5 Legendary Places to Eat in Tampa
Updated: October 25, 2023
Even if you hadn't noted Tampa's claim to be the birthplace of the Cuban sandwich — roasted pork, ham and salami paired with Swiss cheese and mustard on Cuban bread—you’ll find that the city’s multicultural heritage and fresh seafood and produce have inspired the local culinary scene. Many restaurants and food places have a well-earned reputation, so here's a list of where to eat when you want good food and validation when you're asked, “You ate there, right?”
Courtesy of Bern's Steak House
Bern's Steak House
1208 S. Howard Ave.
The storied restaurant, open since the 1950s, is known not just for steaks but also for its extensive wine cellar, purportedly the largest private cellar in the world. Needless to say, this is the No. 1 thing for couples to do in Tampa, even if you make a reservation solely to sample the cheese plate or get dessert. If you’re a foodie, consider staying at the Epicurean Hotel, Autograph Collection—affiliated with the restaurant and a AAA Four Diamond. The trendy hotel in Tampa is gastronomically themed from the prints on the walls to the on-site theater, where special events take place.
2117 E. 7th Ave.
Raise a glass of sangria to toast this local landmark, started in 1905 by a Cuban immigrant and said to be both the oldest and largest Spanish restaurant in Florida. Mouthwatering doesn’t begin to describe the menu, and indecision may follow: Do you prefer a legendary Cuban sandwich or Columbia’s Original 1905 Salad? Then, there’s paella a la Valenciana (rice with meats), a beloved classic. Culinary quandaries aside, you’re in good hands at the original location—still owned by the Gonzmart family and full of ambience, particularly if you’ve reserved a table to enjoy a nightly performance of flamenco, a style of dance originating in Spain.Read More
Heights Marketplace – Armature Works
1910 N. Ola Ave.
Whether you’re craving vegan barbecue, fresh seafood or a savory dessert, this 22,000-square-foot food hub, converted from a warehouse, is where to go in Tampa if you want to try a little bit of everything. (Warning: You may leave very, very full. There are more than a dozen food places.) It’s the perfect thing to do with friends; think communal seating, outdoor grounds complete with picnic tables and outdoor chess, and views of the Hillsborough River.
615 Channelside Dr.
Vendors with businesses in colorful shipping containers hawk everything from artisanal ice pops to pizza and New American cuisine. It’s the place to go whether you’re waiting at the cruise port, traveling with kids to The Florida Aquarium next door or strolling the Tampa Riverwalk (aka working up an appetite). The complex opens toward Garrison Channel to present the perfect space to explore food stalls, an open-air biergarten and entertainment options like bowling at Splitsville southern+ social (615 Channelside Dr.). Unlike the Tampa nightlife of yore, this destination also offers family-friendly activities like movies on the lawn.
1810 N. Highland Ave.
With inspiration from Native American culture and other multicultural influences, this local restaurant has quickly become the place to go for Florida fare. The charbroiled oysters, bubbly and rich with garlicky butter, is one of the most popular menu items. (It’s especially fun to sit at the oyster bar and watch the goings-on while you anticipate your meal.) Like the Columbia Restaurant, this eatery is owned by the Gonzmart Family of Restaurants and offers not only specialty dishes but also a memorable atmosphere with décor that harks back to its days as the city’s Water Works building. After your meal, enjoy a leisurely stroll across the lawn. (Note the various sculptures, including Princess Ulele.) Then head toward the Tampa Riverwalk, a waterfront pathway adjacent to Heights Market – Armature Works, Water Works Park and the restored Ulele Springs, where you’ll find a water taxi to take you on your next Tampa adventure.
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Sherry is an experienced #AAAEditor and former journalist who enjoys writing informative travel articles and reviews. Her commitment to making meaningful connections with people and places fuels her work for AAA. Sherry's favorite activities range from skiing to backpacking abroad and taking ghost tours.