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Visiting Orlando and Tampa from San Francisco

  • felice Dec 18, 2009 08:05 PM
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Hi Chowhounds! I'm visiting Orlando for a few days in February, will also be in Tampa for a day, and am looking for some recommendations. What are the specialities in Florida that are hard to find in San Francisco? Cuban and Carribean come to mind, any suggestions? Southern and Creole food are also somewhat rare here. I'm heading to Mexico after Florida, so I'll refrain from eating Mexican food while in Florida. What is Florida seafood like and what kinds of dishes should I try?

Also, are there any foodie places to visit? A visit to a family-run citrus farm might be fun, if something like that is possible.

Thank you for your help!

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  1. You may be a little bummed out eating in Tampa after being accustomed to the fabulous food in San Francisco. lol This is not exactly a mecca for foodies (although we've seen a lot of improvement over the past 10 years or so). :)

    Still, there are some interesting things you might try. The Columbia Restaurant in Ybor City is the original location of Florida's oldest Spanish restaurant, founded in 1905. It's somewhat unique to the area and generally pretty solid (wash everything down with cava sangria!). I haven't seen anything like it in my visits to your area.

    Florida stone crab is in season, and it's quite a treat (especially if you've never had it before). Gulf grouper is also a popular local fish...we eat a lot of grouper sandwiches around these parts.

    You might want to try a Cuban sandwich while you're here. They're pretty tasty, and aren't something you can usually just pick up anywhere in the country.

    1 Reply
    1. re: sweet_polly

      I agree with Polly. If you have one day only in Tampa and want to try some typically Tampanian food, The Columbia is a good choice.

      Be sure to order the 1905 salad. Get it in its original form, with no additions, such as shrimp. For some reason, when the Columbia serves the 1905 salad with shrimp or chicken, it removes the ham, which comes standard with the salad. The saltiness and meatiness of the ham really sets off the rest of the dish and it is not nearly as good with shrimp, chicken, etc.

      As to the Columbia's sangria, get the expensive sangria made with brandy. It is less sweet than the Columbia's typical, buy-it-by-the-pitcher and loaded with sugar, sangria. It is excellent and gives you a whole new perspective on sangria, a drink I gave up on a long time ago, due to its cloying sweetness. The expensive Columbia sangria is what, I suspect, made sangria popular in the first place before twenty-somethings got a hold of it and turned it into soda pop. You can actually taste the fruit! (You have to specifically ask for the sangria made with brandy and less sweet. If you just ask for sangria without specifying, you'll be given the cheaper, sweet stuff. I went years without even knowing that the Columbia served the more expensive stuff.)

      Welcome to Tampa, by the way!

    2. I agree with the other posters and if you are only here one day and want the real flavor of Tampa head to Ybor City to the original Columbia. No need to order anything fancy. Have the 1905 salad, spanish bean soup and a Cuban sandwich. If you have any room left the white chocolate bread pudding is fantastic. It is a beautiful restaurant rich with history and the food is a unique blend of Spanish, Cuban, and Italian.

      1. Why would you ever visit Orlando from South Fransisco unless you are enamored with theme parks? Orlando food is complete crap, the worst in the country for a metro area of 2 million or more people. Although calling the transients that have assembled in the only population center without a beach people is a stretch. Each meal you have in Orlando will be the worst meal you ever had, pure chain restaurant garbage. The food in Tampa is much better, go to Bern's Steakhouse it is an experience you will never forget. Although I'm not a filet lover, it's the best steak they serve. The desert room and wine list are first rate. I like Rigatoni's on Kennedy for casual Italian. Columbia is a chain and has rapidly gone down hill. It is overpriced, mediocre at best and truly a waste of time from someone used to good San Fransiscan cuisine. Inland Orlando has Red Lobster and Long John Silver, seriously most people in Orlando are from the midwest or Puerto Rico and sit outside the Olive Garden all night waiting for the thrill of their buzzer going off. There are no good seafood restaurants. One thing I would recommend in Tampa is sunday brunch at Oystercatchers. It gives you a wonderful bayview and is one of the best brunches you will ever have with plenty of fresh seafood. It is not cheap, but the food and view are an experience you will never forget. If your not there on a Sunday look into it for dinner. Hope this helps.

        4 Replies
        1. re: kinglouix

          Thank you for the Columbia recommendation - there are relatively few Spanish restaurants here, so I'm game. I have never tried stone crabs so I'll put that on the list too.

          LOL at the comments about SF vs Tampa/Orlando food. I am visiting a dear friend who lives in Orlando. I grew up near Disneyland, CA and am not even close to being the least bit enamored with theme parks.

          But seriously, I refuse to believe the food in Florida is as bad as you make it out to be. I won't be going to Red Lobster or Long John Silver, but shouldn't there be some great Cuban or Carribean dives?

          1. re: felice

            I didn't say the food in Florida is all bad, just mainly Orlando For cuban food I love Don Arturo but it is in Ft. Lauderdale. Tampa has an old Cuban population so I'm sure it has some good Cuban spots, I just don't know any of them. I don't like Carribean food either. You'll like Stone Crabs!!!

            1. re: felice

              Florida is an interesting phenomenon...at least in the Tampa and Orlando areas. My husband and I always joke about how we'd never seen so many people wait in line for mediocre food until we moved here. lol There are simply a lot of opportunities for tourist traps in the area....so you're smart to do your homework. :)

              La Teresita has a good reputation for bona fide Cuban cuisine, but I haven't tried it personally.

              http://www.lateresitarestaurant.com/

              1. re: felice

                I'd try Ravenous Pig if you are in Orlando--it's on the north end of town (actually it's in Winter Park but it's so close to the edge you might not even notice). Once a month (usually) they do a suckling pig roast (or sometimes lamb); I think those are on the 1st Saturday of the month but I am not positive.

                TRP is a gastropub that is more gastro than pub i.e. most of the place is set up more as a restaurant with only about 1/3rd of it being bar-centric. Saveur said they had the best fish sandwich on Earth and pretty much everything I've had there has been good. The bar staff in particular is great. It's a wonderful place to leisurely nosh and chat with friends (or make new friends).

            2. If you're interested in local fruit, February is largely out of season for citrus, but smack in the middle of strawberry season, and there are lots of farms in the Plant City area east of Tampa.

              Other common local seafood- oysters from Apalachicola Bay (they don't travel long distances well and are unlikely to show up in SF) assorted snappers, pompano, scamp, mahi-mahi and amberjack.