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Coming soon: Our list of Tampa Bay’s most iconic restaurants

Here’s why we chose to highlight iconic spots, and how we came up with the list.
 [Times (1996)]
[Times (1996)]
Published Jan. 28
Updated Jan. 28

When it came time to talk to our new food critic about the annual top restaurants package we usually publish this time of year, we quickly realized it would be a big ask.

Not only was Helen Freund a new addition to the Tampa Bay Times in 2019, she was new to Florida and to the Tampa Bay area, which as areas go is intimidatingly large. It seemed like a good year for a different approach to our list.

As we were brainstorming, we kept coming back to a question Helen asked when she first got to the Times and introduced herself to readers: What are the area’s most iconic restaurants? Not the trendiest or the newest, or the ones with the best tasting menus, but those classic spots that have helped establish this region’s culinary backbone.

When we actually began working on this list, which publishes Thursday on, we asked readers to send their suggestions to Helen. She got hundreds of emails, which, I can tell you, is not always the case with every topic. People love to talk about where they love to eat, and this was no exception.

I’ve lived in the Tampa Bay area for almost 15 years. Working on this project was a fun opportunity to take stock of the classic spots I have known and loved: Cafe Ponte, where my husband and I had one of our first grownup, white-tablecloth meals; the Wat Mongkolratanaram Thai Temple, close to my alma mater the University of South Florida; Bob Heilman’s Beachcomber, where I’ve spent lovely evenings with family staying at the beach. And I got to know places and meals I wasn’t so familiar with: La Teresita’s communal counter, the shrimp boils at Lorene’s Fish House.

One thing I’m excited for this year are some keepsake postcards we’ve created to accompany the list, at least one for each of the 25 spots featured. They feature new and old photographs taken by Tampa Bay Times photographers, some dating back as far as the 1950s. It’s a sweet glimpse at Tampa Bay through the years — and a great way to entice your out-of-town relatives to come visit.

You can purchase them at a happy hour event we’re hosting Thursday to celebrate the debut of the list. It’s from 6 to 8 p.m. at 490 First Ave. S, St. Petersburg, in the lobby of the building where the Times’ offices are located.

There will also be free snacks, drink deals and some giveaways. And you’ll get to mingle with the Times food team, plus some of the folks behind the restaurants featured on the list. It’s free, but you need to RSVP at We hope to see you there.


  1. Downtown St. Petersburg's Watergarden Inn at the Bay houses a new popup restaurant called the Kitchen at Watergarden. [Courtesy of the Kitchen at Watergarden]
  2. Watermelon salad with feta and mint [MICHELLE STARK  |  Times]
  3. An illustration of a casserole. [Illustration by Lisa Merklin   |   Times]
  4. Chef Joe Isidori will lead JoToro, which is opening soon at Sparkman Wharf in Tampa. [Courtesy of JoToro]
  5. Tampa's El Toro Loco features more than a dozen tacos, including crispy fried fish, center. [MEAGHAN HABUDA  |  Times]
  6. Gulfport's North End Taphouse pours a Tampa Bay-focused lineup of craft beers, ciders and hard seltzers. [MEAGHAN HABUDA | Times] [MEAGHAN HABUDA  |  Times]
  7. New in Clearwater, the Healthy Hive specializes in energizing teas and protein smoothies. [Courtesy of the Healthy Hive]
  8. Yesterday• Arts & Entertainment
    Strawberry shortcake is among the attractions at Plant City's Florida Strawberry Festival, which will kick off on Feb. 27. [Tampa Bay Times (2016)]
  9. New '47 brand caps featuring spring training designs are on display as the Phillies reveal what's new at Spectrum Field in Clearwater. [DIRK SHADD  |  Times]
  10. Columbus, Ohio-based Jeni’s Spendid Ice Creams plans to open two locations in Tampa this summer. [Courtesy of Jeni’s Spendid Ice Creams]
  11. New Orleans-based Dat Dog offers exotic sausages like alligator, duck and crawfish, along with multiple vegan options and more than 30 toppings. The chain is seeking franchisees to bring a location to Tampa Bay. [Dat Dog]
  12. The Cheesecake Factory will bring an iconic selection of more than 50 cheesecakes and desserts to Clearwater mall Westfield Countryside this year. [Courtesy of the Cheesecake Factory]