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Tampa - You've Just Flown In ...

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All day traveling from the Pacific Northwest on a week day, arriving 7 p.m. then we get our rental car, head out of the airport on the way south to our friends house. We are starved (we don't eat airplane food) -- but our friends are waiting for us 90 minutes away and we don't want to spend a lot of time dining. Recommendations for something good and relatively quick? Please???

(About ten days later, after visiting Miami and the Keys, we will spend a couple of days in Tampa before leaving -- always a fan of local cooks/foods, especially things we can't get other places/creative twists, so any suggestions there appreciated too. Our first time in Florida.)

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  1. Ejohn:

    La Teresita for good Cuban food comes to mind first. It is not far from the airport, and won't take you too far out of your way, especially if you are heading east through town before heading south. Although you are going to Miami, I don't think La Teresita is notably inferior to any Cuban joint down there, and if you sit at the counter, you'll be out lickey-split. Enjoy your visit to our neck of sunshine.


    La Teresita Restaurant
    3246 W Columbus Dr, Tampa, FL 33607

    1 Reply
    1. You'll be on I-275 and after you cross the Sunshine Skyway bridge and merge on to I-75, many exits have good restaurants nearby. Sounds like your destination that night is around the Venice area? I can suggest seafood (Anna Maria Oyster Bar, exit for 301), or something as simple as Cracker Barrel (next exit- Hwy 64). When you cross the bridge and are out of the Tampa -St. Pete area, it is pretty easy and safe. Any preferences?

      10 Replies
      1. re: Veggo

        A glass of wine is imperative; love local, things we don't get (e.g. Cuban, local seafood) in Oregon. Thanks.

        1. re: ejohn

          The Anna Maria Oyster Bar should fit the bill, off the exit for 301, south a block, R at the light past The Total gas station, Resto is on left.
          Good fresh seafood, grouper, lobster bisque, mussel appetizer, shucked or fried oysters, and you can eat at the bar and get in and out quickly and get on to your friends. Decent range of wine by the glass.

          1. re: Veggo

            Anna Maria Oyster Bar is a fried food alley......................
            Down the street from the Tampa Airport is Cheesecake Factory, with valet parking, and excellent food.......
            Give yourself a treat, and try it, enjoy.......

            1. re: irwin

              now everyone will complain because you recommended a chain ; )

              1. re: rhnault

                There's supposed to be a great BBQ place at the Ellenton exit, just after the Skyway. Rib Dog has mentioned it a few times.
                I'll try to find the post....

                  1. re: joan

                    Its called Hickory Hollow Ellenton Exit which is 301 and go right for about 2-miles.....Its excellent..

                  2. re: rhnault


                    I won't complain because it's a chain. I'll complain because it's a chain that sucks. And because it doesn't meet most (any?) of the OP's stated criteria.


                    We just came from La Teresita again tonight (it's habit-forming) and noticed that they do sell wine by the glass. While it most certainly will not live up to the West Coast wine culture you are likely used to (and may perhaps insult it), the fact that you would be served a delicious, enormous five-dollar meal (enough for two, really) in a Cuban diner while sipping wine from a bottle kept on top of a coke machine (all for less than $8.00, I'm sure) is a pretty dadgum local experience, if you ask me. Save the Factory for Portland, if ever.


                  3. re: irwin

                    Veggo is right about Anna Maria Oyster Bar. It fits the bill for what ejohn is looking for. I do not agree that it is "fried food alley." (No, offense, Irwin. I always enjoy your posts.) Sure, you can get fried seafood and fried freshwater fish there, but they serve seafood poached, broiled, baked, grilled, etc., and it's delicious, fairly inexpensive, and fast. My only concern is that if ejohn and friends are starving after a long flight, they'll have to collect their luggage, a half hour operation, and then and drive an hour south of Tampa to get to the restaurant.

            2. SInce your starving when you get off the plane, and friends are waiting for you heading south, maybe grab a quick bite at Lee Roy Selmons BBQ, off Spruce Street/Lois Avenue just outside the airport. You'll be in and out within an hour, eat some great Southern Style BBQ from a local man(Lee Roy Selmon), then just hop on 275 South from Lois Avenue.

              When you get back to Tampa, Check out the Columbia in Ybor City, Arco Iris on Columbus Ave in West Tampa, Crab Shack on Gandy Blvd in St Pete. For FIner Dining, check out Bern's on Howard Ave in Hyde Park area of Tampa.

              2 Replies
              1. re: rshally

                Lee Roy Selmons is part of the Outback chain.........
                My last and only visit was brutal.......

                1. re: irwin

                  i have been hearing bad things lately. I used to like it a lot. Haven't been in about 6 months. Looks like I need to go again before I recommend again.

              2. If it were me, and I was zonked after a killer flight from the West Coast and still had a long haul ahead of me, I might go for something close to the airport but festive, like Bahama Breeze at Courtney Campbell and Rocky Point. Yeah, it's a chain, but the food is good in a Floribbean kinda way, the outdoor patio overlooking the bay is festive, and the cheery atmosphere and Calypso music can help get you in the mood for a Florida vacation.

                1 Reply
                1. re: laurie

                  I would put my 2 cents in for Crazy China Buffet on Dale Mabry. Its probably 10 minutes from the airport. Its asian fusion, so it will please everyones pallett. Their sushi is the best and the duck is fab too. It has every imaginable asian food and the deserts are good too. Its fast cuz its a buffet and you can be on your way south in an hour. Have fun in Tampa Bay!!

                2. I'm embarrassed to be a Tampanian with some of the recs here. Cheesecake Factory, Bahama Breeze, Lee Roy Selmon's, Crazy Buffet? No, No, No, No. C'mon Tampa- we can do better than that. I think Jimbo's response to one of Laura Riely's blogs was right on the money:


                  What about J. Alexander's, Matoi Sushi or Thai Terrace, even (I hate to say it) Jasmine Thai?

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: rikkikm

                    I'll second J. Alexander's and Matoi and also Teresita - for sure. Sa Ri One is also not far from the airport and great Korean food.

                    I think Teresita is about as Tampa as it's going to get though, and you simply can't beat the prices. If it's Vaca Frita day, get it. Also treat yourself to the fried yucca.

                  2. I already like Florida! Thanks for all the help; yeah, we avoid chains and really, really want a local experience -- while we love good wine, we're not too good (and we're definitely not rich) to drink a cheapie. So there are a couple or three good suggestions here. Thanks for your help, we really appreciate you taking the time to post.

                    5 Replies
                    1. re: ejohn

                      Hey ejohn - I'm a foodie who loves going local and I live 5-10 minutes from the Tampa airport - I think La Teresita is good but not as good or authentic as a couple of others in the same few blocks. For a TRUE Tampa experience (5 min from the airpot) I would go to Arco Iris, on West Columbus - 3328 W Columbus Dr. - It's Tampanian/Cuban food including the surprisingly authentic Tampanian/Cuban/Chinese food. (See past posts for discussions of this authentic curiousity). Get the lightly breaded or the 'Russian'-style whole fish and be happy all night.

                      I don't think they have wine though, and if they did I wouldn't dare drink it. Almost across the street is Lincoln Spanish Restaurant, which is also very authentically local, trending slightly more Spanish but still with obvious Cuban/Tampanian influence. They have serviceable wines.

                      At either place, two people can eat well for under $20 easily.

                      The neighborhood near the airport is actually a food mecca if you're willing to dip into the 'real' parts. please don't listen to these people sending you to chain restaurants that have nothing to do with the spirit of West Tampa!

                      1. re: rebecca.kukla

                        Thanks Rebecca! Never heard of Tampanian much less Tampanian/Cuban/Chinese but I love to experiment and there isn't much sense eating in chains, unless you're into "safe" (knowing what you'll get; I'm into the novel). We'll be back in Tampa for a couple of days at the end of the trip too.

                        1. re: ejohn

                          I made up the term "Tampanian" but it seems to me such a term is definitely needed. There are a whole slew of things you can get at any of about 300 different little dives around Tampa, and they are some weird mix of Cuban, Spanish, Italian and Puerto Rican (roughly) that you only find here. Devil crabs, media noche sandwiches, whole lightly breaded fried grouper with extra-sweet barely cooked onions, etc.. Oh, and the odd Cubanized take on Chinese fried rice. Some places around town call themselves 'Cuban' and some call themselves 'Spanish' and so forth, but they are all actually Tampanian.

                          Tampa is an eating treasure of a city if you know where to go. It's truly under-rated. Part of the reason for the ignorance is that almost all of the good places look like sh_t-boxes ... plain cinder-block dives on the outside, still dives but chock full of personality, social life, and yumminess on the inside.

                          If you have a couple days and don't have to stick right by the airport, my favorites other than Arco Iris are the West Tampa Sandwich Shop (a true Tampa institution) and Yummy House for the best Chinese food south of the Mason-Dixon line, to the best of my knowledge.

                          1. re: rebecca.kukla

                            Um, I don't know why I said 'whole' fried grouper. It's usually fillets.

                            1. re: rebecca.kukla

                              My wife's grandfather was a band leader in Tampa back in the 50's. His band was Joe Overton and the Tampanians

                      2. I'm going to piggyback on this thread rather than start anew as my request is pretty similar - going to be flying in and out of Tampa next week and have time for a quick solo lunch on the way from the airport toward downtown. The multiple suggestions for chains and chinese buffets here are brutally depressing, but I'm going to focus on those items that sound (to me, anyway) more chowish.

                        If my review of the map is right, it seems like the following are geographically desirable ->

                        Sa Ri One
                        Arco Iris
                        TC Choy
                        La Teresita
                        Lincoln Spanish Restaurant
                        Columbia (Ybor City)

                        I'm coming from Miami so I get my share of Cuban food unless someone tells me that Tampa Cuban is notably different from or better than Miami Cuban (or tells me it's my sure-fire best option). I do love tapas and have some sense that Tampa Cuban has a bit more direct of a Spanish influence, so that would catch my interest.

                        I'm also a huge fan of Korean food so Sa Ri One is tempting.

                        Anything I'm missing? Suggestions on particular dishes (and any links to menus) are also very much welcomed.

                        12 Replies
                        1. re: Frodnesor

                          If you don't have a good Chinese spot in your part of Miami go to Yummy House or China Yuan while you are in town. Columbia gets mixed reviews on the board but I like it and it is such a pretty place and the ambience makes you feel like you've stepped back in time. Even if you just go for some cafe con leche and bread pudding in the afternoon I think you would enjoy it.

                          1. re: Frodnesor

                            I have no idea what's up with the chain- and chinese-buffet-crowd. Your list looks pretty good, although Columbia is not so close to the airport.

                            I would say that Tampa Cuban is definitely substantially different and definitely more spanish-inflected .... but there are lots of posts on this on this board so I won't pontificate.

                            If you are going to put Chinese on your list, don't go to TC Choy! I agree with rhnault that Yummy House and China Yuan are both much better.

                            If you're staying downtown you might also consider "Spain", which has nice tapas and is a very nice space. (It too is Tampanianized, though - not pure spanish food.)

                            Sarge - cool! Glad to know there's a real local precedent for my (not so) neologism.

                            1. re: rebecca.kukla

                              This is a great thread and you, kind Rebecca, appear to have an absolute wealth of Tampa food knowledge; serve up as much as you'd like. I too live in an underrated food city: Portland, Oregon. I have been known to write about food (mostly recipes), and write cookbooks (5), so I am rather passionate about finding all things local. We will be in Tampa for 2-3 days at the end of the trip so yes, I am taking notes about the other places you mentioned. Also going to Tarpon Springs for perhaps lunch; assuming that is a good idea? Regional, Latin, South American ... things we don't have an abundance of here (although Portland has one great Cuban restaurant, Pambiche). We will meet friends of my traveling companion, old colleagues from the Peace Corps way back when, when we get off the plane but at the end of the trip we'll be on our own. Thanks to you, and to all posters, for the help. If there are any "food gatherings" or "communal dinners" -- both are popular here -- or wine dinners you know of March 19-21, I would love to know about them. Communal or family style dinner places are hits in Portland, you eat whatever is served, and pass the bowls down. Great way to talk to other foodies.

                              1. re: ejohn

                                Tarpon Springs is definitely worth a visit. The best Greek food on the docks is Mykonos on Dodocanese (the main drag of the docks). The grilled octopus is a favorite among the many offerings. Then walk about a block down for dessert at Hellas Bakery for local flavor and color. Avoid Hella Restaurant, however--it caters mainly to the tourist crowd, while Mykonos draws more locals.

                                1. re: ejohn

                                  Portland an underrated food city? It's been 9 years since I was a chef there, but at that time, the food was really coming up. The quality of the local ingredients alone make anyone a good cook.

                                  Didn't the NY Times just do a huge article on the state of food there? (granted the author was Paley's biggest fanboy and got called on it). Greg Higgins was on the short list for a Beard award (I'd say quite deserving of it) as well as the chef from Le Pigeon.

                                  I'd have to say, the local holes in the wall here are great, but in comparing higher end places? PDX wins, hands down.

                                2. re: rebecca.kukla

                                  Rebecca, I'm anxious to try Arco Iris, La Ideal and the West Tampa Sandwich shop in the near future. Could a group of 6-8 fit into any of those places? How much does one normally spend for lunch (or dinner)?

                                  1. re: rikkikm

                                    Hi - sorry, haven't had time to log on for a while so I hope this reply isn't too late to be helpful.

                                    A big group can fit easily into Arco Iris, which is huge. West Tampa has groups that size that apparently live there ... tables filled with old-time Tampa men who are already well-ensconced with their nth cafe con leche when I come in and show no sign of leaving when I go ... but the place is pretty small and it would be hard to find a table for 6-8 during peak meal times.

                                    Both are dead cheap - it's hard to spend $10 a person at either. At WTSS, the cafe con leche is about a dollar. The sandwiches (huge) are between $3.50 and $6.00, and the plates with a main course and two sides are around $7.

                                    At Arco Iris, it's the fish that kills me - I like it just breaded (it's not greasy) or else "Russian style" with chopped egg and red peppers and this fabulous light butter sauce.

                                    At WTSS I love the classic Cuban, the Bacalao sandwich, the Rope Vieha, the soups ... well just about everything really. It's also my favorite cafe con leche in town. (Most, including the ones at Arco Iris, are too sweet for me even when I order them without sugar.)

                                    I hope you go!

                                    1. re: rebecca.kukla

                                      Thanks for the response Rebecca.

                                      Someone mentioned that La Ideal is no longer owned by Cubans. Can anyone confirm or deny this?

                                      BTW, my mother said the Tamal en Cazuela at Arco Iris is the thing to try. (Since she's Cuban, I'll take her word for it.)

                                      1. re: rikkikm

                                        I'll order the Tamal next time - it's just so hard not to order the fish!

                                        La Ideal is under new ownership ... not sure of the ethnic background of the new people but the flamboyant guy who used to rule the place is gone.

                                        It is adorable in there, but even before the change I never thought that it held a candle to WTSS and Arco Iris for food.

                                3. re: Frodnesor


                                  I must second rhnault's suggestions: eat at Yummy House or China Yuan. We just came from yet another trip to Yummy House the night before last, and my wife had to stop me from leaving my seat and applauding the kitchen in person. I have had dishes there that are even better than they were a few months ago. Both restaurants are out of your way (they are around the corner from each other, and northeast of the airport) a bit, but I think it's worth it.

                                  I would recommend the following at Yummy House: Seafood-Tofu Hot Pot, Salt and Pepper Calimari, Hong Kong Pan-Fried Noodles. I would recommend the following at China Yuan: Shrimp Dumplings off the dim sum menu and the vegetable of the day. But really, just about everything I've tried at either place is above average.

                                  I know from reading your posts that you like your tapas, and although I have not eaten at Ceviche's new location, their food has always made me very, very happy. It is closer to your route east through downtown than the Chinese restaurants are.

                                  Enjoy your visit, and thank you for your posts on Miami.


                                  My apologies: I couldn't get the Place feature to work with Yummy House, but it is on W. Waters.

                                  China Yuan
                                  8502 N Armenia Ave Ste 1A, Tampa, FL 33604

                                  tampa, FL, tampa, FL

                                  1. re: Noice

                                    Thanks all for the good suggestions. I was omitting Yummy House and China Yuan only because they were the opposite direction from downtown. Unfortunately I ended up zipping in and out of town without even time for a meal, but there's always next time.

                                  2. re: Frodnesor

                                    I really can't recommend Sa Ri One and Teresita enough. Sa Ri One is very, very authentic Korean, and Teresita a very, very authentic Cuban cafeteria/diner.

                                  3. You know what just came to mind is SPAIN Restaurant & TOMA Bar:


                                    It is downtown and not too far from the airport (about 10 minutes I would say depending on time of day) and they really do have great food as well as a full liquor bar. Eat some Tapas, drink some Sangria and be on your way . . .


                                    1. What about Jimbo's? It's nearby.

                                      1. Arco Iris is the best Cuban food near the airport. Las Margaritas is not bad either. I would skip La Teresita only because it is not very clean. But they are open all night at the bar area if you need a late night snack. The cafe con leche and tostada are the best.