[All of the restaurants making this list are true favorites of mine. I have been to each many, many times (unless otherwise noted), and am confident that you will love them too. Originally, this was going to be a "top ten," but it didn't seem fair to rank such different places against each other, so other than #1, they're in no particular order; plus ten just wasn't enough.- M]
The Short List:
- The Rooster and the Till-- Until you read diferently, this is my favorite Tampa restaurant. Small, innovative dishes that are as beautiful as they are delicious. Great people, with great ideas about food and hospitality. Not inexpensive, but great art never is.
- Haven-- To be fair, I've only been twice since the relaunch (Haven was formerly the also excellent Sideberns), but I'm planning to eat and drink a lot more. The charcuterie is out of this world, as is the bar program.
- La Terrazza-- Mel's favorite easily makes my list as well. They do great, simple, traditional Northern Italian made with love. It's moderately priced, and they treat us like family.
- Cru Cellars-- This is my very favorite place to drink wine in Tampa, not just because of the stellar selection, but because of the precient and unpretentious staff that always seems to know what glass I should order next. The cheese & charcuterie selection are always great, as are most of the other plates.
- Ella's Folkart Cafe-- Another OSH neighborhood favorite. I love the cocktails (especially since they've been barrel-aging a rotating selection), and the food is always great. I love a few of their pizzas, but I usually order one of the specials. Live music sometimes too.
- The Refinery-- Staying in the 'hood for a tick, the Refinery started bringing high-cuisine to the masses in 2010. They arguably had a couple-year slump, but they are back with a vengeance today. I'm particularly loving the new lunch menu.
- The Independent Bar & Cafe-- Although it's true I go to the Indy mostly for the beer and the hanging out, I also love the food out of their cafe. I think of it mainly as a lunch joint, but sometimes at night a "Randy" or just a brat and some fresh baked pretzels really hit the spot.
- Cappy's Pizza (OSH)-- There are a lot of places to get good pizza, but Cappy's in OSH is where we keep going back. They do Chi-style correctly, if that's your thing, but the NY-pie is good, and I just had my first calzone there (It was awesome, but it took me a week to eat it). Great beer selection too.
- New World Brewery-- They can't all be in the Heights, right? I love the black-bean pizza here, and the new(ish) ginger chicken wings are right on time. Plus, it's one of the Bay's best music venues and beer gardens.
- Fuma Bella-- OK, not a restaurant, but as long as you're stopping in for a pizza at New World, you might as well pop in to Tampa's best cocktail bar across the street.
- El Puerto-- This has been Ybor's best kept secret for years (it's a little off the beaten path, at 17th and 5th Ave). It's Argentinian, mostly, which means fabulous meats (Mel's usual order is the baby curasco), but I stick to the ceviche (with a side of tostones), which beats the pants off what you'd find at, say, Ceviche.
- La Creperia Cafe-- Also in Ybor, right on 7th, this is my favorite place to come (often alone) for breakfast on a day off. I watch the people go by and enjoy a decadent savory crepe', with lox, cream, and even a little caviar. Great coffee too.
- The Row Boat-- Rounding out my Ybor favorites is a little place I think most people have overlooked. I usually get the appetizer sampler plate, which is full Greek favorites, and leave stuffed for less than $15.
- Restaurant BT-- Looking for something a little diferent in your S. Tampa fine dining? BT brings together an elegant fusion of French and Vietnamese cuisine, and serves it with finesse and impeccable service. Pro-tip: go for lunch and save some $$$.
- Yummy House-- YH remains our take-out go-to, but we'll ocasionally dine in at the new "China Bistro" on Hillsborough. Honestly, I still prefer the (admittedly less sanitary) Waters location- it is still BYOB, after all.
- Z Grille-- In downtown St. Pete, this one is worth crossing the bridge for. The food is ridiculously good, and fun (Dr. Pepper Ribs? Seafood Nachos? Bright fuscia-colored deviled eggs? What a riot!). Excellent cocktails, beers, and wines too.
- Cena-- I think I've only been twice, but I've been really impressed both times. Most recently their in-house charcuterie really blew me away. Also, while it's not cheap, I think you get good value for your fine-dining buck here.
- Capital Tacos-- While it's a recent discovery of ours, I can't very well leave it off the favorites now. Read the full GBRB story about it here
- Crab Shack (on Gandy)-- Not to be confused with any of the lesser shacks with similar names, we simply refer to it as "fried." I'm not sure why, but the fried shrimp here are just the best around. We typically just keep ordering appetizers until we can't eat any more. Don't forget to try the mullet spread and the grouper cheeks!
What favorite-worthy places did I forget?
Let me know your favorites (or what you think about mine) at Greenbookredbook@gmail.com
Thanks for reading.