Inspired by Latin Flavors, Ichicoro Ramen is a big hit in the Tampa culinary scene. (Courtesy Ichicoro Ramen)
Tampa Bay is an area where the food is as distinctive as its rich culture and history. From the Cuban traditions that permeate Ybor City to the freshest catch of the day to nouveau farm-to-table concepts, even the trendy, nationally recognized chefs are paying homage to their heritage with inventive dishes from locally sourced ingredients.
It is no wonder that Tampa Bay has become a breeding ground for new, internationally inspired restaurants, catapulting the area into Florida’s next major culinary destination. Get ready to make your dining reservations at some of the hottest places to eat right now.
Interspersed among car dealers and auto body shops, Seminole Heights offers some of the area’s most innovative fare. Starting with the James Beard nominated folks behind the farm-to-fork spot, The Refinery and the famed cocktails at Ciro’s Speakeasy & Supper Club, the ‘hood has since attracted a plethora of artistic toques.
One of the biggest debuts of late 2015 came from successful NYC hospitality vet, Noel Cruz, who opened Ichicoro Ramen with head chef Masa Takaku, mixing Japanese technique with a cool, Big Apple vibe. Noodles and bites are paired with well balanced cocktails by head bartender Jessica Wohler, an alum of acclaimed Brooklyn cocktail bar, Clover Club.
Offering a more local perspective is Ox & Fields, where executive chef/managing partner Viet Vo serves his version “Florida cuisine” in a cozy setting. Located on Nebraska Avenue, facing the Hillsborough River, Ox & Fields is a welcome addition in the up-and-coming neighborhood of Seminole Heights. Set in an old, two-story bungalow, Vo blends Asian and Latin influences with locally-sourced ingredients in dishes like shrimp curry in papillote and crab rangoon beignet.
On the other side of Tampa, a ten-minute drive from Ybor City, South Tampa’s Miguelito’s Taqueria y Tequilas features new takes on traditional Mexican fare (think tacos, langosta thermidor, seafood stuffed avocados and made-to-order tortillas) from the owners of landmark restaurant Miguel’s Mexican Seafood & Grill. Miguel and Patricia Rodriguez’s latest spot offers a sophisticated tequila cocktail bar and contemporary ambience, serving a large selection of tequilas, some of which are available on tap. Don't miss out on a frozen margarita from the tap machine, a fantastic way to cool off from the Florida sunshine.
With a walkable strip of shops and restaurants, Dunedin boasts a friendly small-town vibe with big city-style dining. Acclaimed local chef Kimberly Platt of Charlie Tulum’s Dos Tacos Food Truck-fame, chose this seaside municipality to set up The HONU Restaurant, a Hawaiian-inspired indoor and outdoor lunch café. The restaurant serves riffs on classics like SPAM sushi, seafood tacos and hot dish of the moment, poke for breakfast and lunch.
Farther down the peninsula, just a short drive away from St. Petersburg’s fine art-filled waterfront park, Hawkers Asian Street Fare fills 5,000 feet of restaurant space for their Southeast Asian street food interpretations to the already eclectic area. With a March 2016 debut, the third outpost of the concept (following Orlando and Jacksonville) features dishes ranging from Thai chili wings to Malaysian "hokkien mee" noodle stir-fry.
Hawkers isn’t the only established hit heading into town. Ciccio Restaurant Group (Ciccio’s, Lodge Restaurant and Bar, Green Lemon) also chose St. Pete for their newest location of Fresh Kitchen, after the overwhelming success in Tampa's Soho district. The quick-serve concept features chef-inspired, customizable bowls, dished out in a modern space. Healthy ingredients, including roasted veggies, sweet potato noodles, hormone- and antibiotic-free meats, are mixed together and served quickly, ideal for a casual lunch in the relaxed dining room or a picnic on the beach.