Italian food is part of Tampa’s dining DNA. Italians were a significant part of the masses who migrated to nearby Ybor City and transformed the area into a vibrant melting pot of nationalities, made it world-famous for its cigars and created a community perfectly suited for the locally published La Gaceta newspaper, the only trilingual newspaper in the U.S. The weekly publication includes articles in English and Spanish as well as Italian.
No wonder exceptional Italian restaurants specializing in authentic Italian cuisine can be found throughout this city. From pasta and pizzas and Italian wines and beers to such delicious signature sweets such as gelato and tiramisu, Italy’s foods and flavors are right at home here.
Here are a few ways to get a good feel for Tampa’s Italian offerings and a good meal.
OGGI founder, owner and chef Joe Di Bartolo comes by his knack for making great Italian food naturally. His parents left their native Sicily and landed in New York where they opened a pizzeria. Like father, like son, but much more. Following in his father’s footsteps to a point, Joe’s passion for pies grew to ownership of 75 I Love NY Pizza locations along the eastern coast of the U.S.
After selling those businesses and setting off for some time to unwind in Sicily, the next step, and next stop, had him opening another start-up pizza shop in the Tampa Bay area that featured larger-than-normal pies covered with toppings that customers could customize and compartmentalize, all on a single pizza.
It was not the right fit so goodby pies and hello OGGI (pronounced O gee), a comfortable, casual Davis Islands restaurant that prides itself on partnering with local providers, using ingredients that are hormone- and antibiotic-free and dishes that are full of flavor. Guest favorites include the roasted free range chicken, pastas topped with house-made Italian sausage or mozzarella and massive meatballs dripping with made-from-scratch marinara sauce. Eat well but leave room for dessert, particularly a confection of roasted pineapple, powdered sugar and Italian sweet cream.
A little off the eaten-path for many, Trattoria Pasquale is a true Italian treasure that is found within a nondescript strip center on Manhattan Avenue in South Tampa. Don’t let the modest exterior mislead you. Inside is a cozy dining room featuring colorful walls and a menu that has attracted a loyal following. Owner/chef Luigi Cavallaro is the real deal. Originally from Bolzano, Italy, he was formally trained in the culinary arts and has a naturally hospitable personality. He prides himself on presenting authentic Italian food in a classic Italian family atmosphere.
To keep his flavors fresh and fans eagerly returning to the restaurant, Cavallaro regularly returns to his homeland in Italy to gain expertise in cuisines from various regions. No matter where he roams, he brings those flavors home to Tampa.
Ordering anything from his most recent explorations may be the best bet for what to get but some of the longer-standing fan favorites served here include farfalle luigi, a bow tie pasta dish with homemade sausage and broccoli rabe, veal or chicken nonno Pasqual, both topped with a tasty sauce made from gorgonzola cheese, mushrooms and sliced ham, and anything that lists fresh seafood such as snapper and mussels among its ingredients.
There must be something in the water in Italy that makes its native sons talented enough to transfer, and translate, foods from their respective hometowns all the way to the West Coast of Florida and do it so successfully. In this case, the tastes highlighted by the chef at Piccola Italia Bistro, himself a native son of Italy, have roots in the regions of Abruzzo, an area along the Adriatic coast that is east of Rome, Rome, Bologna and Naples.
This menu is not a long list of dishes but a carefully curated selection that will still leave you struggling to make up your mind. Should it be the the aglio e olio, spaghetti with scallions, garlic, fried spicy pepper and sesame seeds, or the pesto, which is comprised of linguine, smoked salmon and home made basil pesto sauce? I say, find a friend and order both but be sure to share whether you decide to dine in or take out.
You don’t just learn to love the food here. You can also learn how to make it. Well, at least the pasta portion of these dishes. The man who has a hand in everything here, Chef William de Ingeniis, will have you perfecting pasta in no time.
Combining two of the world's most amazing things: Steak and Italian cuisine, is the fancy first class restaurant known as Iavarone's Steakhouse & Italian Grill. Don' t be discouraged by the massive size of the two-story building, this Italian grill is great for small parties or large corporate meetings. They are also known to have some of the best steak in the Bay Area.
Wether you are looking for a classical Italian experience in Tampa, or something more mainstream, there is an array of businesses for you to choose from. The purpose of Italian cuisine is to spend valuable time with friends and family. No matter the location of the restaurant or the region their Italian cuisine is influenced by, your time enjoying the best Italian restaurants in Tampa will be Magnifico!