Have you ever been stuck in a foodie rut eating at the same restaurants over and over again? Sometimes, it’s hard breaking out of that routine and trying something new. That’s why we’ve compiled a list of some of the top restaurants in Tampa.
Anyone who lived in Tampa a good 20 or 30 years ago knows that while the beach was close by, the city’s downtown wasn’t known for a really diverse and expansive list of fine dining options. That’s one of the reasons the recent opening of Sparkman Wharf in the Channelside District so exciting. It’s another indication of why Tampa is becoming a recognized foodie destination.
Yelp recently compiled a ranking of the top places to eat in Tampa Bay, recognizing the top restaurants in Tampa that offer casual and upscale meals alike. They didn’t rank three or five restaurants but the top 50. Yelp’s guide showcases that in recent years, Tampa’s restaurant scene has grown significantly.
The list covers a remarkably diverse list of food options: everything from vegetarian meals to comfort foods like pizza and burgers. And it isn’t just Yelp, either. Tampa Bay’s top restaurants have been profiled in articles in Bon Appetite Magazine and Food & Wine.
For a city to really succeed, it needs a high quality of living – things that local residents value having in their community. This is what makes Tampa so successful.
Tampa has a lot to offer residents, from a strong jobs base to a vibrant housing market, to a thriving art and cultural scene. And now we can add something else to the list: top restaurants in Tampa Bay and a rapidly expanding restaurant scene. Because these days, the eating in the top restaurants in Tampa is so, so good.
Top Restaurants in Tampa
There are tons of new delicious restaurants popping up in Tampa. Here are just a few of the top restaurants in Tampa that you should check out.
Sparkman Wharf is an exciting new addition to Tampa’s burgeoning restaurant scene. Located at 615 Channelside Drive in Tampa, it offers nine pop-up style restaurants and an outdoor Biergarten serving up more than 24 taps. On weekends, there’s live music.
The pop-up restaurants in Sparkman Wharf would appear to offer something for every imaginable taste bud.
Included on the list are restaurants like:
- Boat Run Oyster Co., which serves fresh oysters.
- Gallito Taqueria, a Mexican street food restaurant.
- Montados Tapas and Wine by Mise en Place, offering a Spanish tapas-style menu.
- Whatever Pops and Bowls, serving handcrafted ice pops and bowls.
- BT In A Box with a French Vietnamese Fusion menu.
- Flock & Stock Chicken and Burgers with traditional servings of burgers, chicken sandwiches and chicken tenders.
- Foundation Coffee, a local favorite for coffee.
- Edison’s Swigamajig, a fresh fish restaurant that’s all about the catch.
- The Corners brings Detroit Pizza to the area.
Sparkman Wharf, which is open Wednesdays through Sundays from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. and on Mondays and Tuesdays when there are events at Amalie Arena, has quickly become a real hot family-friendly spot in Tampa Bay.
Ulele (pronounced You-lay-lee) boasts a fusion of ingredients from Florida waters and land once home to many Native Americans, including the young princess Ulele. It is located on the northern end of Tampa’s Riverwalk. The menu brings together fresh and local ingredients in unique flavor combinations. The menu is changed seasonally and to accompany the delicious dishes there is a selection of hand-crafted signature cocktails and house-brewed beers.
Since 1905, the Columbia has been serving some of the most authentic Spanish/Cuban food in Tampa Bay. This Tampa institution has a menu that is expansive, boasting a wide variety 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, with a massive 15 dining rooms.
Edison Food + Drink Lab
Edison Food + Drink Lab is the infamous creation of Tampa native Chef Jeannie Pierola, a 4X James Beard Best Chef Semifinalist. From dishes to decor, an industrial science theme permeates all aspects of the restaurant. Guests can enjoy an ever-changing menu of “engineered” food “experiments” so you can expect to be surprised by the flavor combinations on the menu.
Upon entering the establishment the first thing you’ll notice at Oystercatchers is the amazing view; this seafood restaurant takes full advantage of its location at the edge of Tampa Bay. The menu features a broad selection of locally sourced fish served wood-grilled, blackened or sauteed. Not only are the dishes creative and innovative, but they are also gathered with conservation in mind. The food and the view will cost you however, the experience cannot be beaten. Oystercatchers is part of the Grand Hyatt Tampa Bay and is considered one of the top restaurants in Tampa.
Best Foodie Cities
Sparkman Wharf, though, is hardly the lone example of why Tampa Bay is getting so much recognition these days for its exciting, up-and-coming restaurant scene. WalletHub has released a list of the best cities in America for finding good food, including meals that were diverse, affordable and of high quality.
Tampa came in at No. 11, just missing a spot in the Top 10 Best Foodie Cities in America. But it’s also worth noting that Tampa beat out cities like Chicago and Philadelphia for a top spot.
And the truth is that while Tampa has a very diverse and dynamic restaurant scene today, the city has always been known in some way for its food.
What Kind of Food Was Tampa Traditionally Known For?
For a long time, Tampa was really known for its ethnic food scene, one that combined Spanish, Latin and Caribbean cuisines. The city has a long and well-deserved reputation for serving Cuban food, including being home to the famed Cuban sandwich, thanks to the city’s historic Ybor City neighborhood and its many cigar factories.
In the minds of some people, you can’t visit Tampa and not eat Cuban food, which is why restaurants like West Tampa Sandwich Shop & Restaurant, with its menu of crispy empanadas filled with cream cheese and guava paste, Cuban espresso and the Cuban sandwich are so popular.
Cuban cuisine mixing Latin and Spanish cooking with Caribbean flavors really helped put Tampa on the map as a place to seek out excellent ethnic food.
But it’s not the only thing that helped build Tampa’s culinary reputation. A real legend in the city is Bern’s Steak House, which has been popular for decades.
Bern’s has an upstairs dessert room and private booths, along with a massive wine cellar and an equally huge wine list. Then there’s the menu of steaks, their signature house French onion soup au gratin with garlic and spelt toasts, and Caesar salad prepared tableside by your waiter.
Still, there’s no question that Tampa’s food scene has undergone a genuine renaissance in recent years. The newest restaurants don’t seem interested in offering what’s easy to find elsewhere, but something unique. Head over to the Seminole Heights neighborhood, for example, and check out Ichicoro Ramen, which serves ramen bowls.
Seminole Heights has become a real culinary destination. This is where you want to go to find local favorites like Rooster & the Till and Nebraska Mini Mart, or newer restaurants like the Boozy Pig and Armature Works, a former street-car warehouse that’s been converted into a food hall.
No wonder Thrillist, an online media website covering food and drink, featured Tampa on its roundup of the 15 cities that secretly have great food scenes.
Why Is This Important?
Study after study demonstrates that in addition to a healthy business climate and jobs base, cities need something else: a “Cultural capital,” if you will. Cultural attributes play as strong a role in a city’s appeal as economic factors. Tampa’s exciting restaurant scene helps to make Tampa even more appealing.
It’s no wonder Tampa Bay has a growing reputation as a great city to live, and the city’s dynamic restaurants only add to that appeal. And as more and more people relocate to the Tampa/St. Pete area, the housing market will continue to need new homes to accommodate them.
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