USF area (long)
I work at USF. This can be a problem at lunch time. Here are a few solutions...
Mariott sells souls to keep a food monopoly on campus, and then pushes lame subs, pedestrian burgers, and watered-down international food to our great university. Personal pizzas dont impress us. The cafeteria offers a hefty selection at hefty prices, and the atmosphere leave much to be desired. The little Chinese stand is more Shanghai Express than Shanghai. The stand itself was stored in a freezer for months before being thawed out and deployed at USF.
What are we to do when hungry here at work, or when we invite a co-worker to lunch? Stand in line for forgettable egg rolls? Pay good money to eat with the kids and watch music videos and commercials at the Crossroads? Soak in the luxurious atmosphere of Subway? No! We should expectand demandmore from our lunch experiences. If packing your lunch is out of the question, or you need a break from them, vote with your feet and escape Marriott altogether. Here is a local USF dining guide to let you know about what our area has to offer for a quick, affordable lunch close to campus. Anyone who knows me will tell you that I love restaurants. Hell, Im writing a book about them. Ive tried many in the area, and these are the top 10 that come to mind.
Savvy Jacks. Specializing in southern food, this place is busy and their food is great. Pecan-crusted pan-fried chicken and catfish are both winners. Sandwiches are great, including hot roast beef topped with mushrooms soaked in Chardonnay. Unlike many places, their side dishes are great, too, whether it be their sweet spiced apples, garlic home fries, or broccoli medley salad. Salads and daily specials are recommended as well. Most prices are between $4 and $7 for lunch. They serve great breakfasts and weekend dinners as well. Warning: this place is busy. You might want to call first to see how crowded they arebut its well worth it.
Trang Viet Cuisine. I cant recommend this place enough. Even the least adventurous can eat here. Their food is healthy and exquisite, putting much more effort into their food than places that cost twice as much. Trang is a friendly Vietnamese man who will help the uninitiated make choices. He has his own garden in Lutz, where he grows most of the herbs used in his cooking. Its a good thing, because he uses a lot of herbs. Cilantro, lemongrass and cinnamon basil are the most frequently used. Theres a full vegetarian menu that features marinaded and grilled tofu among other things. Lunch specials cannot be beat, with soup, appetizer and entrée for just over $5. Any of the Four Seasons rolls are great, and the Pho soup is the best in comfort food. Dont be afraid to ask about the dishes or make special requests. Ive eaten from one end of this town to another, and I always come back to Trangs
Saigon Bay. I hate to give Trangs competitor publicity, but Saigon Bay (formerly Lemongrass) has good food at low prices as well. The attention to detail does not approach Trangs, but their food is good nonetheless. Lunch and dinner specials go for $5 or so. Simple menu, grilled meats are excellent.
Sawatdee Thai Cuisine. Tired of fried Chinese buffets? Try Sawadees lunch buffet for $5.50 with soup, curries, pad Thai, and spicy pork salad. A steal for the pricewhere else can you get fresh herbs, spicy noodles, sweet curries, tofu soup, and tapioca dessert in a buffet? Dinner menu is impressive, but with none of the lunch bargains.
Frank-El. Dont miss out on this place on Busch blvd. Although the owners are from Africa (Suriname if I remember correctly), they specialize in southern soul food. They have a lunch and dinner buffet with a wide selection of rich foods, four meats, four veggies and more at any one time. Roast chicken, BBQ pork, meatballs and gravy, and ribs are also available. Southern regulars like collard greens, black-eyed peas, cabbage, and corn muffins are great sides. One can have a full meal (drink, buffet and tip) for just $10. You wont have to eat for the rest of the day!
Mels Hot Dogs. If you havent been here already, you should be ashamed. Right near Busch Gardens, this place does hot dogs right. From the Midwest or northeast and miss those treats? Try Mels with fresh cut fries. You wont be sorry. Also offers polish sausage and other specialties. Prices, as you would expect, are low, and it still beats the hell out of Mariott!
Gladstones Chicken. Need something very close and very fast but cant gag on another lousy hamburger? Go to Gladstones chicken. Their cheap meals are filling and tasty. Their chicken, of course, is the highlight. Fear not, diet-conscious peopletheir grilled chicken is good for you, and their sides wont hurt you either.
Pitas. A small Tampa chain, Pitas serves Greek food, and Im not just talking Gyros (though theyre my fave). Try their falafal, hummus and stuffed grape leaves. Other wraps include lots of fresh veggies and meat. Spinach and feta pies are a treat, and they offer a variety of tasty and healthy sandwiches on Pita bread. The large $4 Gyro gives you a good idea of the prices. A variety of vegetarian options.
Vallartas. A decent Mexican place on 56th, their fajita lunches run for under $6, along with a host of others. A far cry from that canned Taco Bell taste, Vallartas wont leave you wondering why you bothered. Real corn tamales and fresh salsa are winners.
Café Don Jose. The Don Jose prepares Spanish food at affordable prices. The most upscale eatery on the list, they serve simple, dignified Spanish food like paella, palomilla, and boliche. A good restaurant to impress someone in, start with Spanish bean soup or an appetizer and end with Cuban coffee and flan. Pricier than the others, but lunches dont hurt the wallet much.
I couldn't agree more about Pita's. I absolutely love this place and try to eat lunch there 1-2 times week. The hummus and chicken pita is one of the tastiest things on Earth. And don't even get me started on the mideast peace wrap, the mediterranean chopped salad, and the hummus and falafel pita! Man, I'm getting hungry.
Also, I love Gladstones. Honestly, the place looks like a dump, but it's got some of the best chicken in town. Get yourself a two piece with salad, mashed potatoes, and pita bread with honey butter and you'll think you've died and gone to heaven. It's the closest thing you'll find to YaYa's Chicken, but it actually tastes good.
Finally, I used to work up that way and enjoyed many lunches at Ciccio and Tony's. The California Bowls and wraps (I'll take a wrap over a sandwich any day) are fantastic. And they have Sierra Nevada on tap, too.
Great post, Andy. Hubby and I often stay near there for business reasons and always looking for good places to eat. We look for dinner places more than lunch since he is often busy at lunch and I am stuck in the hotel. Any suggestions for great dinner choices (other than those already mentioned) that we might try. His sgn-in name is 'traveltoeat' and I am thinking of traveltodrink : - ). Any cuisine and price range would work for us. Again thanks for one of the best posts I have found for the USF area.
Hi Andy. I used to work at USF as well, at the library. I feel your pain. A lot of Subway and coffee machine coffee those days. I would like to add as an option to Sawatdee for thai, Lai Thai down on Fletcher, across the street from Just Books. I live in Orlando now, and whenever I go back to Tampa, I try to stop there. I have even known to get take out, and head back to Orlando with it. Love the food and people. I hadn't been there in a year, and when I went recently, they still remembered me. Good people, good food. Personal favorites are the Panang, Tom Kha Gai, and the combination platter.
Hey Andy!!! Great post. I think this has been one of the best posts I've seen on this board about Tampa in awhile. It's been a few years since I've been in town and I think that you covered the bases pretty well with your suggestions. I did live and work in and around USF during my time there.
Another suggestion that people might like is the Greenery. It's a pub that caters to USF students. Great pub grub (a few years ago mind you). Another low cost alternative is a steak sub place on Fowler and 15th ave. Not the safest place in town after dark, but for lunch it's damn good. Always loved the jalepeno steak sub.
Well, that's about all I can remember fr now. I took a ride by the USF area a week or two ago and couldn't believe how much it's been built up while I've been away. Good luck on your endeavor to find the lunch spots.
But then I think about the good times,
Down in the Carribean sunshine...
In my younger days I was so bad,
Laughin' about all the fun we had.
One Particular Harbor-Jimmy Buffett