5 Must-Try Tampa Restaurants | Top Tampa Restaurants

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Tampa is a city that is really a melting pot. It all started when Don Vicente Martinez Ybor, a Spanish cigar maker from Cuba, came. He loved what he saw and established his factory in Tampa’s Ybor City neighborhood.

He asked other cigar producers to join him in making this the world’s cigar production capital. Early residents in Tampa included Cubans, Spaniards, Sicilians, Italians, Romanian Jews, and others. Each ethnic group brings their own cuisine and culture. This resulted in a unique mix of flavours found only in Tampa.

5 Must-Try Tampa Restaurants

Columbia Dining Room

E. 7th Ave. 813-248-49612117 E. 7th Ave.

Most of the cuisine available in Tampa today originated at Columbia Restaurant. It has profound roots. Casimiro Hernandez, Sr. helped create the Columbia Saloon on December 17, 1903, which is still one of Tampa’s oldest restaurants today.

In 1905, he bought the business and renamed it Columbia Restaurant. It is the oldest in Florida and the world’s biggest Spanish restaurant. The Cuban Sandwich is ascribed to Casimiro Hernandez, Sr., however Miami claims to have originated it.

The Cuban Sandwich is an instructive gastronomic ethnic experience. Each component of the sandwich symbolizes a different group that arrived in Ybor City.

The Spaniards brought ham, the Sicilians salami, the Cubans roast pig, and the Germans and Jews brought their typical Swiss cheese, pickle, and mustard. All of the ingredients were put on Cuban bread and squeezed to melt the cheese and cook the other components.

Another Tampa creation is Cuban bread. Francisco Ferlita, a Cuban-Spanish-Italian immigrant, owns La Joven Francesca bakery.

It was in operation from 1896 through the 1960s. The Ybor City Museum State Park, which is situated in what used to be the bakery, has its own oven and recounts its own tale.

I had to try their signature 1905 Salad. It was created in the 1940s by Tony Noriega, one of their servers. At our table, our waitress tossed crisp iceberg lettuce, tomatoes, olives, julienne of cooked ham, Swiss cheese, and grated Romano cheese.

He topped it with Worcestershire sauce from Lea & Perrins and Columbia’s famed garlic dressing. Columbia was ranked one of the top ten places in the country to make a meal out of a salad by USA Today. They weren’t joking.

Despite the substantial salad, I tried the Croqueta de jaiba. It’s a Ybor City variant of Devil Crab Croquettes, which became famous during the cigar workers’ hard times. During a strike in the late 1920s, workers discovered that blue crabs were abundant in Tampa Bay and that Cuban bread was inexpensive.

Chilau is an Italian spice. They deep-fried it after tossing it in stale Cuban bread. The ones I had at Columbia were hot and packed with crab flesh. The crab flesh was mixed with enchilada mix, a tomato-based Cuban dish.

Gambas Al Ajillo was another popular tapa I tried. Large shrimp sautéed in extra-virgin Spanish olive oil with fresh garlic and chile pepper.

Their Alcachofas with Shrimp y Crabmeat are served with Cuban crackers. It’s a baked shrimp, crabmeat, and artichoke hearts dish with Romano cheese on top. The varied seafoods complement the artichoke, and the cheese adds a salty note.

I’m not a huge lover of calamari, but this Calamares Fritos Romana dish brings out the seafood flavor of the calamari.

Dessert had me liking something I never thought I’d like: guava. Their Guava Sales Carmita was a guava-filled turnover with melted sweet cream cheese.

It’s baked in a soft, crispy pastry and topped with powdered sugar and vanilla bean sauce. Carmen Hernandez, Casimiro Jr.’s wife, loved this dish. That gave me a whole new appreciation for guava.

Hernandez’s initial restaurant was a little corner structure that stood out among the other Tampa eateries. Columbia is now larger than a city block in size, with 15 dining rooms seating 1,700 people. Each area is distinct, making you feel as though you’re in a museum. The architectural design reflects the cultural mix.

The curving entryway and several of the tile murals have a Moorish influence. Some of the paintings and ancient brick walls have a Spanish vibe to them.

Columbia is now owned and operated by fourth and fifth generation family members. Casey Gonzmart, Sr. and his son, Casey, Jr., were eating in the Spanish patio dining room when I met them.

The bar is the original, dated from 1905. The wine cellar has one of the world’s greatest private Spanish wine collections.

Numerous celebrities, including Marilyn Monroe, Stephen King, Babe Ruth, Liberace, George Clooney, Bruce Springsteen, and others, have eaten at this Tampa restaurant. On Fridays and Saturdays, there is live music. At night, the Columbia Restaurant Dance Ensemble performs classic Spanish Flamenco Dances.

Irish Pub named after James Joyce

1724 East 8th Avenue (813) 247-1896

James Joyce Irish Pub, located in Ybor City, is another excellent Tampa restaurant. I warned you it was a mash-up of civilizations. It’s a smaller, more personal dining option than Columbia, but it’s just as good. It’s a red brick structure with enough green to give you an Irish vibe as soon as you approach. On colder days, it offers an outside patio and a side deck.

Enter the dark wood interior. If it’s a cold day in Florida, there could be a fire burning in one of the two fireplaces. Brass chandeliers help to illuminate the stained-glass windows.

The bartender behind the 30-foot-long dark oak bar provides 50 beers on tap, a bottled brew, and a selection of drinks. There are also a lot of options there, since they sell over 30 Irish whiskeys and a variety of other beverages. They earned the Tampa Bay Times Ultimate Bar of the Year award seven times.

Their bar and kitchen work nicely together. Chef Trey Taylor’s approach is novel, and it works. Their Jamison Burger has won Best Burger at the annual Burger Battle hosted at Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park. It’s a massive mouthful of meat blended with Jamisons whiskey and a few other culinary tricks.

Another example of combining alcohol and food is the Shepherds Pie, which is cooked with meat, lamb, Irish red potatoes, vegetables, and a big splash of Guinness beer.

Its menu is limited to appetizers, burgers, and salads, but they are all excellently made. I wasn’t really hungry when I ate there, but another item on the menu piqued my interest: the Rueben Quesadilla.

I had to try it and was blown away by the mix of German and Mexican culture in this Irish bar. Corned beef, Swiss cheese, and sauerkraut were wrapped in a crispy fried tortilla shell and served with a mustard and thousand island mixed dip.

The creamy cheese complemented the spicy sauerkraut without overpowering the corned meat. The spicy flavor from the dip made this a fantastic experience.

If you chance to be in Tampa on St. Patrick’s Day, this is the finest place to be. It is open from 11:00 a.m. until 3:00 a.m. everyday. Another perk for regular diners is the reward card, which provides benefits and deals the more often you eat there. If you’re traveling with a pet, it’s pet friendly.


North Highland Avenue, 813-999-4952

This is one of the Tampa Riverwalk eateries that is pronounced You-lay-lee in honor of Princess Ulele. She was the daughter of Tocoboga chief Hirrihigua, according to local folklore.

In 1528, she put herself in the path of 17-year-old Juan Ortiz, a member of the Pnfilo de Narvez expedition who had been ordered to be burned alive as retaliation for Spanish aggressions against the tribe.

The bright mix of ingredients from Florida waterways and terrain previously home to the Tocobaga people offers a picture of how native Americans dined in the 16th century, whether the narrative is real or not. The decor is similarly enjoyable.

The outdoor sitting area is bright orange and black, with enormous yellow umbrellas to shield against the Florida sun.

Native American artworks, including a statue of Ulele, adorn the courtyard. For some creative cooking, there is an outdoor bar and a 10-foot barbacoa barbecue. If you prefer beers to drinks or wine, there is an on-site brewery to keep you stocked. There are eccentric fairy tale scenes like Humpty Dumpty and Jack and his Beanstalk as you arrive and exit along the Riverwalk.

Within, there are other statures, such as a life-sized wild horse that dominates one part. The brick walls and stained-glass windows are reminiscent of the cathedrals left behind by the Spanish conquistadors in Spain.

The cuisine is distinctive. Native Chili, cooked with alligator, wild boar, venison, duck, ground chuck, cranberry beans, and chili spices, is one example. You can boost the ante by ordering the Loaded Chili, which includes jalapeo, red onions, and white cheddar.

I choose the Gator Tails. They were cooked crisp and seasoned with a tart chili marinade before being served with a spicy remoulade sauce. My buddy chose the Florida Pompano Pallardy.

It was pan-seared fresh pompano with crawfish tail flesh and a beurre blanc sauce. The wild rice mixture, crunchy carrot ribbons, and asparagus all looked delectable.

We split a Pineapple Upside-Down Bread Pudding and Candied Bacon Maple Ice Cream for dessert. The ice cream was unique in that it had a crunchy corn flake crust, Knob Creek crme anglaise, caramel, and waffle crisp. My favorite dish was the bread pudding. I tasted pineapple and appreciated the cool toasted coconut ice cream. It had a buttery-liquor taste thanks to the black rum sauce.

They were given a Michelin recommendation, so you know they’re doing something correctly. That is why it is one of the best restaurants in Tampa.

Bakery and Cafe Run by a Housewife

(813) 935-5106N Armenia Ave.

While traveling, one thing you should always do is eat where the natives do. Housewife Bakery & Café is one of those Tampa places that locals know about but that don’t appear in tour books.

It is a tiny family company that has been servicing Tampa since 1959 and is located in a former store on North Armenia Street near the Lowry Park Zoo.

It all started with Louis Perrone, who returned to Tampa after WWII. In 1912, he married Frances Alessi, the daughter of Tampas Alessi Bakery owners Nicola and Rosalia Alessi. Anthony and Dana Perrone, his son and daughter-in-law, took over the reins and recently handed them on to Tena Perrone, a third-generation owner.

The little structure is adorned with a mural on its side wall featuring cookies, pies, and a whimsical gingerbread home.

The selection of cookies exhibited in the cases as you enter the caf is anything from little. Brownies, nibbling rs, Italian cookies, and other delectables, around 32 types of cookies are housed in a single container. Another case has pastries, little eclairs, mini cream puffs, guava turnovers, and other goodies. Carrot cake, German chocolate cake, chocolate fudge cake, cream pies, and cheesecake take center stage in a towering rotating display that made my mouth wet just looking at it.

I purchased many variations of the cookies to eat while I drove about Tampa seeing all of the sites.

Breakfast, lunch, and sweet treats are available in the café. Their meals combine the family’s Italian cuisine with the significant Cuban culture in Tampa. A Cuban pig roast or Italian sausage is served with peppers and onions, chicken, and yellow rice.

mustard. Scacciatta is one of their Italian-inspired recipes. This is a pizza-like dish with tomato sauce, meat, and their own secret sauce on an unique dough foundation. The typical Cuban Sandwich is served here on their own Cuban bread, with salami, ham, cheese, pork, pickles, and a mayonnaise mixture.

Caf Macaws Landing

W. Sligh Avenue (813) 935-85521101 W. Sligh Avenue

Naturally, while visiting Tampa, you want to see some world-class attractions. The Lowry Park Zoo is one example. If you want to dine at a zoo, most just offer hot dog and snack kiosks, but Lowery Park has a more upmarket one.

It’s called Macaws Landing Caf. It’s hardly Michelin-starred, but it does serve some great sandwiches and salads. That was one of the best Tampa eateries after visiting Lucy, my favorite Florida panther.

Their hand-pressed burger or cheeseburger is one of their most popular items. Salad options include the Cobb and Caesar salads. Frozen custards and hand-spun milkshakes are available.

I went with the Traditional BLT. It was served boiling hot on thick pieces of toasted bread. The lettuce and tomatoes were both quite fresh.

My salad was tiny, but it featured some delicious cherry tomatoes and cucumber slices on a bed of mixed greens. You choose your favorite dressing, and I tried the raspberry vinaigrette. For me, it’s just tart enough.

Wrapping Up Tampa Restaurants

There’s something special about Tampa and the city. It’s something to look into the next time you’re in town, whether it’s the things to do or the Cuban sandwiches.

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