My wife and I have decided to embark on a tour of all the good places to eat in the Tampa Bay area.
Tampa isn’t particularly the most cultured city out there. It struggles with a lack of a vibrant city center, and a car- and suburb-culture that means most people live in satellite communities, 30 minutes from every other place in the area. Seriously, it’s almost mystical. Even given a linear layout of locations A, B, and C: A will be 30 minutes from B, and B will be 30 minutes from C, but A will also be 30 minutes from C. It’s the least transitive property obeying place on earth. But what Tampa does have a lot of is restaurants. It has a lot of chain restaurants. But it also has local gems. And we are now on a mission to try them all.
The Refinery — Excellent food and beer selection. Casual hipster vibe. Best if you can get seated outside, on the rooftop patio. Their menu is locally sourced, and changes weekly. I had roasted quail, the best I’ve ever had.
Red Mesa Restaurant — Casual, but with valet parking (huh?). Not much to look at inside. Doesn’t take reservations, but got seated immediately. House margarita is tasty. The food was some of the best Mexican I’ve ever had. The duck enchilada with raspberry sauce was… why am I not there right now?
Fly Bar — A little loud, but otherwise nice atmosphere. The in-house cocktails were delicious, but suspiciously low in alcohol content. Food is tapas style, delicious, and quick to come out (so you can order one course at a time, and have a nice long dinner experience). Really liked the rabbit tacos.
Ella’s Americana Folk Art Cafe — It’s exactly as hipster as it sounds. The food was good. Large portions. But it was the atmosphere I liked the most. High-backed cushioned chairs and booths, lots to see, and a real energy from the staff and patrons.
220 East — The food didn’t blow me away, with the exception of the toasted brie with walnuts, brown sugar, and apples. But it had a real sense of authenticity. Like it had been there a long time, and always would be. A real neighborhood joint, where I actually saw staff members sitting down with patrons and looking at pictures of their new puppy. We didn’t partake, but they seemed to have a good wine selection as well.