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Someplace good in Tampa near Performing Arts Center or airport?

My girlfriend and I have tickets to see Wicked at the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center this Friday night, and we're staying the night at a hotel she booked near the Tampa Airport. As such, I come seeking early dinner recommendations near the airport (preferable) or the TBPAC, with the caveat that I don't know my way around Tampa very well at all. I already looked at the website for that Channelside mall complex, but nothing there looked too exciting.

I also know Gasparilla is this weekend, and we'd rather not get caught up in horrible traffic, crowds, or craziness. Neither of us will be drinking, so we don't care about bars. We're open to almost any kind of food except Indian (she doesn't like it) or Vietnamese (we get it all the time in Orlando), and we'd prefer local places to chains. Is there an iconic Tampa barbecue place nearby? Amazing burgers? Cuban that would impress the hell out of this Miami boy? Italian that isn't too foo-foo fancy? Nothing overly fancy or expensive, please, since we're just students right now, and the play tickets and a night in a hotel are a bit of a splurge for us.

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  1. BBQ -- Kojak's is kind of fun, it's been there for years in an old house on Gandy Blvd (the Q officianados can't make up their mind it they like it or not); it's at the southern end of Bayshore so it's easy to get to and then an easy drive down bayshore into downtown for your show;
    Italian that isn't too fancy nor pricey would be Vino Y Pasta on Gandy Blvd;
    Best Cuban in Tampa would likely be Las Margaritas, north of the airport on Hillsborough just west of Dale Mabry; on Columbus Drive (our calle ocho) is La Teresita, lots of atmosphere, food marginal; another local cuban on Columbus is Arco Iris -- but I think Las Margaritas is better than either of these.

    Gasparilla was a month ago. Rest easy.

    1. The Gasparilla Art Festival is this Saturday and Sunday afternoons downtown. Near the airport check out Selmons for great Southern Style/BBQ, or Pelagia Trattoria in International Plaza Rennaisance Hotel.

      Downtown I would suggest trying Fly on Franklin Ave downtown for small plates in a groovy atmosphere, or SPAIN on Tampa Street for great Spanish/Cuban.

      1. I agree with the recommendation for Fly. It's funky and the food is pretty good.
        Link: www.flybarandrestaurant.com

        Higher end dining near the TBPAC is Mise En Place. Pretty good food, but I haven't had much luck with the duck there. Definitely get a reservation here!
        Link: www.miseonline.com

        Near the airport is stuff like Armani's (Italian) or Oystercatchers (Seafood)-also higher end/expensive. Again, get reservations!
        Links: www.armanisrestaurant.com or www.oystercatchersrestaurant.com

        For something casual, Bahama Breeze, Crabby Bill's and Landry's are near the airport also, just before hitting the Courtney Campbell Causeway.

        Bahama Breeze Link: http://direct.where2getit.com/cwc/app...

        Crabby Bills Link: http://www.crabbybills.com/

        Landry's Link: http://www.landrysrestaurants.com/pag...

        If you reconsider the Channelside route a new place is opening there this week called Gallagher's. Apparently, it's quite popular in NYC and supposed to be a very good steak place. We're not big Channelside people, but we're "branching out" and trying it this Friday night.

        Here's the NYC link-I am not sure if they have a site for Tampa yet: http://www.gallaghersnysteakhouse.com/

        Also, Grille29 in Channelside isn't so bad.
        www.grille29.com

        Not a fan of Kojak's at all. Very let down and the food wasn't fresh BBQ. It seemed they just served up whatever they had sitting under a warmer and ready to go. Much prefer Jimbo's on Kennedy-actually closer to the TBPAC too.

        Kojak's Link: www.kojaksbbq.com

        Jimbo's Link: www.jimbospitbarbq.com

        Have fun at Wicked!

        1 Reply
        1. re: HeatherFL

          agreed about kojak's went once soon after I moved to Tampa, never again. Jimbo's is better - I know some people aren't fans- but I think the bbq and sides are solid. Firstchoice in Brandon the best local bbq place IMO.

          as for mise en place and grille 29, I think they're both students so unless you're offering to sponsor their dining experience for the evening ;)

        2. Beg to differ but I disagree with Fly. Its too expensive. He's a student, he says, and they're already springing for the theatre. At Fly, they will charge you $2 extra for the bread. That is low.

          Spain is a good call. And right downtown.

          1. Thanks to all of you so far. Spain sounds like an option, but I'm loving the sound of Las Margaritas. What about the famous Columbia Restaurant in Ybor City? How far will we be from there, and more importantly, how affordable is it? Would we need reservations, fancy dress, a loan, etc.?

            1. You're a very short drive to Ybor City and the Columbia. It is a true tampa adventure not to be missed. The food is all its own, not so much like Las Margaritas which is more traditional Tampa cuban. It seems the Columbia has more Spanish influence nowadays. The entrees are double what you'd pay at the more intimate Las Margaritas, and more, but you are paying for the unbelievable building, the flamenco dancers, the snotty waiters (that you pay extra for). Actually it would probably be more convenient to go to Ybor and then to downtown the night of your play, as both are off I-75 which is your main road from the airport. actually Ybor is off I-4 which branches off I-75.

              I'd do Columbia for dinner and Las Margaritas for lunch the next day if your goal is cuban. Another alternative is to go to LM for dinner then stop into Columbia for a glass of sangria at their gorgeous bar after the play.

              1. You don't say if you'll have a car or notso I think you'll be cabbing it around town, so here's my offerings as I am student budget, high roller taste, too:

                BBQ- recommend Kojak's for bbq (I prefer Jimbo's but my family likes Kojak's- one of those debates) not really near airport nor Performing Arts Center though. I go to Jimbo's regularly- they are on the way to airport but only by car- more casual and take out than Kojak's- not expensive, best hushpuppies EVER and awesome peppery sauce. Their pulled pork is the best in Tampa. Both places are low key.

                No burgers, sorry.
                If you'd avoid Gasparilla- don't worry about Gasparilla,...that was a month ago- avoid Channelside- like a fishbowl of drunks. You'll have to take a cab to get to Ybor from TBPAC anyway, so I'd stick around there. Go to Crowbar or the Reservoir for the best live music and un-clubby nightlife- don't be scared off by the bars on 7th! Or New World Brewery for chilling out with a good beer and pizza. Also this weekend is great art gallery thing at Oliveras Cigar Factory- near Mema's!!!!!

                Don't go to Columbia- save your money and yourself from the tourists.(I also can't stand La Teresita, btw) You're from Miami- you don't need it. Word of warning- Tampa cuban food has yellow rice, not white. In Ybor is Tropicana for authentic Tampan Cuban. Laughing Cat in Ybor has awesome Italian, an ambiance that is suitable for a romantic date before your performance, and will not break the bank- you'll be happy about it afterwards. Also in Ybor- you want cheap and good?- Mema's Alaskan Fish Tacos. Yum. Not fine dining! Yum. . Fly is too expensive, and more about drinks than food, but fun and walkable from TBPAC. Spain is walkable to TBPAC and would be terrific pre-performance- it can get expensive too, but the food is much better, more worth it, and sometimes they have live performances of flamenco and such.

                Okay, so my final recommendation- cab to Ybor- eat at Laughing Cat- watch the show- back to Ybor for $5 art show and then latenight tacos at Mema's. My idea of a PERFECT couples night and probably $20 each if no drinks are involved.

                1 Reply
                1. re: artemisanne

                  Speaking of Laughing Cat, just went there for the first time earlier this week for lunch - did the buffett $9 or so - what a deal, not gourmet, but tasty and a nice selection of hot and cold dishes, better than I expected. I think I have TandooriGirl to thank for the idea!

                  matt
                  FloridaFoodHound
                  http://www.flfoodhound.com

                2. Sorry! I didn't see that you were on a budget. I would think that Columbia's would be a bit pricey too. It's not far from where you'll be, but it's not that close either. I also don't think that for what you get, other than the 1905 salad, it's worth the price. I've heard the Laughing Cat is really good, as artemisanne mentioned. Haven't tried it yet, though.

                  1. Thanks again, but I should note that I will have a car, and that my girlfriend has a disability, so we want to avoid walking anywhere too far, even if places are within normal "walking distance." And drinking is not even an option for us -- out of the question. So far, I'm still leaning toward Las Margaritas...

                    1. i love laughing cat, but it can get expensive..even without drinks. i think the best inexpensive meal in tampa is Cappy's. appetizer, salad, soda and pizza for $20...maybe $25 for two people?

                      1. If you want to do pizza, I second Cappy's! I LOVE their pizza!

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: HeatherFL

                          Recently wrote about cappy's after visiting for the first time. I've had several folks tell me their chicago style pie is very authentic, but we certainly didn't care for it - a mass of dull-tasting sauce. Will definitely try the more popular NY style next time: http://www.flfoodhound.com/2007/01/ca...

                          Other local pizza places that I've seen people rave about are Eddie & Sam's in downtown tampa and then Pizza Suprema at BBD and County Line, which is nosebleed north for us ;)

                        2. Do Laughing Cat Italian in Ybor and split the dish(HUGE portions, nominal $4 splitting charge)corner of 8th Ave and 15th Street.

                          Or, go to Jimbo's on Kennedy Blvd/Selmons on Boy Scout Blvd before the show for BBQ.

                          Happy Hour at Fly is very affordable, they take $4 off most items on the small plates menu.

                          1. I don't know how long you'll be in town, how much time you'll have etc, but if you decide to check out Ybor during the day (totally different experience than dealing with the circus at night), La Tropicana is a good choice for lunch. Inexpensive, good food, we like to sit up at the counter and watch everyone bustling around. Las Margaritas sounds great btw!

                            1. Oooh, I had forgotten completely about First Choice BBQ in Brandon, which I have been wanting to try for a while. We're having an early lunch with my friends in Brandon on Saturday after checking out of the hotel, so that might be the perfect destination, after Las Margaritas for dinner on Friday night. Thank you all! I'll be sure to report back.

                              1. do not be scared away if there is a line out the door at first choice. it moves quick enough.

                                1. I assume most of these restaurants in Tampa are located in safe areas for night-time visits

                                  1. yeah. for the most, they're fine. Fly in downtown is a little dicey because it's a changing neighborhood (new shiney condos and old deserted buildings) but there's always a crowd and tables outside, parking's nearby.

                                    And watch yourself in Ybor. Park in the city garages, they're policed and cheap, and just be careful. Sometimes drunks patrol the streets and beat up on people. For real!

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. Well, we're back. Thank you so much for recommending Las Margaritas. It wasn't far at all from our hotel (turned out to be a Sheraton off I-275 on Lois), and we found it just fine last night. The food was delicious, and the portions were huge, I was happy to note. I had a headache from normal "not knowing exactly where I'm going, and there's a deadline!" stress, but a huge plate of tender, greasy, delicious bistec milanesa made me feel a lot better. My girlfriend ordered the same thing and liked it too, but it was way too much for her to finish. We both got fried plantains -- the best I've had in a while, at least since my last visit home to Miami -- and she got white rice and I asked for yellow instead. I even ate both of our salads. It was a tiny hole-in-the-wall -- the truest kind of Chowhound destination, but everything about it was good. I had leftovers for dinner tonight, and there's even more for lunch (or more likely, a late breakfast) tomorrow!

                                      We had an amazing time at Wicked (see it if you can, Tampa locals!), and this morning we met my friends in Brandon. The girls quickly nixed my notion of barbecue even though it was noon, since they had their hearts set on breakfast/brunch food. Our friends took us to the Brunchery, which was packed but worth the surprisingly long wait. I treated all four of us, after the blackberry pancakes put me in an even better mood than I already was. While I usually don't go ga-ga for typical breakfasty places, the Brunchery is a very nice destination, especially if you're in or relatively close to Brandon already. I'll have to try First Choice another time, maybe some Monday night when I get out of my USF class and don't feel like driving straight back to Orlando immediately.

                                      1. channelside OK? you're kidding right? this is what tampa created for the cruise boat tourists. It's like tampa's own disney. all glitzy, brand-new, good lighting, parking garages.

                                        BBVL, I ended up at las Marg. myself. I had liver italian style. glad it worked out.

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: Tandoori Girl

                                          I saw that on the menu and thought about it... I love liver, and it's hard to make ANYTHING bad when it's "Italian style." But bistec milanesa is total comfort food for me.