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