Eating in Tampa Bay – The Florida Foodie Destination Whose Time Has Come

By Fred Bollaci

Until now, Tampa Bay may be best known for sunshine, beaches, sports, and year-round recreation. Few people considered the area a culinary destination, though there were a handful of great restaurants people would plan vacations around. In the past decade, the Greater Tampa Bay Area, which includes Tampa, St. Petersburg, Clearwater, and towns in-between has established itself as a foodie destination, combining amazing talent and marvelous new venues. In light of the pandemic where restaurants have struggled to survive, it’s time to visit Tampa Bay and enjoy some great food!


Part One in a Two-Part Series: Tampa

No visit to Tampa would be complete without visiting at least some of the following institutions, which have stood the test of time. Bern’s Steakhouse, a landmark since 1956 features 500,000 bottles of wine, prime steaks aged and butchered in house, and the famed Harry Waugh Dessert Room upstairs. The original Columbia Restaurant (1905)—enjoy the “1905 Salad,” Cuban/Spanish fare and flamenco dancing. Donatello is the grand dame of Old World, romantic Italian restaurants—you’ll think you’re in Italy. Malio’s Prime Steakhouse (1969) is a local “power scene.” Mise en Place restaurateurs Marty Blitz and Mary Ann Ferenc pioneered New American cuisine (1986). Armani’s (upscale Italian with rooftop views), and Caffé Paradiso, a South Tampa Italian gem.

For the best newer additions to the Tampa food scene, stay the Epicurean Hotel (affiliated and across the street from Bern’s—it is THE perfect place to sleep off your “food coma” from the typical 4-hour Bern’s meal!) Explore the wonderful culinary options in the hotel and surrounding areas. Sip cocktails at EDGE, the cool rooftop lounge, and dine at Elevage SoHo Kitchen & Bar nearby Haven, also part of the Bern’s family.

Edison food + drink lab, owned by 5X James Beard nominee, Chef Jeannie Pierola features some of the most inventive and inspiring food and libations in town. Visit Tampa’s new food hall, the Armature Works—in a revitalized warehouse. Choose from an exciting array of international and local food and beverages. Steelbach, which showcases Florida’s top producers and grass fed beef, and Oak & Ola, with timeless appeal and a seasonal Euro-American menu by James Beard award winning chef/owner Anne Kearney are two notable full-service options.

At Rooster & the Till, James Beard semi-finalist chef Ferrell Alvarez utilizes the best fresh farm-to-table ingredients, paired with partner Ty Rodriguez’s expertise in wine. Cena by Long Island native chef Michael Buttacavoli features a fresh, modern take on Italian cuisine downtown. The best sushi experience in Tampa is Koya by Eric and Adriana Fralick. The omakase experience is legendary. On Swann and the new Olivia are two hip Tampa spots by veteran restaurateur Chris Ponte. Ava and Forbici, both in Hyde Park each serve unique Italian-style pizza. Enjoy beautiful fresh Vietnamese-French fusion at Restaurant BT, both in fashionable Hyde Park.

Another example of Tampa’s urban renewal is the Oxford Exchange. Part book store, part restaurant, this is the most “Instagrammable” building in Tampa with stunning architectural details evoking the spirit of Old London.

Stay tuned for my next feature on the rest of Tampa Bay, the St. Petersburg-Clearwater area. “The Burg” has experienced a renaissance the past decade, especially along the bay front near the Dali Museum, and is considered very fashionable. If you haven’t been to Clearwater Beach in the last 15 years, you wouldn’t recognize it! The dramatic transformation of the entire area has brought great new restaurants and places to stay (my favorite being the luxurious Sandpearl on Clearwater Beach). In addition, there are many charming villages and towns in Pinellas County, each with their own style and unique flavors that are worth exploring. If you’re planning a trip and want to know more, please feel free to visit my blog, and reach out to me personally:
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