If you haven’t been to the Straz Center for the Performing Arts in a few years, both the parking and dining scene near the hall has changed. One of the best ways to get the best of both worlds is to pick a place for dinner (or lunch) within walking distance of the Straz. Arrive hours before your show, secure your parking spot then relax instead of racing through rush-hour traffic to hunt for a parking spot that isn’t there. Here are our top picks for places to eat before seeing a show at the Straz.
Osteria Bar & Kitchen
In addition to offering valet parking where you retrieve your car lickety-split via text, this new eatery on Franklin Street near the Tampa Theatre has two dining rooms in a glamorous space with a menu that hits major regions of Italy in accessible, vibrant dishes. It’s also one of food critic Laura Reiley’s Top Restaurants of 2019. It’s pricey, but the quality is high and worth the splurge. osteriatampa.com
Address: 903 N Franklin St., Tampa
Phone: (813) 563-5000
Anise Global Gastrobar
This downtown Tampa longtimer is best known for its tremendous cocktail program and chic design. The food is a mix of southeast Asian flavors (the owners ran the Stinky Bunz food truck), so pork belly buns with kimchee or pillowy buns filled with beer-battered shrimp and green papaya slaw join other shareable small plates in the $6-$10 range. There’s also ramen, burgers, salads and savory plates for about $8-$14. aniseglobal.com
Address: 777 N Ashley Drive, Tampa
Phone: (813) 225-4272
Maestro’s at the Straz Center
There are three levels of Maestro’s, located at the Straz Center itself, from which you can choose. If the weather is nice, Maestro’s On The River offers a great view of the Riverwalk and a light menu of salads, sandwiches and burgers from $8-$15. Maestro’s Café in the lobby of Carol Morsani Hall offers a full buffet priced at $34.50 per person ($12.95 for children 12 and younger); or a soup, salad and dessert bar for $18.95 ($10.95 for children). And Maestro’s Restaurant, located above the Jaeb Theater, features tableside service with a hearty prix fixe dinner for $46.50 per person or a soup, salad and dessert for $26.95, both excellent in quality. Reservations aren’t needed for riverfront dining, but strongly encouraged for the cafe or restaurant. strazcenter.org/Dining-Catering
Address: 1010 N MacInnes Place
Phone: (813) 229-7827
Heights Public Market at Armature Works
Located about a half-mile walk from the Straz along Tampa’s scenic Riverwalk, you’ll find more than a dozen food vendors in one of the coolest food halls in the Tampa Bay area. Steelbach is the excellent sit-down anchor at one end of the market, joined by Oak & Ola at the other end. Stroll through the hall and you’ll find 14 vendors at every price point. Among them are Hemingway’s Cuban cuisine, Graze 1910 serving breakfast all day, Ava’s wood-fired pizza or Ichicoro Imoto’s ramen. Or check the food trucks-turned-brick and mortar like Empamamas, with its signature empanada, the Tampa Girl, a spin on a Cuban sandwich. armatureworks.com
Address: 1910 N Ola Ave., Tampa
Phone: (813) 250-3725
Taps Restaurant Bar & Lounge
Just up Ashley Drive across from the Glazer Children’s Museum, this hip watering hole also has pleasant food. There’s a sharing menu that ranges from$5 truffle popcorn to $16 Irish potato nachos. There are also hearty $12 sandwiches and a lineup of entrees and tacos in the $14-$22 range. It is best known for its 60 wines by the glass and a massive wall of beers, 350 bottles and dozens of drafts arranged by categories like lambics, India pale ales and pilsners. tapstampa.com
Address: 777 N Ashley Drive
Phone: (813) 463-1968
Located right next to Water Works Park along the Hillsborough River, Ulele (pronounced you-lay-lee) was created by Richard Gonzmart of Columbia Restaurant Group fame. It serves updated interpretations of early Florida foods, from buttery, garlicky, Parmesany broiled oysters right off the barbacoa pit, to crisp-skinned, semi-boneless quail. And a line of Florida-born, -raised and --slaughtered beef. The barbacoa lends a little of that smoky-charry flavor to dishes like a simple bowl of green beans, and you can finish your meal with a generous scoop of housemade ice cream. ulele.com
Address: 1810 N Highland Ave.
Phone: (813) 999-4952
Eddie & Sam’s NY Pizza
When one of the ginormous cheese pies emerges from the pizza oven, get ready. You’ll want to stand there, fold a slice in half and inhale. It’s pure NYC, made with real New York City water. eddieandsamspizza.com
Address: 203 E Twiggs St., Tampa
Phone: (813) 229-8500
Bavaro’s Pizza Napoletana & Pastaria
Dan Bavaro opened in downtown Tampa in 2009, back when the sidewalks rolled up at 6 p.m. He persevered and is now one of dozens of restaurants doing brisk dinner business and a regular on food critic Laura Reiley’s top restaurant lists. At the core of his success is a 900-degree brick pizza oven handmade outside Naples by Stefano Ferrara and family the same way for the past 100 years. These are thin-crust Neapolitan-style pies about 12 inches, with a tender center and a blistery, puffed outer edge, best eaten with fork and knife. Sauce is a bright, chunky puree of hand-crushed and deseeded San Marzano tomatoes, but there are plenty of good white pies. The best route at Bavaro’s: Share a salad, then a pasta (housemade tagliatelle with slightly spicy 50/50 sauce), then a pie. bavarospizza.com
Address: 514 N Franklin St., No. 101
Phone: (813) 868-4440
This Vietnamese fusion cafe on Tampa Street is a top lunch spot where the chicken pho and beef pho are the cafe’s big sellers, but it shines for dinner as well for super-fresh, super-healthy rice paper rolls or a vermicelli bowl. It has a separate vegan menu, which includes dishes like lemongrass tofu, vegan pho and bahn mi sandwiches. Cold noodle salads — made with vermicelli, green leaf lettuce, cucumber, pickled daikon and carrots, mint, bean sprouts, crushed roasted peanuts, roasted shallots, and a side of zesty chili dressing — are light and filling. Closed Sundays. bamboozlerestaurants.com
Address: 516 N Tampa St.
Phone: (813) 223-7320
Fast food on Franklin
The block south of Tampa Theatre on Franklin Street between Madison and Twiggs is a 15-minute walk from the Straz and home to a number of cheap choices on the fly. There’s the famous former food truck Taco Bus, situated near the sub shops of Jimmy John’s and Subway. You’ll also find cafeteria-style Jamaican Tropicale by Jerk Hut, healthy fare at SoFresh, Greek eats at Dio Modern Mediterranean, wraps and flatbreads at Pita’s Republic (closed weekends) and tacos and burritos at Urban Cantina. And if you are going to a matinee, First Watch has a large selection of healthy breakfast and lunch options.
Times food critic Laura Reiley also contributed to this story.