Ichicoro – I’ve been to ramen spots in major cities all across this great land, NYC (Momofuko’s), Seattle, Vancouver, San Diego, Denver, and Montreal and I can honestly say I’ve never had a better bowl than what the team at Ichicoro churns out on a regular basis. If you only have time for one lunch in Tampa, this newish Seminole Heights icon should be at the top of your list. The melt-in-your-mouth chasyu asado (citrus marinated pork belly) oozes flavor marinating in the pork broth-based Tonkotsu ramen bowl. Don’t miss the chicken karaage: Japan’s version of a chicken nugget but much more palatable with real cuts of chicken breast and much tastier with bits of fried garlic and scallion sprinkled on top and a heavenly spicy garlic sauce to dip into. An old-school hip hop background mix will have you bobbing your head while simultaneously slurping your noodles.
The Hall on Franklin – THOF is a newcomer to the Tampa restaurant scene but has quickly established itself as a foodie haven, if not one of the more elegant places to eat in all of Tampa. The Hall has six restaurants under one roof, and it’s set up so you can pull up a seat at the bar of four of the restaurants or grab a table in a communal area for wait service. Upon sitting, you’re presented with a six-page menu (one for each restaurant) and you can pick and choose from each as you please. The last time I was here, I ordered a basket of zucchini fries from Heights Melts, a tuna poke bowl from Poke Rose and a cup of coco brulee from Kofe. And that’s what makes The Hall one of the best dining options in the city: Whatever your mood or the cravings of those accompanying you, everyone can find something satisfying.
Pane Rustica – Upon lining up to place your order, you’ll be tempted to order a pizza from the wide array of options behind the glass counter displayed in front of you. And you’d be smart to order one. The pepperoni with roasted garlic is particularly delightful and a steal for the amount they give you for the price. But the real treasure at Pane Rustica lies in their daily specials. Today, as I write this, for example, they’re offering a wood-fired Niman ranch all-natural burger that was named top burger in the bay a couple years in Creative Loafing’s best burger contest. There’s also a seared salmon salad with shaved fennel, roasted asparagus, shallots, toasted nuts, blackberries and a citrus lavender vinaigrette over arugula on the menu today as well as a beef stroganoff entrée served with mushrooms, pearl onions and fresh herbs on fresh pappardelle. The daily entrée specials are what I typically go for, but you can’t go wrong with anything at Pane Rustica, which bakes fresh breads like sourdough, French and focaccia daily for their sandwichs. Dinner here is also a treat and a great spot for a date night.
Bamboozle Tea Lounge – The pho boats here are top notch and they serve a Vietnamese roll with steamed shrimp, grilled pork, vermicelli noodles, lettuce, cucumber, chive and mint that is delicious when dipped into the accompanying peanut sauce. They also run Bamboozle Café downtown on Tampa Street. I like the vibe of the Tea Lounge though.
The Bricks – Found on a less popular stretch of Ybor City’s Seventh Avenue, The Bricks opened in 2010 and was inspired by the owner’s other, more well-known venture, the Skatepark of Tampa, a legendary Tampa skateboard park where Lil’ Wayne famously made it rain at a Tampa Pro competition a few years ago. The Bricks used to be my go-to spot on game days, their Elvis sandwich with bacon, bananas, honey and peanut butter smeared on a piece of toasted Cuban bread made the perfect late afternoon pick me up. Alas, it’s no longer on the menu (can we, maybe, get it back?), but other sandwiches like the Pacific Rim (mojo pork and Asian slaw on toasted Hawaiian bread) and the Bird & Pig (roasted chicken, bacon, apple, brie, honey on pressed Hawaiian bread) are good substitutes. Their rice bowls are quite popular and Taco Tuesdays are done right here.
Al’s Finger Licking Good Bar-B-Que – Be prepared to smell like a campfire for the rest of the afternoon once you eat at Al’s. A smoker out front that constantly pumps out some of the best BBQ in Tampa will see to that. There are very few lunches more consistently good than ordering Dale’s Special (a blend of pork and sausage chopped up and put atop a sandwich roll with mild or extremely hot BBQ sauce to taste) with a side of the most delicious yellow rice and chicken you’ve ever tasted and an equally impressive mac and cheese (Friday’s only; double up on the chicken yellow rice any other day of the week). Al’s is located in a traditional bungalow-style house in historic Ybor City, which isn’t as vibrant as it used to be but is still worth a walk up and down Seventh Avenue to reminisce about when this place used to be the heartbeat of Tampa’s party scene. Watch out for stray roosters that roam Ybor when you turn into Al’s!
Bavaro’s – Pizza Napoletana & Pasteria – One of the best lunch deals in Tampa. A bowl of handmade tagliatelle deliciously smothered in a meaty Bolognese sauce for less than $8? Sign me up. Not into Bolognese? They also serve a marinara, antico Pomodoro, arrabbiata or vodka sauce. An authentic Italian wood-fired oven cooks some of the best Neapolitan pizza in town (the Diavola with spicy homemade sausage, mixed peppers and basil is my favorite). The original can be found in a pedestrian-only section of Franklin Street downtown. New locations have popped up in the airport (airside C) and on Central Avenue in St. Pete.
Datz – People in Tampa go ape-s*#! over this place. So, I’m including it out of peer pressure. It’s certainly okay, sandwiches are humongous (overcompensating for mediocre food?) and the homemade potato chips they serve with them are awesome. But Datz is not in my regular rotation. The same company owns Dough next door, which has some tasty sweet treats and is more worthy of your time.
Oxford Exchange – The food isn’t so much the star of Oxford Exchange as the building itself, which combines a Buddy Brew coffee shop, a TeBella Tea Company tea shop, a book store, a Warby Parker sunglass depot, a shop featuring locally- and globally-curated goods, a community work space aand a restaurant, all under one roof. This is a place to see and be seen in Tampa, as evidenced by the well-heeled patrons who frequent OE.