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Jan 29, 2011 07:27 AM

2011 Favorite Places to Eat - Tampa / St. Pete

Please name your top 5 places to eat this year and rate them on taste, service & ambience along with a a brief recommendation. We have many old posts and i am trying to create a new reference for this year. Thanks!

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  1. If truly for both ambiance AND food, not just food, then:

    Pane Rustica
    Wood Fired Pizza & Wine Bar
    Sideberns (Happy hour small plates @ the bar)
    Oystercatchers (Brunch) :)

    8 Replies
    1. re: askdrtodd

      I need a "like" button for todd's choices ;)

      1. re: askdrtodd

        Refinery has NO ambiance! They have a soda machine in the middle of the dining room! No wine list either-strange!

        1. re: JJASF

          They do not have room for a wine list. This is a small place. I have no issue with verbal wine selections. Especially when they are 18.00 per bottle across the board.

          1. re: JJASF

            lol i go there often and have never noticed a soda machine in the middle of the dining room. i was just there last night. i'll make a point of looking for it when i go again. as for the wine list, i enjoy having the wait staff talk about the wine choices. they have never steered me wrong.

            The Refinery
            5173 N Florida Ave, Tampa, FL 33603

            1. re: JJASF

              Agreed. The Refinery would not make any ambience list. Good food, though.

            2. re: askdrtodd

              If you like Wood Fired Pizza, definitely have to check out Pizzaolo Bavarro on Twiggs and Franklin downtown. Some of the best pizza I've had without havign to drive up to Bearss. I will admit, though, that Pizzaolo's menu is significantly more limited that Wood Fire, but not a bad substitute.

              1. re: DEVO2172

                Devo I have to respectfully disagree with you, Bavaro has disappointed me 3 times in a row now, I have no plans to give them a 4th chance... I've tried different things each time, ne'er a gem to talk about (with the exception of their tomato basil soup, which was excellent) their pie to me is quite lacking, and pricey (which is to be expected downtown). I'm pretty sure Peter from Wood Fired is expanding in the near future as pretty much everyone's complaint is that his place is in BFE, so it won't be too much longer before we don't have to drive as far. I'd go to Eddie & Sams before I'd go to Bavaro.

              2. re: askdrtodd

                Ate at the Refinery last week and Oystercatchers 2 weeks ago. Wow on both. Oystercatchers was a great meal. No misses at all. Wood fired bass was amazing and the oysters were all tasty tasty.
                The Refinery was very good as well. Pork tenderloin was so good. The only miss was the service was pretty blah and the smoked duck wings were so dry and boring. Everything else about it was great though. The flank was great. The lamb belly was super rich and yummy.

              3. I'm not saying these are the best in town, but they are places I love (for various reasons) and never get tired of.

                #1 is definitely Mise en and service are always perfect. Ambience is low-key classy. One of the best in town. One of the few places in Tampa where you can order foie gras. I love the Chicken Liver Pear Port Mousse's been on the menu for a looooong time.

                Charley's when I'm in the mood for a cow chop and a giant cosmo. I almost always order a filet (and I'm not usually a "filet girl", but I love theirs) done Oscar Style (with asparagus, a little fried softshelled crab and hollandaise sauce on top). Love the "buzzy" pretty-people atmosphere there, too.

                Pincho y Pincho in downtown St. Pete. Great cava sangria and tapas...and the tres leches cake is to die for. I can spend hours sitting along the sidewalk on a pretty day, ordering and drinking, ordering and drinking (rinse and repeat).

                Guppy's on the Beach (sentimental favorite). I've been going there regularly for almost 20 years and I think it's some of the best food to be found on the beaches. Definitely more creative than the average Gulf Blvd. bear. Love the salmon dill bisque, escargot and Firecracker Shrimp Salad.

                Can one of my top five faves in Sarasota? I love Cafe L'Europe on St. Armand's Circle. It's a beautiful restaurant with a very professional multi-national staff and gorgeous sidewalk cafe setting where you can enjoy a leisurely meal and watch the world go by. They serve the best lobster bisque I have ever eaten. Also love the Shrimp and Bourbon Pecan Salad as well as the Lobster and Shrimp Salad. I've never made it there for dinner, but it's on my "to do" list. Food is always beautifully presented as well as delish.

                I have to give Ybor's Columbia Restaurant a runner-up ribbon. It's a beautiful restaurant, and sometimes I just NEED a pitcher of their cava sangria, some empanadas, a 1905 Salad and an order of white chocolate bread pudding. Yes, I always order the same things whenever I go. lol

                Della's After Dark also gets Honorable Mention for being the shining star in the sea of Brandon's chain restaurant mediocrity.

                A couple of "newbies" I only tried for the first time recently but was particularly impressed by (but have not had the opportunity to revist) were Pane Rustica, Datz and Spain. I'll be baaaack.

                Oh...and sometimes I get an embarrassing craving for Sonny's Barbecue and onion rings. Is that bad? :p

                2 Replies
                1. re: sweet_polly

                  x2 on Mise en Place, Pincho, and L'Europe. Have had great experiences at all three of those, absolutely worth mention.

                  1. re: sweet_polly

                    I'm glad to hear Della's After Dark is still open and still good. Two friends took me there when I visited them in Brandon -- this must have been almost three years ago -- and it was wonderful at the time. Too often, great, unique places like that don't survive, especially in chain-land.

                  2. Bernini's in Ybor: Get the pork chops
                    Taco Bus: Best fish tacos... other than mine ;)
                    SoHo Sushi: Eligant, fair prices awesome sushi
                    Alexander's: excellent service and food every time
                    Kona Grill: just go, trust me

                    Kona Grill
                    , Tampa, FL 33602

                    7 Replies
                    1. re: ChefCash

                      SoHo- really? I went a few days ago and thought it was a bit on the high side, 90% of the maki was Americanized with cream cheese or mayo or fried something on it, the apps were mediocre, they wanted $5 for a small bowl of edamame, etc. Of the two $12/13 rolls we ordered, one had a barely visible amount of meat (or anything other than rice) inside it for that matter, and the other even though we asked for no mayo still came with it both on and inside. Left pretty disappointed. I would take Cafe Japon or Yokos long before I'd go back there.

                      Alexander's - is that J. Alexanders? Aren't they a nationwide chain like Kona Grille? Not to crap on your selections, I think the Bus and Bernini's are great...

                      Cafe Japon
                      2223 S West Shore Blvd, Tampa, FL 33629

                      1. re: askdrtodd

                        Cafe Japon? really? I think that was the worst sashimi I've had besides a buffet. Did you try the geso app at soho? It's great. Yes they do have a lot of fancy rolls, but some are really good. Much better than anything at Japon. Although I don't do cream cheese in my sushi so I couldn't comment on that.

                        1. re: JJASF

                          Really. I will say I haven't eaten there in nearly 6 months, but in past times I've gone Japon has consistently had mediocre service and top-notch fish. It's the only place in Tampa I've had real wasabi grated on a sharkskin grater too. Their sashimi also frequently has items like toro, uni, 2 varieties of clam, and they don't charge $8 FOR A PAIR OF SALMON ROE WITH QUAIL EGG YOLK NIGIRI (thanks Soho!). Maybe I was just lucky all those times.

                          Now at Soho when you say the Geso I assume you mean the squid "with sea vegetables" appetizer? That was actually the best part of our meal when we went, and since we made it there during happy hour, it was reasonably priced too. We actually got a second order (because the $27 pair of sushi rolls was meager at best). If I'm not mistaken you can also purchase this same "geso" salad pre-made at other places in town, and traditional "geso" is charred squid tentacle, not the mandolin-ed squid with some seaweed they served there (albeit it was tasty). Note also I couldn't find "Omakase" anywhere on the menu at Soho (there are three different price range omakases listed on Japon's menu) but I did find the "Jersey Shore Roll" and other ridiculous fried mayonnaisey cream cheese bombs all over it. I asked the server if they did an Omakase and he blankly looked at me as if I were speaking another language. I figured I technically was so I followed up with "a chef's special, either coursed out or on a boat or something of the sort?" and after a second uneasy look I quickly ordered off the happy hour menu.

                          Elegant it is not. Authentic it is not. A good value it is not. We also essentially had two servers, the initial server who was terrible, and the guy that was picking up his slack that was an excellent server. They canceled each other out so I won't judge the service.

                          You and I don't share the same metric for enjoying sushi. Try Tokyo Sushi at 56th and Fowler and let me know if you like it, that's probably my favorite all around sushi spot in Tampa, it's just so far to drive to...

                          1. re: askdrtodd

                            My standards for sushi/sashimi are very high. And actually Sohois no where near my favorite. Just don't get your assessment of Japon. sashimi was standard, rolls belo.
                            kaisen in Carrollwood by far is the best in town

                            1. re: JJASF

                              I'll try Kaisen, I've heard good things about it. I haven't been back to Japon in a few months, so in fairness i'll swing by and see if the quality of their sushi isn't what it used to be.

                              Highly recommend Tokyo next time you're out near USF, very fun mom and pop spot and they make some very interesting rolls (for instance they have a roll called the "CD roll" that's got seaweed and crab in it and covered with squid, and it's almost the diameter of your wrist, it's a real SOB to eat but it's delish)

                              1. re: JJASF

                                I've heard from a couple of people that Cafe Japon closed.

                                Kaisen never impressed me, (neither has Toasted Pheasant discussed below).

                                Nothing beats Matoi for me for sushi. But have been hearing raves about Bangkok Sushi in LandOLakes and Sushi Ninja in Brandon. Also had a rec for Jade Fire Asian in Hudson.

                                Sushi Ninja
                                887 E Bloomingdale Ave, Brandon, FL 33511

                                Cafe Japon
                                2223 S West Shore Blvd, Tampa, FL 33629

                                1. re: rikkikm

                                  Japon did close. Kaisen is killer, you just have to get intimate with the chef and ask for the specials, I'm assuming you aren't just going in there ordering maki rolls ;)

                                  I'm surprised to hear that Matoi is your favorite, we used to go there a lot (the owner is also a sushi chef too, and he was a client of my wife's at the time), but I never felt that they had much of a selection of interesting fish (salmon/tuna/snapper, woo hoo) and the prices had gone up while portions went down sadly. Have things changed around?

                      2. In specific order:
                        1. The refinery - just love it... even the coke machine.
                        2. Datz - love the beer selection, food is good and interesting (not perfect), and I can walk home.
                        3 Paci's - still my favorite for pizza in town. I need to try wood fired but as mentioned BFE.
                        4. Cigar City Brewing - Beer is food, isn't it?
                        5. Bern's - hard to go wrong. Especially a drink an dinner in the bar.

                        Todd - what's up with the wood fired? is he opening another?

                        12 Replies
                        1. re: Old E.

                          I was at the Refinery twice in the last week and have yet to notice a coke machine...

                          1. re: rhnault

                            The machine is visible, it's along the wall towards the kitchen. It's not "in the middle" of the dining room. but is visible. Doesn't matter to me though.

                            1. re: rhnault

                              i haven't seen it either. maybe it's on the same wall as the restroom door? i'm usually in the dining room closer to the front door, so i don't look at the wall with the restroom door.

                              1. re: Manderley

                                you may not notice it when the place is crammed fiull of noisy patrons on a friday night, but I've gone for brunch and could hear little else.

                                  1. re: rhnault

                                    it is a noisy machine. don't know what kind of machine it is (ice?). but it exists. i didn't bring it up, but it is there. sheesh.

                                    1. re: andy huse

                                      You were the first person to mention it makes noise. I have a funny story for you next time we talk IRL

                            2. re: Old E.

                              He's "Actively seeking to expand" from what he said, I don't want to say more than that in case certain things don't work out. I was bummed, I was trying to get him and the owners of the Pour House downtown to work out something where he could open a spot nearby, some of the best pizza in Tampa Bay and some of the best beer in Tampa Bay... but it wasn't viable (I think a restaurant in the complex already sold pizza and there would have been a competition issue)

                              I'm getting re-bummed just thinking about how it didn't work out :(

                              Also kudos on the Cigar City reco!!! hehe that's my favorite bread in a glass too :)

                              1. re: askdrtodd

                                That is common in commercial leases. I have been trying to make it to the Pour house, but just haven't been able to get in there. I will make it a priority.

                                1. re: askdrtodd

                                  Maybe he should consider a brick oven pizza oven on wheels like the one I saw at a festival on Main Street in Dunedin this past weekend. It's called Open Hearth Pizza -- "artisan pizza on wheels'' -- and will be at the Renaissance Festival at MOSI starting this weekend. People were raving about it and it looked delicious, but I was too stuffed from a visit to Lenny's to try it. The guy running it said he's from Vermont, where there are a bunch of these out and about, and will be heading home after the festival.

                                  Main Street Bar
                                  335 E Main St, Bartow, FL 33830

                                  1. re: Tom Scherberger

                                    funny you mention that, I was at the 3rd Saturday market at the Wiregrass mall last month and there was a "wood fired pizza" oven on wheels that looked just like Pete's design, but I tried a slice and it was so bad that I gave it away. It looked great too, I think the quality of the cheese (and other ingredients) didn't make up for it being wood fired.

                              2. 1. Bern's Steakhouse, what more needs be said...
                                2. Mise en Place, good food, great service, good atmosphere
                                3. The Refinery.
                                4. Wood Fired....
                                5. Kon Tiki, one of the better hotel restaurants in town (Tahitian Inn), and the bar's not too shabby either.

                                Bern's Steakhouse
                                1002 S Howard Ave, Tampa, FL 33606

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: deet13

                                  I need to get in to Kon Tiki, I keep hearing good things!

                                  1. re: askdrtodd

                                    Try the lime grouper, and the pulled pork tacos are pretty good also.