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Tampa Recommendations

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Hello all,

I'll be in Tampa, FL for a ten-week paid research internship beginning May 26th and ending July 24th. I will be living on the University of South Florida campus, and will not have a car, though I plan on buying a used bike once I get there. I would like some recommendations for restaurants in the Tampa Bay area, especially in North Tampa.

I'm mainly interested in less expensive / pretentious restaurants (I love "divey" and "hole in the wall" places), though I am not on an overly restrictive budget. The cuisines I'm most interested in are those that are common in the Tampa area but harder to come by up here in Minnesota - I understand you have a good selection of Cuban, Argentinian, Colombian, etc. restaurants. I also like Indian and Ethiopian food.

Thanks for any replies.

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  1. Close to USF I would say the best food places are the following: Mel's Hot Dogs, Cici's pizza and pasta, Jakes Hamburgers, Jason's Deli,

    2 Replies
    1. re: khdeals

      stay away from CiCi's worst pizza ever though the price is right

      1. re: annemarie07

        Ditto that, horrible pizza but great prize if hungry.

    2. I wouldn't waste my time with Mel's. They sell overpriced hot dogs that you are supposed to feel good about because Mel is supposed to be some awesome guy with personality. Well, I'm not there to eat Mel and I'm certainly not going to pay that much for a hot dog....no matter what you call it.

      1. I like Sake House for Sushi, Taj for Indian, and Trang for Vietnamese. All 3 are on Fowler. I don't live in the area but will drive up and eat at those 3 places.

        2 Replies
        1. re: rhnault

          and Chopstix for Chinese but I think it is on Fletcher.

          1. re: rhnault

            Chopstix is great and right next to my favorite USF haunt - Kalesia Tea Lounge. I'm not sure how that would go on a bike though.

        2. First, take advantage of USF's shuttle called the Bull Runner to get around as much as you can. They have a bike rack on most shuttles and is free to students with a USF ID. It will save you with their wonderful, possibly glorious, Air Conditioning.

          In the University Collection on Fowler you have Byblos Pita (Lebanese), Taj (Indian), Pho Quyen (Vietnamese), EVOS (Green Hamburger and Wrap Chain with Air Fries), Jason's Deli (I'm not a fan, but my friends used to like them), First Watch (chain, but I really like their breakfasts), Five Guys Burger and Fries, Ichiban Sushi and Japanese Restaurant. In the same complex is also a Panera (free wi fi) and I think a Chilis. I know there is more, but these are just the ones I used to frequent.

          On Bruce B Downs and Bearss, is my favorite Sushi in the area - Bonsai. I'm not a purist, so keep that in mind and you'll enjoy it. They are in the same shopping center as a Beef O Brady's and a Steakhouse chain restaurant that moved in after I moved out of the area.

          On Bruce B Downs, past Skipper (again, take the shuttle to get closer), is Acropolis, Mr. Dunderbak's, Land and Sea (you didn't ask, but it's a great place to buy meats) and a cigar and wine bar called Toast.

          Ethiopian food will mean a car ride. Most Indian places are farther down Fowler Ave. The Latin American foods will have to come from others on the board. I don't know of any good places for those cuisines near USF, but someone else might.

          1. The USF area is pretty bad when it comes to food, and campus food is the worst. There is no Latin food worth eating in the area. Sorry.

            Be very careful when biking in the area. I lived near campus with only a bike for a while and it is extremely hazardous. You must be a USF student (or have a temporary USF ID) to use the shuttle, and some of the routes are shut down for summer.

            My USF area faves:
            Trang Viet Cuisine (good lunch specials, veg'vegan friendly)
            Pho Quyen (great Pho and more spice than Trang)
            Chopstix (Chinese)
            Jerk Hut (Jamaican and drinks)
            Ichiban (sushi)
            Sabri or Cilantro (Indian)
            Byblos (Mideast wraps, better than most)
            Green Land (Mideast)

            Five Guys and Waffle House in a pinch. I've had good and bad meals at De Valle Mexican. It also has nice baked goods and a market.

            I would avoid Cici's and Jason's deli. Neither is worth it. Mel's is okay and overpriced. It would also be a haul on a bike.

            6 Replies
            1. re: andy huse

              No offense to khdeals but I don't like any of the places on that first list at all. I think Mel's is a total scam. They are just regular hot dogs on regular steamed hot dog buns with regular toppings, gussied up with a retro atmosphere and expensive.

              My personal edits to Andy's list above:

              I refer Tara's Roti Shop to Jerk Hut for Jamaican (and I think Jerk Hut just closed down anyhow). I'd add Ho Ho Choy to the list - it's in the same strip mall as Chopstix and has decent dim sum. And there is a place that no one but me ever seems to notice which is just called 'thai noodles' or something bland like that, up on Fletcher just a bit east of campus. Their noodle dishes are really good. I'm surprised no one ever talks about it here actually.

              But as others have said: The USF campus area is not an easy place to eat well without a car. Good luck to you!

              1. re: rebecca.kukla

                I like Mel's. The place is spotless. They have good music that is not too loud. A big screen television. The hot dogs are better than any I had in Chicago, and the price is fair in the circumstances. I took my wife and grandson therr after a day at Lowry Park Zoo. A kid's basket (dog, fries, drink, special treat): a dog basket for the wife (dog, fries, Slaw, drink), and a extra large dog and a drink for me. It yielded more than we could eat (way more fries than the three of us could eat0 for about $15.00. We all left happy. I spend more than that on the three of us at IHOP or Wafflehouse. My four year old grandson said it was the best hotdog he ever had. If I can accomplish that for $15.00, I thiink I've got a bargain.

                1. re: sarge

                  Uh, I don't know where you ate your hot dogs in Chicago Sarge, but Mel's definitely does not live up to my standards of Chicago hot dogs (Wiener Circle and Hot Doug's). Has anyone tried that new hot dog stand on Adamo near Ikea? They have a hot dog with mashed potatoes on it that sounds remotely curious.

                2. re: rebecca.kukla

                  I had dim sum at both Ho Ho Choy's and Chopstix, and I thought Ho Ho Choy was much better. I was kind of disappointed with Chopstix since I read so many good comments in Chowhound.

                3. re: andy huse

                  Origami Sushi is the best in the area. You get a lot of great sushi for a good price. Ichiban was bad and way overpriced for what you get. Benjarong Thai is my favorite thai place, but some say they are a bit too sweet. They have great quality food though and I'm sure you could ask for it not to be so sweet. There is a great Moroccan place in the same shoping plaza as Kaliesia Tea (a must!) and Chopstix (never been, but now I must). Five Guys has the best burger around. Mellow Mushroom Pizza is a drive, but I recommend the one near Citrus Park Mall. Seriously the best pizza with great quality (usually natural or organic, but doesn't taste like cardboard at all). Mr. Dunderbacks has a great German atmosphere, especially for college students. Both Mellow and Dunderbacks have great beers. A place called California Tacos, on Bearss Ave., is great and more like homemade mexican food compared to shit like Taco Bell. Acropolis is good, but they also own a place on Bearss called Pita Express and they have the same exact food, but its cheaper. Acropolis has a cool atmosphere at night though (hookah, belly dancers, napkin throwing, and plate smashing) I know good food I wouldn't send you astray.

                  -----
                  Benjarong Thai
                  14402 N Dale Mabry Hwy, Tampa, FL 33618

                  Chopstix
                  1441 E Fletcher Ave, Tampa, FL

                  California Tacos
                  1450 Skipper Rd, Tampa, FL 33613

                  Origami Sushi
                  11903 E Colonial Dr, Orlando, FL 32826

                  Ichiban
                  5555 N Davis Hwy Ste I, Pensacola, FL 32503

                  Pita Express Inc.
                  1911 E Bearss Ave, Tampa, FL 33613

                  1. re: aplaza

                    Agree on Chopstix, Kaliesia Tea, Dunderbaks, and Acropolis. Best burger is Pane Rustica by FAR though. Mellow is awesome but I only go there if I want a Magical Mystery Tour and some great beer, and I have to say I think the one in Brandon is better since Andy stopped working at the one in Citrus Park to go work at SKA Brewery.

                    -----
                    Chopstix
                    1441 E Fletcher Ave, Tampa, FL

                4. I do have to say that McAlister's Deli is one of my favorites from my college days in Auburn and every now and then I will drive up to the one on 30th ST. Another good one is Jimmy Johns on Fowler. I haven't actually eaten at this one but I have never had a bad experience

                  1. tvdxer,
                    The problem is your lack of transportation and, therefore, your lack of geographical range in the Tampa area. You'll notice that of your listed cuisines--Cuban, Argentinian, Colombian, Indian, and Ethiopian--only one, Indian, has been addressed in the first twelve posts.

                    I don't know of any recommendable restaurants in the U.S.F. area serving Cuban, Argentinian, Columbian or Ethiopian food. If you can hitch a ride, take a bus, or take a cab, there's the Columbia in Ybor City and Valencia on Kennedy a few blocks west of the river. Both are Cuban restaurants (although both bill themselves as "Spanish/Cuban") which have been serving food in Tampa for over 40 years.

                    The Columbia, like Bern's Steakhouse, is a Tampa landmark and any time that you mention the restaurant on these boards, you are like to draw criticism that the Columbia isn't that good, or that its food has gone downhill, etc. All I can say is that the very fact of the restaurant's survival for all this years belies that criticism. Additionally, for every negative comment, you'll find five positive ones. Try the Cuban sandwich, the 1905 salad, the gambas (shrimp) in any of their permutations, the ropa vieja (a sort of stew made from pot roast), the tres leches (a cake with various types of sweetened milk and cream soaking it), or the flan (a custard with a burnt carmel sauce) and you'll be happy.

                    If you get the 1905 salad, just get the straight salad with the usual swiss cheese and ham on it. If you get the shrimp or chicken topping, they take off the ham topping and, I believe, the salty, smokey ham makes the dish.

                    Valencia is very similar, although the ropa vieja is not as good, but they have a lot of really good fish dishes.

                    As to the U.S.F. area, I, too, am a fan of Ho Ho Choy's dim sum. It is located on the south side of Fletcher in a strip mall.

                    I have not been to the CiCi's pizza near U.S.F., but I have been to a couple elsewhere in Tampa. I thought the pizza was below average. Also, I have not been to the Jason's Deli near U.S.F., but the ones I have been to near the Countryside mall in Clearwater and in Tampa have been very good. I would recommend them.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: gfr1111

                      Columbia, yes good food, as gfr1111 mentioned it is great. The 1905 and cuban and they run specials and the black bean soup and cuban is great for lunch or dinner. Jasons Deli, I have eaten at and so so. Not much near that whole area. Panera, free wi fi, too expensive for me Chopstix is ok. Not much close by mostly chains or over priced. Take advantage of the shuttle if you can.

                    2. It's not like I won't have other people, or the bus, for transportation beyond walking (or biking...I'm a bit discouraged now) range.

                      Here are 10 restaurants I would like to try, not necessarily near USF (nor from your suggestions...although thank you very much, those should be some good places I can easily get to)...comment as you wish on my choices:

                      1. Antojitos (Colombian, 2302 W Columbus Dr)
                      2. Columbia Restaurant (Cuban-Spanish, 2117 East 7th Avenue)
                      3. Un Solo Pueblo (Venezuelan, 4023 W Waters Ave, check to see if still open) or Don Pan (202 N Dale Mabry Hwy)
                      4. Queen of Sheba (Ethiopian, 2117 East 7th Avenue)
                      5. Ceviche (Spanish, 1502 S Howard Ave)
                      6. Mr. Empanada (2711 University Square Dr.)
                      7. Ichiban (near campus)
                      8. Pure Veg Mirch Masala (Indian, 2311 E Fowler Ave - near campus)
                      9. La Teresita (Cuban, 3204 W Columbus Dr)
                      10. Trang (Vietnamese, near campus)

                      Also, I plan on trying a few new chains I never have went to before: Panera, Waffle House, and Cici's (I've heard a lot about that one!)

                      5 Replies
                      1. re: tvdxer

                        Overall good choices. I agree that Ho Ho Choy makes good dim sum.

                        Mel's is good to fix a hot dog craving when i get one, but i otherwise don't go out of my way. Tara's Roti is also a fine choice, better than Jerk Hut, which i guess is closed.

                        I only really like the guava and cheese empanada at Mr Empanada. The rest of the food doesn't thrill me.

                        I don't know about Pure Veg or Un Colo Pueblo.

                        1. re: andy huse

                          I thought the Jerk Hut reopened further west on Fowler in the space that used to be the Korean (then Japanese) place. I am not crazy for their sweet jerk sauce but that's another issue. Anyone checked out Patel Brothers yet? I ran in a couple of weeks ago to look for indian mangoes but the place was totally packed. They have an enormous wall of frozen Indian meals.

                          1. re: CFishman

                            Jerk Hut has moved again into the old Sushi Gohan location farther down Fowler...way too far on a bike when Tara's is nearby.

                            1. re: CFishman

                              Went to Patel Bros on a lark while in town, but without any way to cart all the food home! There were too many goodies, and I'll have to go back when I am headed right home. My SO and I enjoyed their desserts and sodas in the back.

                          2. re: tvdxer

                            Antojitos is lots of fun and tasty. I also like Queen of Sheba, Ceviche, Ichiban, and Trang, so you have lots of good stuff on this list. Some of these I have not been to, but I would say that while La Teresita is tasty and fun, if you are in that neighborhood both Arco Iris and West Tampa Sandwich Shop have better local Tampa--Cuban-Spanish food.

                            Enjoy!

                          3. La Teresita is amazing. You will not be disappointed. I encourage you to also get over to El Taconazo ('the taco bus') located on Hillsborough immediately off of I-275. Pollo Tropical is a chain, but you won't likely find it elsewhere, and it is both affordable and pretty tasty.
                            I second the votes for Mr. Dunderbaks, McAlister's Deli, and Five Guys.

                            5 Replies
                            1. re: sarahew1

                              How can anyone reccomend CiCi's. It's a chain hog trough. Don't go there, that's ridiculous

                              1. re: sarge

                                CiCi's definitely isn't a typical "CH" recommendation, but I've h eard about their $3.99 pizza / pasta buffet and want to check it out simply for that reason, even if it really is a hog trough (well, maybe not if it is literally a hog trough, but a hog trough charging $3.99 is worth checking out simply for the fact that they charge $3.99.

                                1. re: tvdxer

                                  I went one time while on the road and was beyond hungry. I had only 7 dollars on me after having my car broken into and my purse stolen, been on the road for 5 hours and still had a drive ahead of me and Cicis was right there. Not good pizza but a sausage and pepperoni pizza and a salad for the price wasn't bad. I'm not sure I would there on purpose, but it sounded better than McDonalds, a bag of chips, or some crappy microwaved nachos with fake cheese from 7-11, lol.

                                  1. re: kchurchill5

                                    KC's is about as good a reason to go to CiCi's as there could be. If you're curious about the place, I would suggest you just go watch for a few minutes, then go eat elsewhere

                              2. re: sarahew1

                                La Teresita, absolutely. As sarahew1 says, you won't be disappointed. You will get a delicious meal for a small price. It's really like two restaurants: a diner-like side (on the west) with counter service and some tables; and a sit-down restaurant (on the east). Both have similar menus and prices. Fantastic Cuban food! Try a Cuban sandwich, and sides of yuca frita (fried yucca; a wonderful, slow-cook root plant) and plátanos fritos (fried ripe plantains).

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

                              3. I havent spent time in the USF area in years but I 2nd the rec for Pho Quyen, yummy!!!!!

                                1. Oh ya, Cilantro on 56th between Fowler and Busch, it's the best Indian in Tampa!

                                  8 Replies
                                  1. re: TampaNativeThatLovesNYC

                                    I LOVE Cilantros!

                                    1. re: dmfnole

                                      Man, people really need to stop recommending Cilantro to interested patrons. It's very bland, unremarkable Indian food. It's clean and fresh, but besides that very safe and deliberately designed to attract a white crowd. If you want Indian food that has some sort of identity, try somewhere else.

                                      1. re: austinjh

                                        If you order off the menu at Cilantro you can get stuff as hot and interesting as you like---- and along with their other superior flavorings and talented cooks it'll usually come out real nice...
                                        I've had GREAT meals at Cilantro...

                                        The buffet seems to make an effort to not offend with overly spicy dishes---- which makes sense...
                                        In a big place like that, with big expenses, you can't have increasing numbers of people saying; 'I don't go there, the food's too spicy!'...

                                        Personally I don't like unrequested hot food...
                                        When my mouth is burning, the Pepsi tastes like club soda, which to me proves that a numb tongue doesn't taste everything...

                                        Cilantro isn't tremendously consistent, but neither is Jai Ho, where I also visit regularly... Neither are a number of other places...
                                        Different cooks on different days...
                                        Luckily I'm not too hard to please, but I certainly know when it's good...

                                        There might be a little more heat at Jai Ho, and I dig the ornate serving vessels, but otherwise I could flip a coin between the two...
                                        ----and Jai Ho is a smaller place, which makes it less risky to be regarded as 'The Hot Spot'...

                                        Now I'm hungry!

                                        1. re: Mild Bill

                                          Well alright, fair enough, I've never ordered off the menu at Cilantro. I've heard that they accommodate customer's requests for more heat and such, so I'll have to give them another try.
                                          And with Jai Ho, it's not that their food is "spicier" in terms of hotness; rather, the overall complexity of their dishes is more intriguing to me than those of Cilantro's. The bedrock of Indian cuisine is a vast array of spices, plenty of which aren't "spicy" at all. I've read one chef compare it to French cuisine's reliance on sauces or, similarly, Mexico's obsession with peppers. For me, Jai Ho seems more in-touch with the library of spices traditionally associated with Indian food and they seem very talented with regard to how they use particular flavors in a given dish.

                                    2. re: TampaNativeThatLovesNYC

                                      How does Cilantro's compare to Saigon Bay (in strip mall across from University Collections)? I noticed that there is no mention of Saigon Bay in this posting, but I usually go there instead of Pho Quyen.

                                      1. re: Lisaknowsfood

                                        Cilantro's is excellent but it is Indian food and I think Saigon Bay is Vietnamese.

                                        1. re: rhnault

                                          Yes Cilantro's serves Indian food

                                        2. re: Lisaknowsfood

                                          i tried a couple dishes at Saigon bay a few days ago, and neither was very good.

                                      2. Tvdxer,
                                        You listed Antojitos as a possibility. Rebecca.kukla recommended it and I agree, especially for a Chowhound like you, who is interested in a deal. I worked with a lawyer who grew up in Columbia and he introduced me to Antojitos. He told me that it was the best Columbia food he had found on the West Coast.

                                        You certainly get a lot of food for the money and much of it is food you likely had never encountered before. I think that it is fun to order dishes without asking what they are. You will encounter a few losers, but the percentage of winners is high. The profusion of South American fruits and vegetables there always makes eating at Antojitos and adventure (and an inexpensive one)! The place has zero decor. Go for the food.

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: gfr1111

                                          love the fruit shakes. I don't know what curuba is, but it makes a nice shake. The pork chop is as big as your head. The empanadas, arepas and stuffed yucca are all winners.

                                        2. After 1 month of being here....

                                          So far, I haven't tried many of the restaurants in my "top 10", but I definitely would like to do at least five of them (preferably the Latin ones) before I leave. Here's what I have tried - including chains:

                                          > Wing Stop: My friends dragged me to this chain for the 35-cent student special they have on Mondays. Pretty good, and the price is certainly right (10 wings, 2 flavors, for $3.50), though it's nothing really special. The first time we ate outside, which was awful; 90 degrees is bad whether or not you have "beer to cool you down" (and I dislike beer anyway). The second time was much better inside. As a special note, they have the rare Fanta Cherry on tap - like a liquified cherry slushy!

                                          > Pho Quyen - I've been to this little Vietnamese strip mall joint twice now. Not spectacular, but generally good and cheap (though not cheap for a Viet restaurant). The first time I had the spring rolls, which came with a special peanut butter dipping sauce, and something called "bun bo hue" - essentially a big bowl of thick noodle soup, the spicy broth flavored with lemongrass and containing multiple cuts of beef (I believe brisket, tripe, and one or two others), served pho-style with condiments in a separate bowl. With a soft drink, it was $13 - not bad, but kind of pricey for a Viet place, especially when you factor the $2 or so tip I gave.

                                          The next time I went there I ordered their egg yolk soda, out of pure curiosity. It tasted like the egg cream soda I once had in the Upper West Side of Manhattan, though a bit tangier. Apparently they make it in-house, with real egg yolks, club soda, sugar, milk, and a lemon. I also had "banh mi ga kuri something", which was a soup containing chicken, giant pieces of eggplant, carrot, scallions, and some other things, with a sweet broth, which happened to come with a plain piece of bread suitable for making a sub.

                                          Service was very nice and attentive both times, solo diners seem to eat there (though the guy asked me "Just one?"), and they have good Wi-Fi - and a huge menu.

                                          As a con, the carpet smells when you walk in.

                                          (More coming later when I get back to my computer)

                                          7 Replies
                                          1. re: tvdxer

                                            Tvdxer - I have to agree with your take on Pho Quyen. It used to be my favorite place, but their prices have gone up recently (economy I'm sure) and the last time I walked in to get food, I ended up walking right back out due to the smell which was overpowering. I ended up getting dinner somewhere else that night and I don't think I'll be back.

                                            1. re: TampaAurora

                                              You must be referring to the Fowler location.

                                              1. re: rhnault

                                                Yes. The University Collection location.

                                              2. re: TampaAurora

                                                i noticed the same thing about PQ. I wonder what happened.

                                                1. re: andy huse

                                                  I have always gone to the W Hillsborough location and it is as good or better than ever.

                                                  1. re: rhnault

                                                    good to know. but these days, saigon deli has my heart.

                                                    1. re: andy huse

                                                      Saigon Deli is pretty amazing. Just got hooked and it is so close to my house that I seem to keep going in and grabbing things to try.

                                            2. Well, annoyingly, the CH site (due to connection problems on my side) didn't get the BIG review I sent. Unfortunate.

                                              So I'll go over them quickly:

                                              > Jai Ho (Indian). One word: Excellent. Easily the best Indian buffet I've ever had (I've gone to the spiced-down local Indian buffets in Duluth, MN) and perhaps (nearly) the best Indian food - at the buffet! As they (at the buffet, and probably at dinner) cater to a primarily South Asian crowd, the food seems to authentic, even at the buffet, where it is not spiced down like it is at other places I've been to. The two times I've gone there's been goat curry, various chicken curries, naan, sambar, rice, and tandoori chicken. The first time I went there was amritsari chhole (chickpea curry), paysam (vermicelli noodle pudding), and some other things; the second time seemed to have a better vegetable curry selection, as well as utthappams (a cross between a pizza and pancake). I've also ordered a very spicy Mysore-style masala dosa off their menu, which I won't recommend to even the moderately well-experienced spicy food people. They can make things not on their menu, too, like paneer dosas, or so said the lady at front. A truly star operation, very much recommended.

                                              > Mr. Empanada. OK empanadas, the guava and cream cheese one is good though, as is the apple empanada. Once at closing I scored six free empanadas after buying one empanada and a soft drink. Not bad!

                                              > Ichiban. Generally good sushi in a nice atmosphere. Tekkamaki (spicy tuna roll?) was just OK; miso soup, good; "Eel Special Roll", excellent but kind of messy; "Umamaki" ? (Japanese sour plum, cucumber, and whitefish" good; Mackarel nigri, very good to say the least. Nice servers, run by sweet old Japanese ladies, however some of the "bartenders" at the sushi table seem kind of uninformed, e.g. one did not seem to understand what I meant by "nigri". Otherwise very good. Recommended.

                                              ON CAMPUS:

                                              (I have a $200 dining card that was given to me as part of the program. About $75 - $80 remains.)

                                              > Einstein Bagels: Excellent, now one of my favorite chains. Cinnamon sugar bagel is great, but tell them to go easy on the cream cheese. Blenders are wonderful, though fatteningly addictive.

                                              > Miso. Gross sushi, except for once. They also have noodle bowls.

                                              > Sbarro's. My one experience ordering there was sub-par. The one in the mall at home isn't too bad, though.

                                              > Chick Fil-A. Not bad.

                                              > Mosi. Ordered a pork burrito. Not bad, but the pork had a weird sausage-y taste, unlike other times I've had pork burritos.

                                              3 Replies
                                              1. re: tvdxer

                                                A new one: Jerk Hut on Fowler. Good jerk chicken and rice for $5, lunch special. Great deal, especially the portion size.

                                                1. re: tvdxer

                                                  They moved right? I heard that they moved into the old Sushi Gohan place on Fowler down by the I-275 entrance and closed up shop on their place closer to USF.

                                                2. re: tvdxer

                                                  In this town, I'd say Mr. Empanada is probably the last place you should go for an Empanada.

                                                3. Tried First Watch. Excellent french toast (not the "Florida French Toast", but their normal "French Toast") and nice service. However, their opening hours are awful - 7:00 to 2:30.

                                                  1 Reply
                                                  1. re: tvdxer

                                                    agreed bad hours, good food, a little pricy, but good.. A couple in Sarasota as well.

                                                  2. Angithi on Fowler is my favorite for Indian in the area- but haven't yet tried Jai Ho. Taj and Cilantro are good too.

                                                    There's Greenland for Mediterranean on 56th that's good. Sabor Latino on Busch for Mexican or Cali Tacos on Skipper for well, Cali tacos.

                                                    I love Pho Quyen- I think the beef used in the Bun is better at the Fowler location than the Hillsborough one. I thought the prices were the same.

                                                    My favorite Cuban food in Tampa is Arco Iris. I was warned away from Teresita by my Cuban family and have never been in the 22 years I've lived here.

                                                    Abol Bunna on Kennedy is a newer Ethiopian choice and seems to have slightly better food and more space and ambiance. But Qu of Sh is good too.

                                                    3 Replies
                                                    1. re: rikkikm

                                                      Tried Thai Noodle today. It's in the strip mall by Subway on Fletcher, just a bit down (from the USF campus) from Target. Decent tom yum, but nothing special. Maybe their other dishes are better. Very good prices; $15 for two to eat with soft drinks.

                                                      1. re: tvdxer

                                                        Sorry you had a so-so experience at Thai Noodle - they are mixed. I think their straight noodle dishes are excellent - the curries and other stuff are nothing special.

                                                      2. re: rikkikm

                                                        Greenland is good, but is way too slow for an hour lunch. Several mideast restaurants over the years have been plagued by this problem. I wonder why. I've only been a couple times, but i heard the same from others.

                                                        I, too, love Pho Quyen. I really like the spicy beeef with peppers and lemongrass--- or the chicken. pork and spring rolls with vermicelli. most everything else. it is also a treat to make your own beef rolls. It seems like it would be an app, but it costs $10 and is a full meal. The iced jasmine tea is just right.

                                                        I like Le Teresita and Arco Iris. If I'm in a rush or want to people watch, La Teresita all the way. If I want to relax with better food, Arco Iris. Both hit the spot.

                                                      3. On Monday, I had the steak shwarma at Byblos, sans lettuce. That parsley is good! Too bad the steak was pretty dry. Nonetheless a good value at $5 (it was specials night).

                                                        Some time last week I ordered the beef stir fry with lemongrass and a few other things (can't remember) off the Pho Quyen menu. Delicious!

                                                        On Saturday, I walked over to the Waffle House on 10th or so & Fowler. Not too impressed.

                                                        On Sunday, I went to a little Mexican joint right next to Trang. Here's how I got there: first, I thought the Chopstix / Ho Ho Choy strip mall was in Fletcher; when I learned that it was on Fowler, I was already at 14th and Fowler with two people, walking, so we decided to go to Trang; third, Trang was closed, so we went next door to a Latin / Mexican market which had a restaurant.

                                                        I had the lunch special of pozole, which was $6.95. I was amazed by how much food appeared when the order was completed; a bowl of red pozole; a garnish plate complete with lemons, radishes, onions, lettuce, and the like; and two big tortillas with cheese and something else on them. The corn in the pozole reminded me of chickpeas! It was my first time having pozole, and it was pretty good, though not spectactular. But for $6.95

                                                        5 Replies
                                                        1. re: tvdxer

                                                          Beef with Lemongrass, Peppers and Onions? That's my SO's favorite meal there. If I could figure out how to make it at home, we'd save a lot of money.

                                                          Chopstix is on Fletcher and Trang Viet is on Fowler - not correcting to be obnoxious only for others who read the board. Enough people get those two roads confused when they first come to USF already.

                                                          1. re: tvdxer

                                                            The name of the mexican place escapes me, and i was excited when it first opened. But the food has been wildly inconsistent in experience. Around the beginning of the year, i finally lost patience and stopped going. we badly need good mexican in the usf area. thankfully, I hear we may get it, courtesy of the owner of Taconazo. He's opening a place in the place once occupied by Malena's, where i had one lousy meal and refused to return. I look forward to seeing what the new owner can accomplish, especially with a real kitchen. Taconazo's biggest problem has always been the bus itself. To streamline operations, they serve their meats from a steam table. I still enjoy the food, but i've always wished for better. too bad the taconazo building won't get a real kitchen, too. taconazo's meat has improved of late, especially the chicken.

                                                            1. re: andy huse

                                                              Del Valle is the name of the place next to Trang. I haven't been in awhile but I have never experienced a bad meal there. Although I have not bought them at Del Valle, I was excited to see that they had tortilla chips from El Milagro in Chicago. Good tortilla chips are actually hard to find in Tampa for some reason. I have never looked into the bus carefully enough to comment on the steamtable. What I can say is that recently they have changed the tacos a bit and they are even better than before. The tacos are much larger in all respects (I actually kind of regret that because I can no longer eat three tacos comfortably) and the fillings have been delicious. My last couple of lengua tacos the meat was juicy and chopped in nice big chunks. The new fish tacos are extremely good. I have a hard time believing that those aren't made to order. The fish is fried and I can't imagine that it would last very long on a steamtable. I am very happy to hear that they are taking over Malena's. My one meal there was apparently not any better than yours, Andy.

                                                              1. re: CFishman

                                                                I like the food at Del Valle. The fresh made guac was outstanding. But the last time I went with the intention of eating in, there was no air conditioning running- I think it was cooler outside. Don't know if it was a fluke or they choose to keep their store that way- but I'm hesitating to go back as a result.

                                                              2. re: andy huse

                                                                I'm happy to hear that the owner of El Taconazo is taking over Malena's space. I ate at Malena's recently, ordered an egg and sausage sandwich (with bread--it says so right on the menu) and got a tortilla with scrambled eggs and little pieces of fried pork sausage on the side. Maybe it was a lack of communication, but I don't think so. I pointed to what I wanted on the menu and pronounced it correctly. (I majored in Spanish in college.)

                                                            2. wait, did you mean unpretentious?

                                                              1. hi guys and girls. the length of these replies got intimidating but im a hardcore tampa lover (people tell me i love it so much i should run for mayor someday heh).... i also love food, so i just joined!!! apologies if any of the below suggestions have already been mentioned but just thought id throw 'em out there... ive lived in tampa my whole life, and ive been really pumped about all the new stuff that's been opening up in the area.... here's 3 places that are reasonable/low key that are relatively new to the area ....

                                                                1) Doormet (www.doormet.com)... this place is really laid back and i am digging the prices. they serve beer and have a tv, but its very casual otherwise. i think they focus on take out and delivery more than dine-in.... but theyve changed their menu a few times and kept it diverse.... im loving their pizzas right now but pumped to try some of the new items like their burger and scallop dishes... so far so good

                                                                2) The Bungalow (www.thebungalowtampa.com) -- this is more of a going-out Friday night scene... this place reminds me why i love tampa... laid back beachy vibe...live band... seafood etc. my kinda scene (yall make disagree) though i hope it doesnt become too trendy/cheesy ..... it's not earth-shattering food, but u cant go wrong with classics like fried grouper sandwich...

                                                                3) Hula Bay .... (hulabayclub.com).... this place was a cool vibe for a saturday or sunday during the day. a bit "pretentious" ... like i had transplanted myself into a meager attempt at replicating a trendy south beach spot.... that being said, i am a florida girl and will love just about any place on the water -- esp if i dont have to drive all the way out to Frenchy's on the beach to get it!! live reggae music and good frozen cocktails :)

                                                                anyway hope these help!? i know u leave soon but figured other chowhounds may look at this thread too..... lemme know ur thoughts/feedback!!!