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Tampa is known for its Cuban/Spanish cuisine. It also has a variety of other ethnic cuisines including Italian, Vietnamese, Japanese,and Thai to name a few. Due to its close location near the Gulf of Mexico, it is also known for its fresh seafood. Florida has a NO SMOKING policy in restaurants, so you will be able to eat smoke free (unless in a bar). Many Tampa restaurants offer outdoor dining as an option. In the summer, it may be too hot or humid to enjoy this during the daytime unless there are fans.
Regular national chain restaurants can be found throughout Tampa, especially on Dale Mabry Highway. Outback Steakhouse started here, afterall! You can visit the original one on Henderson Boulevard in South Tampa. This one is open for lunch on weekdays!
The most authentic Cuban/Spanish fare can be found in West Tampa or Ybor City. The classic Cuban Sandwich, usually genoa salami and ham on Cuban bread (if its French bread it is not authentic!) pressed, with a variety of toppings can be found at almost any sandwich shop in the area. Grab a deviled crab to go with it and add lots of hot sauce! Favorite Cuban/Spanish lunch hang outs include Carmine's in Ybor City, La Teresita and Arcos Iris on Columbus Avenue, and Hugo's on Howard Avenue. All are pretty inexpensive and VERY casual. For a nicer lunch or dinner, try The Colombia in Ybor City at the end of 7th Avenue. They have classic Spanish fare and even a Flamenco show at night (may need reservations).
Many of the most popular restaurants are located on Howard Avenue in South Tampa (SOHO) or in the Westshore area (Westshore Plaza or International Plaza at Bay Street). Although, there are many areas in between. Most popular non-national chain restaurants are in the general South Tampa area, though.
BREAKFAST: Flamingo Cafe, located on Davis Island, serves breakfast and lunch daily (not open for dinner). There is outdoor seating that is pet friendly. Daily specials are offered, as well as the regular menu. A favorite is the crab cake benedict. Daily Eats, located on Howard Avenue, serves in a diner style atmosphere. Healthy options available. First Watch in downtown Tampa is a local favorite, along with The Brunchery on MacDill Ave and Pach's Place on Bay to Bay Blvd in south Tampa.
SUNDAY BRUNCH: Jackson's Bistro, located on Harbour Island, has great views of Downtown and the Bay. The buffet brunch is huge, so save your appetite. Offerings include everything from the usual breakfast fare, to seafood, to roast beef. Outdoor seating available. This is also a nice spot for lunch or dinner (no buffet). Oyster Catchers is a special occasion favorite, with dazzling views of the Bay.
LUNCH: Wright's Gourmet serves HUGE sandwiches and the like, with argueably the best cake in town (served by the slice or the cake). It's located on South Dale Mabry and food is ordered at the counter. Caesar's Pizza (not to be confused with the chain Little Caesar's), located on South Dale Mabry, is a tiny joint that sells NY style pizza by the slice (or by the pie). It's cheap and has a great Spinach pizza. Rattlefish, located south of Gandy by the Marina, is a popular hang out on the weekends. Expect to see plenty of people just getting off of their boat and plenty of people watching. Often a live band is playing weekend afternoons/evenings. Outdoor seating available by the water. Plenty of other lunch hangouts await you along 7th in Ybor, in Channelside, or at/near the major malls (Westshore Plaza and International Plaza).
DINNER: BIG NIGHT OUT: Bern's Steakhouse is world famous for its extensive wine cellar and aged steaks. Save room for the unique Dessert Room...it is an experience! Other favorite's include Flemings, Roys, and Capital Grille, all located at or near International Plaza. If you are looking for a non-chain type, besides Bern's check out the SOHO district many fine establishements such as Side Bern's and Mangrove's. Charley's in the Westshore district serves up VERY fine steaks and seafood also.
ITALIAN: Mid range favorites include Bella's and Ciccio and Tony's, both located on Howard Avenue. More upscale options include Armani's and Donatello's. A nice family option, with huge family size portions, is the chain Maggiano's (located at Westshore Plaza). Laughing Cat on 15th Street and 8th Avenue in Ybor consistently serves some of the freshest, authentic Italian food Tampa has to offer in a chic little bistro type setting.
SUSHI: Soho Sushi is a favorite with the 20s to 30s crowd on Howard Avenue. It's tiny, but good. Lots of singles start off the night here before a night of drinking. Samurai Blue is another favorite, located in Ybor City (Centro Ybor). Yoko's on MacDill Aveue in South Tampa ranks up there as one of the top Sushi restaurants in Tampa Bay.
TAPAS (Spanish style appetizers for sharing) : Sangria's is a popular, festive place located on Howard Avenue. Ceviche is a bit more romantic, located at the bottom of the Bayshore Royale on the corner of Howard and Bayshore.
MEXICAN: Estella's, located on Davis Island, has authentic Mexican fare (cheap) and outdoor seating. Miguel's on Kennedy Blvd is another favorite.
SEAFOOD: Oystercatcher's on the property of the Hyatt Westshore serves some of the finest seafood in an upscale setting on the Bay. For additional seafood places on the water check out Castaway's on the Causeway, Rattlefish in South Tampa, and The Collanade on Bayshore Blvd. For non-water views but very good seafood, there is St. Bart's Island House and Mangrove's in the SOHO district. A Tampa Bay staple is BoneFish Grille which got it's start in St. Petersburg, across the Bay.