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Tampa Bay is home to a rich and flavourful culinary scene – much of it is inspired by the deep Cuban and Spanish roots in the area, so you will be sure to find a lot of seafood and dishes such as paella and of course, the iconic Cuban sandwich which was invented in Tampa Bay!
No list of Tampa Bay restaurants would be complete without including Columbia. Established in 1905, it is Florida’s oldest restaurant and the largest Spanish restaurant in the world – it seats 1,700 people and encompasses an entire city block. There are multiple locations, but the flagship restaurant is in Tampa, in the iconic Ybor City neighbourhood. Their expansive menu features authentic Spanish and Cuban cuisine – some highlights are their Paella “a la Valenciana” and their iconic Cuban Sandwich. Another must-have is their original “1905” Salad – hand-made right at your table, it’s made with lettuce, tomato, ham, Swiss cheese, olives, their secret dressing, Romano cheese, Worcestershire sauce and lemon juice. Trust us, it’s delicious! And no Spanish meal would be complete without Sangria – it is also made at your table with their own house wine and fresh citrus. They also have live Flamenco performances every day but Sunday, guaranteeing your meal at Columbia will be a night you will never forget!
Ulele (pronounced You-lay-lee) is a popular restaurant located on Tampa' Bays Riverwalk that is inspired by the indigenous people of Florida. Their menu brings together fresh and local ingredients in unique flavor combinations, along with original signature cocktails and house-brewed beer. The menu changes seasonally, but some popular menu items include local Grouper with a Gouda bechamel sauce, Yellowfin Tuna crusted with pumpkin seeds drizzled with a ginger soy grapefruit reduction, and alligator hush puppies with horseradish aioli. Housed in the renovated city waterworks building, the restaurant could be described as rustic, industrial chic, creating an open and airy dining space. You can also enjoy the beautiful Florida weather on their patio, or in their beer gardens or rooftop lounge.
Voted best restaurant 2 years in a row, Rooster & the Till is one of Tampa Bay’s most popular new restaurants. Their creative menu is inspired by fresh, local produce, which they use to create inventive dishes that are the definition of Instagram-worthy. They keep their regular guests on their toes by inviting in guest chefs, hosting Pop Up events and always changing up their tasting menu. Some of the plates on their menu currently include pork belly with cornbread, spiced honey and pickled apple as well as gnocchi with short ribs, smoked ricotta and stewed tomatoes. They are equally inventive with their cocktails and desserts – you'll definitely want to try the walnut chiffon cake with cheesecake cream, brown butter crumble and carrot gelato.
Datz is a mainstay in Tampa Bay when it comes to comfort food pared with inventive cocktails and craft beer. The restaurant has been featured on Good Morning America, the Travel Channel, the Food Network and the Cooking Channel, and it’s not hard to see why! Try “The Cheesy Todd”, a classic American cheeseburger with a twist – instead of bread, the burger is housed between two bacon-jalapeno mac n’ cheese “buns”. They also do delicious breakfast, tons of sandwich and taco options and local classics like shrimp and grits. They also have many must-try cocktails, like the Prickly Pear Mimosa, made with sparkling wine, mandarin-tangerine puree and prickly pear, which comes from a cactus.
Datz is also part of a restaurant group that includes Dough, a whimsical, from scratch bakery located next door to Datz, Roux, an upscale New Orleans-style kitchen with a South Tampa twist, and Dr. BBQ in St. Petersburg.
If you go to Tampa Bay and don’t eat a Cuban sandwich, did you even go to Tampa Bay? If you’re searching for the real deal, look no further than La Segunda bakery – they supply the bread for many restaurants to make their own Cuban sandwiches, including Columbia restaurant above. They put a lot of love and care into their products – their Cuban bread takes about 8 hours to make! They make theirs the traditional way, with marinated pork, smoked ham, Genoa salami, Swiss cheese, pickles and their special Cuban sauce. The bakery also serves a variety of other sweet and savory baked goods, soup and salads as well as other sandwiches. Remember to also get a traditional Café con Leche to go with your meal!
"X” marks the spot at Gen X Tavern. If you grew up in the 80s or 90s, this restaurant will give you major flashbacks. It’s completely decked out in retro décor with a contemporary twist – think old TVs, photos of classic movies like Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and a light fixture made of floppy disks. Even their food is a throwback to the good old days, with dishes like the MacGyver Burger or Griswold’s BBQ Grilled Chicken. They also have an amazing cocktail list with drinks for everyone – try the Breakfast Club Martini or the Strawberry Starburst!
Written by Andrea Zakaib