned and operated), it feels like a T.G.I. Friday's. There's all this pirate garbage on the walls - like, everywhere. Everything is so purposefully done . . . it doesn't feel like a real bar to me.
Also, to up the anty on the tourist feel, there's tours that meet in front of the bar to explore the "haunted" parts of Ybor. Gag me with a spoon.
It's a nice place to hang out, but don't be suprised if some guy in a Buccaneers jersey asks you to swab his deck before the night's over.
Open only until 3 p.m., La Tropicana is a good place to go and eat for not much money. I'm a teacher, and we got lunch for 100 hungry 5th graders here while we were field tripping in Ybor . . . everyone seemed to enjoy it.
Favorite Dish: I like any form of bread that they stuff with guava here. Also, the cafe con leche is very, very good.
Usually things with the words "New York" in the title are anything but New Yorky, but this place is the real deal. It's the best overall delivery in the city - - and they are super nice. They have great manicotti and ravioli. Only D'Italia is better for pizza.
established in 1905 by hernandez gonzmart the columbia restaurant is an ybor city institution. the columbia is one of the best spanish/cuban restaurants in florida. the ybor city restaurant is the original with six other locations around the state. the columbia features a flamenco dance show every evening except sundays. the restaurant has a beautiful spanish courtyard in the center of the building. i highly recommend this restaurant when visiting the tampa area.
carmine's is located in the heart of ybor city's entertainment district. carmine's is a combination bar and restaurant. carmine's is an old casual restraurant that is a good place to have lunch. try one their cuban sandwiches.
Favorite Dish: cuban sandwich