- My name is Carlos Hernandez and I write the Tampa Bay food blog Carlos Eats (http://www.carloseats.com), one of the top food blogs in Tampa Bay. I have contributions all over the bay area in publications including Creative Loafing and Patch.
- Gender: Male, Status: Single
Anise Gastrobar is one of my favorite places in Tampa Bay. It's a unique gourmet food and cocktail destination and the decor inside is perfect for a night out with friends or a fancy date. Prices are affordable for the quality you receive and they are open late every day of the week, which can be a little difficult to locate in this town! The menu is bold and enlightening. I recommend Anise to everyone!
Pros: Gourmet food + craft cocktails - late-night atmosphere!
Cons: Can't think of any.
L'Eden is a great French restaurant in Downtown Tampa. I was investigating it when I was searching for something uniquely international to add to my food tour and stopped inside after reading good reviews online. The crepes are AMAZING. I had a crepe with gravy and mushrooms inside and then bacon on top and it was insanely savory. I ate every last bite. The salad that accompanied it was also pretty good, you can substitute for potatoes if you like. The restaurant feels like a true French shop too and the pastries were also fantastic. I was really impressed and can definitely recommend L'Eden for people looking for something different in Tampa and great flavors. The head chef is super busy, but still friendly enough to converse with diners. Love it.
Pros: Great crepes, great food, interesting ambiance
The Brandon Mall has come such a long way since when I first moved to Brandon in 2005. The mall is right on the level of the International Plaza now without the super expensive stores that normal people cannot afford. The Cheesecake Factory and California Pizza Kitchen both found their way to the Brandon Towncenter. Now even Bahama Breeze and Red Robin Burgers will be moving into the mall, which is certainly going to be very exciting. The food court still has a number of great fast-food options as well and the mall is just massive. I like the book stores in the area and the addition of the Apple Store when they added a new wing was also a testament to the mall owners who are serious about providing an all-purpose facility for shoppers in Brandon. I'm looking forward to seeing the mall keep growing and succeeding in the future as the economy improves again as well.
Pros: Tons of stores and restaurants to choose from
Cons: Traffic around 60 trying to exit the mall can be really bad - try the other mall exits
Raymond James Stadium is the host stadium for the USF Bulls - so it's safe to say that I have been here more than any other stadium in my life. The stadium itself is very nice and I'm happy we have our football games there. Like any sports facility, the food and drinks are, of course, expensive, but looking beyond that - the stadium is still built well and I've been visiting since I was a kid. I lived in Tampa when they first decided to build it and although there was certainly a fight to get it funded, I'm overall pretty happy that it exists.
Pros: Nice, state-of-the-art facility, Hosts USF Football games
Cons: Expensive concessions
The Yuengling Brewery makes for a fun activity to do when money is tight and you want to go explore. The factory tours held almost every day of the week are full of plenty of information on how their beer is brewed and what goes into their daily process. The free sample of beer at the end of the tour is always a big plus and you can go on the tour as many times as you like as well - so feel free to visit with different friends and expose them to something new. Located close to USF - it's something everyone can do and if you're under 21 they still offer alternative refreshments.
Pros: Fun activity to-do, Free admission and beer!
I Ai Sushi may be the only place in Tampa where you can get authentic Japanese cuisine beyond what a Japanese steakhouse offers. They have authentic Japanese ramen, Japanese Katsu, Kaki Fry, and a number of other dishes that you may only find in Japan if you're craving the real deal. Prices are also affordable with most things around $10-$15. Their sushi is also excellent and may be some of the best in town. The inside of the restaurant is nice and shaped around the theme of love with heart-shaped pillows and a giant heart outside the restaurant. They also carry Japanese soft drinks, a nice tough. The restaurant reminds me exactly of what a little shop in Japan actually looks like. I Ai Sushi is something everyone in Tampa should try, just watch out because sometimes service can be a little rough and the waitresses seem to hate the world at times. Either way, head to I Ai Sushi for authentic Japanese cuisine and great sushi.
Pros: Authentic Japanese cuisine and delicious sushi, decor
Cons: Service can be pretty bad at times
El Chuzo BBQ is a late-night hotspot for Colombian food. The restaurant stays open until 4:30 a.m. - not many places in Tampa can offer you good food at that time of the night. The crowd is mostly clubgoers and primarily Spanish people in the know. When I visited the first-time I made the mistake of ordering a Coca-Cola and had a few people stare at me as I noticed I was surrounded by people drinking Postobon Colombian soda. I had a Colombian burger and fries, it was great and really cheap - everything on the menu is under $10. The parking lot is tiny so you may have to park and walk. Just visiting the restaurant was a fun, cultural experience so I recommend giving El Chuzo BBQ a shot sometime even if you normally are not a late-night snacker like myself.
Pros: Open until 4:30 a.m., great Colombian food, cultural experience
Cons: Gets super crowded, club-crowd, parking is limited
Crazy Cafe recently opened its doors in Riverview. I watched with anticipation as the signs came up when I first came back to Tampa early in 2012 from traveling. The restaurant is very nice inside and the employees are very welcoming to diners. I came in to do a take-out order and had some nice discussions with the cashier, apparently they also own a restaurant out in New Tampa called Sushi Cafe - I'll have to check that out now that I live closer to USF. Anyway, I ordered a few rolls to-go and the employee threw in some pieces of one of their specials for FREE. Awesome. Not only that, but the receipt had a special to receive a discount the next time I visit. The sushi itself was pretty good, I really enjoyed my rolls and there is no location closer for those who live out on Faulkenberg Road area. I can confidently recommend Crazy Cafe and plan on returning back soon.
Pros: Good sushi, cool deals, local, interesting new roll combinations
Cuenelli's Peruvian Restaurant
Cuenelli's is one of my top restaurants in Tampa Bay. They have excellent chicken and many delicious Peruvian dishes, such as ceviche, papa la huancaina, and lomo saltado. Their homemade french fries are absolutely delicious. Try the corn soda for something uniquely Peruvian. The chicken sandwiches are simply amazing - there is no place better for a chicken sandwich and it is affordable as well with large portions for very good prices. I first encountered Cuenelli's when they were a small shop in Riverview, but they have found great success in their new location out by the Tampa International Airport. If you haven't tried Cuenelli's you owe it to yourself to try out there now and try some of their amazing chicken. You won't regret it.
Pros: Amazing chicken and Peruvian dishes, good prices
Cons: A bit of a drive since it is out by the airport - but well worth it
Koizi Endless Hibachi & Sushi Eatery
Koizi is an awesome new hibachi all-you-can-eat restaurant in New Tampa. The restaurants boost full-service, the food does not simply sit in buffet trays, but is made-to-order so you know your sushi and your hibachi is always made fresh. The prices are simply amazing, I'm not sure how long the owner can keep them so low. The lunch buffet is only $8.95 for all-you-can-eat hibachi, sushi, entrees, and dessert. Where else can you find a deal like this in Tampa? The answer is nowhere. The sushi options are pretty good, but don't expect the best quality of fish, but they don't cheap out and give you bad fish either. Dinner adds more options and is still affordable at $18.95. They offer a USF discount for dinner and specials through their Facebook page as well. The steak is NY sirloin and tastes great and the hibachi chefs are funny and entertaining. They carry Japanese soda called Ramune as well, which I love! The service experiences I have had are positive, just don't be afraid to order more food - your servers will comply. There is no take-out so come hungry. Lunch goes until 3 p.m. Koizi takes the Asian buffet to a new concept and I honestly hope it is very successful - I know I will
Pros: Unbeatable prices, tons of food, new concept
Cons: Restaurant needs more traffic to maintain low prices
Busch Gardens was a popular spot for me as a kid. The annual Fun Pass just kept me going back to the point that I rode Montu and Kumba more than 100 times in just a few weeks of my summer in the early 2000s. My interest waned as I grew older and as ticket prices continued to climb every year. Sheikra brought me back for a day, but ultimately left me with the same result of never going back to the park. Now with the new USF deal where students can visit for a year for $50, it's really worth it to go to Busch Gardens - I think I'll be going back. My favorite area has always been Timbuktu - a place where they have shows and cool rides and it's been long enough that the rides can be fun again. I miss checking out the animals in the park as well. Howl-O-Scream should bring me back to the park as well.
Pros: Fun rides, affordable for USF students
Cons: Rides can get old after some time
Splitsville is a popular party place in Channelside and also a great place to spend some time bowling with family and friends. The food is pretty decent and we enjoy some of their sliders and occasionally some of their sushi as well. It's more on the expensive side - so if you're looking to bowl on the cheap this may not be the best location for you. As for the nightclub, it's fun to bowl after dark with friends and then hit the dance floor. The crowd is late 20s and 30 somethings, which isn't really my style, but still makes for a fun time occasionally. They have giant drink pitchers, which are fun to share with some friends. Parking is accessible thanks to the Channelside parking garage. Overall, a pretty solid place and an important part of the Channelside complex.
Pros: Modern bowling, good food and drinks, decent nightclub
Cons: Can be rather expensive
I have been visiting Jackson's since I first moved to Florida way back in 1999. My parents would often spend time after work there and as a kid I only went for their California Rolls. During the mid-2000s I took up a summer job on Harbour Island and would often walk across the street to Jackson's for lunch with my fellow co-workers. During these times the sushi was very fresh at Jackson's and it was one of my favorite places for sushi. During the past few years the sushi has teetered from delicious to good and sometimes mediocre. It would be better if the service was better. During one visit with some friends, we were completely ignored by our waitress who disappeared for over an hour while we waited for food orders that were never placed and tried to find someone capable of closing our bill so we could leave. I wish it was the only time were subjected to this kind of service, but repeat visits have fared similar results. I do like Jackson's as a nightlife venue. I love that they have three different rooms with different music and the outside waterfront is just breathtaking. Paying for parking sucks and cover charge can be high at times, but I suppose it cannot be cheap to offer th
Pros: Fun nightclub, good music, great view
Cons: Food and service experiences are mixed
Most people in Tampa cannot tell you what a pupusa is, which is a sharp contrast Northern California where El Salvadorean and Central American cuisine can be found on almost every block. Pupusas are something similar to tasty corn dough tortillas stuffed with your choice of ingredients from cheese and refried beans to deep fried pork belly, also called chicharron. It only takes two to get me full and at $2 each - Pupuseria CentroAmericana is a steal. The service staff struggles a little with English so if you have a Spanish speaking friend it may help enhance your experience. They have great options for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I love their refried beans, sour cream, plaintains, and steak combo. Most things are the menu are also under $10 and many things under $8. My parents are huge fans of their soups, which helps my mother through any sick day. If you have never tried Central American cuisine, I highly suggest you try pupusas and give this restaurant a shot - just make sure you call ahead first to make sure they are open as hours and openings can vary from time to time.
Pros: The only Central American restaurant in Tampa - selling delicious pupusas with affordable pricing.
Cons: May be a little tough to experience well without speaking at least a little Spanish
Yamato Japanese Steakhouse takes things up a notch from your typical teppanyaki grill. The ingredients taste better and you get a ton of food for the prices. Their sushi is pretty good too, though the best sushi was with their former Japanese chef who has moved on from the establishment. The mixed drinks are excellent and I am a huge fan of the Blue Geisha cocktail - it's just delicious and can still pack a punch. The prices are pretty standard and compete well with Kobe or Arigato. The service can be a hit or miss, some hibachi chefs ruin the fun by not being enthusiastic about the show, while service can also be spotty because they honestly get insanely slammed by residents in the area and mall shoppers to the point where any restaurant will have at least some hiccups. I personally am not a huge fan of the new management the restaurant has been under in recent times and stopped visiting as a regular, but would still say it is worth a shot if you're in Wesley Chapel or visiting the Wiregrass Mall.
Pros: Pretty good teppanyaki food, good drinks
Cons: Mixed service encounters, sushi is a hit or miss, prices can still be expensive
Samurai Sushi is one of my top sushi places in Tampa Bay. It's tucked away on Big Bend Road out in the deep suburbs of Riverview, but well worth a stop - some people come from very far away for the experience. The best thing is that their quality fish comes at incredible prices. For some time their California Rolls went for $2.95 - which is insanely cheap for how good they taste here. The most expensive special is $10 here and they have numerous combo and specials that make everything affordable. The service staff is always friendly and the owner is a very kind man. These things together make Samurai Sushi one of the best kept secrets in the bay. Hopefully their steady local clientele can keep them in business for years to come.
Pros: Great sushi at excellent prices
Cons: Owner selectively closes the restaurant - always call ahead
Buca di Beppo is a pretty reliable place to have some Italian food for dinner with a group. Portions are gigantic and can feed 2-3 people and affordable on top of that. They recently started serving lunch a few years back, but I'm not sure how well that turned out. Service is usually pretty good - you can even walk through and choose to dine in the kitchen - so you know they have nothing to hide behind the doors. The restaurant never seems to get too paced for it's capacity limit, but still is a pretty solid chain Italian choice and can hold it's own with Olive Garden and Carrabba's.
Pros: Big portions, good food, good service
Sono Cafe is a great spot in Downtown Tampa and has a great view of the University of Tampa, right off Curtis Hixon Park. The gelato and paninis are excellent here and the location itself is great for events. This year's TECHmunch Food Blogger Conference mixer was held at Sono's and it was the perfect backdrop to show off the beauty of Tampa outdoors without scorching everyone in the sun. Mise en Place really did a great job with Sono Cafe and the restaurant dedicates itself to the "Slow Food Movement" that started out in Italy and has grown very popular in the United States. With so many events now held at Curtis Hixon, there are more reasons to check out Sono Cafe than ever before.
Pros: Great gelato and paninis, great view, awesome private event venue