Comfort food and family-friendly dining options abound in Tampa, whether you're looking to revisit favorite dishes from childhood, or you're looking to sample the comfort food of other cultures. With a large portion of the city's population hailing from other parts of the country, and other parts of the world, there is a variety of traditions to choose from including Cuban, Italian, Greek, Southern cooking and soul food, as well as all-American favorites. Listed here, 10 Best has brought together just a few of the many options to choose from.
If you're looking to experience the comfort food of Tampa's many Cuban-American residents, try La Teresita. This old-school cafeteria offers large portions of traditional dishes developed from family recipes. Many residents of Tampa have also taken up the Cuban breakfast tradition of a cafe con leche paired with fresh, toasted Cuban bread.
Southern cooking is also well-represented with restaurants such as Lee Roy Selmon's, a small restaurant chain founded by Tampa football legend and favorite citizen of the same name. Their menu includes comfort food staples such as pulled pork, beef brisket and chicken & waffles. Another great place to try southern food is at Ella's Americana Folk Art Cafe where they serve a great Sunday Soul food buffet surrounded by folk art ambiance.
Lee Roy Selmon's
If you can't get enough succulent, Southern cooking, this place (named for Tampa Bay's first NFL Hall of Famer) will have your taste buds swooning. Many dishes rely on Lee Roy's mom's recipes, such as fried chicken, meat loaf, chicken-fried steak, and beef brisket. Others just pay tribute to the region, like ribs, barbecued pork, and stuffed catfish. Steaks, burgers, and salads also find their place, and no meal would be complete without pecan pie or peach cobbler. The interior boasts a wealth of football memorabilia. this is a small chain restaurant that has managed to stay true to its roots. (813-871-3287)
Jimbo's Pit BBQ
You can be assured of good barbecue when you see the pit smoking out back. Jimbo's keeps close watch over it, taking great pains to ensure that all the meat reaches that moment of perfect flavor. When it's ready, they pile it high, add baked beans, mustard slaw and hushpuppies and bring it out to you. Whether you get chicken, beef, pork or ribs, you'll smack your lips at the tender, well-seasoned meat and the tangy sauce. It's down-home food and as good as you've ever tasted. Once you've finished licking your fingers clean, make sure to order up a piece of the apple pie. It's homemade. (813-289-9724, 866-890-9425)
Bella's Italian Cafe
A favorite of locals in South Tampa, Bella's has been around for 28 years. Although it could easily be pretentious, thanks to subdued lighting and gracious details, Bella's prefers to greet guests with relaxed charm. In fact, it's a delightful place to dine throughout the day, and folks return often to tuck into wood-fired pizzas and a plethora of delectable pasta dishes. The open kitchen provides a hint of what's to come, and whether you choose a chicken entree, stuffed eggplant, an appetite-pleasing bowl of pasta, or a bit of tiramisu, you'll see the kitchen's skill immediately. Late hours and favorable prices heighten Bella's appeal. (813-254-3355)
Let's just get this out of the way first: it's outdoors, it's a mostly-dirt floor, and you will probably be sitting at a picnic table. If you're still reading, you will love Skipper's. This is the go-to venue for fans of the really eclectic, not just in food but in music as well. It was also featured on "Man vs. Food" for its expansive seafood offerings. Skipper's even provides a chance to experience creations you probably can't find back home, native Florida dishes like gator tail and smoked mullet. The live music selection is quite varied, so it might be a good idea to check their website before visiting. (813-971-0666)
Del Frisco's Grille
Centrally located in the Westshore district of Tampa, Del Frisco's Grille serves perfectly prepared prime steaks and creative versions of comfort food staples. Popular menu items include the Grille Prime Cheeseburger, Cheesesteak Eggrolls, and the Prime Beef Short Rib Stroganoff. Also on offer are a variety of flatbreads and innovative salad options. The cocktail list is a treat featuring old standards and new recipes made with fresh ingredients. Examples include the house-made Sangria with peach schnapps and the VIP with Sweet Hawaiian Pineapple-Infused Svedka Clementine Vodka. The atmosphere is casual and modern with a large dining and bar area, outdoor patio, and rooftop terrace. Del Frisco's is fancy enough for important celebrations yet affordable enough for everyday dining. (813-878-6890)
Ella's Americana Folk Art Cafe
Ella's Americana Folk Art Café is a fresh and funky eatery located in the charming and historic Seminole Heights neighborhood. As the name suggests, the ambiance is laid-back with walls decorated with a variety of American folk art providing plenty of eye-candy while you peruse their eclectic menu offerings. Dishes are designed to be healthy as well as delicious using fresh ingredients and a few unusual flavor combinations. Don't get carried away with the main course though as their desserts are amazing – give their peach fritters a try. There is live music on the weekends. ((813) 234-1000)
Datz is one of Tampa's most popular restaurants. At one time or another, almost everyone has visited this trendy gastropub and market. The interior is warm and inviting with a funky, industrial vibe and no one stands on ceremony here - flip-flops and shorts are welcome. The food is as comforting as the environment lifting America's favorite dishes to a whole new level. Looks for twists on the traditional such as their chicken and waffles served with jalapeno-maple syrup or their famous meatloaf stuffed with mac 'n cheese. They are known for their large portions, so bring an appetite. If you have room after lunch, wander next door to their new sister-restaurant, Dough, for some sweet treats and coffee. Brunch is served on weekends from 8:30am - 3:00pm (813-831-7000)
It's an old adage that if there's a line outside, the place has to be good. Nowhere is that more correct than at Pinky's, a small,cozy diner in South Tampa known for their laid-back style and amazing menu. Frittatas dominate, with six fresh varieties or the ability to make your own. They are also known for their stuffed Cuban French Toast featuring homemade berry cream cheese sandwiched between slices of Cuban bread, a Tampa favorite. Or try the oatmeal pancakes, which makes this breakfast staple even more hearty. If you do have to wait, take advantage of their handy self-serve coffee bar. (813-831-9339)
La Teresita Restaurant
La Teresita is located in West Tampa, an area of the city that was originally settled by Cuban immigrants, and features authentic versions of Cuban cuisine. There is a traditional restaurant space, but La Teresita's charm is found inside the adjacent cafeteria. The atmosphere is decidedly retro-diner featuring three horseshoe counters where customers belly up on bar stools next to their neighbors. Although famous for their version of Tampa's Cuban sandwich, many other Cuban specialties are also featured such as Puerco Asado (Roast Pork), Ropa Vieja (Shredded Beef), and for the more adventurous, Patas de Cerdo (Pig's Feet). Each day of the week is represented by a list of specials but diners can also choose from an extensive list of entrees, sandwiches, side dishes and desserts. Beer and wine are also available. (813-879-9704)
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)
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.
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