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Tampa Bay’s Ultimate Dining Guide
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Tampa Bay’s Ultimate Dining Guide

A Florida food writer’s tips and recommendations from some of the city’s top restaurants

By Chelle Koster Walton

As a Florida food and travel writer since the 1980s, I have joyously eaten Tampa Bay’s best dishes for ages. But, just when I think I know the local foodie scene, bang! An explosion happens with a new wave of diverse cuisine emerging from the kitchens of Florida’s most talented and creative. Grab a fork and join me in tasting this new revolution of food. I’ve left my notes to help you start your endeavor.

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Fodder & Shine

Mason jar cocktail at Fodder & Shine in Tampa Bay, Florida
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Taste Florida's Version of Southern Comfort Food
Mason jar cocktail at Fodder & Shine in Tampa Bay, Florida
Flavor notes

Pink Moon When “shine” shares a restaurant’s name, ’shine it is. This moonshine libation elevates the kicky liquor with fruity notes of grapefruit, carpano bianco and St. Germain elderflower liqueur. Starfruit gets muddled within, and is used as a garnish. My first clue that this place knows how to class-up Southern classics.

Cornmeal Fried Chicken It may sound cliché, but nonetheless, here F&S sticks close to tradition. Prepared to order in quarter or half portions, it’s like sinking your teeth into crackle and juice. The bacon-braised greens are sticky sweet, requiring only a dash of the house’s datil pepper sauce.

Brown Butter Buttermilk Ice Cream I am not a big ice cream fan, but the ingredients grabbed me. Buttermilk contributes a note of tang to the ice cream, and orange in the caramel makes this brilliantly Florida. The benne wafers? The thinnest, crispiest, most buttery imaginable.

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Cornmeal Fried Chicken at Fodder & Shine in Tampa Bay, Florida
Taste Florida's Version of Southern Comfort Food
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Noble Rice

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Bincho charred octopus at Noble Rice in Tampa Bay, Florida
Noble Rice's scallop & sorbet sashimi in Tampa Bay, Florida
Flavor notes

Sputnik Sweetheart cocktail An elixir best saved for a hot day. Fresh squeezed lime, Thai basil, pink peppercorns, sake, binchotan charred lime and champagne mingle in a cool drink.

Bincho charred octopus at Noble Rice in Tampa Bay, Florida

Scallop & Sorbet sashimi The crunch of toasted pistachio misoyaki caps the soft, seared scallop. Thai basil sorbet and blood orange slices continue the melody of juicy, creamy bites.

Bincho Charred Octopus Fusing Asian and American cuisine, this dish flexes the creative ingenuity found throughout Noble Rice's menu on one plate. A lone, blackened tentacle is marinated in lemongrass and ginger and lies on top of glazed fennel and charred avocado puree - simple yet bursting with flavor.

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Explore Tampa Bay's Asian Cuisine
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Oxford Exchange

Hot dog and fries from Oxford Exchange in Tampa, Florida.
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Chicken burger at Oxford Exchange in Tampa Bay, Florida with roasted tomato, jalapeño, avocado and sweet potato fries.
Flavor notes

Benedict An inspired reinvention of biscuits and gravy founded on large, fluffy, griddled biscuits with black pepper caraway crème as the crowning touch. But the fresh, peppery, housemade chicken sausage patties are the boss of this dish.

Hot dog and fries from Oxford Exchange in Tampa, Florida.

Chicken Burger In a historic former livery building, graze on the signature dish. Roasted tomato, fresh jalapeño, avocado, feta and cumin aioli turn the ground chicken tenderloin (flavored with cilantro and scallion) into a mouth party.

Fried Avocado Wedges Crisp panko crusting gives way to buttery filling. A sauce of sambal-ignited sour cream, smoked sea salt and lime completes the taste-bud tango.

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Ichicoro Ramen's Spicy Abura Soba bowl in Tampa Bay, Florida
Chicken burger at Oxford Exchange in Tampa Bay, Florida with roasted tomato, jalapeño, avocado and sweet potato fries.
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Rooster & The Till

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Photo: Skyler June
Rooster & The Till is one of Tampa Bay, Florida's foremost locally-sourced restaurants.
Photo: Skyler June
Tampa Bay's Rooster & The Till serves farm to table cuisine.
Flavor notes

Scallop Crudo Thin, salty slices of raw sea scallop in cashew milk. Then the flavors go a little nuts with ginger cashew gremolata and slivers of flash-fried chives for a novel yin-yang conjunction of land and sea.

Photo: Skyler June
Rooster & The Till is one of Tampa Bay, Florida's foremost locally-sourced restaurants.

Morcilla Reflecting Chef Farrell Alvarez’s Colombian roots, the silky blood-and-rice sausage filling counterpoints with the casing’s snap. Jalapeño, cilantro and charred tomato in the relish perfectly balance the richness.

Gnocchi with Short Ribs On an ever-evolving menu, this one remains constant—once you’ve tasted it, you are addicted to the pillowy gnocchi, dollops of creamy smoked ricotta and pickled rings of spicy peppers.

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Join the Farm-to-Table Revolution
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Edison: Food+Drink Lab

Edison: Food Drink Lab's oysters in Tampa Bay, Florida
Venture into Tampa Bay's gastropubs
Edison: Food Drink Lab's oysters in Tampa Bay, Florida
Flavor notes

Fig Lebowski From Edison’s Mixology Lab, it shakes up bourbon that’s house-infused with dried fig, sumac-infused maple syrup, citrusy Licor 43 and Seville orange bitters. Served up in an old-school martini glass, it tastes like a liquid fruit bowl drizzled with autumn.

Potato-Crusted Oysters A prime example of Chef Jeannie’s wizardry and a constant on a daily changing menu. Blue Pointe oysters breaded with finely shredded potatoes for a flash fry. Plated on the half shell puddled with sweetened, reduced dill pickle brine, a splotch of house dijonnaise for creaminess, and micro Dijon greens for texture and punch.

Vadouvan-seared Red Snapper Uses a housemade Indian-inspired spice blend and comes with coconut turmeric jasmine rice, vanilla-pickled carambola (starfruit) and tropical fruit curry for a gallivanting brush with exotica.

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Venture into Tampa Bay's gastropubs
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Ulele

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Indulge in Tampa Bay's native-inspired cuisine
Flavor notes

Charbroiled Oysters Mmmm! The smokiness sparked memories of fresh oysters on the grill for Christmas Eve. These go a step more festive with chunky garlic and a crust of melted Parmesan and Romano.

Florida Pompano It is difficult to find pompano on Florida menus, so I didn’t hesitate to order the mild fish, thinly fileted and pan-seared. Finely chopped sundried tomatoes and shallots gave the creamy tomato sauce textural complexity. I loved the color and crunch the carrot ribbons (French fry-style) added to the dish’s landscape.

Water Works Meatloaf Comfort food gets a kick off the couch. Dry-aged strip steak and fresh vegetables go into the meatloaf, topped with cabernet garlic demi glaze. For surprising flavor, housemade white cheddar popcorn tops the garlic-leek mashed potatoes.

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Indulge in Tampa Bay's native-inspired cuisine