Hundreds of thousands of visitors attend events at The Tampa Bay Times Forum each year. It is the city’s premier event venue hosting over 150 events a year. After a $40 million renovation in 2011, it is also considered one of the best venues in the country. Many visitors attend the games of the Tampa Bay Lighting hockey team and the Tampa Bay Storm arena football team, but the Forum also hosts most of the area’s major concerts and shows.
No matter what event you are attending, chances are you will be looking for dining options close by. Luckily there are a lot to choose from and range from good pub grub to fancy gourmet meals. All within easy walking distance. The difficulty is finding the right one. Listed here are ten of the top options to help you choose representing a variety of cuisines, dining experiences and prices.
If you're looking for a convenient but satisfying dinner before your event, your best options is the Firestick Grill. Located on site, the Firestick features an extensive buffet with chef stations and everyone can find their favorite dishes. In town for a hockey game? Then you should definitely try Hattricks, a local hangout that caters to the hockey crowd. They feature a good selection of specialty sandwiches and comfort food entrees and their "Shake and Bake" wings are some of the best in town.
10 Bamboozle Cafe
The Bamboozle Caf�s located in heart of downtown Tampa and features Asian Fusion and traditional Vietnamese cuisine. From their fresh Bamboozle rolls to their hearty Pho Boats, the ingredients are fresh and healthy, and the presentation shows great attention to detail. If you're not hungry for a full meal, you can visit the Bamboozle Tea Lounge that features smaller portions of the menu favorites as well as a selection of tea, Vietnamese coffee, fresh juices and smoothies. As part of the restaurant's commitment to health, they have teamed up with Sweatshop Urban Gym to provide free workouts at nearby Curtis Hixon Park. In addition to a free workout, participants get 20% off their tab at the end of the night. ((813) 223-7320)
9 Precinct Pizza
What is notable about Precinct Pizza isn't necessarily the pie (which is great in itself), but the story behind it. A New York paramedic, after coming down with post-9/11 respiratory problems, decided to move down to Tampa and open a realistic New York pizza place. He has filled it with decorations and memorabilia from the city, enough to give even the strongest native New Yorker flashbacks. Precinct Pizza uses fresh, high-quality ingredients to prepare their pizzas combined with homemade marinara sauce and dough made from scratch each day. Then they are cooked in a brick oven that rotates to ensure a perfectly baked pizza every time. ((813) 228-6973)
Conveniently located in the Channelside Bay Plaza, Splitsville bills itself as "luxury lanes and dinner lounge." Just look for the huge bowling pin and you'll know you're in the right spot. This may be the coolest bowling alley you've ever visited with modern d�cor and comfortable seating in addition to the well-maintained bowling lanes. Splitsville goes far beyond the ordinary with its full menu of traditional and upscale dishes as well. It does get quite busy, especially if there was an event at the Forum earlier that night, so reservations are recommended, especially if you want to bowl. Deciding to bowl after you arrive usually means a solid wait. ((813) 514-2695)
Tinatapa's, as its name suggests, is a Spanish tapas restaurant located in Channelside Bay Plaza, next to the Port of Tampa. Tapas are dishes presented on "small plates" to encourage diners to purchase several and then share. Tinatapa's offers a good variety of tempting dishes to choose from, with a couple stand-outs being the baked goat cheese in tomato sauce and the Baked Crab al Fornos. While you're waiting for your order, make sure you order their famous Sangria. Available in both white and red, this homemade delicacy is a great way to get in the festive spirit. ((813) 514-8462)
6 Café Dufrain
Quiet, casual, romantic � Caf�ufrain represents all the qualities that make Harbour Island seem worlds away from Tampa's bustling downtown area. Set among high-rise condo and apartment developments, this award-winning restaurant quietly serves up some of the best dishes in town. With a focus on local, organic and sustainable ingredients combined in recipes that are changed seasonally, they have called this approach "new American comfort food cuisine" and are quickly making converts. Combined with great service and a carefully selected boutique wine and craft beer list, lunch or dinner at Café Dufrain is sure to please even the most discerning. For an added bonus, the views of downtown from the waterside patio leave quite an impression, especially at night. (813-275-9701)
5 Hooters - Channelside
The Channelside version of this national chain restaurant is located next to the Port of Tampa and convenient to many popular attractions. Hooters is popular in Tampa, partly because of the laid-back atmosphere, but also because the restaurant originated in the nearby city of Clearwater. Characterized by bright orange d�cor, lots of TVs, and well-endowed, short-shorts-clad waitresses, Hooters cultivates a casual, sports bar atmosphere. A great spot to meet and hang out with friends before downtown events. Their menu consists primarily of their famous chicken wings and burgers. Made all the better when washed down with cold draft beer. ((813) 221-2600)
4 Jackson's Bistro Bar & Sushi
Set away from the downtown bustle, Jackson's Bistro serves fabulously eclectic fare (dinner options from hand-rolled sushi to oak-grilled NY strip) in a distinctly upscale setting. Stained mahogany and candle-lit tables make for an attractive scene in the dining room, and the views afforded by the floor-ceiling windows allow diners to see just how pretty the Tampa skyline can be. Sunday brunch at Jackson's takes the buffet route, offering a turkey, ham and roast beef carving station, pasta station, sushi station and waffle bar. Seating on the patio is available -- weather permitting, of course. (813-277-0112)
3 Columbia Cafe - Riverwalk Tampa
The Columbia Cafe is a picturesque dining spot located at the Tampa Bay History Center on the downtown waterfront overlooking Garrison Channel and the Riverwalk. The Cafe is part of the Columbia Restaurant Group with the original Columbia Restaurant, which opened in 1905, located in Ybor City. The decor is Spanish-inspired and both indoor and outdoor seating is offered. Menu options include some of the most popular dishes from the Ybor City restaurant including the original "1905 Salad" and chicken and yellow rice, as well as a good selection of tapas. The cafe is open for lunch and dinner with live music every Friday and Saturday night and Sunday afternoon on the patio. Public boat docks are available if you're arriving by boat. ((813) 229-5511)
2 Hattricks Tavern
Hattricks Tavern is one of Tampa's most popular sports bar and restaurants. Located just steps from the Tampa Bay Times Forum, this is the perfect place for hockey fans to stop for a drink and a meal before or after a game. The ambiance is casual and fun. Fans will enjoy the handmade oak bar, multitude of TVs, and walls adorned with tons of hockey memorabilia. The food is pretty good too. The menu features most of the standard bar fare but also offers a good selection of specialty sandwiches and comfort food entrees. The prices are reasonable, especially for a downtown location. ((813) 225-4288)
1 Firestick Grill
The newly-renovated Tampa Bay Times Forum boasts one of the finest buffets in town. Their on-site restaurant called the Firestick Grill opens their buffet two hours before any event and features a revolving menu that rotates with each event you are there to see. Jam-packed with a variety of different dishes, the buffet also features three "action stations" available, including a carving station, a taco bar, and a pasta station. Finish off with a dessert or a drink in the Bacardi OakHeart Lounge and you should be well-fueled to cheer on the Lightning or your favorite performer in concert. ((813) 301-6926)
About Skye Rodgers
Skye has lived in Tampa for the past 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 public relations professional. She currently provides public relations counsel on a freelance basis to non-profits and small business. Skye and her husband also collaborate on a blog featuring reviews of Tampa's many world-class golf courses (bunker-talk.com).
Read more about Skye Rodgers here.
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