Every year, I cull through thousands of words about the local restaurant scene from Times food critic Laura Reiley. I edit her weekly restaurant reviews, salivating over the best of them and making note when she leans over and says, "Oh yeah, you would love that place."
And I have just read the many words in this issue that distill a year’s worth of restaurant reflection into a compilation of our best spots. It’s our annual Top 50 Restaurants list, this year a return to form after last year’s Cheap Eats edition. It’s online at tampabay.com/top50restaurants, where you can view a map, watch videos and narrow the list down by category.
This year feels particularly special.
I think this is one of the best roundups we’ve ever published, thanks to Reiley’s tenacious reporting and deep well of dining information. There is a lot of news on this best-of list, a lot of useful tidbits that will help you plot your next 50 meals. She’s been our critic for 10 years, and her insider knowledge of the Tampa Bay area’s dining establishments across all price points and cuisines shows. (As does her ongoing ability to effortlessly use words I have to look up in the dictionary. See if you can spot the "folderol.")
The other thing that makes this list so notable is that our culinary scene has never been better. It is an exciting time for Tampa Bay foodies. As Reiley points out in the story on Page 14, it feels like we’re on the cusp of something big, having steadily increased our dining profile the past decade.
There are no chains on the 2018 list, no hotel restaurants, places you would normally turn to for fine dining. Some of the area’s beloved spots didn’t make it, crowded out by a slew of ambitious newcomers. In fact, a third of the restaurants on this list are less than 12 months old. And still more are independently owned, the singular visions of chefs or groups of local folks who wanted to introduce this area to something new.
It’s hard to pick faves; I spent most of the editing process with my mouth agape, deciding I had to try one restaurant immediately before reading the next item and declaring that one the priority.
The Reading Room lands in a prime spot, a super charming spot in St. Petersburg with some seriously delicious veggie-heavy plates. The new Ichicoro Ane’s space is exciting — on a recent Friday evening, I was shocked at how NYC hip it felt. Cena, Grace Restaurant, the Restorative and Osteria Natalina are also in the category of Must Try Immediately.
This year, the 50 are divided into price categories: inexpensive, moderate and expensive. But I will warn you that, overall, most of these places are not especially cheap. This group of restaurants is very much a reflection of some changing dining habits, namely the proliferation of small plates. It’s a trend driven by millennials, who eschew large entrees for several plates with smaller portions, to try many things at once. I am saying this as a millennial who likes to order several plates with smaller portions so I can try as many things at once. Those plates can add up to a large bill, but they can also be an ideal way of eating your way through 50 of Tampa Bay’s top restaurants. A little of this, a little of that, a whole lot of edible excitement for 2018.
Contact Michelle Stark at [email protected] or (727) 893-8829. Follow @mstark17.