The Tampa/St. Pete area has changed quite a bit in the last 10 years and there are more good food and drink choices than ever now. With family and several of our best friends living there now we have made it a priority to get down to visit often…particularly when it is winter in Nashville and still sunny and warm in Florida. While you are there, don’t forget to get to Bayshore Boulevard and enjoy a beautiful run on the world’s longest sidewalk (4.5 miles).
Oxford Exchange – an absolute must if you are in the Tampa area. Combination restaurant-home decor-coffee shop-tea shop-bookstore in the University of Tampa area with an absolute perfect design. The coffee is from the local favorite Buddy Brew and the restaurant is open for breakfast and lunch. Don’t forget to check out the wonderful selection of home decor items.
Ava – if you are looking for just one restaurant to go to while you are in the area, this is the one we would suggest. Opened in 2014 (with former Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon as a partner), Ava serves up wonderful rustic traditional Italian food in a vibrant and energetic space in the SoHo area. The service was friendly and very attentive. Try the fried kale appetizer, the grilled bread with ricotta, the octopus and one of their wood fired oven pizzas.
Pane Rustica – excellent casual Italian eatery with counter service specializing in gourmet pizzas, salads, sandwiches as well as baked goods and desserts.
Cappy’s Pizza – long standing pizza favorite in Tampa now with 4 locations in the Tampa/St. Pete area. They make both New York and Chicago style pizza – but their deep dish Chicago style is the way to go and is outstanding. Also recommend their excellent Greek salad.
Locale Market – think Eataly meets Whole Foods…. this new grocery meets restaurant meets tourist attraction in downtown St. Pete from James Beard award winning chef/restaurateur Michael Mina is quite the treat. It features not only local and organic foods but also a well curated selection of difficult to find high quality artisan foods.
Bodega – we thoroughly enjoyed this Latin sandwich shop in charming downtown St. Pete. Order from the window and pick from a handful of sandwich options (try their Cuban and the roasted pork Lechon sandwich) and grab a seat either at the bar or on their back patio. Their Cuban coffee and fresh hibiscus sodas are great. They also have an adjoining very cute pressed juice bar and right across the street is the Green Bench Brewery if you want to wash it down with a local brew.
Edison: food + drink lab – creative and whimsical small plates from Chef Jeannie Pierola, former chef at Bern’s and SideBern’s. We were impressed by the complexity and flavor of many of the dishes. Our favorites were the Smoked Salmon Rillette, Potato Crusted Oysters, and their dessert Cruller – a unique and delicious take on a deconstructed carrot cake. Open for lunch and dinner, but opt for dinner where there is more creativity on the menu.
Bern’s Steak House – landmark steakhouse since it opened in Tampa in 1956 and is unlike any other. The steaks are aged 5-8 weeks and are cut and weighed to order. The menu is an 18 page education on steak, the sides are fantastic and the service is always top notch. It is also home to the world’s largest wine cellar. The only odd part is the unusual velvety red interior that conjures an image of a baroque cabaret. Be sure to tour the kitchen and wine cellar after dinner and head to the Dessert Room where you can listen to live piano music while having a cheesecake and after dinner drink.
Fresh Kitchen – fun, quick, tasty, healthy food and juices on South Howard Ave. Just step up in line, pick a “base” of rice, noodles, lettuce, quinoa, etc, then top it by adding protein, veggies and a sauce. You can also just opt for one of their special value bowls (we loved the steak-based Carne bowl). Large selection of juices also available. This would be the kind of place we’d pick food up from every week if one was near us.
Buddy Brew Coffee – artisan coffee roasters who brew their own small batch coffee blends. These guys are passionate about their coffee and their place looks and feels more like a tasting room than a coffee shop. The space has expanded it’s space and now offering breakfast items, more seating, as well as beer and wine.
Dough – if you know us than you know we love doughnuts – and our go-to place in Tampa for big tasty yeasty glazed doughnuts is Dough. From the folks at Datz right next door, there are many doughnut options (red velvet cake, maple-bacon, etc) but we are hooked on their oversized plain glazed.
SideBern’s – Bern’s nearby restaurant with a modern Mediterranean cuisine. Less formal than the Steak House, this is a nice spot to get a well prepared cocktail and upscale modern food.
Hugo’s Restaurant – stop by this Spanish/Cuban restaurant for an authentic Cuban sandwich with a side of black beans and rice.
Datz Deli – fun spot that features dozens of sandwich options as well as an excellent selection of wine and craft beers on tap.
Colombia Restaurant – Ybor City has been the home of this Colombian restaurant since 1905. Recommend the arroz con pollo and their black bean soup – all with their homemade Cuban bread.
Pinky’s Diner – popular breakfast spot on Bay to Bay. Oatmeal pancakes and fritattas are the house specialties but consider trying out one of their Breakfast Cubans – sausage, egg, and cheese on authentic pressed Cuban bread.
Total Wine and More – huge selection of wine, liquor and beer on Westshore. Check out their craft beer bottle section which includes The Bruery (one of our favorite breweries from California, pick up the “Rueze”, a sour blonde ale aged in oak barrels) as well as local craft beer selection featuring top notch beer from Cigar City Brewing.