The foodie side of Tampa

We found some of the es­sen­tial eats and bars for your next trip to the Florida city.

Metro USA (New York) - - Travel - ED CONDRAN @MetroNewYork let­ters@metro.us

There’s a restau­rant rev­o­lu­tion hap­pen­ing in Tampa, with re­li­able old-school joints as well as new, edgy bistros.

Des­ti­na­tion restau­rants

We rec­om­mend start­ing with the ven­er­a­ble Columbia Restau­rant.

The down­town Ybor City sta­ple has been a land­mark on the Tampa scene for decades, com­bin­ing his­tory — its grand ex­te­rior fea­tures or­nate tile­work, while in­side you’ll find a tran­quil Span­ish-style court­yard — and fine din­ing.

At 52,000 square feet, the Columbia spans an en­tire city block, mak­ing it the largest Span­ish restau­rant in the world; and in this case, big­ger is also bet­ter. The 1905 Salad, Columbia’s birth year, is sub­lime, as is the grouper wrapped in pas­try dough with as­para­gus and red pep­pers. Columbia also makes a ter­rific Cuban sand­wich (ham, roasted pork, Swiss cheese, pick­les, mus­tard and salami on Cuban bread).

For a new-retro ex­pe­ri­ence, go back in time with a visit to Ciro’s Speakeasy and Sup­per Club. For en­try, you must know the se­cret pass­word, (ob­tained by call­ing the swanky es­tab­lish­ment). It’s worth the ef­fort. The staff sports Pro­hi­bi­tion-era garb, and there’s a cool se­cret room be­hind a bookcase.

Cuban food

The topic of who serves the best Cuban food in town is the cen­ter of much de­bate. The finest Cuban sand­wich just might be served at the de­light­fully quirky West Tampa Sand­wich Shop.

The Obama Sand­wich was born af­ter the for­mer president or­dered a honey Cuban at the small but charm­ing diner, a Cuban driz­zled with honey, plus let­tuce and toma­toes. You also can’t go wrong with the chorizo sand­wich or the plan­tain omelette.

Don’t miss La Se­gunda Cen­tral Bak­ery, which has been in ex­is­tence for more than a cen­tury. Its chewy, de­li­cious Cuban bread is a lo­cal trea­sure. The same could be said for the tasty guava turnovers and flan.

New eats on the block

As far as new restau­rants go, Ulele is set­ting a stan­dard. The build­ing it­self is a draw, a his­toric pump­house that’s been repur­posed into a light-filled restau­rant with huge win­dows over­look­ing a palm-strewn back­yard. The only dif­fi­cult de­ci­sion is what to try. Do you re­quest the pan-seared pom­pano, or the gouda grouper? What­ever you do, wash it down with the home-brewed honey lager.

For Mediter­ranean fare, Haven will not dis­ap­point. The oc­to­pus carpac­cio and the Wa­hoo ala Plan­cha (it’s es­car­got, live a lit­tle!) are worth the visit.

Cheers

Ac­cord­ing to USA To­day, Tampa is the No. 3 beer city in the coun­try, with over 30 craft brew­eries, and more are on tap.

Ci­gar City Brew­ing is not just a beer lover’s des­ti­na­tion. True beer geeks can take a be­hindthe-scenes tour of the brew­ery and see its equip­ment up close. The va­ri­ety of their brews is stag­ger­ing, which is apt since you’ll be stag­ger­ing well be­fore last call. If you like sours, you won’t go wrong with the Guava Pas­sion Ber­liner at the Cop­per­tail Brew­ing Com­pany, but don’t skip the French Oak Black Cherry Porter.

The luxe Aloft Down­town Tampa of­fers li­ba­tions at its mod­ern cock­tail lounge W

XYZ, where the at­mos­phere is ca­sual by day and so­phis­ti­cated by night. Re­lax by the in­fin­ity edge pool, which over­looks the scenic Hills­bor­ough River with a view of the Moor­ish minarets on the bu­colic Univer­sity of Tampa cam­pus while a DJ spins dur­ing week­ends.

Rooftop bars are all the rage in Tampa, too. Im­bibe at Fly Bar or The

Re­fin­ery in Semi­nole Heights, which is blow­ing up as the hip­ster des­ti­na­tion of the city.

FLICKR @FURLDMAN

The Columbia Restau­rant is a stately land­mark on the Tampa food scene, serv­ing Cuban food for over a cen­tury.

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W XYZ Bar at Aloft Down­town

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