Sitting in southwestern Florida, Tampa is home to top-rated white sandy beaches and winning sports teams. Yet, it also harbors top-rated restaurants and incredibly good food for anyone who ventures here. When it comes to some of the best Tampa restaurants, head downtown. Surrounding the Riverwalk, you’ll find everything from a simple sandwich to fancy dishes, top wines, and special cocktails. Whether you prefer sitting inside or outside, you can enjoy the bay view, city view, or a restaurant’s interior artwork, here are some Tampa restaurants downtown to try the next time you visit.
1810 North Highland Avenue, (Tampa Heights) Tampa, FL 33602
A unique Tampa experience, Ulele combines the best ingredients from Florida waterways with those found on land that once housed Native Americans. Offering specialized appetizers, entrees, and desserts, you’ll want to experience something new prepared on their 10′ diameter barbacoa grill. Start with an appetizer of alligator hushpuppies or crab mac-n-cheese and follow up with the gouda grouper entrée. Try the chargrilled oysters or stick with the specially created Ulele Burger, named after a young Native American princess. For dessert, choose between a Key West Lime Stack, flourless chocolate torte, or candied bacon maple ice cream. A favorite of visitors and local residents alike, you can’t go wrong stopping in at Ulele for lunch or dinner.
420 West Kennedy Boulevard, Tampa, FL 33606
Just a leisurely walk or a short drive across the bridge from the Riverwalk and downtown business district, you’ll find the Oxford Exchange, another unique find in a city like Tampa. A restaurant combined with a bookstore, coffee and pastry bar, champagne bar, and tea bar, it’s more of a destination for lulling away the afternoon. Try to catch a seat in the peaceful interior courtyard where greenery surrounds you, and a fountain in the center serenades you as you eat. Another option is to stay indoors and enjoy the contemporary dining room filled with unique art.
Voted as having the best weekend brunch by residents, you can’t go wrong here any day of the week. Stop in for their afternoon tea menu or full lunch. Peruse their bookshop full of books on design and cooking, among others. You can even pick up gift items from the trinkets and items they include on the shelves.
801 Water Street, #1905, Tampa, FL
Ask anyone to name a restaurant synonymous with Tampa, and you’ll most likely hear Columbia Café. Owned and continuously ran by the same family since 1905, the restaurant is touted as the oldest restaurant, not just in Tampa, but the entire state of Florida.
While the original restaurant is located in nearby Ybor City, the smaller café version is in downtown Tampa and located within the Tampa Bay History Center on the Riverwalk. Sit outside on the wide patio to enjoy the spectacular water view. Order a Spanish-inspired dish or enjoy the Tampa treasure, a Cuban Sandwich. Columbia Café uses an original 1915 recipe for their sandwich, layering on equal portions of Spanish ham, Genoa salami, Mojo marinated roast pork, along with the best swiss cheese and mustard available. The bread is from the local bakery, La Segunda Central Bakery, and is brushed with butter before pressing to a crispy outcome. For dessert, give the white chocolate bread pudding topped with a rich rum sauce a try.
Edison Food + Drink Lab
912 West Kennedy Blvd., Tampa, FL 33602
If you’re feeling adventurous, head to the Edison Food + Drink Lab in downtown Tampa. Not only is it led by a 5-time James Beard award-winning chef, but its unique offerings and unusual flavor combinations create a one-of-a-kind dining experience. You can’t help but notice and even appreciate the attention to detail the restaurant and staff take. Choose from a list of world-class wine offerings and sit back and enjoy the moment. Start with the Potato Crusted Oysters and then choose between a filet mignon, poached octopus, or caramelized sea scallops. Their menu is always changing thanks to their creative chef, and it’s always an adventure to see what might show up new on the menu each time you visit.
MISE EN PLACE
442 West Kennedy Blvd., Tampa, FL 33606
By the name of this restaurant, you can probably guess it has French-influenced food offerings. You would be right, except that the owners prefer to call it modern cuisine rooted in French style. Expect delicious molasses pecan crusted rack of lamb served with trumpet mushroom bourbon lamb jus, Amish cheddar chili grits, and cayenne buttermilk onion rings. Or go for the delectable Berbere crusted scallops with creative sides. The restaurant also offers vegan dishes. Finish your meal off with a meyer lemon ricotta cheesecake or chocolate pecan toffee mousse. Succulent food in a contemporary setting, you’ll experience some of the best food and atmosphere downtown Tampa has to offer.
6500 N Florida Ave, Tampa, FL 33604
Rooster & The Till is an exciting restaurant by Chef Ferrell Alvarez, Ty Rodriguez, and Chon Nguyen with a constantly-evolving menu and an expanding dining room. Most people opt for the small plates, with the stars being the ginger tofu dumplings with “intense chili oil” (we’re not sure what makes it intense but there’s only one way to find out!), gnocchi with short rib and ricotta, and seared foie gras with huckleberry, cashew pear nutella, and vanilla pear. If you can’t make up your mind, don’t worry because you don’t need to! The tasting menu is a six-course food and wine pairing, including oysters, wagyu short ribs, and more.
202 N Morgan St., Tampa, FL 33602
Since the late 1980s, Yeoman’s Cask & Lion has been the proud English pub of the Tampa area. You can get the usual British staples here, like fish and chips, but there’s plenty of other less Anglicized options too. Some of the biggest hits are the buffalo chicken mac and cheese and the Piped Up Philly Cheesesteak. If you’re going for brunch, you can’t miss no matter what you get, but make sure you also get the bottomless mimosas and bloody mary’s so you can drink during the day like a true Brit.
1501 Swann Ave, Tampa, FL 33606
Chris Ponte’s contemporary American eatery is a devoted member of the community. They support numerous local partners, like Julius Meinl coffee, Jamison G. Breadhouse breads, and First Leaf Farms for microgreens. That fresh local flavor bursts through no matter what you eat. Start your meal with the rich saffron arancini with chorizo and manchego along with a kale salad, bursting with quinoa, brussel sprouts, bacon, corn, tart cherries, pecans, and ricotta salata. Then round out your meal with the steak frites drizzled with shallots-cabernet butter and bone marrow. Supporting local has never tasted so good.
1910 N Ola Ave, Tampa, FL 33602
The owners of Oak & Ola decided to embark on a journey to create a local independent Euro-American restaurant. The result is a place to gather where food and drinks are thoughtfully sourced, hand-crafted, and changed seasonally. The ultimate order is the Spanish fire-roasted octopus with “Boozy Pig” chorizo, white beans, kale, charred red onion, and hazelnut vinaigrette with an appetizer of wilted brussel sprouts with applewood smoked bacon, charred red onions, and apple cider vinegar, a delightful mix of salty, sour, and crunch in each bite.
1208 S Howard Ave, Tampa, FL 33606
We’re HUGE fans of Bern’s Steak House, even naming it one of the best steakhouses in America. It’s not about what they do differently, but rather what they do well, which is just about everything. You’d be hard-pressed to find a better steak than their 100 day dry-aged Delmonico steak. Flank that with the French onion soup and the black truffle creamed corn and you’ll be a happy camper. Make sure to close out your meal with the roasted pineapple or the bananas foster.
601 S Harbour Island Blvd #107, Tampa, FL 33602
American Social has so much to offer you’ll want to come back here time and time again. They have waterfront views with an awesome ambiance day or night, delicious options for lunch and dinner as well as brunch on the weekends, and so much more. They offer deals just about every day of the week like Burger Monday, Taco Tuesday, and a special late night menu for the post-bar snack cravings.
During the day, choose from small bites like the goat cheese croquettes, deviled eggs, or fried brussel sprouts. For the main course you have tons of sandwich, burger, salad, and pizza options as well as their raw bar. If you’re coming in for brunch definitely start off with one of their brunch drinks like the cinnamon toast crunch or the lillet elderflower spritz. To eat, try the donut holes to share or the brunch BLAT all for yourself!
Jackson’s Bistro, Bar & Sushi
601 S Harbour Island Blvd, Tampa, FL 33602
Jackon’s is the place to be for all things views and good eats! Located on Harbour Island, this restaurant offers beautiful waterfront and city skyline views. They are known for having delicious sushi, but their menu offers so much more than that. Enjoy some of their starters like the tomato and burrata or the coconut shrimp. For the main course, buckle in because there are quite a few options to choose from. Chilled seafood, handhelds, pasta, and soup and salad are just the beginning of what Jackson’s has to offer. Come on in and enjoy the peaceful ambiance with a seasonal cocktail in hand. Call ahead and ask to sit outside if the weather is nice, it is just lovely out there.
Yolk White & Associates
100 N Ashley Dr, Tampa, FL 33602
Believe it or not, this little food truck is serving up some of the best breakfast in Tampa. You will always be greeted with a smile and super friendly service here. They’re mainly whipping up breakfast sandwiches, made to order, and boy are they tasty. The Opener is a breakfast sandwich with one or two eggs, spinach, tomato, and cheddar all on your choice of cuban, white or wheat, or a bagel. They’re also serving omelets and frittatas with a side of grits. So simple yet so delicious and filling. Add a hot cup of joe to your order for a budget friendly start to your day.
Los Chapo’s Tacos
951 E 7th Ave, Tampa, FL 33605
Los Chapo’s is another one of the many incredible food trucks in Tampa, but they now have an inside area (that is just adorable) to sit and eat. They have games outside like cornhole and giant connect four to play while you wait for your food. The atmosphere is so fun here, and how could you not have a great time chowing down on some amazing tacos? They claim to have the best birria tacos in the area so you’ll just have go and see for yourself. They have several other taco options like carne asada and grilled portobello. Or treat yourself to a burrito and some of their sides like chips and guacamole or queso. Your visit here is not complete until you’ve tried their sugar loaded churros with ice cream!
Sea Maids Creamery
4230 N Florida Ave, Tampa, FL 33603
No day at the beach is truly complete until you stop by the local ice cream shop. Sea Maids Creamery is serving up so many delicious treats along with their ice cream like cupcakes, cookies, milkshakes and more! They have so many great flavors there’s no way you won’t be able to cure your sweet tooth here. Not only are they serving delicious treats, but everything looks so pretty too! Each dessert is so beautifully crafted, it’d be a crime not to snap a few pictures before you dig in. They also have vegan options so everyone can enjoy something tasty at this colorful, welcoming dessert shop!
Editors Note: This article was originally published on December 7, 2021 and last updated on March 10, 2022. Please refer to restaurant websites and social media pages for the most up-to-date information.