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The scoop on Cuban food in Tampa/Sarasota- La Terasita

Procrastibaker Oct 15, 2009 11:42 AM

OK, so we are new to Florida. Last week we were in Sarasota visiting family. We went up to Tampa for the U2 show and I asked a local friend for a recommendation for something en route-- I think I specifically asked for Cuban. We live in the panhandle and really have no Cuban restaurants. He sent us to La Terasita on Columbus. Another person claimed it as the best Cuban food in Tampa. The atmosphere was fun-- we sat at the lunch counter and the patrons chatted with us. And the location was ideal for us, plus it was cheap. Trouble is it also tasted cheap. The meal was pretty atrocious. Bland, greasy, yuk. I would have gladly paid twice as much (at least) for a better meal. The cafe con leche was great, but otherwise it was really one of the worst meals I've ever had in a restaurant. My experience with Cuban food is pretty limited (Kuba Kuba in Richmond, VA), but surely there must be better places in this area? Did we just go on an off-night? Maybe West FL just isn't the place? We will be making fairly regular trips down to Sarasota and I'd love any other recs. for places to stop on the way if there are any to be had!

  1. r
    RibDog Oct 15, 2009 12:11 PM

    I know I will get blasted for it but I have never been a fan of La Teresita. I prefer either Aroc Iris or Hugo's for casual Cuban. At least one time you should try the original Columbia in Ybor City. A little more money but a larger menu plus they have a floor show on the weekends of flamenco dancing.

    1. t
      TampaNativeThatLovesNYC Oct 15, 2009 12:34 PM

      I agree, La Teresita was good when it first opened, about 12-15 years ago or so, not to mention how many times theyve been featured on Dirty Dining. There are also a couple decent Cuban options on Armenia, however there's so many to choose from it can be hit or miss

      2 Replies
      1. re: TampaNativeThatLovesNYC
        Little T. Mar 1, 2010 04:00 PM

        I'm fairly certain that La Teresita has been in existence for more than 12-15 years . .

        1. re: Little T.
          Mild Bill Mar 1, 2010 05:02 PM

          I've been going there since 1982, and it was well-worn then!

      2. a
        andy huse Oct 15, 2009 12:57 PM

        Ribdog is right. Go for Arco Iris or the Columbia. If you're on a budget, the Columbia won't cost much for lunch (the Cuban sadwich rocks, the soups are all good, the 1905 salad is a perennial favorite, any kind of salteado is good if a tad salty, and i live the snapper adelita with artichokes, hearts of palm, and artichokes; shrimp creole with plantains and bit of spice is nice, too. all of these dishes are available lunch or dinner) but some of the dinner entrees are worth seeking out (steak chacho flambeed in bourbon, pompano en papillote, the fish are all good). i steer clear of the paella, but all the fish are good.

        Arco Iris is similar to La Teresita, but the food is definitely a cut above.

        I would add Brocato's. nothing fancy, but great deviled crabs, picadillo stuffed potatoes, big salads, giant sanwiches (go for the Italian sub, roast pork, or meatball), and so on. with a giant cup of sweet tea, it is great fuel for road trips.

        Truth be told, most of the smaller Cuban cafes are very complacent and the food is nothing special. I wish someone would be willing to put more effort into Cuban food around here.

        1. askdrtodd Oct 15, 2009 01:13 PM

          Yeah Teresita has gone steeply downhill (IMHO) and Hugo's has failed to impress the last few times I went there. My buddy at work was originally from Havana so he's my window to the world of cuban food in Tampa. The Lincoln restaurant on Lincoln and Columbus used to be pretty good (great whole snapper, yum!) but it's changed ownership somewhat recently and I haven't been back since that happened (I should give it another go though). There was also a good spot on South Dale Mabry (not too far from Gandy) but it burned down. Colombia is touristy but still worth a visit.

          1. m
            Miss E Oct 15, 2009 03:21 PM

            Honestly, I have yet to have what I'd call great Cuban in Tampa. Isn't that a shame? But the best Cuban food I've found is at the original Columbia in Ybor--very good, IMO, if falling short of great. The thing about Cuban food is, it's not spicy like Mexican--for spicy food lovers, that in itself can be a disappointment. But I digress. Try the Columbia (skip the floor show), have the Sangria, and see what you think.

            Btw, if you're new to Florida, you must have stone crabs while they're in season, and the season starts, like, now.

            1. a
              andy huse Oct 16, 2009 01:03 PM

              having eaten a Hugo's a couple mojnths ago, I can't recommend it. Arco Iris is far better.

              20 Replies
              1. re: andy huse
                askdrtodd Oct 16, 2009 01:12 PM

                I spoke with my cuban buddy earlier today, asking where to go for good cuban food as of late, and his response was "Miami". When I prodded where locally to go he said Arco Iris, which he'd mentioned in the past but he obviously uses the proper pronunciation and my painfully anglo-saxon ears didn't decipher that "Arco Iris" and "ercoh eyeress" were the same spot. haha.

                1. re: askdrtodd
                  andy huse Oct 16, 2009 03:47 PM

                  funny, i asked our Miami hounds about Cuban a couple months ago, and they responded that there wasn't much good Cuban food there, either.

                  1. re: andy huse
                    JJASF Oct 19, 2009 12:21 PM

                    There is a little cafeteria on lois next to Leto high school called Tico and Marisol. I got takeout there once and was pleasantly surprised.

                    1. re: JJASF
                      JTS Feb 25, 2010 09:00 PM

                      Can I ask for thoughts on Pipo's in Carrollwood Village and/or Lala's on 56th Street just north of Busch?

                      I haven't been to either (or to Tampa at all) in a couple years, but I used to like both places a great deal, both for Cuban sandwiches, picadillo, puerco adobo (sp?). I understand Lala's may have had a management change recently.

                      1. re: JTS
                        Mild Bill Feb 25, 2010 09:15 PM

                        I've been going to the Pipo's on Hillsborough Ave. in Town n' Country, and their old location on Waters Ave. near Dale Mabry off and on for YEARS....
                        Maybe 20...

                        They still serve a pretty generous portion and I really love their Picadillo...
                        Much better than the Picadillo I had today at the Arco Iris 'Cafe' on Tampa Bay Blvd. which was mainly ground beef with olives and diced red bell pepper...
                        No sauciness, and a surprisingly small portion...

                        Good Roast Pork too at Pipo's, but can 'sometimes' be a little dry, which is why I might request they carve mostly from the darker juicier section of the roast...

                        I've never been to the Carrolwood village location....
                        Never been to Lala's....

                        1. re: Mild Bill
                          RibDog Feb 26, 2010 04:36 AM

                          I agree on the Town & Country location. I stop there every so often when I am in the area. But I do still like Arco Iris also. Had some Sea Bass ala Rusa last week and it was killer! Plus, I enjoy their fried rice also at AI.

                          1. re: RibDog
                            Mild Bill Feb 26, 2010 11:56 AM

                            Arco Iris on Columbus is probably my favorite Cuban Restaurant in Tampa, but where I went yesterday was their 'Cafe' on Tampa Bay Blvd. and Habana I think... A smaller place where the old 'Vienna Bakery & Sandwich Shop' used to be...


                          2. re: Mild Bill
                            rhnault Feb 26, 2010 04:58 AM

                            Pipo's has tasty bread pudding too. They put pineapple in it.

                            1. re: rhnault
                              Mild Bill Feb 26, 2010 11:58 AM

                              I like that you've mentioned Bread Pudding in a few threads recently------ I'm a bigtime BP enthusiast...

                              1. re: Mild Bill
                                rhnault Feb 26, 2010 02:54 PM

                                I have an issue with it lol

                                1. re: rhnault
                                  CFishman Feb 27, 2010 05:24 AM

                                  The bread pudding at Cajun Cafe on the Bayou is out of hand. How do I get you people over there to eat some crawfish with me?

                                  1. re: CFishman
                                    joan Feb 27, 2010 05:42 AM

                                    CFishman, you have me convinced (however I already like Cajun Cafe on the Bayou)!

                                    However, BE AWARE they are closed Mon and Tues - and I am in the area on Tuesdays Boo Hoo!!! :( Will just have to make a separate trip. I am craving some sausage and chicken gumbo. (We make seafood gumbo at my place, but sometimes you just crave that heartier version!)

                                    P.S. CC is having their annual Crawfish Festival, April 9-10-11th. I believe that is the weekend after Easter. Who Dat!

                                    1. re: joan
                                      Mild Bill Feb 27, 2010 06:01 AM

                                      I'm VERY ready too!
                                      At some Chinese places I recently developed a powerful appreciation for Crawfish and became pretty good at workin' them....

                                      I can usually finagle my schedule---- so let me know of any windows of opportunity...

                                      I'm there in April!
                                      Thanks Joan, for the heads up...

                                      1. re: Mild Bill
                                        rhnault Feb 27, 2010 08:03 AM

                                        I am good to go to Cajun Cafe any weekend!

                                    2. re: CFishman
                                      gfr1111 Feb 28, 2010 12:31 PM

                                      I'm in, CFishman. gfr1111@mac.com. Just let me know when you want to go.

                                      1. re: gfr1111
                                        CFishman Feb 28, 2010 04:04 PM

                                        Joan, I sorry you are only around on Tuesday. That's the one day that is utterly impossible for me. A Chowhound outing to the crawfish festival could be fun. We should keep that in mind. You others, I am going to contact off list.

                                        1. re: CFishman
                                          andy huse Mar 1, 2010 07:42 AM

                                          sounds good to me.

                                          1. re: CFishman
                                            askdrtodd Mar 1, 2010 09:11 AM

                                            ooh let me know too, askdrtodd at gmail!

                                2. re: Mild Bill
                                  askdrtodd Mar 1, 2010 09:13 AM

                                  I agree Arco's picadillo sucks, but I dig their half cuban and black bean soup for 3.99, that's a decent amount of food for 4 bucks! And that soup is quite tasty. Their puerco is hit or miss too. I stick with the daily specials and the soups/cubans.

                                3. re: JTS
                                  ElGimpo Feb 26, 2010 05:20 AM

                                  Lala's is now Lenny's Latin Cafe, and it's much better now in my opinion, although I've only had the palomilla and breaded steak so far.

                        2. i
                          il davis Oct 21, 2009 01:06 PM

                          A real find ! A small Cuban restaurant on Cortez Rd in Sarasota called Jose's. Jose cooks homemade Cuban dishes and even gives you a try before you order. Better than any of the so called Cuban places. A few tables and counter stools. As a person told me when we first found the place, "The food here is just like you're in a home in Cuba. ".

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: il davis
                            luv2wander May 8, 2010 07:49 PM

                            I ate at Jose's tonight and had a half cuban sandwich and black bean soup. Jose gave it to me for the lunch special price which I thought was very nice of him ($6.50) Best Cuban sandwich I've ever eaten. The roast pork is to die for. He brought over a sample to the table before we ordered. It is shredded instead of sliced and that's what's on the sandwiches. The 3 of us were fighting over every morsel in the cup. He also brought 2 homemade salsas. One semi-hot and one more-hot. We liked both. I put a little of the hotter one in my black bean soup.

                            Of the 3 of us, 2 got Cuban sandwiches and the other got a mojo chicken sandwich. The sandwiches are huge and we all took home leftovers. While we were there, we got a phone call from a friend asking us to bring him some roast pork sandwiches and bread pudding.

                            Everything on the menu looks good and I want to try everything on it and can't wait to go back. If I had been hungrier I would have gotten the blackened wahoo $14.95, tonight's special, which sounded delicious. All entrees come with black beans and rice, fried plantains or yucca. Prices range from $4.75 for a half sandwich to $17.95 for paella which must be ordered in advance.

                            Jose was very attentive and it's obvious he is very proud of his restaurant and his food. I told him I had heard about the restaurant on Chowhound and would be sure and write about it tonight and let everyone know how good the food is. He was so happy to know that!

                            It's located at 8799 Cortez Rd. in Bradenton.

                            1. re: luv2wander
                              cvalcar Jun 7, 2010 09:29 AM

                              Jose's Rocks!! Great specials!! Also check out Havana Cafe in St. Pete, on 22nd S on the way out to Gulfport / Stetson Law School.

                          2. p
                            Procrastibaker Oct 22, 2009 07:41 AM

                            Thanks all! We will definitely try some of these suggestions next time we are in the area.

                            1. s
                              sitespring Feb 23, 2010 12:06 PM

                              Next time you head to Sarasota, there is a new Cuban restaurant called La Tropicana De Havana (http://www.latropicanadehavana.net) They have amazing Cuban food, Salsa dancing, the whole bit. They are close to the interstate on Fruitville Rd. It is a neat restaurant with a large open market feel.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: sitespring
                                OH2FL Feb 24, 2010 03:09 AM

                                La Tropicana De Havana

                                I'll second that! We just ate there and the food was delicious. The band made it too noisy in the cavernous room for me, but YMMV.

                              2. e
                                ElGimpo Feb 25, 2010 06:34 AM

                                I've tried almost every dish at La Teresita and the only things I will eat there are the picadillo, bistec empanizado and the vaca frita. Everything else there is way below standard.

                                There's this little place I am currently scouting out in Temple Terrace called Lenny's Latin Cafe. So far I've had the breaded steak, palomilla and the palomilla sandwich which have all been above average. All cooked to order. Great yellow rice. Friendly owner.

                                I ate lunch at La Tropicana De Havana 2 weeks ago with my parents and they loved it. They had the roast pork and the ropa vieja. I tasted them and were quite good. I ordered the masa frita and got pan browned roast pork instead, not happy. Tasted good, but not what I ordered. My main complaint is they need to serve cuban toast with the meal instead of the pre-frozen french bread they do now. Besides that, not bad, not great. I hope they last, Sarasota is in dire need of more latin fare.

                                1. l
                                  laboheme Mar 1, 2010 06:49 AM

                                  Havana Cafe in Gulfport has excellent Cuban food (best pork and picadillo I've found in Tampa Bay). In Tampa, Arco Iris is the way to go.

                                  1. b
                                    Big D Mar 11, 2010 01:08 PM

                                    Cuban Delight on 49th St in St Pete is best cuban sandwich in Tampa Bay. Do yourself a favor and go check out a Grande. My grandparents were both born in Cuba and if they were alive and visiting that is the spot I would take them. Its not much to look at...however the food is well worth the trip. Enjoy!

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: Big D
                                      Mild Bill Mar 12, 2010 05:29 AM

                                      I'm very tempted to take a ride out there today for lunch...
                                      Other reviews online have been similarly positive...

                                    2. p
                                      proboscidian Mar 12, 2010 09:31 AM

                                      It's a bakery, not a restaurant you can sit down in, but the sandwiches at La Segunda in Ybor are really good. Their pastries are fantastic, too.

                                      1. flgrl Jun 2, 2010 01:26 PM

                                        I lived in Tampa a decade ago (yikes!) and used to love getting takeout from Espo's near Busch Gardens. Any chance that it's still around? We'll be there for a week in July and I feel I must get some good cuban and greek food before heading back to Tally.

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