Tampa's Top Eateries Include Established Favorites & Innovative Upstarts



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.



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Seminole Heights


 

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.


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Tampa Heights
Ulele


 

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. While the menu is changed seasonally, past examples include a 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 could be described as rustic, industrial chic, creating an open and airy dining space. Outside dining options include a patio, beer gardens and rooftop lounge.


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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. 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 as evidenced by their 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.


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Channelside


 

Tucked away in a corner of Tampa's Channelside district is Cena, a popular Italian restaurant that has gathered a loyal following despite a somewhat out of the way location. Chef Michael Buttacavoli presents simple, modern menu items that are elevated by expert preparation, creative presentation, and quality ingredients. Chef's mastery of rustic Italian cuisine shines in his risotto dishes, a definite must-try, as well as in his charcuterie and cheese selections. The wine and cocktail lists are very well curated featuring the classics as well as more modern options. The decor matches the cuisine and is also modern and minimal, but still very cozy and friendly, with diners raving about the great service.


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Seminole Heights


 

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. Another example of chef-driven creativity, 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 and 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 creating their masterpieces.


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Edison Food + Drink Lab is the popular creation of Chef Jeannie Pierola, a 4X James Beard Best Chef Semifinalist. To say this place is unlike anything else in Tampa is an understatement, from dishes to decor, an industrial science theme invades all aspects of the restaurant. Patrons enjoy an ever-changing menu of "engineered" food "experiments" such as jalapeno Cracker Jacks and a fried oyster and bacon po-boy with kimchee. Expect to be surprised by the flavor combinations on this menu. The decor is fun as well, with an entrance disguised by corrugated metal fencing and the interior featuring polished concrete floors. The industrial look is cleverly broken up by colorful, graphic word art and pops of color on the tables.


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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.


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Mise en Place is an intimate, well-appointed restaurant located across from the University of Tampa. As a pioneer of the chef-driven restaurant model a signature of this bistro is the ever-rotating menu specializing in New American cuisine. You are almost guaranteed to find something you've never had before, like sous vide venison loin or mustard pecan crusted rack of lamb. The flavors reflect the Chef Marty Blitz's creativity and love of food and the region. Mise en Place also offers a substantial cheese and charcuterie selection, as well as a decadent dessert menu listing creations such as the molten chocolate beignet.


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Airport Area


 

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 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, 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.


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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.


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Meet Skye Rodgers

Skye is a freelance writer that adopted Tampa as her hometown over a decade ago and never looked back. As a native of Canada, Skye has happily embraced the no snow climate, and in her spare time...  More About Skye

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