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Nov 30, 2007 03:42 PM

Tampa - Hidden Gems?

Being new here I surfed around, but I kept seeing the same old, same old. I was hoping this board would provide insights on what I call the Hidden Gems. Places that never even heard of Zagat and Michelin is what you put on your truck to drive to these places. A place where you get great food at a decent price. If I want a good dinner and spend a C note for me and the Mrs, I know where to go, it's those places that cost half that (or even less) that I love to find. Now my definition doesn't include some place where the health departmenet makes frequent stops at (except maybe for lunch or dinner), but doesn't have to serve on china or even have wait staff.
So where are these gems in the Tampa area?

I've seen Skippers Smokehouse mentioned several times and I guess one could call that an upscale Dive, but c'mon! The Taco Bus on Hillsborough also fits my defintion, but I'm seeing to many references to Side Berns and all those other SoHo places.
There is more out there & not just on Armenia Ave (the motherlode of Tampa Hidden Gems)!.

For instance, my favorite Mexican is in Ruskin a place called LaCasita on Shell Point Rd a block West from Hgwy 41. When I want Mexican I drive from Carrollwood to Ruskin to get it.
If you continue further down Shell Point there's an outdoor stand called The Fish House with great Fried Seafood and decent Smoked Mullett. A nice hidden gem. Get yourself an Iced Tea and a picnic table and chow down on good eats.
For Chinese there's Yum-Yum House on Waters Ave just East of Armenia and the best Pizza in the area is at Bruno's located at Waters and Armenia (they have other locations in that area as well).
And for the best Deli sandwiches you can't go wrong and Mr Dunderbaks at the University Mall. It doesn't hurt that they have all those imported beers and I understand their German dishes are quite tasty as well, but I just can't get past those monsterous mound sof Pastrami or Corned Beef in all their different variations.

So Ladies and Gents, could ya'll please post some Hidden Gems for me or at the least the places that have great food (or at least one great dish) at a price that would make me want to treat my daughter's bum of a boyfriend?
JK, he's a great kid. Graduating with a double major from USF in a couple of weeks.

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  1. How about the newly reopened China Yuan on Armenia just past waters?

    Snack City on Columbus near Armenia, with home-made ice cream of various exotic flavors (I would call it Cuban ice cream, since the owner learned his stuff there but he says it's just ice cream)

    Cesare's of New York pizza on s. dale mabry, just south of plant high, originally from the Bronx right outside Yankee Stadium, with home-grown organic tomato sauce and great crust (though a little thicker than the classic NYC slices).

    Cappy's on Bay to Bay (there's another in Seminole Heights, but haven't been), with deep dish Chicago style or thin NY style, and myriad bottled beers, cash only, dammit.

    La Ideal on Tampa Bay Blvd. @ Gomez, a lively Cuban sandwich shop with great coffee and tamales.

    Las Margaritas on W. Hillsborough (a little west of dale mabry) cuban like an abuela makes.

    And there's a great BBQ stand on N Dale Mabry just south of Busch on the east side of the street that has duck and some thai side dishes like papaya salad.

    Speaking of duck, check out the roast duck and fresh produce/seafood at Oceanic Market on Tampa Street just north of I-275 downtown.

    That should keep you busy for a while....

    11 Replies
    1. re: Bergerman

      THAT is what I'm talking about!

      I never tried the Tamales at La Ideal and unfortunately I probably never will.
      That place has the best Cuban Sandwiches this side of... well this side of La Ideal.
      When friends or family come to Tampa and they want a real Tampa treat, it's La Ideal and not the Columbia or anything else. When I go out to Plant City or down to Appollo Beach area, my co-workers want me to stop there and bring them real Cuban Sandwiches, nothing else compares.
      And La Teresita is a nice 2nd place.

      I just can't place this BBQ joint on Dale Mabry. Is it between Waters and Busch?
      I may have to go out for a Dale Mabry cruise soon, BBQ Duck and Papaya Salad?
      Now that I have to see!

      Have you ever had Mauricio's Cuban Bread?
      On Florida Ave, just South of Hillsborough. $1.78 for some heaven (I think, I just give the lady 2 ones and thank her). More than half the time I go there I get a 3 foot loaf that is still warm to the touch. I walk out to my truck ripping a piece of bread off to knosh on while I drive home.

      And speaking of Bread, I'd be remissed if I didn't mention Mazzaro's in St Pete.
      Man, I walk in that place and gain 5 lbs from the aromas alone!
      Friday, they have Sammy's Big Fish Sandwich.
      I used to never like Fish Sandwiches, not even Grouper, but after having one of those (they used to be called Big John's Fish Sandwiches) I no longer avoid them.

      Thanks and feel free to update me with others!

      1. re: Oscar Demolski

        I posted about the bbq stand back in July; I haven't checked it out lately but here's that old post:

        Stopped at a roadside BBQ stand called Nathan's on N Dale Mabry in Tampa (at Humphrey, S of Busch) that had the usual menu of ribs, chopped pork and chicken, along with duck, papaya salad, pot stickers, and a few other choices you don't usually find at a BBQ joint in Tampa. A half-duck was juicy, smokey and boneless, $14. The papaya salad was cool, fresh and firey, served medium hot (the hot must be scorching), $6. Can't wait to go back and try the ribs, though it will be hard to resist the duck. I've had it roasted and served Peking style, but never smoked. This is strictly walkup, takeaway business, no tables.
        This did not make the recent BBQ roundup in the st. pete times
        though it's a pretty thorough roundup of the various styles (but apparently not wideranging enough from some of the comments people wrote!). Anyway, Nathan's may be a category by itself - southern bbq with with an asian twist.

        1. re: Oscar Demolski

          Try the NOLA Cafe a few hundred yards from the intersection of Plant and Platt Streets. The shrimp creole, jambalaya, and crawfish/shrimp etouffe are excellent, as are the beignets and the chicory coffee. This place is next to a dry clearner and directly in back of a Walgreen's in Hyde Park. It is more of a coffee house than a restaurant, but they do carry an assortment of New Orleans dishes. The owner is from New Orleans and it shows in the food.

          1. re: gfr1111

            Thumbs down on NOLA. They get a lot of hype being as they are really the only Cajun/Creole place in town. Terrible gumbo, shrimp creole and etouffee. I have alot of friends from New Orleans and we all just cook amongst ourselves sharing dishes as our stuff is the bomb.

            1. re: surfereddie

              I completely agree. I can do much better at home than anything i tasted at NOLA. avoid it.

              1. re: surfereddie

                For real NOLA food, go to the Cajun Cafe on the Bayou in Pinellas Park. It's the real deal. They get their boudin from Poche's in Breau Bridge, La., and it's excellent. Their gumbo is as good as I've ever had! Best Cajun in Florida.

                1. re: 1stmakearoux

                  Love CCotB! The owner Paul is the most awesome guy ever, and I have a soft spot in my heart (which will probably one day require bypass surgery) for those boudin balls :)

                  1. re: askdrtodd

                    Yeah, we went there last weekend... IMO, it's one of the best Cajun restaurants in the Tampa Bay area.

                    I like eating some crawfish cornbread, along with a couple of pounds of mudbugs, and a couple of glasses of Jai Alai IPA.

                    1. re: deet13

                      deet you rule, Jai Alai is a favorite of mine too.

                2. re: surfereddie

                  want a new friend hee hee

                  "tumbs down on NOLA. They get a lot of hype being as they are really the only Cajun/Creole place in town. Terrible gumbo, shrimp creole and etouffee. I have alot of friends from New Orleans and we all just cook amongst ourselves sharing dishes as our stuff is the bomb"

                  1. re: surfereddie

                    Best Cajun/Creole place in town is Tampa tap room in carrollwood the chef there is Cajun and the taste is so authentic I keep think I walk out the door in a side street in New Orleans

            2. I second Cappy's, it's our favorite pizza by a mile, and yeah, it's cash only, but a large NY cheese (thin crust, but not a cracker) is $10 and change--not bad at all. The beer cooler is a big plus.

              Check out Mr. Empanada on Kennedy just west of Dale Mabry.

              1 Reply
              1. re: Miss E

                I just saw that Mr. Empanada is putting in another location on Gandy Blvd. just east of Westshore.


              2. Arco Iris on Columbus is my go to place for Cuban. And also Cacciatore and Sons on Armenia south of MLK is great for deviled crabs, cuban sandwiches, and the italian sausage in their meat dept is very good also.


                1. I agree with most of these picks, My gem is in Plant City. I have grown up in Tampa and was born and lived in Ybor City. The BEST devil crabs I have ever eaten in my life are from Linda's Crab Shack in Plant City.

                  Try them you will not be disappointed!

                  1. I absolutely love Pepo's on Hillsbourgh. It's very casual, good for lunch, probably not dinner. But I love to get take out. It's true authentic cuban food...I dream about the roast pork and black beans and rice. very reasonably priced.

                    12 Replies
                    1. re: kmills9408

                      Fat Willie's Fish Camp on Front Street in Valrico (Brandon area). Great fried catfish and gator.

                      1. re: kmills9408

                        I have not tried the Tampa Pipo's but I live next to the one on 4th st. St. Pete. I have to absolutely second the above. Pipo's is one of the best places in the area (for mom and pop shops) serving Cuban food. You can tell the owners really care about there business as well. As a Cuban Sandwich Connoisseur, (currently attempting to try every place in the Tampa Bay Area) I consider Pipo's easily one of the best in the world.

                        Cuban Sandwich Shop
                        10434 N Florida Ave, Tampa, FL 33612

                        1. re: patrick37

                          please report back on your Cuban quest--- I am interested! For fun, you might want to read an article of mine that recently saw print...


                          1. re: andy huse

                            seconded. So far I couldn't find a perfect cuban, just a lot of good or great ones. I think my perfect one would be the guts of the cuban from wright's gourmet deli inside la segunda bread pressed at the floridian haha

                          2. re: patrick37

                            Hey patrick37, I was wondering if you had any info on what's happening with the cuban sandwich at La Teresita. I'm a former Tampa resident who now only drops in for occasional cubanos when I'm in town. I know people love to disagree about who has the best cubano, but I've always been a fan of the La Teresita version. However, I heard from a friend that they recently changed the bread they are using to something that is much poorer quality. Apparently the restaurant is making their own cuban bread now, and the verdict is that it is not good. Any insight on this? Will I have to strike La Teresita off my list for next time?

                            1. re: gemuse

                              I know the best Cuban in Tampa I almost don't want to give it away because it truly is hidden.
                              La Caridad bakery on hillsborough, found it by a cuban friend and everyone agrees. Get it all the way.

                              1. re: briin79

                                I've mentioned Cubans at La Caridad before, and although I've had a few good ones from there, as well as a few el cheapo skimpy A$$ ones, even the good ones aren't up there as far as I'm concerned... None of the places that try to get you a Cuban for under $5.00 will be in the running... They're all using crappy ham, crappy cheese, crappy everything, and as little of it as possible... That's 99.7% of all Cubans in Tampa... It's simply isn't supposed to be an expensive sandwich, and neighborhood folk would reject it otherwise...

                                Every single component of a Cuban sandwich has to be premium & carefully selected for it to ring all the bells...

                                For that you have to go to a specialty sandwich shop that uses all Boar's Head or something comparable---- is fairly generous---- and charges $8.00-$9.00 for it...

                                So far the most perfect Cuban Sandwich experience has been at Wright's on Dale Mabry...

                                'A Cuban sandwich please, extra cheese, no lettuce or tomato, pressed well' --- as you stick a buck or two in the jar...

                                Look at this piece of crap from 'Andy's on the Bay' in Oldsmar...
                                The ham is that blended baloney-like ham you get at the dollar store...
                                Sorry Andy's---- I would have preferred to have been impressed...

                                1. re: Mild Bill

                                  I'm a HUGE Boars Head fan so sure use their ham but the pork must be roasted Cuban style and the bread must not be old. I have not had any luck finding a solid, meaning every time it will be the same Cuban sandwich. Publix makes them spot on production line quality uniformity but they don't use Cuban roasted pork. Well it doesn't taste like what I'm looking for anyway.
                                  Pipo's on McDill is hit or miss there is no quality control. Sometimes tons of meat other a little. So the bread and cuban roast pork make the sandwich but since they don't dedicate a roast pork for sandwiches its gonna be hit or miss.

                                  1. re: surfereddie

                                    As a roast pork maniac I totally agree... Pop in to Cuban Delight Cafe on 49th Street in St Pete... It's a great little family owned Cuban restaurant and they make two Cuban Sandwiches... One is regular, and good---- but the other is the Cuban Grande, which is both a Cuban Sandwich AND a Roast Pork Sandwich... LOL...

                                    I loved it, even though, on the day I went the roast pork's flavor intensity could have been brought up a notch or two... I told myself next time I'll ask for a little cup of Mojo on the side... The folks running the place and working there couldn't have been nicer! The pork was soft and juicy at least...


                                    I can't believe the photos I took when I was there are not on my computer anymore!

                                    Cuban Delight Cafe
                                    2950 49th St N, Saint Petersburg, FL 33710

                                    1. re: surfereddie

                                      Organic Life Coffee shop in Land O Lakes/Wesley Chapel uses Boars Head meats and fresh bread from La Segunda. $7.00 with a side of veggie straws.

                                      They are the best I have had anywhere

                                    2. re: Mild Bill

                                      contrary as you missed this place There is a new hidden gem it a red food truck on north side of bush half way between north Blvd. and Armenia that served one of the best Cubans I had in Tampa for a LOW 4 dollars and stuffed with the most tender pork and perfectly done

                                  2. re: gemuse

                                    I've had a lot of Cubans in this city and, at the end of the day and for reasons others mentioned, Cafe Hey makes the #1 Cuban. I know it's a white people place, but that's how the game goes.