Tampa's Waterfront Restaurants Feed the Belly, Lift the Soul



Tampa features a host of dining options that offer views of the City's many waterways. Whether located on the Hillsborough River, downtown's Garrison Channel, or the open waters of Tampa Bay, these restaurants will feed the belly while lifting the soul. After considerable and pleasurable research, 10 Best has developed a list of the ten best options for waterfront dining in Tampa.

Options run from sophisticated and upscale to flip-flops and finger food, so there is a spot for everyone to enjoy to views. Oystercatchers offers wonderful panoramic views Tampa Bay coupled with the best prepared and freshest seafood in town. With a location situated to catch the brilliant sunsets, this is the perfect spot for intimate dinners and celebrations.

On the other end of the spectrum you'll find Rick's on the River. Views feature the lively waters of the Hillsborough River enjoyed from a large and casual outdoor patio. The seafood is still fresh, it's just more simply prepared and less expensive. A must-try is their "Jacked-up Oysters." Locals love this spot and it's very popular with boaters thanks to the adjacent boat ramp and docks.

If you're looking to experience a taste of Tampa's ethnic history while enjoying the views, try the Columbia Cafe adjacent to the Tampa Bay History Center. A downtown version of the famous Columbia Restaurant in Ybor City, this restaurant carries on the tradition of serving expertly prepared Spanish and Cuban favorites.



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The Riverwalk Café occupies a choice spot on the downtown riverfront affording unparalleled views of the University of Tampa minarets, the Hillsborough River, and the Tampa skyline. Located in the Tampa Museum of Art, the decor reflects the ultra-modern exterior and features stunning glass walls that bring the outside in. Outdoor seating is provided with tables on their expansive covered terrace. The Café serves handcrafted lunch five days a week and a decadent brunch on the weekends. The cafe is also a good spot to stop for a delicious cup of coffee or an afternoon gelato.


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Channelside


 

Yacht Starship sails from Tampa's Channelside neighborhood and is billed as America's first three diamond rated dining yacht by AAA. Perfect for an intimate night out or a group celebration, Yacht Starship provides a three-course dinner while cruising the waters of beautiful Tampa Bay. Prepare for a sophisticated night out with spectacular views, private seating, table service and dancing under the stars. The menu changes seasonally, and although limited, takes advantage of many regional flavors and takes into account both gluten-free and vegetarian lifestyles. Public dinner cruises are offered most weekend nights, but there are also lunch cruises, party cruises and special event cruises on their schedule.


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If you want to get off the beaten path, try Rick's on the River. Located on the Hillsborough River just north of downtown, Rick's is a popular local hangout catering to the boating and fishing community. Amenities include a boat ramp and marina with docking space for visitors and overnight guests. Ample outdoor seating and a large bar area provide great vantage points for enjoying views of the river and downtown skyline. Combine that with three fully-stocked bars, good food and affordable prices, and you have the perfect recipe for a good time. There is also live entertainment every night starting at 5 pm.


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Set slightly away from the downtown bustle, Jackson's Bistro features a large and sophisticated menu with dishes ranging from hand-rolled sushi to an oak-grilled NY strip steak. They are also known for their extensive wine list. The setting is romantic and upscale, featuring dark mahogany walls and candle-lit tables, but it's the views of Garrison Channel and the Tampa skyline that steal the show. If the weather is good, take advantage of their large outdoor terrace. 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.


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Rocky Point
Armani's
Photo courtesy of Armani's


 

Armani's is an award-winning restaurant located on the 14th floor of the Grand Hyatt Tampa Bay. This popular local eatery is best known for it's sophisticated ambiance and panoramic views enjoyed through floor to ceiling windows. For the first course, guests may choose their own appetizers from a wide range of selections available on the famous antipasti bar. Pasta dishes include both established as well as more creative offerings added by the new Chef de Cuisine, Jonathon Wilson, including a wild mushroom risotto and beer braised elk shank with cavatelli. Entrees include a nice selection of classic veal and seafood dishes including the traditional osso buco, but if you're looking for something a little different, try the delicious seared duck entree. Armani's is ideal for romantic dinners and special occasions. Reservations are suggested.


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Harbour Island

 

Quiet, casual, romantic; Café Dufrain 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." 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.


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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 a good selection of tapas. The cafe is open for lunch and dinner with live music every weekend. Public boat docks are available if you're arriving by boat.


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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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The Heights Public Market
Photo courtesy of Skye Rodgers


 

The Heights Public Market is a 22,000 square foot food hall featuring over 15 local and innovative food vendors. Dining options run the gamet from bar-b-que to baked goods suitable for any meal of the day. Beverage options are just as varied from fresh juices to crafted cocktails. The Market is located on the Hillsborough River in a large mixed-use space called the Armature Works that also includes special event venues and a co-work space. With it's huge airy spaces, this historic brick building has been re-imagined from a maintenance barn for streetcars into a modern gathering space. There is also a large outdoor lawn space with plenty of seating and great river views.


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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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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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