A guide to the best Tampa Bay restaurants from local foodies
It is no secret that Tampa has some of the most famous foodie-havens in Florida. From Bern’s Steak House to Columbia, residents of the greater Tampa Bay area can enjoy remarkable meals from some of the best restaurants in the state. To narrow down your seemingly endless choices of fabulous food destinations in Tampa and St. Pete, we connected with a few of our favorite local foodies and asked them to dish about their picks for the best Tampa Bay restaurants.
Updated September 2022 by Ciarra Johnson
Kiera Andrews – This Babe Eats
If you are a fan of the Tampa food scene, then you have likely come across Kiera’s @thisbabeeats Instagram account. As the Founder and CEO (Chief Eating Officer) of This Babe Eats, a food-focused blog and influencer account, Kiera shares her passion for good eats and fun treats in the Tampa Bay area. Learn more at thisbabeeats.com.
“I have a love for barbeque and Wicked Oak is the best in Tampa in my opinion,” said Andrews. Once a favored food truck, Wicked Oak opened a brick and mortar location in September 2020 in Seminole Heights. “I think what makes them the best isn’t just the quality of their meat, but also the uniqueness of their menu items that they incorporate into their slow smoked meats,” said Andrews.
Along with more traditional meat platters and sandwiches, Wicked Oak serves savory signatures like the Dirty Dog, which is their jalapeno-cheddar smoked sausage, sliced open and stuffed with pulled pork. Get more details in Kiera’s Instagram post.
“When I am looking for a healthier meal, my go-to is Naked Farmer,” said Andrews. Naked Farmer sources their fresh ingredients directly from local farmers. The farm-fresh bowl concept eatery opened two locations in St. Pete and Sparkman Wharf in 2020. You can either build your own or choose from a pre-set menu that changes seasonally.
Read our guide to the Best Tampa Bay Vegan Restaurants for more healthy eats.
Wild Child opened its doors last year in St. Pete’s Grand Central District and is a brunch lover’s dream. This trendy spot seems to be an instant hit with the locals. “The food and cocktails are absolutely delicious and gorgeous at the same time,” said Andrews. “They put fun twists on menu items you wouldn’t necessarily expect.”
Caitie Stoneback – Tampa Food Guide
Caitie Stoneback started Tampa Food Guide on Instagram in 2018 to showcase her love for the Tampa Bay community and food scene. “I love the diversity of the Tampa Bay food scene,” said Stoneback. “Within a 30-minute drive, you can really access any kind of food you want.” Here are some of her favorites:
“I’m obsessed with this locally owned Nashville Hot Chicken hub,” said Stoneback. “There is not a chicken tender in Tampa that can top King of the Coop’s Nashville Hot Chicken tenders.” With a location in Seminole Heights and a new location in Wesley Chapel, you can dig into more Southern-fare like cornmeal-breaded Mississippi Catfish, jalapeño-cheddar hush puppies and collard greens.
“I’ve been addicted to sushi for over ten years, and Zukku Sushi is at the top of my list for best sushi,” said Stoneback. Select from premade rolls, burritos, and bowls or create your own combination of flavors. The Lobster Volcano Roll, which includes a whole tempura fried lobster tail, is a must try!
“This newer Greek concept is one of my favorite restaurants in Tampa Bay,” said Stoneback. “Regardless of what you order on the menu, you know you will be getting the freshest ingredients on your plate.” Psomi is a Greek-American bakery and eatery where you can get freshly baked bread, pita, pastries and bagels daily. Their dinner menu features variations on Mediterranean favorites like Spanakopita Chicken and Rack of Lamb. Don’t leave without trying a hand-crafted cocktail!
Want your name burnt into the bone of a tomahawk steak? If you are looking for a date night that leaves a lasting impression, Council Oak steakhouse, located inside the Seminole Hardrock Hotel and Casino, is top notch. “From appetizers to dinner and dessert, everything I’ve ever ordered from Council Oak has been to-die-for,” said Stoneback. “A meal at Council Oak is something you will talk about for weeks after going.”
Lori Brown, Kevin Godbee, Haley Haman, and Abby Allen – St. Petersburg Foodies
St. Petersburg Foodies started as a hobby in 2015. Lori Brown and Kevin Godbee would post frequent restaurant reviews in their Facebook group. Since then, they have expanded to become the go-to St. Pete food blog and a must-follow account on Instagram @stpetefoodies. They also host a tasty weekly podcast where they chat with restaurant owners, local chefs, celebrity chefs and more.
“Aside from the obvious amazing restaurants and delectable food, we love that just about everybody in the business supports each other even though other restaurants are technically ‘competition,’”said Godbee. “We see one restaurant owner having dinner at his competitor’s eatery, and posting photos of it, and checking in at the location for example. We’ve seen restaurants loaning food ingredients to others that ran out. These things happen all the time in St. Pete, and this was before the pandemic.”
Here are local recommendations direct from the St. Petersburg Foodies:
IL Ritorno is a premier upscale dining experience in downtown St. Pete and was voted Best Upscale Restaurant in St. Pete in the 2020 St. Petersburg Foodies Restaurant Awards. Chef David Benstock creates a modern take on Northern Italian cuisine using seasonal, fresh ingredients and house-made pasta.
For a completely immersive experience, book a seat at their chef’s bar overlooking the open kitchen for an 8-10 course off-menu tasting experience. Definitely add the wine pairing.
Brick & Mortar Kitchen & Wine Bar was voted 2020 Best Downtown St. Pete Restaurant in the St Petersburg Foodies Restaurant Awards. Chef Jason Ruhe and co-owner and wife, Hope, focus on seasonal, rustic flavors with great fish specials, house made pasta options and one of the best burgers in town.
Noble Crust is located off of 4th St. in North St. Pete and has a menu that combines the best of Italian and Southern American flavors. They are famous for their seasonal Brussels Sprouts, Southern Fried Chicken and Eggplant Parmesan, which is one of the best we have had. Noble Crust practically became an overnight success when it opened in 2015, and now there are several locations throughout the area. They won both Best North St. Pete Restaurant and Best Casual Restaurant in the 2020 St. Petersburg Foodies Restaurant Awards.
Annata Restaurant & Wine Bar is located on iconic Beach Drive in downtown St Pete. It has long been known for its outstanding Cheese and Charcuterie boards, but this restaurant is so much more than that now. Chef Joshua Breen has elevated the menu to include delicious flatbreads, pastas and entrees along with mouthwatering nightly specials. Annata’s wine list is top-notch for the Tampa Bay area.
This wine bar located on beautiful St. Pete Beach takes beach dining to a whole new level. Recent accolades include being named Best St. Pete Beach Restaurant in the 2020 St. Petersburg Foodies Restaurant Awards. Owner Tigran Khatchaturyan prides himself on the extensive and approachable wine selection while Chef Artem Kucherenko crafts one of the most eclectic menus around, which includes some adventurous selections along with other customary fare.
Beau n Mo’s is located a tad off the beaten path but just minutes from downtown. Since opening in 2015, owners Chef Beau and his wife, Madonna Wallace, have turned Beau n Mo’s into a local beloved favorite. The décor has a cool, swanky, old school vibe and those steaks are to die for! In fact in 2020 they won both Best Overall St. Pete Restaurant and Best Steakhouse in the St. Petersburg Foodies Restaurant Awards.
Buya Ramen is in the Edge District of downtown St. Pete. This location is the flagship restaurant of the eatery’s four locations, two of which are located in Berlin and Miami. They have the best ramen in town, the Pork Belly being our favorite. Buya Ramen offers Izakaya too, of which we love the Gyoza and the Bao Buns.
Brittney Arevalo – Get in My Belly Tampa
Brittney, along with her sister Briel, started eating their way through Tampa Bay to enjoy quality time together. They decided to start sharing their foodie adventures on Instagram, where @getinmybellytampa was born.
If you live in the Tampa Bay area and haven’t visited Ulele, stop what you are doing and spend your day on the Tampa Riverwalk and swing by for dinner. Take advantage of Ulele’s gorgeous outdoor patio and catch a sunset along the Hillsborough River while sipping a craft cocktail. Or, chow down on Uele’s signature chargrilled oysters and experience their eclectic and intimate dining atmosphere. “My favorite items to order: Tomahawk Porkchop, Chargrilled Oysters and the Seafood Risotto,” said Arevalo.
MadFish is a family-owned fresh seafood restaurant located in St. Pete Beach on Gulf Blvd. It has a casual atmosphere, but the food you will experience is upscale. “From steak to lobster tail to fresh oysters, it’s just delicious,” said Arevalo. “The owners and staff are also incredibly friendly and welcoming – we always love visiting Chef Oliver!”
The Stein & Vine is an unassuming pub located in Brandon. You will find it tucked in a shopping plaza with a sign that just reads “Pub.” It’s a great casual spot that has a lot of charm. “The owner and chef, Ty, hand-crafts one of the most incredible rotating menu’s I’ve ever seen (or ate),” said Arevalo. It’s the perfect place to grab a burger and a pint of craft beer. Their fried green tomatoes and pimento cheese are also a must-try. Get more details on The Stein & Vine.
“Charley’s is our number one steakhouse option and we usually love coming here for birthdays, anniversaries or special occasions,” said Arevalo. While this may be a pricier option, it is a dining experience you will not soon forget. The upscale atmosphere, professionalism of the wait staff and food presentation is impeccable. Order your favorite cut of steak and be sure to get the sharable mac and cheese.
This trendy Seminole Heights establishment starts all of their menu items with a C, starting with Charcuterie, Champagne, and Cheesecake. “They have a really spacious outdoor area with a full bar and then inside it’s like walking into a completed episode of Fixer Upper with shiplap walls and wood benches,” said Arevalo. “It’s really adorable and perfect for a date night or a girl’s night out.” Do not leave without trying their famously creamy cheesecake.
Jessica Stollenmaier – Tampa Food Girl
Jessica Stollenmaier, AKA @tampafoodgirl has been blogging and reviewing local restaurants on Instagram since 2018, when she noticed a foodie boom in Tampa Bay that caught her attention.
Rooster & the Till has been named the #1 Restaurant in Tampa Bay twice for good reason. The ever-evolving modern American menu never disappoints. “I love Rooster & the Till because their dishes are exciting and well-balanced and the service is truly exceptional,” said Stollenmaier. “They pay great attention to detail, are constantly innovating, and they work closely with the local community!”
If you spend a day boating and want to pull up to grab some good grub, Salt Shack is your place. Located in South Tampa just off the Gandy Bridge, it’s a beachy escape where you can relax with cocktails and fresh seafood. “Salt Shack is my go-to for a sunset date or a meetup with friends,” said Stollenmaier. “The view is gorgeous, the cocktails are fun and boozy, and the food is crave-worthy.”
If you want reliable Italian fare with a modern take, OLIVIA is a fantastic choice. “OLIVIA is one of my favorite spots for an exciting evening,” said Stollenmaier. “Their cocktails are elegant and well-crafted, and the food is delicious—especially their smaller plates.”
Noelle Lennon – TasteTravelUnravel
Noelle was raised by her parents to have a passion for food and travel, and in 2018 she decided to share her affectionate appetite with the Instagram world. She now promotes local eateries and is hosting a “Best of Tampa Bay” series on Instagram Stories. “I’m loving the glow up of Tampa Bay in the food scene,” said Lennon. “Our food scene is becoming more ethnically diverse in offering more than just “Modern American” fare. I appreciate the innovative and thoughtfully curated menus from the Tampa Bay chefs.” Follow along @tastetravelunravel.
Here are restaurant recommendations, direct from Noelle:
Chef Pieriola and her team are leading the way in culinary innovation. Their plates are always beautiful works of art, while introducing new food items that the average diner may not have had before. Their brunch is also my favorite in Tampa Bay with incredible cocktails and avant-garde dishes that range from the usual suspects to true culinary creations. I highly recommend the poached eggs bourguignon (see Noelle’s post for more info) and the wood roasted porchetta.
Chef Bonsack elevates Italian cuisine and excites diners to keep coming back with his revolving menu. He makes eating your vegetables an enjoyable experience–even for those that are not keen on veggies. When I dine at Rocca with my husband, I usually order most of the small plates, and we each order a pasta dish. Every meal at Rocca, located right at the north end of the Tampa Riverwalk, has been outstanding!
Chef Fralick is another culinary gem in Tampa Bay that executes the umami flavor so beautifully. I am elated that Noble Rice has returned in Sparkman Wharf.
Stephanie Swanz’s empanada creations are next level. The Tampa Girl (think empanada meets the Tampa classic, the Cuban sandwich) and her Cheeseburger empanada are bursting with flavor and always satisfy. She recently opened Muchachas at Armature Works and her quesa birria tacos are out of this world! Accompanied with savory au jus for dipping, I crave these tacos on a regular basis.
Tampa Bay Date Night Guide Staff Picks
We’d be remiss not to include Florida’s oldest restaurant — Columbia Restaurant. The original location can be found in historic Ybor City. The sprawling restaurant has been operating for more than 100 years. Twelve unique dining rooms each offer their own flare as you dine on elevated Spanish cuisine and enjoy Columbia’s trademark table side sangria. You’ll also want to be sure you add Columbia to your list of must-try Cuban sandwiches. They use La Segunda’s unbeatable Cuban bread for their authentic Cuban sandwiches.
READ MORE: 8 Great Hours in St. Pete and Ybor City
Another classic Tampa eatery — Bern’s Steak House is a must-visit for any Tampa foodie seeking an incredible fine dining experience. Famous for their steaks, of course, Bern’s has so much more to offer. Their fresh seafood menu is top notch with Lobster, crab and oyster dishes aplenty. Not to mention Bern’s is home to one of the largest private collections of wine in the world, meaning their wine list truly cannot be beat.
No visit to Bern’s is complete without a stop in the storied Dessert Room. Incredible desserts and amazing cocktails and port flights make for the perfect nightcap.
Located in Hyde Park Village, On Swann is not as old or storied as our other recommendations, but in its relatively short tenure has become a Tampa Bay dining staple. On the menu, you’ll find plenty of Italian and southern flavors, with dishes ranging from pasta Genovese to creamy pimento cheese. On Swann even received a nod from the Michelin Guide as having some of the best signature cocktails in Tampa.
The restaurant is open, airy and eclectic, giving a wonderful vibe for their Sunday brunch menu as well. Chef and owner Chris Ponte is set to open Ponte Tampa in Midtown Tampa later this year.
Feature image credit: Buya Ramen
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