Tampa's Dynamic Food Scene Includes Abundant Fresh Ingredients, World-Class Chefs
By Skye Rodgers
Tampa Local Expert
Traditionally, Tampa may be best known for its fresh seafood and authentic Cuban dishes. However, the food scene in Tampa has been heating up in recent years producing a wave of innovative new eateries. These new restaurants are pushing the culinary envelope by utilizing Tampa's abundance of fresh ingredients to create dishes with a fresh Florida flavor. To help you find the perfect meal, 10 Best has put together a list of the best Tampa has to offer, drawing from both new and established restaurants.
For a traditional taste of Tampa, visitors can't go wrong with a meal at the Columbia restaurant in Ybor city. The Columbia is Florida's oldest restaurant and has served up traditional Cuban and Spanish dishes since 1904. But the Columbia is more than just a good meal, the interior is huge with many different dining areas featuring beautiful architectural decorations and tile work. In addition, guests are able to enjoy an authentic Flamenco show almost any day of the week.
if you're looking to sample some of Tampa's more innovative cuisine, consider The Refinery. In a few short years, this small eatery has become a favorite of locals. The Refinery been named best restaurant in Tampa Bay by a local publication and its chef has been nominated several times for a James Beard award. The menu here is constantly changing to take advantage of fresh and seasonal ingredients.
Mise en Place
Mise en Place is an intimate, well-appointed restaurant located across from the University of Tampa. A signature of this bistro is the ever-rotating menu, which intimidates some newcomers. They are missing out on one of the most inventive restaurants in the area. Specializing in New American cuisine, you are almost guaranteed to have something you've never had before, like sous vide venison loin or mustard pecan crusted rack of lamb. The flavors reflect the Chef's love of food and the region. Mise en Place also provides a substantial cheese selection and a ridiculous dessert menu with such creations as the molten chocolate beignet. (813-254-5373)
Élevage is located in the Epicurean Hotel, a boutique hotel that caters to guests wishing to experience life's indulgences, especially when it comes to food. Developed by the owner of Bern's, one of Tampa's most established restaurants, Élevage maintains the tradition of serving wonderfully prepared food. Featuring 2012 James Beard Best Chef South Semi-Finalist, Executive Chef Chad Johnson, the dishes are modern versions of classic recipes from around the world. While the quality of the cuisine may indicate a level of formality, the restaurant's ambiance is contemporary but casual featuring jean clad waiters. Dishes to try include the Duck, Duck, Goose, a foie gras & goose confit stuffed duck burger, or the Tuna Casserole featuring rare tuna, trofie pasta, peas, shimeji mushroom, and cantalet. (813-999-8726)
Rooster & the Till
The Rooster & the Till is located in Tampa's trendy Seminole Heights neighborhood and has quickly become one of the most popular restaurants in the city. Although very small, this exclusive eatery is putting out some big flavors specializing in farm-to-table fare, superior service, and smaller portions. Meals are prepared using only fresh and local ingredients. Diners are raving over the beautifully plated and delicious, innovative cuisine. Find a seat at the bar and enjoy the view of the chefs at work in their tiny kitchen creating their masterpieces. Eager diners are looking forward to the restaurant's expansion expected in late spring 2015. (813-374-8940)
The first thing you notice as you enter Oystercatchers is the amazing view. This seafood restaurant, nestled among lush, tropical landscaping, takes full advantage of its location at the edge of Tampa Bay. Inside, the decor is bright, simple and modern, serving as the perfect backdrop for both the views and the expertly prepared food. The star of the lunch menu is a selection of locally sourced fish served wood grilled, blackened or sauteed. Not only are the dishes inventive and fresh, they are also gathered with conservation in mind. While the food and the view will cost you (around $20 for a fish entree), the experience cannot be beat. Part of the Grand Hyatt Tampa Bay, Oystercatchers has cemented itself as one of the great restaurant spaces in Tampa. (813-207-6815, 813-874-1234)
Ulele is a popular restaurant located on the northern end of Tampa's Riverwalk. The menu is inspired by the indigenous people of Florida and brings together fresh and local ingredients in unique flavor combinations. Examples include the deconstructed seafood pot pie, Yellowfin Tuna crusted with pumpkin seeds, and alligator hush puppies. To accompany the delicious dishes is a selection of hand-crafted signature cocktails and house-brewed beers. Housed in the renovated city water-works building, the restaurant features brick, metal and concrete creating an open and airy dining space. Outside dining options include a patio, beer gardens and rooftop lounge. (813-999-4952)
Bright and airy, this chic restaurant rests atop the Hyatt Regency and affords extensive views of the Tampa area. Its menu of northern Italian cuisine centers around seafood, pasta, poultry and steaks, but the specialty of the house is veal, especially scaloppine Armani. For a first course, guests may choose their own appetizers from the selections on the antipasti bar. Entrees, which include marinated salmon and rack of lamb, are classic but creative and have contributed to the many awards the restaurant has garnered. Frequented by celebrities, Armani's is also ideal for romantic dinners and special occasions. Jackets and reservations are required. (813-207-6800, 813-874-1234)
Edison Food + Drink Lab
When a former chef of the famous Bern's Steakhouse, as well as its spin-off SideBern's, starts a new restaurant in Tampa, people pay attention. Such is the case with Edison Food + Drink Lab, the latest effort from chef Jeannie Pierola. To say this place is unlike anything else in Tampa is an understatement. The science theme invades all aspects of the restaurant, including food "experiments" such as jalapeno Cracker Jacks and a fried oyster and bacon po boy with kimchee. The decor is fun as well, as long as you don't mind being surrounded by beakers. (813-254-7111)
This small and charming restaurant, housed in a converted Craftsman-style bungalow, serves up big flavors at reasonable prices. Chef/owner Greg Baker opened The Refinery in 2010 with a vision to provide good food, prepared by passionate chefs, at a price that wouldn't break the bank. Tampa residents are wholeheartedly on-board and have made the restaurant an award-winning favorite. The menu changes every week (dishes are rarely, if ever, repeated) based on the availability of local products and Chef Baker is always introducing new and innovative flavor combinations and cooking techniques. Add to that a thoughtful selection of craft beers and reasonably-priced wine and you can't go wrong. ((813)-237-2000)
Bern's Steak House
Bern's Steak House is one of Tampa's best-known restaurants. Family-owned since opening in 1956, this venerable steak house is legendary for its impeccable service, top-quality food, and incredible attention to detail. Guests rave about the aged, charcoal-grilled steaks, which are ordered according to weight and thickness. Each comes with a salad, onion soup, baked potato, garlic toast, onion rings, and organic vegetables, so bring your appetite. Many of the restaurant's vegetables are locally grown on the Bern's farm. In addition to steak, chicken, and seafood, vegetarian options are available. The wine list is astounding, consisting of one of the largest wine collections in the world featuring over 7000 vintages. After dinner, head to the Harry Waugh room for decadent desserts, after-dinner drinks and dancing. Jacket, tie and reservations are required. (813-251-2421)
More than just a restaurant, the Columbia is a Tampa institution. Since 1905, this living history lesson has been serving some of the most authentic Spanish/Cuban food in Tampa Bay. The menu is expansive, spanning a wide array of traditional beef, pork, and seafood dishes made in the same way for generations. Today there are several locations in Florida, but the flagship restaurant is still located in the heart of Tampa's historic district, Ybor City. The building is a beautiful Spanish revival with Moorish influences and features hand-painted tiles, ornate antique furniture and rich fabrics throughout. The restaurant has been added on to over the years and now features 15 dining rooms that seat over 1,700 patrons and encompasses an entire city block. The Columbia even hosts Flamenco shows every evening except Sundays. No one forgets a night at the Columbia. (813-248-4961)
About Skye Rodgers
Skye has lived in Tampa for over 16 years and spends much of her time exploring the region and discovering its hidden treasures. As a native of Canada, Skye has happily embraced the no cold, no snow climate and enjoys basking on the beautiful beaches of the Gulf of Mexico and navigating the waters of Tampa Bay. When not out exploring Tampa, Skye is a freelance writer and public relations professional. She currently provides public relations counsel on a freelance basis to non-profits, social enterprises and small business.
Read more about Skye Rodgers here.