What was the best thing I ate last year? It’s a question I ask myself every December, as I whirl through a collection of food photos on my phone, sift through memories of meals and go over notes scribbled to myself tableside the past 365 days.
There was the quesabirria taco I ate on one of the coldest nights of the year, oozing crisp edges of melted cheese and dunked into a warming dark crimson consomme. The crispy-fried latkes paired with caviar over a long, Aperol Spritz-soaked brunch with friends. There was the dreamy raw scallop dish served in a punchy chive-laced cream and fiery strips of cumin- and chile-spiked lamb that made my lips tingle with joy. There was vegan sushi and Dan Dan noodles and the creamiest of panna cottas. There was just so much.
Whittling down my annual rundown of favorite dishes is never an easy feat, but here they are, in no particular ranking or order: my most memorable bites of 2022.
Editor’s note: Several of the dishes listed below first appeared in our weekly Taste newsletter. For updates on the latest restaurant and dining news, sign up here.
This story is part of our Best New Restaurants of 2022 series. Coming on Wednesday: Tampa Bay’s Best New Restaurants of 2022.
Sesame tuna salad at The Tides Seafood Market & Provisions
I love this charming seafood market and restaurant in downtown Safety Harbor, which highlights regional seafood, meats and produce. I’m particularly smitten with their sesame tuna salad, a tasty combination of seared ahi tuna and avocado, mango, radishes, onions, cucumbers and tomatoes, all served over a bed of fresh greens from Brick Street Farms.
305 Main St., Safety Harbor. 727-699-8433. thetidesmarket.com.
Dan Dan noodles at Dang Dude
There’s a lot to love on Dang Dude’s fast-casual menu at Sparkman Wharf in Tampa, but I was particularly wowed by this bowl of fiery Dan Dan noodles. Slick with a creamy Sichuan peppercorn sauce, the thick noodles are topped with fried shallots, which add both flavor and a great deal of dimension. The noodles are great on their own but even better with a few pieces of the spot’s tender lemongrass chicken.
615 Channelside Drive, Tampa. dang-dude.com.
Mussels at Brick and Mortar
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Dinner at St. Petersburg gem Brick and Mortar is always a treat, packed with dependable favorites (the tuna tartare, the braised short rib, the burger). But folks would be wise not to miss out on the occasional specials, which on one evening included Prince Edward Island mussels swimming in a rich tomato sauce studded with morsels of chorizo and white beans, served with a charred lemon wedge and crispy toast for dunking.
539 Central Ave., St. Petersburg. 727-822-6540.
Huarache con carne asada at El Huarache Veloz
The specialty at this Pinellas Park Mexican restaurant is the huarache with carne asada, made with a masa dough folded around smashed black beans and fried until golden and crispy. Thick strips of grilled steak, scallions, nopales (prickly pear cactus), queso fresco, cilantro and a red salsa are piled on top — a delightful combination of flavors, texture and lots of spice.
7100 49th St. N, Pinellas Park. 727-525-6028.
Burrata at Timpano
The Hyde Park Village restaurant does a unique take on the classic cheese-and-tomato combo, where the soft, creamy orb of burrata is paired with Sicilian pistachio butter and a sweet and sticky tomato jam. Paired with crusty slices of grilled bread, there’s some genius sweet and savory mingling going on. It’s hard not to fall for that kind of grownup peanut-butter-and-jelly appeal.
1610 W Swann Ave., Tampa. 813-254-5870. timpanohydepark.com.
Fish spread at Trophy Fish
There are few smoked fish spreads I don’t love, but one of my all-time favorites has come to be the one served at Trophy Fish, St. Petersburg’s outdoor cocktail bar and seafood hub. Made with fresh-caught amberjack and served with a bevy of bright and colorful pickled cauliflower, red onions, jalapenos and Fresno chiles, I like to pair it with a dunk in the fiery homemade hot sauce and the crunchy garlic-rubbed crostini.
2060 Central Ave., St. Petersburg. 727-258-7883. trophyfishstpete.com.
Vegan sushi at House of Vegano
Who would have thought 2022 would be the year Tampa Bay discovered vegan sushi? At St. Petersburg’s House of Vegano, owner Thalia Tatham makes a convincing argument for throwing out the fish. I love her volcano rolls, made with lion’s mane and king oyster mushrooms, avocados, cucumbers and “spicy krab dynamite.”
655 31st St. S, Suite A, St. Petersburg. 727-506-8627. facebook.com/houseofvegano.
Yellowtail crudo at Haven
Among the many excellent choices at this South Tampa restaurant, I especially loved this take on raw yellowtail, which arrived paired with fava beans and crispy-fried artichokes. Punctuated with little pops of heat from fresno peppers, a bright Meyer lemon vinaigrette tied the whole dish together.
2208 W Morrison Ave., Tampa. 813-258-2233. haventampa.com.
Panna cotta at SIX
While checking out the rooftop vibes at the JW Marriott at Water Street Tampa, I fell hard for this dessert, a creamy, puddinglike vanilla bean-laced panna cotta. Topped with a passionfruit gel and studded with mangoes and a crunchy brown sugar crumble, it was like a decadent spin on a breakfast parfait, but much, much better.
510 Water St., Tampa. 813-314-6666. sixtampa.com.
Shrimp toast at Noble Rice
A standout dish at this Water Street Tampa Japanese restaurant, the warm toast arrives golden-fried and crispy, tucked beneath a bouquet of fresh mint and other herbs, laced with a sweet drizzle of hoisin and tiny dollops of spicy tobanjan sauce.
615 Channelside Drive, Suite 112, Tampa. 813-542-2021. noblericeco.com.
Latkes at Wild Child
Brunch at St. Petersburg restaurant Wild Child is always a good time, and the golden-fried, crispy potato latkes are always on heavy rotation. The combo of potatoes, crema, dill and chives creates bites that are equal parts chewy, salty and creamy. Whatever you do, don’t skip the optional caviar “bumps.”
2710 Central Ave., St. Petersburg. 727-954-7425. wildchildstpete.com.
Chargrilled oysters at Roam
The highlight at this St. Petersburg restaurant are the steaks, but don’t overlook their crazy-delicious Louisiana-style chargrilled oysters. Topped in a garlicky Parmesan-laced butter, the oysters arrived bronzed and cheesy — melty in some parts and crispy in others, brightened with a quick squeeze of lemon juice.
3405 34th St. N, St. Petersburg. 727-346-5242. facebook.com/roamsteakhouse.
Cumin lamb at Flaming Mountain Chinese Grill & Skewer Bar
The lip-tingling sparkle imbued by Sichuan peppercorns graces many a plate at this Tampa Chinese restaurant, which specializes in northern Chinese flavors and cooking techniques. That includes this dish, featuring tender strips of lamb swathed in a fiery sauce studded with chiles, onions and scallions.
13520 University Plaza St., Tampa. 813-609-8888. flamingmountainchinese.com.
Mushroom fettuccine at Bonu Taverna
A hearty pasta made with dried porcini and mixed mushrooms, this dish at downtown St. Petersburg Italian restaurant Bonu Taverna is creamy, chock-full of mushroom flavor and an overall decadent delight. Does it have something to do with the healthy drizzle of truffle oil? Possibly.
601 Central Ave., St. Petersburg. 727-623-4505. bonutaverna.online.
Raw scallop at Meliora
Thin slices of raw scallop arrive swimming in aromatic scallop cream, punchy with garlic and chives, at Sarasota newcomer Meliora. The hot cream gently cooks the scallop, and the result is something akin to the warming, delicate flavors of a quahog chowder.
1920 Hillview St., Sarasota. 941-444-7692. meliorarestaurant.com.
Brussels and bacon flatbread at Gulfport Brewery
Beyond the great beer selection, I’m a big fan of the flatbreads at this Gulfport neighborhood spot. My favorite is the Everyday I’m Brusselin, which comes topped with a tasty mix of roasted Brussels sprouts, creamy honey-laced goat cheese, crispy slices of bacon and a thick balsamic drizzle.
3007 Beach Blvd., Gulfport. 722-954-4109. gulfport-brewing.com.
Tacos at Martha’s Mexican Restaurant
The new Kenneth City restaurant features a traditional Mexican menu and a long list of tacos to choose from. Guests can mix-and-match, meaning you can triple up and have carnitas, al pastor and quesabirria on any given night. My favorite? Hands-down, the tender and crispy carnitas.
4747 66th St. N, Kenneth City. 727-290-9725.
Calamari at Miggs Craft Kitchen
This charming Dunedin restaurant has a solid take on the ubiquitous seafood appetizer, featuring crispy, bronzed rings of calamari bolstered by the acidity from a juicy tomato compote and a dunk in creamy chipotle aioli.
1582 Main St., Dunedin. 727-238-8951. facebook.com/miggskraftkitchen.
Buffalo Soul bowl at Florish
I love the bowl selection at this South Tampa plant-based spot, in particular the Buffalo Soul, which features a colorful assembly of Buffalo-seasoned breaded Impossible chicken nuggets, date-roasted sweet potatoes, brown rice and lime-pickled cabbage. The bowl comes topped with toasted pepitas, green onions and a creamy ranch drizzle — just the right combo of crunch, spice and tang.
2307 S Dale Mabry Highway, Tampa. 813-251-9009. eatflorish.com.
Queso birria tacos from Te Invito
Though the quesabirria craze of 2020 seems to have waned some, one of the strongest contenders in the genre remains the version served at popular food truck Te Invito (called “queso birria,” here). The concept hinges on tortillas made from nixtamalized heirloom corn, which renders them incredibly flavorful and aromatic, filled with braised short rib and cheese and fried until crispy and oozing on the flattop.
Outside the Brutalist, 1776 11th Ave. N, St. Petersburg, and other locations. instagram.com/te_invito_tampa.
Dover sole at Lilac
You’d expect a timeless classic like this one to be light and buttery, brightened with citrus notes and maybe a little tang from a scattering of capers. This dish at Lilac, the restaurant at the new Edition hotel in Tampa, is all of that, and more: Punchy from a briny porcini mushroom grenobloise, the flaky white fish comes topped with crispy croutons and served with a dreamy de Puy lentil ragout, capped with a smoked paprika cream.
500 Channelside Drive, Tampa. 813-221-4600. editionhotels.com/tampa/restaurants-and-bars/lilac.
Mushroom pierogi at Pierogi Bar
When the hankering for a pierogi hits, this new Ukrainian restaurant in St. Petersburg is the place to go. I love the pan-fried mushroom and potato versions, paired with a dollop of sour cream and topped with sweet caramelized onions.
6661 Central Ave., St. Petersburg. 727-381-1212. pierogi.bar.