Tampa Bay is full of attractions, but its diverse neighborhoods are its defining characteristic, each with its own flavor. The city has gained a national reputation for culinary excellence far beyond its distinction as the originator of the Cuban sandwich with multiple nominations in the annual James Beard Foundation Awards. Tastes may come with big-city flash, international distinctness or the comforts of home. Either way, you’re in for ingenuity. Here’s a look at four food-centric neighborhoods to check out for a fully satisfying flavor immersion after you check in.
This historic neighborhood features some of the finest homes, best restaurants and liveliest bars in the city. Bordered on the west by South Howard Avenue, or SoHo, it includes Old Hyde Park Village’s collection of upscale shops and eateries perfect for daytime strolling or nighttime feasting. The neighborhood jewel is Bayshore Boulevard, a linear park ideal for strolling, jogging and people watching.
Long before SoHo became a nighttime scene, Bern’s Steak House attracted diners all on its own. Renowned for its attention to detail, mammoth wine list, dry-aged steaks, fresh-ingredient cocktails and organic, farm-to-table vegetables (long before either was a thing), who could resist? It has changed little since opening in 1953 and that’s the point. This is old-school Tampa Bay, where locals mark special occasions and shake hands to seal business deals.
Fans of full-flavored steaks can’t miss the Delmonico. Go all out with a table-side Caesar salad and add a bowl of rich lobster bisque on the side. Take the kitchen-and-wine-cellar tour and finish your evening in the second-floor dessert room booths made of wine casks. Then you’ll know why Bern’s is more of an experience than a restaurant.
A couple blocks north of SoHo an offshoot of Bern’s has been drawing rave reviews. If Bern’s is the revered patriarch, Haven is the globe-trotting cousin ready for anything. Executive Chef Chad Johnson is a James Beard nominee and it’s obvious why with each mouthwatering bite. It’s all about sharing here, with small plates and small bites with influences from around the world. The menu changes frequently, but perennials include the Israeli salad, wild mushroom dumplings and skirt steak with duck egg. Check out the dining room’s glass cheese cellar, and don’t miss the house-cured charcuterie and baguette service. More than 200 whiskeys and a Cigar City Brewing craft beer made exclusively for Bern’s highlight the bar program.
A bit farther north is Ava, the only restaurant to earn four stars from the Tampa Bay Times. Chicago Cubs and former Tampa Bay Rays Manager Joe Maddon co-owns this gem. Ava offers a lively take on comforting Italian classics, including slightly charred Neapolitan pizza and house-made bread. The fried kale with pickled shallots are addictive. Joe’s favorite is the ribeye.
Seminole Heights, characterized by renovated Craftsman-style bungalows along oak-lined streets is home to the one of the city’s most exciting dining scenes that continually evolves with the neighborhood. New apartments, locally owned shops, cafes, restaurants and bars keep the face of Florida Avenue fresh. It’s quiet by day, busy by night.
The Refinery is where you’ll find imaginative cuisine and fresh ingredients sourced from Florida purveyors whenever possible. The menu changes weekly, but gourmet burgers are a specialty and vegetarian options front and center, such as an Instagram-worthy dish of cornbread and creamed lentils.
Tampa Bay is the epicenter of Florida’s craft beer scene, and Seminole Heights plays its part with three breweries and plenty of restaurants boasting local brews. Brew Bus Brewing is a great launchpad to explore the craft beer scene. Its beers have won national awards in the Great American Beer Festival and the World Beer Championship. In addition to its tasting room experience, it also offers bus tours of other craft breweries. Don’t miss the beer-braised brisket sliders and grilled cheese with roasted tomatoes.
Tampa Bay’s urban core for business and culture has a refreshing park-like aspect courtesy of The Tampa Riverwalk along the historic Hillsborough River. A nice spot for both visitors and lunching locals to absorb a touch of nature midday. By evening, the highrise office buildings empty and the bars and restaurants fill.
On the west side of the river, across from the University of Tampa, Mise en Place is the city’s power lunch spot by day, fine dining with big-city swank by night. The menu is constantly evolving along with the mind of Chef Marty Blitz. The rack of lamb and filet of beef tenderloin are mainstays, while others reflect Blitz’s latest whim, such as bahn mi, chicken shawarma or buttermilk fried chicken.
Anise Global Gastrobar is what happens when international cuisine goes eco-glam. Think fab interior design and cutting-edge cocktails combined with creative but casual food from people who care about being involved in the community. Stinky bunz are a must, updated classic Chinese buns with pork belly, shrimp, beef or chicken, topped with crispy garlic and shallots and pickled daikon red curry.
This is also the neighborhood for a culinary scene that includes community. The Hall on Franklin is effectively seven restaurants in one—a chic food court, with seriously innovative and delicious menu options. Hip meets history at Oxford Exchange. Almost a neighborhood in its own right, Oxford Exchange is a combination of bookstore, shared workspace, café and a particularly fabulous daytime restaurant (serving breakfast, brunch, lunch and afternoon tea). Similarly, Armature Works is an extensive mixed-use complex. The culinary side alone is a foodie-haven: Armature Works Heights Public Market features 22,000 square feet of choice dining, sipping and snacking from top Tampa Bay area chefs.
Tampa Bay’s historic Ybor City has evolved from a bustling cigar center into a lively and eclectic entertainment district. Locally owned coffee shops and restaurants draw workers from the port and downtown. As the sun sets, restaurants come to life and nightclubs beckon with rock, hip hop, jazz, blues and techno.
For food with a past, visit Columbia Restaurant. Founded in 1905, it is Florida’s oldest restaurant and serves such classics as chicken and yellow rice, boliche and paella. Walking past hand-painted tiles and oil paintings in this sprawling landmark evokes a more graceful era; and the dynamic aromas, carry a timeless appeal.
La Segunda Central Bakery, just off the beaten path, is a must-stop for Tampa Bay’s most famous culinary offering: the Cuban sandwich. La Segunda has been considered the gold standard purveyor of Cuban bread for more than a century. There’s no seating, so get a Cuban sandwich to go, along with a couple of guava pastries, then head to Centennial Park to savor your delicacies. Those who prefer in-house seating will get their wish in La Segunda’s second bakery, opening in South Tampa this summer (2018).
Florida’s first commercial brewery was opened in Ybor City, and has since attracted a couple of drinking buddies in the form of two stellar craft breweries—Tampa Bay Brewing Company the oldest, and Rock Brothers Brewing the newest. Coppertail Brewing Company, opened in 2014, has won numerous state and national awards. You can’t go wrong with any of its core beers, Night Swim, Free Dive or Unholy. Food trucks have been replaced with a full kitchen serving modern pub food including the smoked fish spread or the Juicy Lacey cheeseburger. And Zydeco Brew Werks is about to take the title of newest, when it opens this summer.