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Tampa Bay has enjoyed an unstoppable rise to foodie prominence over the past decade, shaped by its subtropical climate, waterfront setting and rich history of Cuban, Spanish and Italian immigration.
Tampa Bay, Florida, is home to some of the most creative chefs, bartenders and small-batch brewers in the USA, whose innovative dining and drinking concepts have won plaudits across the board. With such an ever-evolving scene to explore, here’s how you can get a taste of Tampa Bay’s culinary landscape in one full-on, flavor-filled weekend.
For a rapid intro to all that is up and coming, head straight to Heights Public Market at Armature Works on the revamped downtown riverfront. Housed within a former streetcar warehouse, this cavernous food hall hosts an eclectic line-up of purveyors, producers and restaurateurs in one communal space. From street tacos to salchipapas, gyoza to guava cream cheese ice cream, there’s something to tempt even the most adventurous food-lover. Once you’ve chosen, find a spot on the lawn for views of the Hillsborough River.
If the revitalised waterfront is all about the new, a short jaunt east will take you to the Ybor City Historic District, where long-standing culinary traditions are preserved. Tampa’s best-known export, the Cuban sandwich, originated here in Ybor City, and today its authenticity is so well guarded, the ingredients – Cuban bread, ham, pork, salami, Swiss cheese, dill pickle and mustard – are enshrined in a city council resolution. Grab one to go at the family-run La Segunda Bakery or dine in at the Columbia Restaurant, a Ybor City landmark and the oldest restaurant in Florida.
If all that savory goodness has made you thirsty, you’re in the right place. Florida’s first commercial brewery opened here in Ybor City in 1896, and Tampa Bay today has one of the top craft beer scenes in the country. Kick things off on hip 7th Avenue, where the industrial-chic Zydeco Brew Werks is one of the newer entrants to the scene. Spread across two floors in a former nightclub, the brewery serves an inventive range of lagers, stouts and malty ales, best sampled alongside a pile of baked oysters from the Cajun-inspired menu. Next stop, Coppertail Brewing Co., lies a few blocks east, with a choice of 20 rotating pours to try in the buzzy, reclaimed-wood tasting room.
On the other side of town, Cigar City Brewing is another essential hotspot. The award-winning brewery is easily the best known in the city, partly due to a relentless focus on ambitious new beers brewed with tropical ingredients such as lime essence, cacao nibs and chili peppers. And if those flavors are your jam, but you’re not that into beer, get yourself over to Mexican taco joint JoToro at Sparkman Wharf for a signature tequila flight or golden margarita.
Kick off the day in retro splendor at Goody Goody in upmarket Hyde Park Village. This Tampa Bay icon lasted 80 years in its former downtown location, before a welcome revival by local restaurateur Richard Gonzmart breathed new life into this much-loved slice of local heritage. Known for gigantic, straight-off-the-griddle pancakes, the resurrected diner offers the best breakfast in Florida according to Southern Living magazine. Smother in homemade cracker maple syrup and tuck in.
With portions like these, we wouldn’t blame you for skipping lunch in favor of afternoon tea. Twenty minutes’ walk away, you can do just that, in a venue inspired by the elegant clubs and libraries of London, England. Oxford Exchange is set in a former stable block and offers a bookstore, retail store and restaurant under one roof. Served in a plant-filled conservatory, the tea experience (champagne optional) is everything you’d expect, including scones with cream and a fancy selection of sweet and savory treats.
Your Tampa taste-fest might be nearly over, but you can’t leave town without dining at one of the finest restaurants in the city. Back in Ybor City, Casa Santo Stefano reflects the food traditions of the thousands of Sicilian immigrants who moved to the area in the early 1900s, with most of its ingredients imported directly from family businesses in Sicily. Alternatively, don your finest attire for a night at Bern’s Steak House, a local institution since 1956. Known for seafood, cut-to-order steaks and a monumental wine collection, this legendary venue is also home to the Harry Waugh Dessert Room, where flawless handmade desserts are served in wine-barrel booths.
Need a convenient place to stay? Few options can beat the Epicurean Hotel. Not only is the hotel within stumbling distance of Bern’s, its food-focused amenities include a culinary theater offering everything from mixology lessons to coffee roasting demos. And if a return trip is on the cards, check out Aloft Midtown, whose swish rooftop pool and tapas bar feature fantastic panoramas.
Get your tastebuds at the ready and start planning your delicious trip to Tampa Bay by heading to visittampabay.com
Places to stay
Just a three-minute walk from Tampa Bay itself, Epicurean Hotel is the ideal place to stay for a relaxing getaway in Tampa. Take a coffee-roasting class or sharpen your cocktail-making skills at a mixology tutorial, you won’t be short on tasty things to do if you choose to stay here.
Conveniently located close to many Tampa hot spots, Aloft Midtown is the perfect base for travelers eager to explore the best of Tampa Bay. It’s also ideal for those lazy hotel days, too – you’ll find a fancy rooftop pool and an on-site tapas bar.
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