Make us your home page

Laura Reiley, Times Food Critic

Laura Reiley

Laura Reiley is the Tampa Bay Times' restaurant critic and a former critic for the San Francisco Chronicle and the Baltimore Sun. She is the author of four books in the Moon Handbook series: Florida Gulf Coast; Walt Disney World and Orlando; Tampa and St. Petersburg; and the Paradise Coast. She has cooked professionally and is a graduate of the California Culinary Academy.

Phone: (727) 892-2293


Twitter: @LReiley

  1. Tampa restaurant news: Fusion Bowl, a French bakery, relocated chocolate and more

    Food & Dining

    Downtown Tampa is starting the year with a heap of restaurant news. Fusion Bowl just opened at 504 E Jackson St., owned by Michelle Vuu, whose family has been in the restaurant business in St. Petersburg for years (currently Edo Japanese Steakhouse). As one might expect, the menu is an Asian-fusion concept that deftly scoots between Japanese (udon, sushi), Vietnamese (bun, pho, banh mi) and other cuisines. A new French bakery has started construction across from Aloft in the old Florida Museum of Photographic Arts space, with the aim of making the best croissants in the area. Ashworth Artisan Chocolate has departed Hyde Park Village, relocating a couple of weeks ago to 212 E Cass St. Guy Revelle is opening an urban-chic Mexican restaurant called Hablo Taco at Channelside Bay Plaza, with a grand opening Feb. 4. Si-am Thai at 713 N Franklin St. has been purchased by a couple who has changed the name to Siam Thaimerican and will serve Thai and American cuisine. Yeoman's Road Pub (Davis Islands) is coming downtown in the old Gilligan's space at 202 N Morgan St., some kind of pizza place is going in at 513 E Jackson St. where Lonnie's used to be (which has relocated to 206 N Morgan St.) and Ferg's Live will open any day. Whew....

  2. Review: Cocktails inspire menu at Station House in St. Petersburg

    Food & Dining


    Beach Drive restaurants garnered most of the hubbub in 2014, but 2015 might be the year of First Avenue S. Construction is going great guns on Hofbrauhaus (which has other locations in Chicago, Pittsburgh, Las Vegas and Munich), World of Beer folks are working on opening pizza restaurant POW (WOB to POW, a near anagram), things are happening at the Midtown Sundries space, and on Christmas Eve, Station House opened quietly at the old site of Cafe Alma....

    Whitefish Crudo is paired with lush avocado sauce, sharp red onion and micro cilantro at Station House in St. Petersburg.
  3. Yard of Ale Gastro Pub in Feather Sound closes its doors

    Food & Dining

    CLEARWATER — Monday drink specials were posted on social media, but by night Yard of Ale Gastro Pub in Feather Sound had closed its doors for good. What happened?

    According to event coordinator Chris Rivera, "The same thing that has happened to every business here: It's a beast of a building. It was a multitude of things that added up, so the owners decided to pull the plug before it got out of hand."...

    Yard of Ale Gastro Pub in Feather Sound fell victim to the same trouble of the earlier Venue: a large space that always felt empty.
  4. Tampa's Ava now open for lunch

    Food & Dining

    TAMPA — Michael Stewart and Joe Maddon's hot restaurant Ava, which debuted in November, quietly began lunch service Monday.

    On Monday night, Stewart said the restaurant was trying to limit the number of diners for both lunch and dinner in order to maintain a high level of service and proper flow in the kitchen.

    Chef J. Ward said that while the first lunch service wasn't packed, it was more than $600 in business. With most items between $12 and $15, the menu features smaller versions of evening fare, from the La Bestia pizza ($16) with spicy sausage, San Marzano tomatoes, mozzarella and arugula; to crispy pork belly with warm lentils and a softly poached egg ($12). ...

    The interior of Ava.
  5. Review: 4 Rivers Smokehouse piles the barbecue on high

    Food & Dining

    Passing through Winter Park on Fairbanks Avenue with the windows down can be dangerous. There it is, the smell of barbecue, causing involuntary turn-signaling and braking. John Rivers, 4 Rivers Smokehouse owner, has been a regional barbecue rock star, opening seven spots in a short number of years. In December that number rose to eight, with the first Tampa location debuting in the 6,000-square-foot space previously occupied by Arigato Japanese Steak House in Carrollwood....

    The fare at the 4 Rivers Smokehouse includes St. Louis-style ribs and smoked chicken. The side dish: Smokehouse Corn and Smoked Jalapeños With Cream Cheese and Bacon.
  6. App ranks Tampa Bay's most-Instagrammed restaurants

    Food & Dining

    Foodstagramming was not among the Oxford English Dictionary's words of the year. (The big prize went to "vaping." Eh.)

    But 2014 was definitely the year Instagram-bragging about your entree was taken to a whole new level. More than 6 million people shared Instagram photos of food from restaurants in the United States.

    There was backlash, especially from the nation's chefs who kvetched about all that time hot dishes were getting cold and cold dishes were getting warm while you fiddled with your Lo-Fi filter....

    Bern’s Steak House unsurprisingly takes top honors here.
  7. Reviews: Orlando's Trattoria al Forno goes rustic; the Cowfish goes bold

    Food & Dining


    The gifts are unwrapped, but your guests are still camped out and hogging the hot water. Give them an extra stocking stuffer by guiding them to some of Orlando's many allures, including a couple of brand new dining spots, one at Disney's BoardWalk and the other at Universal's CityWalk. Equip them with the keys and a map, and the hot water's all yours.

    Replacing Kouzzina by Cat Cora, Trattoria al Forno is one of the surprisingly few rustic Italian restaurants in all of Disney's properties. It has blistery Naples-style pizzas, housemade mozzarella and pastas, imported charcuterie and cheese and a 100 percent Italian wine list. Debuted on Dec. 18, this reconcepted restaurant is gorgeous, divided up into smaller spaces that lend a more intimate feel. As with all Disney restaurants, there's a story behind it, a collaboration between Walt Disney Imagineering and their food folks....

    Trattoria al Forno at Disney’s BoardWalk has the feel of a farm in the Italian countryside with an open kitchen and family-friendly dining rooms. Its wine list includes only Italian labels.
  8. Review: Tampa's Café Martí gets to the heart of Cuban food

    Food & Dining


    Rodney Rodriguez was a professor of Spanish at Manhattan College. But in September he and his brother, Ricky, launched Café Martí at the site of a former Papa John's on Gandy Boulevard. As second acts go, it's a pretty big flying leap. But for this Tampa native, it made its own kind of sense.

    "We'd always like the foods of our heritage and we felt that a lot of Cuban food here was from exiled Cubans. It was food in a time warp, very different from the food that developed later in Cuba. We're using the recipes of our grandparents, who were all born in Tampa and of Spanish heritage."...

    Like several dishes at Café Martí, the arroz con pollo with yellow rice is served with cooked collard greens.
  9. Review: Red Mesa Mercado is a solid addition to St. Petersburg's taco scene

    Food & Dining


    It's a growing menace. Without vigilance, St. Petersburg may soon be overrun. The peril? Tacos. And burritos. Also, very solid salsa and chips. St. Petersburg already had Tijuana Flats, Chipotle, Burrito Boarder, Nitally's, Red Mesa and its Cantina, and then Casita Taqueria and Taco Bus crowded in, along with El Gallo Grande. California Tacos is on the horizon, and in November, Red Mesa Mercado debuted in the EDGE District. The interesting thing is that each of these fills a slightly different niche, from the spicy Thai-Mex combos at Nitally's to the San Diego-style fish tacos of Cali Tacos. ...

    Red Mesa Mercado’s market area opened Monday.
  10. Locale Market opens to gaga shoppers at St. Petersburg's Sundial



    On the opening day of Locale Market, a Pop Craft artisanal popsicle stand offered free samples to the more than 200 people waiting in line Wednesday. Most of the would-be shoppers were saving their calories for what lay inside. A good call.

    The two-story, 20,000-square-foot collaboration between celebrity chefs Michael Mina and Don Pintabona was a smorgasbord of sights and smells, with 11 different kitchens going full tilt to offer an experience unprecedented in St. Petersburg....

    Customers peruse the interior of the new Locale Market on Wednesday, opening day for the two-floor, 20,000-square-foot upscale epicurean marketplace and farm-to-table restaurant at downtown St. Petersburg’s Sundial.
  11. Anna Maria Island excels at ecotourism



    Reach out and grab a leaf. Go on. Now pop it in your mouth. It's the moringa plant, ounce for ounce one of the most nutritious plants on earth, which tastes like a cross between a bean and a pea.

    Now look over there. It's a Seminole pumpkin. You can pick that, too, and tuck it into your handbag before you walk into this boutique. Perfectly legal, in fact encouraged. ...

    You’ll find loose leaf tea, gift sets and more at Spice Merchants, which is next door to the Olive Oil Outpost.
  12. Tampa's Ulele a winner in OpenTable's Top 100 Best Restaurants in America award

    Food & Dining

    From more than 5 million reviews submitted to OpenTable for more than 20,000 restaurants nationwide, Tampa's Ulele has been named a winner of OpenTable Diners' Choice Awards for the Top 100 Best Restaurants in America. Since its August debut (so hey, it only had half a year to make the cut), this Tampa Heights newcomer has been thronged, partly because of its stunning reinvention of the 1906 Water Works Building, partly because of brewmaster Tim Shackton's housemade beers and partly because of chef Eric Lackey's "native-inspired food and spirits." The vision of Richard Gonzmart, fourth generation co-owner and president of the Columbia Restaurant Group, and managing partner Keith Sedita, Ulele made the cut by scoring among the 100 highest reviews on the online reservation site. New York has the largest number of winners (12), followed by California and Florida with eight each. Ulele is the only Tampa honoree. — Laura Reiley, Times Food Critic...

    Photo by CHERIE DIEZ   |   Times
  13. Gourmet Locale Market set for afternoon opening at St. Petersburg's Sundial


    At 3 p.m. Wednesday, Locale Market opens its doors in the new Sundial St. Pete.

    The much-anticipated collaboration between celebrity chefs Michael Mina and Don Pintabona represents a quantum leap for gourmet markets in Tampa Bay, with 11 different full kitchens, 15 professionally trained chefs and legions of high-priced equipment that together will blend the shopping experience with dine-in options. ...

    Locale Market at the Sundial complex in downtown St. Petersburg is prepared for Wednesday's opening. [BOYZELL HOSEY   |   Times]
  14. Asian Pearl in Clearwater welcome addition in Pinellas

    Food & Dining


    When you've been married a long time, certain set pieces emerge. There's the thing he says when there are too many previews at the movies. Or the harangue I launch into when a telemarketer "survey" turns into a sales pitch. My spouse will be happy that I'm crossing one off my list. It's the "why is there so little good Chinese food in Pinellas County?" wail.

    Tampa has Yummy House and the snazzier Yummy House Bistro, China Yuan and several other respectable Chinese restaurants. Pinellas County, on the other hand, has ABC Seafood and, well, that's about it. Yes, there are those guilty-pleasure palaces of neon sweet and sour pork, but upscale pick-your-own-live-fish Hong Kong-style Cantonese, or chile-garlic spicy Szechuan places are lacking. ...

    Salt and Pepper Oysters at Asian Pearl.
  15. Author Laura Silver dishes on knishes



    “For Hanukkah, we have latkes. But Christmas is an important holiday for Jews. Let's harness the knish for its power to harken back to what's great about being a Jew. It's about not feeling left out."

    So says Laura Silver before taking the podium at a recent Tampa Jewish Book Festival talk at Maestro's at the David A. Jr. Straz Center for the Performing Arts. Perhaps the suggestion is a little suspect coming from the world's leading knish expert. She probably thinks knishes are a dandy Easter or Columbus Day treat as well. But there's something to it....

    Mac Wachtler carries a tray of potato knishes at Brooklyn Knish in Clearwater, which his family founded in 2008. 
The family’s knishes also are sold at local outdoor markets.