Food Halls and Fine Dining: the Ultimate Guide to Eating in Tampa Bay

| © Derek Abella
Luke Prowse

The ever-evolving culinary scene in Tampa Bay shows no sign of slowing down. In the city of Tampa, restaurants are being inspired by a history of Spanish, Italian and Cuban immigration to create increasingly innovative menus. What’s more, Michelin has announced plans for a Florida edition of the guide, meaning big things are in store for the foodie world in Tampa Bay. Here’s our recommendations on where to go and what to eat when you visit.

Heights Public Market at Armature Works

Heights Public Market is essentially 22,000sqft (2,044sqm) of deliciousness under one roof. Once the storage and maintenance facility for Tampa’s signature mustard-yellow streetcars, today this edgy converted warehouse feeds Tampa locals and visitors with a seemingly never-ending selection of dining options. Whether you’re after Instagrammable sweet treats or plant-based comfort food from the Deep South, you’ll certainly get your fix and more at this hip hotspot. There are also occasional cooking classes, luncheon seminars and chef demonstrations, so keep your eyes peeled for cool events.

Heights Public Market is an edgy converted warehouse with a diverse and delicious selection of dining options

Edison: Food+Drink Lab

At Edison: Food+Drink Lab, locally sourced ingredients are given a creative twist in chef Jeannie Pierola’s quest to modernize everyday food. All of Pierola’s plates treat you to a symphony of flavors, with a changing menu based on what’s fresh and in season. All recipes have been expertly engineered to offer a new perspective on classic ingredients – expect dishes like seared scallops with pork belly peanut jam and blueberry yuzu tart with sesame cream and granny smith sorbet. If you consider yourself a bit of an amateur mixologist, it would be a crime to leave without sipping a specialist cocktail from the bar.

Columbia Restaurant

What started as a bite-sized cafe – loved by locals for the delectable Cuban sandwiches and café con leche – is now a culinary and cultural empire in the historic neighborhood of Ybor City. You can’t come to Tampa without visiting the Columbia Restaurant. It’s been handed down through five generations over 116 years and still features original Spanish tiles in some of the traditional dining rooms. The oldest restaurant in Florida has an excellent Spanish-Cuban menu serving Ybor City classics: two croquettes made with seasoned blue crab meat and topped with crunchy breadcrumbs drizzled with hot sauce, or grandmother’s traditional picadillo empanadas, made with spiced ground meat and wrapped in two pastry turnovers.

Columbia has been handed down through five generations and today serves dishes such as picadillo empanadas and crab meat croquettes

Bern’s Steak House

Bern’s has been serving prime dry-aged steaks and fresh Tampa seafood since 1956. It remains a local treasure – as does the founder, the late Bern Laxer. The food here is mouth-wateringly good and the prices are reasonable. Opt for 12 oysters on the half shell to start, topped with shavings of tangy horseradish and truffled mignonette. Or try the dry-aged beef bourguignon with truffled celery root mash, meaty wild mushrooms, and sourdough to dip, dunk and mop with. You can also gorge on caviar for a slightly more premium price – delicate, buttery pearls that vary based on the region they’re from. Bern’s is one for a special occasion.

Sparkman Wharf

Sparkman Wharf is where it’s popping off in a buzzing part of the legendary downtown waterfront. Feast to the sounds of live music and enjoy your meal al fresco while basking in the Tampa sunshine. Food is served from colorful, repurposed shipping containers where chef-driven menus feature eclectic and delicious cuisine – from jumbo Key West shrimps on smashed avocado toast with yuzu marmalade to dragon fruit granola superfood bowls. Savor local and international craft beer on tap at LightHaus Beer Garden – it’s the perfect end point for a well-deserved drink after a walk down Bayshore Boulevard.

Buzzing Sparkman Wharf dishes out innovative street food and cocktails from colourful shipping containers

Cena Tampa

Cena is just a stone’s throw from Tampa Union Station. From the outside it’s a little unassuming, but inside you’ll be met with a contemporary, white-tablecloth setting and a moody but inviting décor. You can dine on fresh Italian fare with exquisite wines to match – expect dishes such as wagyu beef carpaccio and tomato braised oxtail with parmesan potato gnocchi. The chefs here take on more creative concepts – it’s probably one of the only places in the world where you’ll see tuna tartare plonked on fresh spaghetti. And it works oh-so well. Whatever you do, make sure you save room for dessert.

Rooster & the Till

Rooster & the Till is the place to go for the finest, locally sourced New American plates. The food here rocks. Voted as the number one restaurant for two years in a row by the Tampa Bay Times, this tiny but mighty Seminole Heights spot more than lives up to its reputation, and features the finest farm-to-table fare. Pick the tasting menu to sample the restaurant’s best, such as nduja with chilli and sesame mushrooms on sourdough, or marshmallow meringue with a kaffir lime white chocolate sorbet. You can also upgrade to the wine experience if you want a wine to match every plate.

Rooster & the Till was voted the number one restaurant in town for two years in a row

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