A trip to Italy feels like a far off dream right now, but there’s nothing stopping you from capturing just a fraction of the romance and magic of a European jaunt right here in Tampa Bay. We have a wealth of places to enjoy a slice of Italy. From authentic Italian cuisine and mouth-watering gelato to where to make your own pasta and more, enjoy this guide to planning your very own Italian date night in Tampa Bay.
Romantic Italian Restaurants in Tampa Bay
If you’re looking for the most romantic and authentic Italian vibe, this is the place. Donatello oozes Italian charm and flavors. The servers wear black tie, the wine is divine, and there is often live jazz in the bar. Donatello has been serving authentic Italian cuisine for nearly 40 years in Tampa.
This modern Italian restaurant is right in the middle of Tampa’s ever-growing Channelside District. Diners should expect fresh Italian flavors with a twist along with an excellent wine list. A brand new courtyard offers plenty of ambiance for outdoor dining. Chef Michael Buttacavoli even recently won a head-to-head battle with Bobby Flay on Food Network’s Beat Bobby Flay.
Casa Santo Stefano is the newest restaurant on this list, but comes from a family with more than a century of Tampa Dining history — the Gonzmarts of Columbia Restaurant Group. This Sicilian eatery, housed in a former macaroni factory in Ybor City, truly brings out the old world charm and pays homage to the Sicilian immigrants who came to Tampa in droves in the early 20th century. End the night at Santo’s Drinkeria, the restaurant’s new indoor/outdoor rooftop patio with cocktails, Sicilian street food and tasty desserts.
This South Tampa staple has something for everyone. The Italian-inspired cocktail menu is the perfect jumping off point for a classic and delicious meal. Bella’s has been awarded the Best Italian Restaurant in Tampa crown by Creative Loafing readers again and again for good reason. Be warned, the portions are enormous, so plan to bring home leftovers!
Another true Italian restaurant in the heart of South Tampa, Osteria Natalina’s amazing food isn’t the only thing that makes it perfect for date night. They also do not allow kids, which keeps the vibe quiet and intimate. Osteria Natalina is on the small side and does not take reservations, but there’s a cute wine bar, Bianchi’s, a few doors down that is the perfect spot to wait with a charcuterie board.
We weren’t sure whether to place Ava under romantic dining or pizza, since it has both in spades. Fresh ingredients dominate the menu with incredible modern Italian flavors. We love Ava especially because it has a great vegan menu for couples who need both vegan and non vegan options.
OK, not an Italian restaurant itself, but St. Pete’s Beach Drive evokes a strong Italian vibe. Cute restaurants dot the waterfront street, all with ample outdoor seating. You can’t go wrong, but to keep the Italian mood, try Bella Brava for a new world Italian dinner and walk to Paciugo Gelato and Caffe for dessert and espresso.
It doesn’t get more quaint Italian ambiance than Pia’s in Gulfport (pictured in feature image). Sit back, relax, and with enough wine, you might believe you’re dining on a cobblestone street in Rome. Everything at Pia’s is cooked to order with fresh ingredients.
Founded in Italy, DalMoro’s has brought its fast, casual and fresh pasta concept stateside for the very first time right here in downtown St. Pete. At this new addition to the local foodie scene, snag an elevated cup of noodles and stroll the streets of St. Petersburg with someone special.
Bavaro’s has been growing its presence in Tampa Bay in recent years, and now has four locations serving up authentic Neapolitan pizza (Downtown Tampa, Downtown St. Petersburg, Sarasota and Tampa International Airport, which is temporarily closed). The downtown Tampa location is perfect for dinner before a waterfront stroll on the Tampa Riverwalk. It’s not the canals of Venice, but a fair substitute for Florida!
Just down the street from Oggi Italian on Davis Islands, you’ll find this pizzeria and market for a casual date night. They offer woodfired and New York style pizzas using the same fresh ingredients and house made mozzarella you’ll find at Oggi Italian, plus, the wine comes by the carafe.
Another spot for great Italian in the bustling Channelside District, Fabrica has been wood-firing pizza for Tampa food lovers for six years. Contemporary and casual, Fabrica is a great stop for an evening in Channelside.
At-Home Italian Date Night
If you want to bring Italy to you, there is no better place to make that happen than Mazzaro’s. This enormous Italian market has everything you need to create the perfect at-home date night. There is an on-site butcher shop and seafood market and aisles are stocked with imported cheeses, oils, truffles, spices, sauces, artisanal chocolates and candies. Pick up some fresh handmade pasta and a couple bottles of Italian wine and you’re all set! You can also grab some insanely delicious premade sandwiches, bread and pastries. We’ve got the full scoop in our post on about a Day Date to Italy at Mazzaro’s Italian Market.
Alternatively, head outdoors to one of our local farmer’s markets to pick up fresh, locally-made ingredients for an Italian feast at home. St. Pete’s beloved Saturday Morning Market is one of our favorites. Aside from the fantastic selection of fresh produce, you’ll also find unique items like truffles from Casa Truffle, multiple bakeries, artisan cheeses, dried pastas and more to take your at-home dishes to the next level.
Gelato, Coffee and Dessert
Another newer spot in South Tampa, SucreTable has truly beautiful (and delicious) desserts and custom cakes. Not necessarily an Italian place, SucreTable’s amazing pastry display and well stocked coffee offerings bring the Italian spirit to Tampa. Chef Brenda Villacorta is from Tampa, but spent years in Michelin-rated kitchens before coming home to open SucreTable. They’re only open until 5 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday and 6 on Saturdays, so we recommend picking it up for dessert after date night. Or, visit in the morning for a traditional Italian breakfast of a cappuccino and a pastry.
This is our absolute favorite spot for ultra fresh Italian gelato. Tack a stop at Gelato-Go on to your next trip to the Channelside District and you will not regret it. Get a scoop (or two) of fresh-made gelato along with a cup of coffee and take home some fresh pastries.
Pick up some Italian treats and take a stroll through Hyde Park Village. Sorrento Sweets is the Tampa outpost for this Pasco County bakery, which churns out Italian cakes, pastries and cookies. They also have gelato shakes and floats for those warm Florida evenings.
Because Italians typically eat late, around 9pm, aperitivo (aka Italian happy hour) is enjoyed during the stretch between lunch and dinner. Typically, there’s a spread of free finger foods with the purchase of a drink. Replicate this experience in Tampa Bay by seeking out a happy hour with traditional Italian aperitifs for a similar experience.
Forbici Modern Italian offers a daily happy hour from 3-6pm with $8 Aperol spritzes alongside an assortment of light bites for $10 or less each. You can also sip on the classic Aperol Spritz at Bulla Gastobar’s rooftop Luna Lounge, which offers happy hour daily from 5-7pm.
Sip on wines by the glass all under $8 while snacking on pizzas and more during happy hour at Bella’s Italian Cafe weekdays from 3-6pm.
Roll up your sleeves and be prepared for at least a light dusting of flour — a pasta making class is the perfect way to soak in the essence of Italy without the long flight, plus, it’s a skill you can bring home to use again and again for date night! Publix offers an array of cooking classes, and there are usually pasta making classes on the calendar. Classes are usually around $50 per person.
Now that you know how to have the perfect Italian-inspired date night in Tampa Bay, take your next date night on the road to experience the tastes of Italy in Orlando.
Feature image credit: Pia’s Trattoria