The year 2022 was supposed to be a big one for the Tampa Bay restaurant industry. In a way, it was — just maybe not the way we expected it to be.
Supply chain lags, inflation and permitting setbacks pushed back a slew of heavily anticipated restaurants into 2023, making for a slower than usual spring and summer.
By late fall, things began picking up, but it’s impossible to ignore the effect inflation has had on our local economy, and restaurants haven’t escaped unscathed. With surging costs across the board, many spots either raised their prices or recalibrated their business models.
Smaller, fast-casual concepts continued to thrive and the area welcomed several newcomers, including Sparkman Wharf’s Dang Dude, Gulfport’s Pop Goes the Waffle and St. Petersburg’s Jay Luigi, among others.
We also lost several long-running icons, like Munch’s in St. Petersburg, and short-lived newcomers like Two Graces. But 2022 also saw an influx of ambitious new restaurants toward the end of the year, a promising indicator of where our dining scene might be heading. Though too new to include in this year’s ranking, we’ll be watching several restaurants closely in the new year, including Midtown Tampa’s Ponte, Hales Blackbrick Chinese in Tampa and Zoie’s in St. Petersburg.
This past year also marked the first time the esteemed Michelin guide considered bestowing stars to restaurants in Tampa, Orlando and Miami. And even though no Tampa restaurants received stars (three local restaurants did snag the Bib Gourmand ranking), the guide’s foray into Florida is a sign of bigger things to come.
Several newcomers already have their sights set high, offering everything from tasting menus to elevated wine programs. And even in an industry still struggling to attract workers, the importance of personal contact, conversation and showmanship was evident, from cocktails smoked tableside to pasta served out of a giant Parmesan wheel.
That commitment to dining as an immersive experience, rather than just another meal, is a central element at 2022′s best new restaurant, Meliora, a stunning new spot that opened in Sarasota.
Culling our annual list of the area’s best newcomers is always an interesting task. Sure, it involves a lot of eating. But it’s also an introspective undertaking, a deep dive into how we dined out in 2022. This collection of best new restaurants might involve a bit of travel. It might require an expansion of your comfort zone and palate, and possibly some stretching of your wallet. But trust me, it’s worth it.
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This Sarasota stunner ushered a return of ambitious, envelope-pushing cuisine to the local dining scene, with dishes that exude creative flair, impressive technique and plenty of showmanship.
Best new fast-casual restaurant
The year 2022 was a busy one for chef Ferrell Alvarez and his team at Proper House Group, which saw the launch of two fast-casual spots, a long-awaited liquor license at their lauded Seminole Heights restaurant Rooster & The Till in Tampa and the announcement of a still-to-come upscale Italian spot, set to open this summer at Water Street Tampa.
But I just can’t stop thinking about Dang Dude, the group’s Asian street food-inspired stall at Sparkman Wharf and the source of some of the tastiest food I had all year.
There is just so much to love, from the crunchy, cooling smashed cucumber salad laced with sesame oil and cashews to the umami-packed steamed pork dumplings and creative mashups on rou jia mo, a Chinese-style flatbread stuffed with braised five-spice pork shoulder, pickled cucumbers and a lemongrass hoisin.
The dish I always go back for: fiery Dan Dan noodles, slick with a creamy and lip-numbing Sichuan peppercorn sauce, studded with vegetables and chock-full of crispy fried shallots.
Don’t skip: Pork dumplings, Dan Dan noodles.
615 Channelside Drive, Tampa. dang-dude.com.
Best popup turned brick-and-mortar
At her popup Good Fortune Baby, owner Julie Sainte Michelle Feliciano garnered a strong following, in particular for her crazy-delicious dumplings. Those dumplings and so much more have found a new, permanent home at Lucky Tigre, a restaurant inspired by the Filipino-American experience in South Tampa.
Loosely modeled on a Filipino “sari-sari” concept (like a bodega, with food and sundries), the walk-up counter restaurant features a small menu of rotating specialties, each one a delightful jumble of bright flavors and textures. From the citrusy pop of a refreshing Calamansi-Ade to the vinegary tang of atchara (a pickled green papaya and carrot condiment) and the umamilike depth found in shiitake and tofu dumplings, the vibrant dishes exiting the kitchen never cease to excite.
Many dishes are anchored in ingredients that are hallmarks of Filipino cuisine, including calamansi (a fruity citrus hybrid native to the Philippines) and ube (a bright purple yam). Dumplings, like the beef bola version, are a must, as are the coconut-ginger braised greens, which arrive swimming in a sauce of coconut milk softly flavored with kaffir lime and calamansi- and garlic-preserved Fresno peppers.
Don’t skip: Chicken adobo bao, beef bola dumplings, coconut-ginger braised greens.
1101 S Howard Ave., Suite B, Tampa. 813-761-2088. theluckytigre.com.
Best new steakhouse
Brothers Christian and Joshua Jackson, who ran the popular food truck Red’s BBQ for several years, opened a globally inspired steak restaurant in St. Petersburg in April. This sophomore effort, Roam, is a slightly more casual affair than some other steakhouse concepts, but executive chef Joshua Jackson knows his way around a piece of meat.
A meal here might start with Louisiana-style chargrilled oysters (a nod to the brothers’ father, who ran a restaurant in Baton Rouge) and move on to the decadent truffle-laced lobster mac and cheese. A New York strip steak comes tucked beneath a blanket of creamy Gorgonzola fondue, topped with crispy-fried onions and served with thick-cut french fries.
If the mood — and appetite — strikes, the Angus prime tomahawk ribeye can’t be beat. Served with two glasses of bubbly and a heaping portion of snappy green beans swaddled in a delicious garlic butter sauce, the $110 price tag feels more than appropriate. The menu says it’s big enough for two, but I’m pretty sure a third (or even fourth) could get in on the action.
Don’t skip: Tomahawk ribeye, Black & Bleu steak, chargrilled oysters.
3405 34th St. N, St. Petersburg. 727-346-5242. facebook.com/roamsteakhouse.
Best new Chinese restaurant
Flaming Mountain Chinese Grill & Skewer Bar
Spice and smoke rule at this University of South Florida area Chinese restaurant in Tampa, where sizzling stir-fried dishes and heartwarming crimson stews come laced with the buzzy heat of Sichuan peppercorns.
Even an otherwise cooling smashed cucumber salad can’t compete with the tumble of bright red chile peppers on the plate. Still, it’s one of the best versions of the dish in town, crunchy with roasted peanuts and sesame seeds, showered in cilantro.
Owners Hongfeng Li and Ling Wu opened their restaurant inside a strip mall off E Fletcher Avenue in March. The couple originally hail from Shenyang, the capital city of China’s northeast Liaoning Province, and the cooking here emphasizes the hallmarks of both northern Chinese and Sichuan cuisine. A good portion of the menu is dedicated to Chinese-style grilled meat, seafood and vegetable skewers, all of which arrive heady with the flavors of toasted cumin, chile and fennel seed.
Adventurous diners have plenty to explore, thanks to the menu’s generous selection of offal dishes (the grilled chicken hearts are excellent), and even those with milder palates will find lots to enjoy. Me? I can’t get enough of those lip-tingling Sichuan peppercorn-tinged dishes, including the cumin lamb, where tender strips of the meat arrive swathed in a sauce studded with chiles, onions and scallions.
Don’t skip: Cucumber salad, cumin lamb, spicy boiled beef.
13520 University Plaza St., Tampa. 813-609-8888. flamingmountainchinese.com.
Best new bakery
Pastry pro Paulina Gervasi started culling fans way before she landed at the Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg.
First, there was her popup, Le Clementine Bakeshop, where she introduced diners to her creative out-of-the-box takes on French viennoiserie. She’d sell out, sometimes within an hour, first at the Saturday Morning Market and later at her semipermanent spot inside Pete’s Bagels. But it wasn’t until she landed inside the downtown St. Petersburg museum that folks really got to really see her in action.
Yes, there are still all manner of laminated sweet and savory treats, ranging from double-stuffed pain au chocolate to mojo pork-topped croissants.
But a full breakfast program now also includes dishes like Turkish eggs with herbed yogurt and chile crisp; savory sage, cheese and apple scones topped with smoked salt; and grain bowls, brimming with miso mushrooms, roasted sweet potatoes and topped with a hazelnut pesto.
I’m a sucker for the croque monsieur croissants, which are every bit as decadent as they sound, filled with ham from Tampa’s Boozy Pig, Gruyere cheese, whole-grain mustard, herbs de Provence and a creamy bechamel sauce.
Don’t skip: Croque monsieur croissants, foccacia, passionfruit cheesecake.
255 Beach Drive NE, St. Petersburg. leclementinebakeshop.com.
Best new pizza
Original Flavor 1889
It’s been a while since Tampa Bay welcomed a true Neapolitan-style pizzeria, but this newcomer in downtown St. Petersburg is already a solid contender, churning out perfectly charred and chewy thin-crust pies.
The new Italian restaurant opened quietly on a stretch of Central Avenue in early summer, boasting a menu of Italian wines, pastas and pizzas. Anchoring the space is a large brick pizza oven — the star of the show. It has a simple menu that hinges on little beyond the heat imbued by the oven and a scant few fresh, high-quality ingredients.
Take the classic Margherita, which emerges from the oven crusty and bubble-pockmarked, topped with San Marzano tomatoes and fior di latte, a soft Italian-style mozzarella. Throw on a few basil leaves and slices of spicy sopressata and you’ve got the Diavola pizza.
Beyond the red sauce varieties, the kitchen also churns out a number of pies sans tomatoes, and more than a few that vie for the spotlight. My personal favorite, the Pistachio, arrives topped with that same creamy fior di latte cheese, thick slices of mortadella and a few dollops of ricotta. The thing tying it all together? A creamy pistachio pesto and a generous sprinkle of crumbled pistachios.
Don’t skip: Diavola pizza, Pistachio pizza.
409 Central Ave., St. Petersburg. 727-873-7139. originalflavor1889.com.
Best excuse to splurge
Lilac at the Edition hotel
There will be some serious sticker shock when dining at Lilac, the new $125-per-person fixed-price restaurant at Water Street Tampa’s new Edition hotel.
But along the way, you’ll be reminded what you’re paying for: an exclusive hard-to-get table (reservations for the petite dining room go quick), top-notch service and a creative multicourse menu designed by a Michelin-starred chef.
Also, the restaurant is simply stunning: In tune with the lobby’s tropical-leaning jungle theme, the dining room is surrounded by a canopy of lush plants with sleek velvety green booths facing an open kitchen with a bright green tile backsplash.
Meals all start with a selection of hors d’oeuvres, which include miniature almond croissants filled with a velvety poultry liver mousse and a sweet and savory milk bread (“Pain Lyonnaise”) studded with caramelized onions and thyme. Next, one might move on to a plate of juicy shrimp a la plancha, paired with stracciatella-filled cappelletti, crispy Iberico ham and juicy saffron tomatoes or a smoky rosemary-tinged bowl of diver scallops nestled in a pine nut and preserved lemon risotto.
There are pricey add-ons, like a seared foie gras ($38) or a risotto with white truffles (an additional $90), but those feel unnecessary on a menu where there is already plenty of extravagance to behold.
Take, for instance, the perfectly roasted Dover sole, which a server will cart out and display in its entirety before taking it back to the kitchen to be filleted and deboned. The dish is a thing of beauty: light and buttery, brightened with citrus notes and a little tang from a porcini mushroom grenobloise. The dish is topped with crispy croutons and served alongside a dreamy de Puy lentil ragout, which comes tucked beneath a cap of smoked paprika cream.
I’ll be thinking of that dish — and an evening spent here — for a very long time.
Don’t skip: Prime short rib, roasted Dover sole, olive oil cake.
500 Channelside Drive, Tampa. 813-221-4600. editionhotels.com/tampa/restaurants-and-bars/lilac.
Best new suburban restaurant
Tie: Miggs Craft Kitchen and Sallie’s Bistro
Following in the footsteps of other off-the-beaten-path North Pinellas destinations like Dunedin’s The Restorative and Clearwater’s The Little Lamb, these two restaurants occupy strip mall spots in Dunedin, serving as a reminder that really special meals can be found in the most unassuming of places.
First up, there’s Sallie’s Bistro, which shares a parking lot with, among other things, a Walmart off Dunedin’s Main Street. Husband-and-wife Kieran Uylenbroek and Michele Kamayi opened their restaurant last summer, with Uylenbroek running the front of the house and Kamayi in the kitchen. The couple, who moved from Belgium to the U.S. during the pandemic, wanted to bring traditional Belgian cuisine to Tampa Bay diners, and the European-centric fare feels like a trip across the pond — with some creative twists.
A dinner here might start with a French baguette served alongside two compound butters and an amuse bouche from the house, like a creamy coconut curry soup made with baby bok choy. It would be wise to move on to golden-fried crispy croquettes, which ooze melted Gouda and Parmesan cheese and come with a Dijon mustard and celery dipping sauce. Be sure to get the house specialty, Carbonnade a la Flamande, a traditional Flemish stew that features fork-tender beef cooked in a thick, velvety stew spiked with Belgian triple ale and Callebaut dark chocolate.
Nearby Miggs Craft Kitchen, which opened in early 2022, occupies a similar though slightly smaller space (also off Main Street) and boasts an evolving menu that changes frequently, depending both on the chef’s whims and whatever happens to be in season that day. No two evenings are ever the same here.
I’ve enjoyed the warm and pleasant reception in the cozy dining room, a velvety butternut squash bisque topped with crispy spears of asparagus, seared scallops served over a bacon-studded squash risotto and some truly excellent calamari, served alongside a juicy tomato compote and chipotle aioli.
Don’t skip: Croquettes, Carbonnade a la Flamande at Sallie’s; butternut squash bisque and calamari at Miggs.
Sallie’s Bistro: 2152 Main St., Dunedin. 727-370-6440.
Miggs Craft Kitchen: 1582 Main St., Dunedin. 727-238-8951.
Best new seafood restaurant
The Helm Provisions & Coastal Fare
Searching for a seafood restaurant in Florida isn’t exactly hard. Throw a rock anywhere around the Tampa Bay area and it’s likely you’ll hit a grouper sandwich-slinging, stone crab-swinging spot.
But finding truly memorable places can take a minute.
The Helm, which opened in the spring on a stretch of Blind Pass Road in St. Pete Beach, is one of those places.
Part-seafood market, part-bistro, fresh seafood is the highlight here, whether you’re popping in for a glass of bubbly and a dozen raw oysters or picking up some mahi-mahi to cook later at home. And if you’d rather take your meal to the beach? The market sells picnic kits and a selection of ready-to-eat treats, plus beer and wine to-go.
But part of the joy is dining at the restaurant, with its cozy, nautical vibes inside and breezy outdoor patio, a must for Saturday morning brunches. (The Helm doesn’t serve dinner, only weekday lunch and weekend brunch.)
If you’re dining in, start with the whipped feta and balsamic strawberries and move on to cheesy, melty crab fries or the Nicoise salad, which comes topped with a bronzed fillet of salmon, paired with snappy asparagus, baby potatoes, kalamata olives and a Dijon vinaigrette. Whatever you do, don’t leave without trying the restaurant’s signature lobster roll, which features plump lobster pieces swaddled in a key lime aioli and arrives tucked into a cigar box.
Don’t skip: Whipped feta, salmon Nicoise, lobster roll.
7736 Blind Pass Road, St. Pete Beach. 727-363-4356. helmtampabay.com.
Few things caused as much of a stir in the St. Pete dining community in 2021 than the loss of wine and charcuterie darling Annata and its seafaring sister, Alto Mare.
For more than a year, fans eagerly awaited the return of both spots, only to find that the restaurant replacing them was a different one altogether.
Allelo, which opened in August, is definitely its own thing, distinct from its predecessors. But at the same time, it’s also not. If you look close enough, there are glimpses of both Annata and Alto Mare throughout. There’s the vibrant raw bar selection and glistening seafood towers, stocked with everything from littleneck clams to octopus salad. There’s also a rotating cheese and house-cured charcuterie assortment, though on a smaller scale.
And there’s no mistaking the owners’ enduring commitment to wine. Helmed by the restaurant’s general manager and wine director Michelle Richards, Allelo’s wine list makes a strong argument for the year’s best new wine program, with a selection loosely inspired by the regions near and surrounding the Mediterranean and Aegean Sea. With an inventory of roughly 1,200 bottles and 25 selections by the glass, there’s plenty to choose from, and Richards is always nearby, ready to steer diners in the right direction. (If she points you toward a glass of rose from the Canary Islands, just say yes.)
Allelo also excels at what sets it apart from the past. Executive chef Alex Pyser’s menu of small and shared plates includes more than a few stunners: bronzed, crispy cauliflower florets nestled in a creamy swoop of garlicky cauliflower puree; pillowy agnolotti with fennel and ricotta swimming in a rich leek cream sauce; beef tartare prepared tableside, served with crusty hunks of khobz bread. It’s all very, very good.
Don’t skip: Beef tartare, cauliflower, branzino.
300 Beach Drive NE, Suite 128, St. Petersburg. 727-851-9582. allelostpete.com.
Best new food court
There was a moment where it seemed like we were approaching peak food court saturation in Tampa Bay.
Then The Hall on Franklin closed, plans for a sister concept at Midtown Tampa failed to materialize and the short-lived promise of an Armature Works offshoot at St. Petersburg’s Sundial development fizzled in dramatic fashion.
Was that it? Had our obsession with multivendor food halls finally waned?
In May, Krate at the Grove opened, boasting a whopping 94 retail and restaurant concepts, all housed in colorful shipping containers off Interstate 75 in Wesley Chapel. Judging by the hype and success that accompanied the park’s opening, it appears the food court concept is doing just fine.
Part of Krate’s strength lies in its diversity of vendors. The developers curated a thoughtful selection of smaller, local businesses including a large number of first-time owners and very few chain concepts.
Among the eclectic mix of bars and restaurants lies a wide selection of international dishes. On any given day one could sample noodles from a Japanese ramen spot, pastries from a French or Puerto Rican bakery, Venezuelan street snacks and traditional “chifa” dishes from a restaurant specializing in Peruvian and Chinese fusion.
Also great? The park is wet-zoned, so you can grab a drink and stroll while you dine and shop. Now that’s a food hall I can get behind.
Don’t skip: Saimin bowls from Palani’s Hawai’i Noodles, arepas from Chamo Bites, Mafioso Patty Melt from Bacon Boss.
6105 Wesley Grove Blvd., Wesley Chapel. krateatthegrove.com.
Best new food truck
One of the strongest contenders in the local quesabirria scene, chefs Jesus Bravo and Kory LoVecchio launched their food truck Te Invito following a series of underground dinners that quickly vaulted them to popularity in late 2021.
Following several months of popups outside spots like St. Petersburg’s Lingr and CellarMasters, and a brief hiatus, the couple recently found a more permanent home outside St. Petersburg’s The Brutalist (and a few other locations).
Their concept hinges on tortillas made from nixtamalized heirloom corn, a process that renders them incredibly flavorful and aromatic, worlds away from your store-bought variety. The signature dish is quesabirria tacos (called “queso birria” here) filled with braised short rib and cheese, fried until crispy and oozing on the flattop and served alongside a dark crimson consomme for dunking.
But one would be wise not to pass on the daily specials either, which have included everything from crispy, porky carnitas topped with chicharrones to sweet, sugary churros dipped in warm chocolate.
Don’t skip: Queso birria tacos, carnitas tacos.
Outside The Brutalist at 1776 11th Ave. N, St. Petersburg, and other locations. instagram.com/te_invito_tampa.
Best new vegan restaurant
Over the past few years, the Tampa Bay area has seen the vegan restaurant landscape blossom to include plenty of fast-casual spots hawking everything from vegan breakfast sandwiches to hot dogs, Reubens and comfort food standbys.
Now, at Good Intentions, the plant-based set finally has a more upscale option.
Since its debut in the fall, the trendy St. Petersburg restaurant has amassed a pretty solid fan base, and it’s not hard to see why.
Take, for instance, the cocktail program: Being able to order a martini with blue “cheese”-stuffed olives, a frothy whiskey sour without egg whites or a white Russian sans dairy — that’s pretty sweet (and the drinks are all very good).
And the setting just can’t be beat: The restaurant’s cozy mid-century modern aesthetic features of-the-moment design elements including a gorgeous horseshoe-shaped bar, an architectural centerpiece towering with lush plants, ceramics, glassware and books.
There may not be any one defining culinary theme beyond the obvious one, but amid that vegan narrative there are plenty of tasty dishes tucked away: Devilish “crab” balls nestled in kimchi fried rice, topped with kewpie aioli; nachos topped with jackfruit carnitas and dressed in a hatch green chile queso; lemon garlic gnocchi toasted with a medley of mushrooms and tomatoes, caramelized onions and topped with a sizzling Sichuan oil.
Don’t skip: Blue “cheese”-stuffed olives, kimchi fried rice, seasonal gnocchi.
1900 First Ave. S, St. Petersburg. 727-280-6068. instagram.com/goodintentions_fl.
Best new sushi spot
This spring saw the return of celebrated Japanese restaurant Noble Rice, closed since the onset of the pandemic.
No longer in the same petite Hyde Park space (that now belongs to the upscale omakase spot Koya), the restaurant occupies much larger digs — a sleek and modern 2,600-square-foot restaurant on the edge of Sparkman Wharf, part of Tampa’s burgeoning Water Street development.
As with Koya, the fish served here is sourced directly from Tokyo’s Toyosu Market, meaning diners can expect the same high-quality selections, including silky slices of bluefin tuna (otoro), delicate hokkaido scallops and creamy uni-topped sashimi.
A list of maki (rolls) includes the flavorful Negi Toro, made with fatty tuna, scallions, tobanjan kewpie and a black garlic shoyu. A Dungeness crab (kani) roll imbues delicate and balanced flavors, paired with cucumber, avocado and an umami-rich white shoyu sauce.
But it’s the selection of izakaya-style small and shared plates where things really get exciting: rich and creamy scallop motoyaki served with shrimp and nori chips; a kale salad dressed in a maple gochujang vinaigrette; and an unforgettable shrimp toast, which arrives golden-fried, tucked beneath a bouquet of fresh herbs and drizzled with sweet hoisin.
Don’t skip: Shrimp toast, Negi Toro and kani rolls.
615 Channelside Drive, Suite 112, Tampa. 813-542-2021. noblericeco.com.