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Tampa Recommendations

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.

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                  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.

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                    Chopstix
                    1441 E Fletcher Ave, Tampa, FL