The Best Tampa Restaurants to Visit in 2020
It is no secret that I love to visit the Tampa Bay area for breweries and sightseeing, but I also adore the culinary scene too! Over the years, so many amazing spots have opened up here that I am always struggling to decide which one to eat at. To help narrow down the options, I have created this guide of the 30 best Tampa restaurants.
As usual, the list is divided into affordable, usually counter-service restaurants, moderate sit-downs and places to splurge at. Within each category, I have found eateries of different cuisines for any time of day. I have also made sure to highlight black-owned restaurants so you can support the community, while getting a delicious meal and vegan options at restaurants for anyone wanting a plant-based meal. I will update this list as needed, but as of June 2020, here are the best Tampa restaurants.
The Best Tampa Restaurants for an Affordable Meal
If you are looking for a quick bite or a cheap meal, the following are the ten best Tampa restaurants that do the trick without sacrificing flavor! This includes options like breakfast cafes, food markets, counter service spots and even a few sit-down restaurants. You can easily get a meal for $15 or less at all the place below. Check them out for a taste of Tampa that you do not have to break the bank for!
Grain & Berry Café
If you like acai bowls, Grain & Berry Café is the place to visit, with multiple locations throughout Tampa Bay. You can also get bowls made with a base of spirulina, pitaya, kale and yogurt for whatever color in the rainbow you desire! For those looking to get all their antioxidants there are also fresh juices made with all sorts of fruit and veggies. They are open until 7 PM, so you can get your fruity kick whatever time of day you need!
For affordable, but amazing Mexican food, everyone loves Taco Dirty. Located in Hyde Park, this counter service spot has all sorts of tacos and burrito bowls for under $10. You can choose between flavorful proteins like Grilled Lime & Sour Orange Chicken or Pesto Tinga Tofu. They also have way more toppings than your average Chipotle, including Charred Pinapple, Rojo Radishes and Vegan Sour Cream! With the ability to modify your meal however you like, this taco spot will leave everyone satisfied.
Over in Seminole Heights, Bodega is cooking up some classic Cuban food that you can’t leave Tampa without trying. This includes sandwiches for under $10 like a Lechon Pork Sandwich, as well as plates of roasted or grilled proteins. The patio is an adorable spot to hang out at with lots of shade and even a shuffleboard court. All you need is a Cafecito, a Guava Pastelito and a hot day to feel like you are in Havana here!
One place I can never miss in Tampa Bay is Sparkman Wharf. This is kind of like a food hall, right near The Florida Aquarium and the Amalie Arena. They have seven different food stands to choose from, my personal favorite being the Ceviche spot Boat Run, as well a biergarten with dozens of local brews to try. With so many lawn games and views of the water, its an awesome place to hang out with a group of friends. Be warned if you go in the daytime though, it gets so hot from all the concrete! I was there in February and even then, I was sweating! It was still worth it for the great food though.
Mel’s Hot Dogs
By Busch Gardens, you will find Tampa’s favorite hot dog stand, Mel’s Hot Dogs. This place has been serving up these summer classics since the 1970’s and have developed a wonderful reputation. For a cheap meal under $10, you can order a hot dog with a variety of toppings, a side of fries and a soda. It’s the perfect quick and easy family meal!
Al’s Finger Licking Good Barb B Que
Near Ybor City, you can get some of the best Tennessee barbecue in town at Al’s Finger Licking Good Bar-B-Que. This black-owned Tampa restaurant has a large selection of barbecued meats and flavorful sides. You can order at the counter and either enjoy your food sitting on the porch or take it to go. There are sandwiches for around $7, but I recommend sharing some platters, so that way you can get a taste of a variety of pork, chicken and ribs as well as the mac and cheese and spicy collard greens.
For Mexican Fare right near the Riverwalk, I highly recommend Urban Cantina. This colorfully decorated Tampa restaurant has everything from quesadillas and tortas to burritos and fajitas. If you come here on Tuesday, the $2 tacos are an amazing deal and there are over a dozen to choose from. You can also get beer and margaritas made with fresh squeezed juice to compliment your zesty meal. It’s the ideal place to visit for whatever type of Mexican food you are craving.
You probably did not expect to go visit a place called Nebraska Mini Mart in Tampa Bay, but this burger stand is too good to miss! They have burgers, chicken sandwiches and impossible burgers for less than $10 and a fun outdoor space to eat at. There are local beers, wines and weekly happy hours so it’s an ideal outdoor drinking hang out, especially if you want a hearty snack. There is even live music, bocce courts and bucket specials so you can have a fun night out for a small price.
Mama’s Southern Soul Food
For breakfast, lunch or dinner, the Tampa restaurant to visit for homestyle cooking is Mama’s Southern Soul Food. Considering you can get a classic breakfast like biscuits and gravy or a fried egg sandwich for less than $3, it’s definitely worth it for those on a budget. However, later in the day, you can find all sorts of fried favorites like chicken wings, catfish and pork chop. Mama’s Southern Soul Food also has a unique offering of side dishes likes corn fritters and salmon croquettes, that you can’t find at other Southern spots. Whether you are eating there or to-go, this is an affordable restaurant with a variety of options for any time of day.
Buddy Brew Coffee
There are a lot of great places in Tampa to get coffee, but Buddy Brew is my favorite. With three locations, you can find a delicious beverage close to wherever you are staying in the city. Don’t expect to find fancy creations here, as Buddy Brew has instead perfected the simple cappuccino, americano and cold brew. If you are hungry, you can also order some avocado toast or a breakfast sandwich to start your day off right!
Moderately Priced Tampa Restaurants
The next category is the hardest to narrow down, because the food scene in Tampa Bay isn’t horribly expensive. The places below are more middle of the road options, where you can expect a casual and relaxing sit-down meal or food hall experience. You can easily find meals between $15-$30 at these ten moderately priced Tampa restaurants. This includes places to eat for any time of day or cuisine as well!
Tampa Bay Brewing Co.
There are many amazing breweries in Tampa, and Tampa Bay Brewing Co. is one of them. However, it’s also a fully functioning restaurant with lots of great American food to enjoy with your beer. With two locations in town, I highly recommend the burgers here, that come in a variety of styles. However, they have plenty of great gastropub style appetizers, pizzas and seafood too. There is even a full bar, but I implore you to order some craft beer!
7th + Grove
For upscale Southern cooking and an upbeat vibe, 7th + Grove will have you satisfied. During the day, it’s a bright, laid back restaurant, but at night, there is a live DJ and a bustling atmosphere! Because of this you can expect amazing drinks like a watermelon elderflower rum cocktail. The food is the main attraction though and entrees like Fried Triple Tail and Grits with Corn Bread Croutons just melt in your mouth. If you can make it in time for Happy Hour, you can even snag a deal too!
Florida is known for its surprisingly good strip mall restaurants and Pane Rustica is one of them. Though it does not look like much from the outside, inside you will be transported to an Italian bakery, with bread good enough to match. Open for lunch and dinner, here you can order pasta, pizza, and classic Italian dishes like Braised Osso Buco and Cioppino. Though the entrees shine with ingredients like mild mushroom medleys and ricotta salata, the house made loaves of bread and pastries are worth the trip alone.
Surf Shack Coastal Kitchen
If you are in the mood for a tropical vibe, dining at Surf Shack Coastal Kitchen is liking taking an instant vacation. They are known for their fish tacos, including Blackened Grouper and Tuna Poke options. They also have burritos, fajitas, seafood and a surf style atmosphere. Surf Shack does Taco Thursday instead of Tuesday, so you can get taco deals twice a week if you come here!
By far one of the trendiest Tampa eateries to dine at is Armature Works. It actually is a food hall though, so there are dozens of places to choose from! I have been here a few times and everything I have tasted has been spectacular. This ranges from sushi to mac and cheese to cocktails and ice cream! Not only is the food great, but there’s also a lot of room to hang out outside with games, and often cool events. If there’s one place to get a quintessential taste of Tampa, it is probably Armature Works!
Rasoi Indian Cuisine
If you are in the mood for a delectable, Indian meal, Rasoi Indian Cuisine is the perfect spot to visit in Ybor City. They are known for their flavorful tandoori and curry dishes, including Butter Chicken and Goan Shrimp Curry. If you can’t decide what to order, at lunchtime it is a buffet for only $11. Between all the spicy dishes and the fresh baked naan, Rasoi is a must visit for Indian dining.
For brunch any time of day, Datz is the Tampa restaurant that locals love to visit all week long. They are known for brunch dishes like the Chicken and Waffle Benedict and the Crème Brulee French Toast, but you can also order burgers and mac and cheese. The drink selection is excellent too, with the Mezcal Bloody Mary’s being a favorite of mine, as well as the large selection of local brews. Make sure to bring an appetite or share a dish, because the portions are big enough to put you in a post-brunch coma.
Hooch and Hive
Another restaurant with a unique atmosphere is Hooch and Hive, which hosts live music nightly. On the outside, there is a breezy laid-back bar and dining area, but at night, the inside is rocking. It is a real hidden gem for food though, and they are known for unique slides and sandwiches. Options like the Duck and Cheddar Cheese Waffle and the Impossible Burger with Elote are all the rage, along with the honey bourbon chile wings. For music lovers wanting handcrafted snacks and drinks, Hooch and Hive is the place to eat at.
Hall on Franklin
In addition to Armature Works and Sparkman Wharf, Hall on Franklin is a food hall to add to your list. This one has a European vibe, fancy night out on the town or a sophisticated lunch. Currently, there are seven vendors, including a bakery, a Pan-Asian stand, and a poke spot. Between the bright and airy atmosphere and the elegant bar, Hall on Franklin is an experience unlike any other in the area.
The last spot I have to highlight is Oxford Exchange, an inviting restaurant, coffeehouse, and bookstore all in one! Every inch of this place has been intricately decorated to the point where it feels like something out of a novel itself. The restaurant has a limited menu for brunch and lunch, but every item is perfectly curated. It’s definitely on the splurge side for brunch, with small entrees being in the $15 range, but Oxford Exchange is the place to treat yourself! I can’t think of a better way to start the day then with a cold brew and an omelet in their sunny restaurant.
The Best Tampa Restaurants to Splurge At
For a night of treating yourself, I have found the ten best upscale Tampa restaurants. These options are best for date nights or celebratory meals. Some of these spots have dress codes, but I would personally wear something nice at all of them. Expect meals to be at least $30 here and cocktails in the $15 range. You can often find happy hour or lunch deals at many, but if you can get the full dinner experience, I say go for it!
Élevage SoHo Kitchen & Bar
Inside the Epicurean hotel, Tampa restaurant Élevage SoHo Kitchen & Bar serves up elegant and creative cuisine. You can check out the city views with a drink from the rooftop bar before dinner in the luxurious dining room. They serve lunch, brunch and dinner here and each dish is crafted with intention. Guests rave about the Steak Frites and the Hand-Pulled Burrata, but the menu is always introducing new specialties. It is a true culinary wonder for a night out in Tampa Bay!
The Rusty Pelican
For a waterfront meal with a taste of the sea, The Rusty Pelican will please lovers of surf and turf alike. Open daily for dinner and brunch on the weekends, you can order classic seafood favorites like Lobster Risotto and Chilean Seabass, butcher cuts. To get a taste of everything, I recommend the Board for two with Snapper, Risotto, New York Strip and a Sweet Plantain Mash. With food and a view to impress, The Rusty Pelican makes for a wonderfully coastal experience!
Mise en Place
Since 1986, Mis en Place has been serving up American cuisine with French and Asian infusions that clearly makes it known as one of the best Tampa restaurants. Not only does it serve flavors for every palate like Molasses Pecan Lamb and Korean Rock Shrimp Crab Pancakes, but it also has a few vegan options. Unlike other fancy restaurants, where non-meat eaters may be stuck eating a modified salad, here they make a point to serve a variety of vegan entrees, like Za’atar Tofu with Lentil Farro and Tofu Ginger Rice Noodles. Between these pleasing dishes, the modernist cocktails and the seasonal ice cream and sorbet, Mis en Place is a must for Tampa locals and visitors.
For an irresistible Spanish meal, locals love the century old Columbia. This Tampa restaurant started in Ybor City in 1905 and has since opened multiple locations across Florida. The menu continues the legacy with classics like The 1905 Salad, Crab Croquettes, and a traditional Seafood Paella. When we dined here the entrees were gigantic, so feel free to share. This way you have more room for tapas! Considering Columbia has been a family owned restaurant for 5 generations, it’s the perfect place for a celebratory, family meal.
If you are in the mood for an Italian meal that is exactly the opposite of visiting the Olive Garden, then I think Cena is the best bet. Here you will find a tasteful, chic atmosphere and thoughtfully curated pasta dishes that will not leave you bloated! This includes melt in your mouth dishes like Spaghetti Squash Pasta Lasagna, Swordfish Confit with Squid Ink Spaghetti and Wild Boar Risotto. This is one of the places that put Tampa on the culinary map, and always worth a visit to the Channel District for.
Edison: Food+Drink Lab
Foodies from all over flock to Edison: Food+Drink Lab for the ultimate gastronomic experience. Open for lunch and dinner, the cocktails and dishes both are works of art and probably contain a few ingredients you have never heard of. For example, specialties include Maine Sea Scallops with a clementine white balsamic agrodolce and Espelette Fennel Pollen Swordfish. There are also non-seafood options, like the Chicken and Pancakes, as well as a wide selection of appetizers. If you are in the mood for a fancy, Floridian speakeasy experience, Edison is sure to be a crowd-pleaser.
If you are a charcuterie lover, Haven should be the number one stop on your Tampa restaurants list. With a dozen options of rare cheese and meats to choose from, you will be treated to a meal unlike any other in the area in a refined setting. There is also a lovely selection of veggie and snack share plates and even some full-sized seafood entrees. However, I think a meal of charcuterie and snacks is the only way to go here, along with a couple bottles of wine from their vast selection.
One of the most unique Tampa restaurants is Ulele, where Native inspired food is prepared on a barbacoa grill. Right on the riverfront, this spot is both restaurant and brewery complete with a fairyland character garden! Though that might sound wrong, one bite of the food proves that everything is just right here! The entrees include dishes like Gouda Grouper and Guava Tomahawk Pork Chops and are in the $25 to $35 range. However, if you come for lunch, there are some more affordable sandwiches and smaller entrees. Whenever you go, make sure to get some Jalapeno Corn Beer Muffins, Okra Fries and a pint of beer for an indulgent treat any time of day!
Rooster & the Till
I would be remiss not to mention Rooster & The Till, which has been named the best Tampa restaurant two years in a row by the Tampa Bay Times. This is for good reason, as this restaurant boasts one of the finest and most inventive menus around, although you would not know it from the outside, with its cozy strip mall location. However inside, prepare to be dazzled by the chic décor and plates of Short Rib Gnocchi and Barbacoa Squash. If you really want to splurge, I recommend going with the six-course chef tasting menu for $75 per person that features a lineup of ever changing, but always extraordinary fare.
I think it’s suiting to end this list of best restaurants with On Swann, because it really epitomizes Tampa Bay. Inside and outside, the atmosphere is a combination of bright and inviting with a touch of class and creativity. The open kitchen and large bar here make for a pleasing space for any occasion and the menu is versatile as well. You can order hearty dishes like NY Strip with Harissa Honey Carrots or graze on share boards of cheese, meats and accoutrements. Along with the wine, cocktails and desserts, this is an excellent start or end to a trip to Tampa!
Know Before You Go: The Best Tampa Restaurants
Hopefully this list covers all the bases for figuring out where to eat in Tampa Bay. Whether you are taking a vacation here, a day trip or you are a local, there is no reason not to support local businesses when eating out, especially with all these delicious options! Here are a few tips for making you meal in Tampa even better.
- It is customary top tip 20% in Tampa Bay and most restaurants do not include this in the final bill, unless you have a large party.
- A lot of restaurants do not take reservations, so there can be a wait. A few here take them on Open Table, so be sure to check beforehand.
- The best way to save money in Tampa when going out to eat is to go during Happy Hour, when many places have deals on drinks and appetizers.
- Dress codes vary, but for the upscale restaurants on the list, I would err on the dress to impress side.
- Most restaurants in the area have free parking, but it can be hard to find, especially when sporting events are going on.
- Support Black-Owned Restaurants! Black-Owned restaurants included in this list are: Mama’s Southern Soul Food, The Hall on Franklin, Al’s Finger Licking Good Barb-B-Que and 7th and Grove
- This guide only covers restaurants in the city of Tampa Bay, but there are a lot of great options in nearby St. Petersburg and Clearwater too!
Which places do you think are the best Tampa restaurants? Let me know if they made the list! For more tips on visiting this area, check out my St. Pete travel guide and my best Tampa brewery guide.