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Best Restaurants in Tampa

Our favorites include some of this destination's best local restaurants—from fine dining to simple fare.

By Inspector 76

If you are visiting Tampa for the first time, chances are your vacation itinerary will include a day of sightseeing in Ybor City, the historic cigar-making district established by Vicente Martinez Ybor in 1886. In the very heart of the district you'll find the Columbia Restaurant , founded in 1905 by Casimiro Hernandez and owned and operated by the fifth generation of the founding family. Latin traditions run deep in both the Spanish and Cuban cuisine created from family recipes, and in the excitement generated by flamenco dancers. Sample tapas classics such as black bean cakes, empanadas or chicken croquettes, then try a robust seafood, pork and chicken paella entrée or Casimiro Hernandez's red snapper casserole. This 52,000-square-foot restaurant with 15 dining rooms and patios sprawled over an entire city block is the flagship of a fleet of seven other restaurants in Florida.

Brick walls, tiled floors, dark wood tables and chairs, and vintage pendant lights present the perfect backdrop for casual dining at Carmine’s on 7th Avenue in Ybor City, which offers many things to do after dinner. Spanish, Cuban and Italian fare are the specialties of the house at this spacious eatery that’s been family-run since 1948. Besides expected but still satisfying menu items like Cuban sandwiches, mojo-marinated roast pork, eggplant parmigiana and an array of pasta dishes, you’ll want to try the deviled crab, a local favorite, as well as crab meat pasta, which is available only on Friday and Saturday. Top off your savory meal with something sweet; the caramel flan is a perfect accompaniment.

With its upscale décor and Mediterranean-influenced new American cuisine, downtown's Mise en Place caters to diners who tend to be adventurous in palate and spirit. Fresh local ingredients are the foundation for lunch and dinner originals that include sous vide lobster with spicy edamame dumplings, seared foie gras with pickled plums and Kobe New York strip with duck fat roasted fingerling potatoes. The “Get Blitzed” tasting menu pairs selected samples of Chef Marty Blitz's weekly specials with complementary wines.

When you're in the mood for something different from the everyday, settle in for a spell at u-le-le , where the cuisine focuses on Native American-inspired dishes. The creatively crafted menu varies often and incorporates organic, non-GMO and hormone-free produce and meat from local farms and fish from the Gulf of Mexico. Enticing dishes may include Florida pompano topped with fried carrot ribbons, deconstructed seafood pot pie, crab mac and cheese, and Water Works meatloaf with a cabernet garlic demi-glace. U-le-le’s oyster dishes, including oysters on the half shell and barbacoa-grilled oysters, will please fans of the mollusk. If you’re dining around dusk, ask for a table that faces the wide expanse of windows that look out on the Hillsborough River—you’ll witness a sunset that’s nothing short of spectacular. And in case you’re wondering, the restaurant is named after a young 16th-century Native American woman who rescued a Spaniard from certain death; a 7-foot-tall bronze statue of her stands in front of the eponymous restaurant.

Nestled in Old Hyde Village—Tampa's oldest planned neighborhood—since 1956, Bern's Steak House has built its reputation on the premise that preparing steak is an art form. Their menu—more like a book—features detailed descriptions of USDA Prime steak cuts ranging from filet mignon to delmonico to chateaubriand, plus all you need to know about rare, medium and well done cooking instructions. In addition to steak, the menu consists of nearly 95 other appetizer, soup, salad and entrée options. Because fresh ingredients are paramount, Bern's even grows most of its own vegetables. Every meal is a masterpiece, but the pièce de résistance here has to be the second-floor, after-dinner dessert retreat where guests can enjoy sweets and sip champagne, Cognac, coffee and dessert wines in cozy little spaces where you choose your own background music.

Locals also go to Kojak's House of Ribs , just west of Bayshore Boulevard, for barbecue. Everything from tender pork spareribs to pit-smoked chicken and beef to hot smoked sausage links is cooked Oklahoma-style and served in a relaxed, country-kitchen atmosphere. Seating is available on the front porch shaded by stately old oak trees.

In west Tampa, Charley's Steakhouse specializes in aged USDA Prime and Choice beef cooked to perfection over aromatic hardwood flames. But if you're in the mood for something from the sea, try a succulent two-pound lobster with your steak. Charley's also operates three other award-winning restaurants in the Orlando area.

Compared to nearby restaurants, Old Tampa Bay provides a tranquil backdrop for lunch, dinner or Sunday brunch at Oystercatchers Restaurant , an upscale casual eatery. Signature dishes such as tandoori shrimp and Kentucky bourbon barbecued scallops highlight the restaurant's flair for contemporary cuisine. Fish selections include yellowfin tuna, mahi mahi, Chilean sea bass, Gulf Coast grouper, Alaska king crab and striped bass that you can have sautéed, grilled, poached, broiled or blackened. Oystercatchers is tucked behind the Grand Hyatt Tampa Bay .

Flaming tiki torches and tropical plants outside Roy's in the Westshore district only hint at what's inside. This upscale restaurant's combination of Pacific seafood, French sauces and Asian seasonings add up to a truly innovative and inspired take on Hawaiian cuisine. Order the succulent Hawaii Kai-style braised short ribs of beef if you're not a fish lover; the Hawaiian-style Misoyaki butterfish if you are. Or make a delectable meal of rolled and Nigiri sushi and riceless sashimi. The legendary chocolate soufflé is a must for dessert. For a good deal on appetizers and drinks, attend the popular Aloha Hour nightly 4:30-6:30.

Meanwhile, in the trendsetting SoHo district (aka South Howard Avenue), you'll find a variety of restaurants. Art Deco paintings surround you at the upscale 717 South , where New American seafood, salads and steak will please your palate; try the seafood cioppino, lollipop pork chop with bacon truffle macaroni and cheese, or kale salad with roasted fennel and thyme vinaigrette. In the mood to try some Thai? The menu at Royal Palace Thai Restaurant includes sushi as well as traditional dishes made with curries, lobster, chicken, crab, duck, beef, snapper and frog legs. Or try something from the “Hawkers Fare” menu, which is essentially a small plates menu featuring Asian street food. The striking decor complements the cuisine with intricate carved teakwood, eye-catching wall hangings and a pair of gilded bronze deer.

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Tampa, FL

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Travel Information

City Population

352,957

Elevation

27 ft.

Sales Tax

Sales tax is 8.5 percent in Hillsborough and 7 percent in Pasco County. An accommodations tax is 6 percent in Hillsborough County and 4 percent in Pasco County.

Emergency

911

Police (non-emergency)

(813) 231-6130; Sheriff (813) 247-8200

Fire (non-emergency)

(813) 274-7011

Hospitals

AdventHealth Carrollwood, (813) 932-2222; AdventHealth Tampa, (813) 971-6000; Memorial Hospital of Tampa, (813) 873-6400; Tampa General, (813) 844-7000.

Visitor Information

201 N. Franklin St., Suite 102 Tampa, FL 33602. Phone:(813)226-2752 or (800)448-2672

Air Travel

Commercial domestic and international flights entering Tampa land at Tampa International Airport (TPA). Several commercial airlines and private planes use St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport (PIE). Private and corporate planes have access to Albert Whitted Airport (SPG) in St. Petersburg and Peter O. Knight Airport (TPF) in Tampa.

Rental Cars

Hertz, which offers discounts to AAA members, is at the car rental center at Tampa International Airport, (813) 874-3232; St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport, (727) 532-4801; and at St. Pete Beach, (727) 360-1631; or phone (800) 654-3080.

Rail Service

Tampa's Amtrak station is at 601 N. Nebraska Ave. in downtown Tampa, behind historic Union Station. Daily service is offered; phone (813) 221-7600 or (800) 872-7245. Bus service to Union Station is available via HART routes 9, 12 and 400; phone (813) 254-4278.

Buses

Greyhound Lines Inc. is at 610 E. Polk St. in Tampa; phone (813) 229-2174.

Taxis

Major companies include United Cab Co., (813) 777-7777, and Yellow Cab Co., (813) 253-0121.

Public Transportation

HART serves Tampa and its immediate suburbs, including shopping malls and area attractions. Service also includes the TECO Line Streetcar System, which makes 11 stops along a 2.7-mile track between downtown Tampa and Ybor City. For HART bus and streetcar fares and schedules, phone (813) 254-4278.

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