We all hate to wait. Several of Tampa's top restaurants (big namers such as Bern's) are usually reservations-only for big events. And here are some of the area's longest wait times:
Bahama Breeze: This is one of a successful small chain that doesn't sweat the verisimilitude. The menu is Caribbean-ish, from coconut shrimp to Spanish paella to artichoke-spinach dip. Great happy hours specials, a wide outdoor deck with live reggae music, and a vivacious young crowd make it loads of fun, even if the Islands accent is a little forced, mon. A froufrou tropical-drink singles hangout, it has a lush waterside setting where you will occasionally see Rays, Buccaneers and large men who could have been contenders. 3045 N. Rocky Point Dr. E, Tampa. (813) 289-7922.
MacDinton's Irish Pub & Restaurant: In an area dense with bars, even Irish bars, MacDinton's makes a killer black and tan, a warming Irish coffee, and a fair representation of Irish staples, from rib-sticking, mashed-potatoey shepherd's pie to respectable corned beef and cabbage. This is absolutely the biggest scene in Tampa, with lines down and around the block on weekend nights. Why? Who can say? The beer tastes just the same as it does other places. But you can't seem to convince the several hundred would-be revelers lining up outside. 405 S. Howard Ave., Tampa. (813) 251-8999.
Bubba Gump Shrimp Co.: During a time when restaurant news has been grim (closures, bankruptcies, diminished sales numbers), this newcomer is seating more than 1,000 people a day. It's packed to the gills, would-be diners not flinching at waiting more than an hour. While the shrimp are tasty and Gump-obilia decor fun, the biggest draw is the boisterous, whoop-it-up shenanigans of the staff. The menu? "There's, um, shrimp kebabs, shrimp creole, shrimp gumbo, pan-fried, deep-fried, stir-fried. There's pineapple shrimp and lemon shrimp, coconut shrimp, pepper shrimp, shrimp soup, shrimp stew, shrimp salad, shrimp and potatoes, shrimp burger, shrimp sandwich." Well, that's a quote from the movie — but the restaurant's actual shrimp offerings are indeed vast. Bubba Gump Shrimp Co., 185 Boardwalk Place, Madeira Beach, John's Pass Village. (727) 397-4867.
The Cheesecake Factory: Located in the swishy International Plaza, this chain outpost has lots of devotees—maybe because their portion size verges on ridiculous. How are you supposed to order one of the 50 varieties of cheesecake once you've plowed through a salad as big as your head? And their finger food appetizers are much better than they have to be. A pretty dining room with laudably well-spaced tables and a phonebook-sized menu. There must be a staffer whose job is to wipe the nose prints from the luscious, oversized dessert case. West Shore & Boy Scout Blvd., 2223 N. West Shore Blvd., Tampa. (813) 353-4200.