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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. Besito Mexican prepares for April 8 opening in West Shore



    The candle wall is already flickering with 150 electric votives, but banquettes still need to be placed and the cobblestone patio is yet to be laid. The hours are ticking by as WestShore Plaza anticipates the April 8 debut of Besito Mexican. The Palm steakhouse location closed quietly last year — too many steakhouse competitors nearby? — providing the ideal space for Outback Steakhouse founder Chris Sullivan and business partner Hugh Connerty to bring something new to Tampa's business corridor....

    Besito Mexican takes the place of the Palm steakhouse next to Maggiano’s Little Italy. It will have 260 seats, plus private dining rooms, a covered patio and tequila. Lots of tequila. 
  2. Bern's is Florida's only finalist for 2015 James Beard awards

    Food & Dining

    On Tuesday, the James Beard Foundation announced this year's finalists for its annual culinary awards, commonly referred to as the Academy Awards of food. In the entire state of Florida, only one restaurant made the cut: Bern's Steak House.

    A nearly 60-year-old Tampa legend, Bern's was named a finalist in the Outstanding Wine Program category.

    With what is said to be the largest restaurant wine list in the country, Bern's will compete against two restaurants in Charleston, S.C., (FIG and McCrady's) and two in California (A16 in San Francisco and Spago in Beverly Hills)....

    The only Florida finalist, Bern’s Steak House was named in Outstanding Wine Program category.
  3. St. Petersburg creates Sun Racer as official cocktail of Grand Prix weekend

    Bars & Spirits

    ST. PETERSBURG — It starts with Bacardi 8 Rum, then follows through with Bols Orange Curacao, fresh lime juice, almond syrup and a big Florida orange slice. Shaken, not stirred. Behold, the Sun Racer, official adult beverage of St. Petersburg's Grand Prix.

    The cocktail is a collaboration by city creative services manager Nina Mahmoudi, Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin and mixologist Jason Fackler....

    St. Petersburg Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin picked the Sun Racer, official cocktail of this year’s Grand Prix. 
Courtesy of 
St. Petersburg
  4. Review: Food catching up to spectacular setting at Tarpon Turtle Grill & Marina

    Food & Dining


    The Turtle continues to evolve. For years it was Jack Willie's Tarpon Turtle, a shambling good-times place that went a little light on the culinary niceties. Then in 2013 it was bought by William Hotaling and wife Christine Macedonio and transformed into Billy's Tarpon Turtle, a step up but one that still didn't quite take. And then at the end of December, Eric and Katie Webber signed the lease and got to work, debuting their Tarpon Turtle Grill & Marina in February. ...

    Pina Colada Shrimp, five jumbo coconut-battered, deep-fried shrimp served over a pineapple habanero marmalade, at the Tarpon Turtle Grill & Marina in Tarpon Springs.
  5. Nabruzzi brings winning Italian tradition to Lutz

    Food & Dining


    Massimo Sabetti was born into an Italian cooking family. He never went to culinary school but came up in the kind of immersion program that makes one fluent in pizza, red sauce and cannoli. Sabetti had several restaurants over the years, sitting down with now ex-partner Michael Cavalieri last year to sift through all those years of specials, the best of which were assembled in Nabruzzi Trattoria's debut menu last August....

    Diners at Nabruzzi Trattoria in Lutz.
  6. Café Largo chef Dominique Christini chosen for international celebration of French cuisine

    Food & Dining

    LARGO — Café Largo has been selected to participate in Goût de France, a one-night global celebration of French cuisine. On Thursday, more than 1,000 chefs on five continents will simultaneously present their menus extolling the merits of the classical French kitchen.

    The initiative was launched by Laurent Fabius, French minister of foreign affairs, along with world-renowned, three Michelin-starred chef Alain Ducasse. ...

    Café Largo chef Dominique Christini has been selected to participate in Goût de France, a one-night global celebration of French cuisine.
  7. Review: Tampa's Fusion Bowl a charming pan-Asian lunch option

    Food & Dining


    In the window, leaning jauntily on its kickstand, is a weathered retro bike with a conical paddy hat slung over one handlebar like a vintage prop from Apocalypse Now. It's just about the only old-looking thing at Fusion Bowl. Opened Jan. 19, this charming pan-Asian breakfast and lunch quickie spot is presided over by the young and adorable Michelle Vuu and Bao Lai. With a spare, Ikea-inspired design, pretty chalkboard menu and hipster soundtrack, it feels fresh and dynamic, a notable improvement over the bedraggled Cuban cafe most recently in this spot....

    Fusion Bowl opened in January.
  8. Haven opens for dinner in the former SideBern's space

    Food & Dining

    TAMPA — Haven opened quietly Monday in the former SideBern's space, once again forming the third point of a heavy-duty culinary triangle in South Tampa: Flagship Bern's Steak House, a traditional high-end steakhouse; Elevage at the Epicurean aiming to be a more casual and affordable option focused on whimsical spins on American comfort foods; and now Haven, a mid-priced wine bar restaurant....

  9. Tampa's Seminole Heights becomes 'it' spot for hot restaurants, bars

    Food & Dining


    Veronica Danko, in the business proposal for her upcoming Jug & Bottle Dept. bottle shop, sums it up nicely.

    "The Seminole Heights neighborhood of Tampa has seen a rapid growth in resident beer and wine enthusiasts and 'foodies,' while also enticing out-of-towners with its burgeoning restaurant and bar scene. These residents and visitors provide a unique opportunity for a package and retail business to capitalize on, as the neighborhood is still missing important amenities, such as a place to buy international and small-batch beers and wines, gourmet food items and quality casual takeout food."...

    Greg and Michelle Baker of the Refinery opened Fodder & Shine, which specializes in Florida Cracker cuisine, at the beginning of the year.
  10. Review: Kurdi's in Tampa doing new and improved Middle Eastern-Mediterranean fare

    Food & Dining


    Heveen Kurdi launched Kurdi's Fresh Mediterranean Grill in 2011, really a straight-up example of the foods from her home in Amman, Jordan. Like more familiar Lebanese cuisine, it was rife with kebabs, hummus, falafel and shawarmas. It became a go-to spot for business lunchers, but as the sophistication level of downtown ratcheted up, Kurdi decided to expand her focus to all of the Mediterranean. Five months ago, she stepped out of the primary kitchen position and hired her first chef, Fred Behner, most recently from Armani's and the Centre Club, and sous chef Josh Bauer, a Culinary Institute of America grad. With this greater firepower, Kurdi is now competing ably with Tampa's other Mediterranean and Middle Eastern restaurants for both lunch and dinner customers....

    A recent catch of the day was salmon sauteed with quinoa salad and greens with applewood smoked bacon and shallots.
  11. Busch Gardens Food & Wine Festival kicks off with high expectations


    TAMPA — The Spirit of Spring stands serene and immense in Bird Gardens, but her forearms are a little patchy. Jim Dean, president of Busch Gardens, squinted at the majestic topiary, not quite sure it would be 100 percent on Saturday for the opening of the inaugural Busch Gardens Food & Wine Festival.

    "The biggest challenge for this event has been planning and how high our expectations are," he said as two albino peacocks ambled behind him. "Summer Nights, Howl-O-Scream, Christmas Town — we hope the food and wine festival will be as successful."...

    Award-winning chef Norman Van Aken is collaborating with Busch Gardens for the eight-weekend festival.
  12. Anti-GMO activist Vandana Shiva coming to Eckerd College


    ST. PETERSBURG — Physicist, environmentalist and author Vandana Shiva will deliver a lecture titled "Making Peace with the Earth" Monday evening at Eckerd's Fox Hall. One of the world's leading anti-GMO activists and a major critic of modern agriculture, she is controversial, the subject of an excoriating Forbes piece who has also been called "the Gandhi of grain" by her admirers. She tirelessly crisscrosses the globe preaching, in large part, against globalization. We caught up with her by phone in India in advance of her U.S. visit. She says her talk "will be about the larger context of the very ruptured relationship we have to our planet in the current economic model."...

    Vandana Shiva is a major critic of modern agriculture.
  13. The Melting Pot hopes new menu items can help its fondue adapt to diners' changing tastes


    ST. PETERSBURG — The Melting Pot in St. Petersburg is ready to serve you FonDONE, an alternative to fondue.

    Forty years ago fondue was a no-brainer. It was the height of the fondue craze, hosts everywhere melting cheese willy-nilly. Bruce Knoechel and Roy Nelson started their first Melting Pot in Maitland with just four tables and a limited menu: cheese, beef, and chocolate fondue. They would do it better than home cooks, with fancy cheeses and other ingredients not available in 1970s American grocery stores; they would make it a special-occasion restaurant fit for anniversaries and birthdays....

    Wild Mushroom Sacchetti
  14. Perspective: On nutrition, the government's steady diet of getting it wrong


    Nutrition science is the only science in which most of us actively participate. We all consume electricity, petroleum products and pharmaceuticals, but we aren't hunched over beakers or measuring magnetic fields. With food, we choose what and how much to eat, under what circumstances and in what combinations. And for those of us who pursue these efforts diligently, the report released Feb. 19 by the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee should be galling. These guidelines play a huge role in our lives, shaping federally funded food assistance programs and the contents of school lunches, how foods are labeled and what our doctors exhort us to avoid or embrace....

  15. A guide to cooking with Asian noodles: what they are and how to use them


    About 10 years ago, American cooks started feeling pretty cocky. They could tell a fettuccine from a pappardelle, a mostaccioli from a penne (the mustaches have the pointy ends). We had this noodle thing dialed. But times change.

    Now the world of noodles has expanded exponentially as many of us dine out regularly on ramen, udon and pho. In the apocryphal story of Marco Polo bringing noodles back with him to Italy from Asia, he took those long, slithery oddities and ran with them, using the ingredients on hand in his motherland. In Italy, this was mostly semolina and durum wheat. ...

    Japanese udon noodles.