On Thursday, we unleash our annual list of the Top 50 Restaurants of Tampa Bay, in which Tampa Bay Times food critic Laura Reiley helps you figure out where you'll be eating for the next few months.
But things look a little different this time around. This year's list is a Cheap Eats Edition, with a focus on restaurants that serve dishes in the neighborhood of $10.
It's a shift that reflects the types of restaurants that flourished this year in the Tampa Bay area — grab-and-go spots, places that serve comfort cuisine like burgers and tacos. I have to say, the list is a welcome change, especially at the end of a year that saw the proliferation of $15 sit-down lunches.
In addition to many straightforward entries that easily meet a $10-or-less criteria ($7 burgers, $2 tacos), Laura has also included some options that require a bit more creativity. These are some of my favorite ideas out of the 50.
Cheese and charcuterie is one such category. It's tough to come by an entire cheese board for less than $10, so it becomes a great opportunity to grab some friends and share, cutting the bill in fragments. That way, you can try On Swann's $32 board, or a hearty collection of cheese and meats from Annata without having to apologize to your wallet afterward.
Other highlights from the list
Those Annata boards, starting at $14, are one of my favorite deals out there, a great way to spend an affordable yet elegant girls' night or feed a large party. Each board comes with accoutrements like quince paste and nuts, plus sliced baguette and wafer-thin crackers, so they are always more filling than you think they will be. (Pro tip: Don't be afraid to ask for refills of the bread products.)
Never been to Wat Mongkolratanaram? It's worth moving to the top of your food bucket list, and not just because a $20 bill will allow you to try more Thai food than you can eat in one visit. It's a truly unique multicultural dining experience.
Better Byrd, a new-ish spot in St. Petersburg from the Ciccio Restaurant Group, makes the list for its solid chicken wings. But I am unable to even drive by the chicken-centric restaurant without stopping in to get some of their chicken tenders (three for $3 or five for $5), perfectly battered and spiced and ready to take on one of the restaurant's homemade sauces.
How dense is the quality taco scene in the Tampa Bay area? Dense enough that I have only been to one of the places on Laura's list. Near my office in downtown St. Petersburg, it's a near-total reliance on Red Mesa's brand and Casita Taqueria's corn tortillas, so I was happy to see places in Pinellas Park and Land O'Lakes make the cut.
The whole list ranges from coffee to cupcakes to Cuban sandwiches. I guarantee you will find more to love or explore or weigh in on. When the Top 50 Restaurants of Tampa Bay: Cheap Eats Edition goes online Thursday, feel free to share your thoughts in the comments, or at our food Facebook and Twitter pages: facebook.com/tampabaytimesfood or @TBTimesFood.