Tampa’s Tastiest Treasures: Where to Eat Like a Local

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 local restaurants.

As usual, the list is divided into affordable, (often counter-service) eateries, moderate sit-down spots, and places to splurge at. Within each category, I have found establishments offering different cuisines for any time of day. I will update this list as needed, but as of March 2024, here are my favorite Tampa restaurants.

blog post sharing the 30 best Tampa restaurants

Affordable Places to Eat

If you are in need of a quick bite or a cheap meal, the following nine options do the trick without sacrificing flavor! This includes breakfast cafes, food markets, counter service spots, and even a couple full-service locales. You can easily get an entree for $15 or less at all the choices below.

1. Grain & Berry Café – Healthy Breakfast and Lunch

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 wanting 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!

2. Taco Dirty – DIY Mexican Food

For affordable, but tasty 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.

They have way more toppings than your average Chipotle, including Charred Pineapple, Rojo Radishes, and Vegan Sour Cream! With the ability to modify your meal however you like, this taqueria will leave everyone satisfied.

3. La Segunda – Creative Sandwiches

Want a unique lunch place? Let me introduce you to La Segunda. Though it is described as a bakery, this bakery has some of the best sandwiches in the area, Cuban or otherwise.

La Seguna offers twelve kinds of sandwiches all made on Cuban bread and most are less than $11. This is a deal given the size! You can also get salads and baked goods, but I urge you to try the Muffaletta for a mind-blowing experience!

4. Sparkman Wharf – Waterfront Hang Out

One place I can never miss 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 things to get being ceviche and fried chicken, as well as a Biergarten with dozens of local brews to try.

ceviche cup with plantain chips from Sparkman Wharf

With so many lawn games and views of the ocean, it’s an awesome place to hang out with a group of friends and grab a bite of late-night food. 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.

5. Mel’s Hot Dogs – Tampa Institution

By Busch Gardens, you will find the local’s favorite hot dog stand, Mel’s Hot Dogs. This place has been serving up these summer classics since the 1970s and has developed a wonderful reputation. For 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!

6. Al’s Finger Licking Good Barb B Que – Tennessee Barbecue

Near Ybor City, you can get scrumptious Tennessee barbecue at Al’s Finger Licking Good Bar-B-Que. This hole in the wall has a large selection of smokehouse 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 pork, chicken, and ribs as well as the mac and cheese and spicy collard greens.

7. Urban Cantina – Traditional Taqueria

For Mexican Fare right near the Riverwalk, I highly recommend Urban Cantina. Colorfully decorated and welcoming, this restaurant has everything from quesadillas and tortas to burritos and fajitas.

If you come here on Tuesday, the $2.50 tacos are an awesome deal and there are over a dozen to choose from. You can also get beer and margaritas made with freshly squeezed juice to compliment your zesty meal. It’s the ideal place to visit for whatever type of Mexican food you are craving.

8. Nebraska Mini-Mart – Classic Fast Food

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.

9. Buddy Brew Coffee – Casual Coffee Shop

There are a lot of great places to get coffee, but Buddy Brew is my pick. With six locations, you can find a delicious beverage close to wherever you are staying in the city.

Buddy Brew Nitro Cold Brew

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 Restaurants

The next category is harder to narrow down because so many fit the bill! I have included 11 middle-of-the-road options, where you can expect a casual and relaxing sit-down meal or a cool date night. Expect to spend around $30 or less per person, not including alcohol, at any of the options below. 

10. 7th + Grove – Southern Fusion

For upscale Southern cooking and an upbeat vibe, 7th + Grove will have you satisfied. During the day, it’s a bright and laid-back, but at night, there is a live DJ and a bustling atmosphere! Because of this, you can expect hand-crafted 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 that melt in your mouth. If you can make it in time for Happy Hour, you can even snag a deal too!

11. The Pearl – Foodie Date Night

One of my most recommended romantic restaurants in Tampa is The Pearl where you can find foodie eats of all sorts of cuisines. Their top-notch seafood earned them a mention on the Michelin Guide, so do not miss the oysters here if you are a fan. For those in the mood for brunch, the options here are quite scrumptious as well!

12. Pane Rustica – Modern Italian

Florida is known for its surprisingly good strip mall finds and Pane Rustica is one of them. Though it does not look like much from the outside, inside you will be transported to the Italian Countryside 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.

13. Flour+Water – California Eatery

Easily one of the cutest spots in town is Flour+Water over in Hyde Park. This is a California-style eatery serving pizza, sushi, salad, and pasta for lunch or dinner.

tuna and avocado sushi roll from Flour+Water

You really can’t go wrong with anything on the menu, but I especially love the simple yet fresh sushi rolls. Between the naturally fermented dough and the plant-focused dishes, I always leave here feeling nourished and satisfied.  

14. Surf Shack Coastal Kitchen – Cali-Mex and More

If you are in the mood for a tropical vibe, dining at Surf Shack Coastal Kitchen is like 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 also does all-you-can-eat crab legs on weekends where you can get a huge bang for your buck!

15. Armature Works – Trendy Food Hall

Looking for a versatile place to dine? I always recommend Armature Works, a food hall with dozens of food stalls 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!

pepperoni pizza from Armature Works

Not only is the food excellent, but there’s also a lot of room to hang out outside on the riverfront with games, and often cool events. If there’s one place to get a quintessential taste of Tampa, it is probably Armature Works!

16. Rasoi Indian Cuisine – Traditional Indian Cooking

If you are in the mood for delectable Indian food, Rasoi Indian Cuisine is perfect for a dinner 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 there is a buffet for only $11. Between all the spicy dishes and the freshly baked naan, Rasoi is a must-visit for Indian dining.

17. Vine Vegan – Vegan Brunch All Day

For brunch any time of day, Vine Vegan is establishment that locals love to visit all week long. They are known for having the best vegan food in town with options like Gluten-Free Pancakes and a vegan egg and sausage sammie.

However, the dinner options stand out just as much with their Buffalo Chick’n Wrap! This one is a bit out of the way in Brandon, but well worth the drive.

18. Hooch and Hive – Trendy Comfort Food

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.

19. Oxford Exchange – Upscale Cafe

The last option I have to highlight is Oxford Exchange, an inviting cafe, 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.

oxford exchange fried avocado wedges

There is 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 than with a cold brew and an omelet in their sunny dining room.

Splurge-Worthy Meals

For a night of treating yourself, I wanted to share some fantastic upscale restaurants. These options are perfect for date nights or celebratory occasions.

Some have dress codes, but I would personally wear something nice at all of them. Expect entrees 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!

20. Élevage SoHo Kitchen & Bar – Gourmet Dining

Inside the Epicurean Hotel, 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!

21. The Rusty Pelican – Surf and Turf

For a waterfront dinner 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 dishes like Lobster Risotto and Chilean Seabass, butcher cuts.

To try a little 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 occasion!

22. Haiku – Sushi and Japanese

There are many outstanding sushi restaurants, but one of my favorites is Haiku. This is often described as an Instagram gem with its trendy vibes, but the food also justifies a visit.

avocado and crab sushi roll from Haiku

The sushi rolls are distinct, with options like the Torch Hamachi Roll and there is also a large selection of Japanese dishes like ramen and short ribs. I recommend sharing a few plates so you can taste all the unique flavors.

23. Mise en Place – Fancy Fusion

Since 1986, Mis en Place has been serving up American cuisine with French and Asian infusions that clearly make it known as one of the most romantic places to dine. 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.

Between these pleasing dishes, the modernist cocktails, and the seasonal ice cream and sorbet, Mis en Place is a must for locals and visitors.

24. Columbia – Classic Cuban

For irresistible Spanish comida, locals love the century-old Columbia. This landmark opened 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 business for 5 generations, it’s one of the best dinner spots for a celebratory, family meal.

25. Cena – Mediterranean Cuisine

paella from Columbia restaurant in Tampa

If you are in the mood for Italian food that is exactly the opposite of the Olive Garden, then I think Cena is your girl. 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 Italian favorite put this city on the culinary map, and is always worth a visit to the Channel District for.

26. Edison: Food+Drink Lab – Gastropub

Foodies from all over flock to Edison: Food+Drink Lab for the ultimate gastronomic meal. 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 Chicken and Pancakes, as well as a wide selection of appetizers. If you are in the mood for a fancy, Floridian speakeasy, Edison is sure to be a crowd-pleaser.

27. Haven – Charcuterie

If you are a charcuterie lover, Haven should be the number one stop on your list. With a dozen options of rare cheese and meats to choose from, you will be treated to a dinner 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 of bottles of wine from their vast selection.

28. Ulele – Rustic Floridian

One of the most unique restaurants is Ulele, where Native-inspired food is prepared on a barbacoa grill. The entrees include dishes like Gouda Grouper and Guava Tomahawk Pork Chops and are in the $25 to $35 range.

shrimp and grits from ulele in tampa

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!

29. Rooster & the Till – Inventive American

I would be remiss not to mention Rooster & The Till, which has been named the best 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.

Despite its humble appearance outside, 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 which features a lineup of ever-changing, but always extraordinary fare.

30. On Swann – Contemporary Steakhouse

I think it’s fitting to end this list of amazing 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 accouterments. Along with the wine, cocktails, and desserts, this is an excellent start or end to a vacation!

Know Before You Go

Hopefully, this list covers all the bases for figuring out where to eat in Tampa Bay. Whether you are on vacation or a local, you will be enamored by all the incredible food here! Here are a few tips for making your meal even better.

  • It is customary to tip 20% in Tampa Bay and most places do not include this in the final bill unless you have a large party.
  • A lot of options do not take reservations, so there can be a wait. A few here take them on Open Table, so be sure to check beforehand.
  • If you want to save money, go during Happy Hour when many offer deals on drinks and appetizers.
  • Dress codes vary, but for the fine-dining restaurants on the list, I would err on the dress-to-impress side.
  • Most restaurants in the area require paid parking, and it can be hard to find, especially when sporting events are going on. Plan to get valet if you are dining in the heart of the city.
  • 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!
the best places to eat in Tampa blog post

Are any of these options your favorite for dining in Tampa? Let me know in the comments! For more tips on visiting this area, check out my St. Pete travel guide and my Tampa brewery guide.

visual tampa restaurants guide