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The Guide to Essential Tampa Restaurants, 2017

It's about time Tampa's vibrant restaurant scene gets its due

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It should not make sense at all; coconut and green onions in a sweet pudding-like custard? Poured into cast-iron trays of half spheres and cooked over a massive open fire, the custards or “Khanom Krok,” in Thai, have become a sacred pilgrimage for those in the Tampa know. Located on the Palm River, the Thai temple (full name Wat Mongkolratanaram) offers a Sunday-only market of volunteer-made foods. Its Brigadoon-esque existence is a perfect example of how varied and diverse Tampa’s food scene truly is.

In general, Tampa’s culinary legacy showcases edible contributions from multigenerational immigrants (La Segunda, Alessi) and minorities, seasoned with contributions of empire newcomers (Sunday’s Deli) and more recently installed stalwarts (Al’s Finger Licking Good Bar-B-Que).

Tampa Bay and the I-4 corridor bear demographics most closely mirrored to that of the rest of the nation. No wonder there’s such a shangri-las of provisions awaiting patronage. Here are 15 of the essential, longstanding restaurants in the area that are worthy of a visit, listed in geographical order from north to south.

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Mr. Dunderbak’s

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German food and a traditional biergarten environment. Indulge in the schnitzel, fall in love with the brats, and wash it all down with something frothy from the tap. A bit of a hike north, but well worth the year-round Oktoberfest inside.

Mr. Dunderbak’s
TampaBay.com

Trang Viet

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Vietnamese classics meets a cornucopia of imitation meats for the sampling. For the vegan that craves the bizarre world of fake meats: meet your match. The little drumsticks, summer buns, are just a few of the highlights of the outrageously delicious offerings.

Trang Viet
Yelp

Yummy House

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A Tampa institution for Chinese food since, well, forever? The salt and pepper chicken wings are other-worldly, fried to perfection and coated in the most compelling mixture of green onions, cilantro, roasted garlic and minced chili.

Yummy House
Yelp/Leo T.

Fodder & Shine

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Meet the second brainchild of culinary duo Greg and Michelle Baker in Seminole Heights. From chicken biscuits to Frito pie, Fodder & Shine makes cracker country comfort food and makes it well. Snag a fancy cocktail from the bar, and order up a pile of homemade meatloaf or smoked South Carolina chicken. Then dive into a bowl of buttermilk ice cream.

Fodder & Shine
Tampa Bay Times

The Independent

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Veronica Danko’s venerated beer house and cafe in Seminole Heights boasts stunning beer choices and consistently well done bites. Soak up the high ABV with some pretzels and beer cheese, or the gooiest of grilled cheese sandwiches.

The Independent
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Nicko’s Fine Foods

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The greasy spoon of greasy spoons, the place where Elvis ate grits and eggs after a show at the Fort Hesterly Armory in 1956. The 24-hour diner, which began as Ayers Diner in 1951, still serves it up right. Yes, you can still sit at the same booth the King himself once ate at.

Nicko’s Fine Foods

Arco Iris

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Cuban-Chinese food? Yes, Cuban-Chinese food and not the “fusion” kind. There was a large population of Chinese immigrants brought to Havana to labor in the cane fields. Years later, those families began migrating to Ybor City, bringing their pork fried rice along for the ride. A true Tampa original.

Arco Iris
Yelp/Debra A.

La Segunda

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Responsible for the creation of thousands, if not millions, of Cuban bread loaves, La Segunda arrived more than a hundred years ago to feed the workers filling Ybor’s growing cigar industry — and is now the Ybor City spot for all things Cuban-ly baked and caffeinated. Go for some pan con queso and a bag of pastelitos (guava pastry) and, of course, some Cuban bread.

La Segunda
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Sunday's Delicatessen

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David Sunday earned his stripes working at the Long Island neighborhood deli he worked at as a kid. After too many years in the fine dining scene, Sunday opened a bare-bones deli in Ybor City, as a return to the food he grew up loving. The bread is baked in house, roast beef made so tenderly it is godly. These no-frills sandwiches will fill you up and then some, call ahead or face a long line of eager devotees.

Sunday's Delicatessen
Yelp/Jeremy S.

Al’s Finger Licking Good Barbecue

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Free-roaming roosters and hens of Ybor City scratch outside the house turned barbecue joint along the train tracks. Al’s Tennessee-style boasts some of the area’s best meats and slow-cooked sides. But Fridays are the day to visit Al’s, as it is the only day when Tia’s TGIF mac and cheese is available. Just don’t forget to bring the cash, as the restaurant only accepts it.

Al’s Finger Licking Good Barbecue
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Cafe Hey

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The coffee shop and cafe that feeds both downtown Tampa 9-5-ers and the vegan radical spoken word poet. Cafe Hey gained a loyal following for its all-natural and veggie-friendly sandwiches, soups, and good coffee. The mainstay is attached to the city’s Asian market mecca, Oceanic. Both are worth a visit.

Cafe Hey
VeganMint.com

Alessi Deli

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Founded by Italian immigrant Nicolo Alessi in 1912, the Tampa landmark still reigns as a local bakery. The Italian-founded deli and bakery on the outskirts of downtown Tampa started with Alessi delivering bread on horse and wagon to his customers. From wedding cakes for a quick lunch, the Alessi’s still knows how to feed Tampa to this day.

Alessi Deli
Yelp/Ash S.

Mise en Place

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Get yer fancy pants on and enjoy a real meal done proper by chef Marty Blitz. The modern new American menu offers nothing but the best, prepared the best, by the best for more than 30 years.

Mise en Place

Wat Mongkolratanaram Thai Temple

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On Sundays we eat noodle soup. Because the good people of the Thai temple know their offerings are a siren’s song. Coconut custards, Thai tea, dozens of desserts and meat buns are all made fresh just for the occasion. Bring cash and come hungry.

Wat Mongkolratanaram Thai Temple
Yelp/John G.

The Harry Waugh Dessert Room at Bern's Steak House

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Get lost in the winding staircases, endlessly lavish hallways and old world dessert service. It’s the more financially attainable for us laymen of the Bern’s enterprise, and an experience unto itself. The baked Alaskan goes well with a fancy pour from the world famous cellar. Wine and dine to tinkling keys of piano, while melting into the high-backed booths. While it’s definitely more expensive than a twisty treat but you’ll remember it for a lifetime.

The Harry Waugh Dessert Room at Bern's Steak House
Bern’s Steak House

Mr. Dunderbak’s

German food and a traditional biergarten environment. Indulge in the schnitzel, fall in love with the brats, and wash it all down with something frothy from the tap. A bit of a hike north, but well worth the year-round Oktoberfest inside.

Mr. Dunderbak’s
TampaBay.com

Trang Viet

Vietnamese classics meets a cornucopia of imitation meats for the sampling. For the vegan that craves the bizarre world of fake meats: meet your match. The little drumsticks, summer buns, are just a few of the highlights of the outrageously delicious offerings.

Trang Viet
Yelp

Yummy House

A Tampa institution for Chinese food since, well, forever? The salt and pepper chicken wings are other-worldly, fried to perfection and coated in the most compelling mixture of green onions, cilantro, roasted garlic and minced chili.

Yummy House
Yelp/Leo T.

Fodder & Shine

Meet the second brainchild of culinary duo Greg and Michelle Baker in Seminole Heights. From chicken biscuits to Frito pie, Fodder & Shine makes cracker country comfort food and makes it well. Snag a fancy cocktail from the bar, and order up a pile of homemade meatloaf or smoked South Carolina chicken. Then dive into a bowl of buttermilk ice cream.

Fodder & Shine
Tampa Bay Times

The Independent

Veronica Danko’s venerated beer house and cafe in Seminole Heights boasts stunning beer choices and consistently well done bites. Soak up the high ABV with some pretzels and beer cheese, or the gooiest of grilled cheese sandwiches.

The Independent
Facebook

Nicko’s Fine Foods

The greasy spoon of greasy spoons, the place where Elvis ate grits and eggs after a show at the Fort Hesterly Armory in 1956. The 24-hour diner, which began as Ayers Diner in 1951, still serves it up right. Yes, you can still sit at the same booth the King himself once ate at.

Nicko’s Fine Foods

Arco Iris

Cuban-Chinese food? Yes, Cuban-Chinese food and not the “fusion” kind. There was a large population of Chinese immigrants brought to Havana to labor in the cane fields. Years later, those families began migrating to Ybor City, bringing their pork fried rice along for the ride. A true Tampa original.

Arco Iris
Yelp/Debra A.

La Segunda

Responsible for the creation of thousands, if not millions, of Cuban bread loaves, La Segunda arrived more than a hundred years ago to feed the workers filling Ybor’s growing cigar industry — and is now the Ybor City spot for all things Cuban-ly baked and caffeinated. Go for some pan con queso and a bag of pastelitos (guava pastry) and, of course, some Cuban bread.

La Segunda
Facebook

Sunday's Delicatessen

David Sunday earned his stripes working at the Long Island neighborhood deli he worked at as a kid. After too many years in the fine dining scene, Sunday opened a bare-bones deli in Ybor City, as a return to the food he grew up loving. The bread is baked in house, roast beef made so tenderly it is godly. These no-frills sandwiches will fill you up and then some, call ahead or face a long line of eager devotees.

Sunday's Delicatessen
Yelp/Jeremy S.

Al’s Finger Licking Good Barbecue

Free-roaming roosters and hens of Ybor City scratch outside the house turned barbecue joint along the train tracks. Al’s Tennessee-style boasts some of the area’s best meats and slow-cooked sides. But Fridays are the day to visit Al’s, as it is the only day when Tia’s TGIF mac and cheese is available. Just don’t forget to bring the cash, as the restaurant only accepts it.

Al’s Finger Licking Good Barbecue
Facebook

Cafe Hey

The coffee shop and cafe that feeds both downtown Tampa 9-5-ers and the vegan radical spoken word poet. Cafe Hey gained a loyal following for its all-natural and veggie-friendly sandwiches, soups, and good coffee. The mainstay is attached to the city’s Asian market mecca, Oceanic. Both are worth a visit.

Cafe Hey
VeganMint.com

Alessi Deli

Founded by Italian immigrant Nicolo Alessi in 1912, the Tampa landmark still reigns as a local bakery. The Italian-founded deli and bakery on the outskirts of downtown Tampa started with Alessi delivering bread on horse and wagon to his customers. From wedding cakes for a quick lunch, the Alessi’s still knows how to feed Tampa to this day.

Alessi Deli
Yelp/Ash S.

Mise en Place

Get yer fancy pants on and enjoy a real meal done proper by chef Marty Blitz. The modern new American menu offers nothing but the best, prepared the best, by the best for more than 30 years.

Mise en Place

Wat Mongkolratanaram Thai Temple

On Sundays we eat noodle soup. Because the good people of the Thai temple know their offerings are a siren’s song. Coconut custards, Thai tea, dozens of desserts and meat buns are all made fresh just for the occasion. Bring cash and come hungry.

Wat Mongkolratanaram Thai Temple
Yelp/John G.

The Harry Waugh Dessert Room at Bern's Steak House

Get lost in the winding staircases, endlessly lavish hallways and old world dessert service. It’s the more financially attainable for us laymen of the Bern’s enterprise, and an experience unto itself. The baked Alaskan goes well with a fancy pour from the world famous cellar. Wine and dine to tinkling keys of piano, while melting into the high-backed booths. While it’s definitely more expensive than a twisty treat but you’ll remember it for a lifetime.

The Harry Waugh Dessert Room at Bern's Steak House
Bern’s Steak House

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