On March 11, 2020, I revealed the final restaurant overview I’d write for the remainder of that 12 months.
In fact, I had no concept what the long run held on the time. That week, we ran a playful rundown of the Filipino fare served at Jollibee, a fast-food restaurant with a cultlike worldwide following that had just lately opened in Pinellas Park.
I’ve been a restaurant critic for near seven years now and I can say with some certainty that I by no means anticipated my final overview earlier than a pandemic to deal with the nuances and taste profiles of Jolly Spaghetti and Chickenjoy.
However then once more, the whole lot that got here after March 2020 was a shock.
A lot of these surprises got here from the restaurant world, the place I watched as cooks, house owners and restaurant workers labored more durable than ever to avoid wasting their establishments and protect their livelihoods, continually pivoting and rolling with the numerous, many punches that the coronavirus pandemic lobbed their means.
There have been the masks mandates, and the workers tasked with implementing them when unruly clients refused to conform. The capability restrictions and the following social media backlash at any time when a restaurant appeared too busy. The labor shortages, the provision chain lags, the exponential meals value hikes. And naturally, the numerous restaurant staff that will inevitably contract COVID-19, generally prompting a days-long shutdown of the enterprise.
Many Florida eating places fared significantly higher than their counterparts elsewhere within the nation. However the previous 18 months haven’t been simple, both.
All of this contributed to our choice to not publish a conventional prime eating places listing in 2021. Judging or critiquing eating places at such a tumultuous time didn’t simply really feel unsuitable, it was inconceivable: I wasn’t eating out usually till a couple of months in the past, when — totally vaccinated and amid dwindling COVID-19 instances within the state — I lastly felt comfy sitting in a packed eating room.
This 12 months, we’ve determined to take a distinct strategy once more.
Our rundown of Tampa Bay’s greatest new eating places under and the accompanying lists are centered totally on the eating places that opened in 2020 and 2021. Name them pandemic success tales, if you’ll, however the next 10 spots opened throughout an extremely unsure time and nonetheless managed to hit it out of the park.
As I write this, the omicron variant is inflicting document numbers of coronavirus instances within the state. Who is aware of what the following 12 months will convey.
With security nonetheless prime of thoughts, we’ve included particulars on outside seating and takeout choices for every restaurant listed. The Facilities for Illness Management and Prevention recommends masking in indoor public settings in areas with excessive group transmission, although masks aren’t at the moment required in Florida eating places.
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Within the meantime, let’s get pleasure from our fantastic eating places, safely, for so long as we will.
Take a look at the opposite tales in our 2022 Prime Eating places sequence:
1. Wild Youngster
What makes Wild Youngster Tampa Bay’s greatest new restaurant?
Perhaps it’s as a result of, with none inkling of what the long run held, house owners Matt Kaye and Rob Reinsmith turned their unique plans the other way up and opened a restaurant on the peak of the pandemic.
Perhaps it’s the brilliance of operating a largely outside eatery in Florida, which — even within the lifeless of summer time — emulates an city tropical oasis; a sidewalk and picnic desk get together that by no means feels cramped.
Perhaps it’s that the house owners have managed to faucet into the culinary zeitgeist and create a restaurant that feels so completely of this second.
No matter it’s, Wild Youngster hit the bottom operating when it opened in August 2020 and hasn’t stopped.
You can come right here only for the cocktails, a superb tropical-leaning choice that’s at all times evolving. One fixed: the Mezcalita, a spicy, smoky margarita that will get a kick from jalapeno and a splash of sweetness from agave and pineapple.
You can come for the tropical, eye-catching decor and people-watching and marvel at how the house owners managed to create a restaurant with a coloration scheme and aesthetic that, whereas engaging to the Instagram influencer set, isn’t made or designed with them completely in thoughts.
No matter you do, positively come for the wonderful meals featured on Reinsmith’s wildly inventive menu, the place Latin and Caribbean influences mingle inside a distinctly Floridian theme.
During the last 12 months and a half, I’ve popped by on a number of events, at all times curious what the ‘burg’s buzziest restaurant will give you subsequent. A roasted half hen served with yuzu salsa verde and fries on one go to may be reimagined as a Peruvian grilled hen served alongside purple potatoes on the following. A seasonal burrata salad would possibly characteristic contemporary peaches someday and juicy heirloom tomatoes and cherries on one other. There’s at all times one thing in flux, and it’s nearly at all times nice.
However whereas Reinsmith shakes issues up seasonally, there are a couple of mainstays on the menu which have earned their hold: jerk-seasoned octopus plated with lemon jam, fennel and mint; chorizo-stuffed dates, wrapped in crispy slices of bacon and nestled in a pool of smoky tomato and piquillo pepper sauce; and a dreamy tuna tostada, that includes the proper marriage of brilliant, smoky, crunchy and creamy components. It’s the salsa macha — a darkish and smoky medley of peppers and peanuts — that actually steals the present.
Outside seating and takeout out there.
Greatest dishes: Tuna tostada, jerk octopus.
2710 Central Ave., St. Petersburg. 727-954-7425. wildchildstpete.com.
Chef Eric Fralick’s multicourse meal at Koya begins by that includes the highest of the tuna, the meat proper beneath the fin and one of many leanest elements of the fish. This isn’t simply any previous tuna: That is the coveted (and pricy) bluefin tuna from Kagoshima — offered at public sale and flown in straight from Japan’s famed Toyosu Market.
Course 4 options kama toro — the again cheek or collar of the fish — and the fattiest, silkiest and arguably most scrumptious half. It’s served as a tartare, on a mattress of rice and with a wholesome drizzle of white soy, lacto-fermented ginger and a grating of contemporary wasabi root.
It’s probably the greatest issues I’ve ever eaten. And it’s simply considered one of 9 programs on the Tampa restaurant, the place you’ll get pleasure from not only a high-octane meal — you’ll spend a night on the theater and get an training, too.
There are additionally sake pairings — Fralick’s spouse, Adriana, pours from a brief however spectacular listing of the Japanese fermented rice spirit, explaining intimately the delicate nuances and taste profiles of every — and pleasant banter with neighboring diners. And a price ticket of $275, earlier than pairings and tipping.
Opening an upscale, tasting menu-only restaurant on the peak of the pandemic was a raffle. However Tampa diners have been greater than recreation: The restaurant has been booked strong because it opened.
The menu will get a full overhaul each season but additionally undergoes small tweaks week to week and generally each day, relying on what Fralick is ready to supply.
A current winter menu featured kurama ebi, candy and bouncy Japanese tiger prawns served below a light-weight and ethereal yuzu-laced sabayon. There was additionally Faroe Island salmon, served immediately out of a smoking cloak with a zingy ramp salsa. One of many showstoppers got here near the tip, when a melt-in-your-mouth marbled sq. of dry-aged Wagyu (A5 BMS 12, from Kagoshima) appeared. The meat was breaded and served katsu-style on a miniature sandwich with an accompanying Parmesan veloute topped with shaved white truffles, for dunking.
Although the restaurant has attracted its justifiable share of regulars, with such a hefty price ticket hooked up, eating right here seems like extra of an event — an excuse to have a good time one thing huge.
As a result of an evening out at Koya is one thing very particular certainly.
Particular takeout menu out there sure nights.
Greatest dishes: Kama toro, wagyu katsu sandwich.
807 W Platt St., Tampa. 813-284-7423. noblericeco.com/koya.
3. Sea Worthy Fish + Bar
Hope Montgomery and Jason Ruhe opened their coastal-inspired restaurant in Tierra Verde a couple of weeks earlier than the statewide shutdown. However regardless of the short-term setback, their seafaring spot off the Pinellas Bayway is crusing alongside easily.
The restaurant has been pitched because the coastal sidekick to their lauded downtown St. Petersburg restaurant Brick & Mortar. However Sea Worthy shouldn’t be thought of a sidekick to something. It’s a knockout all by itself.
In a nod to the Gulf Coast, and impressed by the couple’s love for the open water, the menu highlights native and regional delights from the ocean, mirrored within the restaurant’s cozy nautical-themed eating room.
Depend on a rotating choice of each day specials — no matter is hanging Ruhe’s fancy that evening — because the dishes to not miss. On one night, that may embody a plate of Korean barbecue-inspired brief ribs. On one other, a quick contemporary ceviche.
Home made pasta — on some nights a bucatini, and on others cavatelli — is usually served alongside seared scallops in a creamy carbonara sauce. If that is on the menu, don’t move it up. Different standouts embody an entire fried catch of the day, which arrives plated atop coconut rice and a refreshing inexperienced papaya slaw.
If you happen to can, attempt to snag a seat on the outside deck, a second-floor perch that appears out towards the Gulf of Mexico. Time it excellent and also you’ll catch a sundown, and a meal, you received’t quickly overlook.
Outdoors seating and takeout out there.
Greatest dishes: Scallop carbonara, complete fried catch of the day.
1110 Pinellas Bayway S, Tierra Verde. 727-623-0468.
Lingr may be Tampa Bay’s most formidable restaurant opening of 2021 — a curious and inventive idea that, within the unsuitable fingers, may not have labored. However with chef Jeffrey Jew on the helm, issues are going simply high-quality.
The theme right here is Norwegian and Cantonese — extra broadly, a Nordic-inspired restaurant with Asian affect. It’s an homage to chef and proprietor Jew’s background and upbringing (his mom is Norwegian and his father is Chinese language) peppered with a few of the culinary chops and strategies he’s honed all through his profession.
Regardless of appearances, Lingr isn’t actually a fusion restaurant. Not like so many different globe-trotting spots that borrow from a hodgepodge of cuisines, this one has a fairly strict roadmap. Some dishes skew extra Scandinavian whereas others characteristic a heavier hand with Chinese language affect. However the genius right here is that the elements emblematic of each cuisines — star anise, fennel, cardamon, ginger — work remarkably effectively collectively.
The dishes that hold me coming again: puffy rounds of Sami bread, topped with smoked lion’s mane mushrooms, brunost cheese and chili oil; mapo ho enjoyable noodles, swathed in a fiery sauce heavy with Sichuan peppercorns; and wedges of spiced parsnip cake layered with a candy mandarin cream.
Outdoors seating out there.
Greatest dishes: Hamachi crudo, smoked lion’s mane Sami bread, mapo ho enjoyable.
400 Sixth St. S, St. Petersburg. 727-471-6120. lingrrestaurant.com.
When Willa’s opened again in March, it was initially pitched as the proper neighborhood restaurant. I dwell nowhere close to Tampa’s North Hyde Park, and but I couldn’t agree extra.
The bistro, although not precisely informal or low cost, is a welcome addition to Tampa’s present eating panorama, the place the whole lot appears to fall more and more into two camps: upscale and fine-dining or fast-casual and grab-and-go.
Willa’s straddles the area in between with an approachable menu of New American dishes, traditional cocktails and a welcoming “pop-in-whenever-for-a-snack-or-tipple” form of environment.
The kitchen is helmed by Gabriel Lopez (previously a sous chef at Mise en Place) and the spine of the operation is the rotisserie-roasted hen, Amish-raised birds roasted till crispy and impossibly flavorful, served with a zingy salsa verde.
An ideal dinner right here would possibly begin with a bowl of chili-laced Castelvetrano olives, paper-thin slices of jambon de Paris and an aperitif or two. (The bar menu encompasses a sizable vermouth assortment.) Diners would then be sensible to maneuver on to the creamy tahini wedge salad and perhaps a slice of the whipped ricotta and hazelnut toast. Then, a couple of items of the juicy roasted hen and a aspect of schmaltz-roasted potatoes, or the crispy panko-fried pork schnitzel, served alongside a pile of brilliant, citrusy greens.
Dessert, if there’s room, is nice and easy: a slice of carrot cake or a number of spoonfuls of a velvety chocolate pot de creme.
Outdoors seating and takeout out there.
Greatest dishes: Roasted hen, pork schnitzel, tahini Caesar salad.
1700 W Fig St., Tampa. 813-519-4552. willastampa.com.
6. Patti’s Kitchen
Since opening in July 2020, this Pinellas Park gem hasn’t skipped a beat. The deal with right here is the Bangkok-style avenue noodle dishes — steamy, spicy soups and brothless specialties topped with grilled meats and seasonal greens.
The restaurant’s chef and proprietor hails from Bangkok and designed the restaurant’s menu as an homage to the road distributors and noodle dishes hawked throughout Thailand’s capital metropolis.
Soup lovers and spice fiends will discover a lot to like, from the spot’s signature boat noodles (tiew nam tok), heavy with the flavors of cinnamon, cloves and star anise, to the brilliant and fiery tom yum soup, dotted with crunchy peanuts and hunks of seasoned pork. Although noodle soups are nonetheless the spotlight, the kitchen has been experimenting with new specials, and it’s at all times enjoyable to see what they’ve acquired in retailer.
The superb Thai curry puffs are at all times guess — buttery, flaky pastries stuffed with a spiced potato and hen combination and served with a brilliant and crunchy cucumber salad.
Takeout out there.
Greatest dishes: Thai curry puffs, boat noodles.
6527 Park Blvd., Pinellas Park. 727-289-4153.
7. Sauvignon Wine Locker & American Trattoria
Chris Ciarcia’s new downtown St. Petersburg restaurant Sauvignon has been perpetually packed since opening in early 2021.
With the (short-term) lack of wine-and-cheese staple Annata on Seashore Drive NE, the restaurant — with its heavy deal with decadent charcuterie boards and high-quality wines — feels proper at house. Ciarcia, a degree two sommelier, spent a number of years managing Annata, and his wine experience is as a lot a draw at Sauvignon as the rest. The restaurant has attracted a robust following of native oenophiles and curious imbibers seeking to broaden their palates.
Although the fantastic charcuterie boards are a tempting technique to move the night, the remainder of the menu is equally thrilling. A creamy burrata will get paired with a tomato confit that tastes prefer it’s been sweetened by the solar. The home made pasta assortment encompasses a pappardelle swaddled in a thick and flavorful lamb sugo, studded with oyster mushrooms and caramelized tropea onions.
Sauvignon’s location is fairly clutch, too: Tucked between a string of bars within the busy — and boozy — 200 block of Central Avenue, one of the best seats in the home are outdoors on the second-floor patio, overlooking the motion.
Outside balcony seating out there.
Greatest dishes: PEI Mussels, pappardelle with lamb sugo.
241 Central Ave., St. Petersburg. 727-827-7896. sauvignonstpete.com.
8. The City Stillhouse
There’s little arguing that The City Stillhouse is considered one of Tampa Bay’s most stunning new eating places. Designed with distilleries in Kentucky and Scotland in thoughts, the yawning bi-level area is outfitted with loads of darkish wooden, leather-based, heavy steel and copper accents, and encompasses a fashionable industrial aesthetic that feels each cosmopolitan and comfy on the similar time.
It’s becoming that government chef Kenny Tufo’s inventive New American menu additionally persistently knocks it out of the park with crowd-pleasers like hen liver crostini topped with bourbon, cranberry and rosemary compote; pappardelle swaddled in a lemon mascarpone sauce with lobster and peas; and the wonderful grilled octopus, the place olive oil-slicked tentacles get grilled over barrel staves and served atop contemporary greens alongside a flavorful romesco sauce.
Provided that the house owners additionally personal Horse Soldier bourbon and the American Freedom Distillery, ingesting right here is half the enjoyable. The Horse Soldier flights are place to start out, however for brown liquor connoisseurs, the non-public tastings are a should.
Some outside seating out there.
Greatest dishes: Grilled octopus, hen liver crostini.
2232 Fifth Ave. S, St Petersburg. 727-440-8040. theurbanstillhouse.com.
9. Kuba Cocina
Many will keep in mind Felicia Lacalle from her time at Hemingway’s, the trendy Cuban restaurant contained in the Heights Public Market at Tampa’s Armature Works.
Earlier this 12 months, Lacalle’s cooking discovered a brand new house in St. Pete Seashore — a takeout idea she calls Kuba Cocina (but additionally Kuba en la Playa, a nod to its proximity to the seaside). The spot options a number of holdovers from her earlier restaurant in addition to a couple of extra creations. There’s additionally actually good sangria to-go.
Although there may be ample seating outdoors, the all-day menu is designed with the grab-and-go beachgoer in thoughts and options handhelds like lobster empanadas, sandwiches and different snacks to-go.
Crispy, bronzed chicharrones are like pork sweet, served with a squeeze of contemporary lime and a creamy cilantro and garlic aioli for dunking. Lacalle’s specialty, the Kuban fried rice, is a nod to the Chinese language Cuban mashup discovered at eating places like Tampa’s Arco Iris Cafe. The dish is a showstopper, wealthy with the flavors of shredded roasted pork and chorizo, speckled with tiny shrimp, chunks of ham, inexperienced onions and peas and topped with candy plantains.
And the large El Rey Kubano, Lacalle’s tackle the Tampa Cuban sandwich, is hands-down probably the greatest round.
Perhaps it’s the attractive mural outdoors the restaurant, or the best way the solar hits the shaded patio tables at sundown, or the punch packed by the fruity sangrias that resemble adult-sized Capri Solar pouches — one thing right here simply clicks.
Outside seating and takeout solely.
Greatest dishes: Kuban fried rice, El Rey Kubano, ardour fruit sangria.
7525 Blind Go Street, St. Pete Seashore. 813-255-1241. kubacocina.com.
10. Flor Fina
When Flor Fina first opened contained in the splashy new Resort Haya in Ybor Metropolis, the debut was coupled with some fairly huge information: Douglas Rodriguez, the tenured Miami chef and godfather of Nuevo Latino delicacies, can be operating the spot’s culinary operations.
However so much can occur in a 12 months. Rodriguez has since left the constructing.
Chef switch-ups this early within the recreation aren’t often a harbinger of excellent issues to come back, however on this case, issues aren’t simply trying up — they’re higher than ever.
Just a few months in the past, chef Nathan Hardin (previously of Armature Works’ Steelbach and different initiatives) took over as government chef for each Flor Fina and the resort’s boutique breakfast and lunch spot, Cafe Quiquiriqui. Whereas the overarching idea of upscale Latin delicacies has largely stayed the identical, the menu feels fine-tuned and centered now, with an emphasis on Cuban, Italian and Spanish influences emblematic of Ybor’s multicultural roots.
There are many holdouts from Rodriguez’s tenure: a quartet of ceviches, every that includes a distinct fish and accoutrement (the salmon with the leche de tigre is a winner), and the large 32-ounce tomahawk ribeye, served family-style with chimichurri.
I’m a fan of Hardin’s new additions, which embody a play on chorizo meatballs served atop chewy hunks of focaccia, wrapped in a spicy oregano-flecked tomato sauce and tucked beneath a snowy blanket of manchego foam. Crispy-fried carrot falafel are served with a garlicky yogurt and a bundle of contemporary herbs, and the Ybor brick hen is a can’t-miss dish, crispy-skinned and flavorful, served on a mattress of smoked squash risotto and salsa verde, and completed with a rosemary-tinged pan sauce.
Takeout out there.
Greatest dishes: Chorizo meatballs, Ybor brick hen.
1412 E Seventh Ave., Tampa. 813-568-1200. hotelhaya.com.