TAMPA — The Channel District just outside of Tampa’s downtown core has come a long way in the past decade. As someone who frequented the area as a University of South Florida student circa 2008, I remember when Bennigan’s was the hot dining establishment on the block.
Now, stepping out onto Water Street — both an actual street and the proper name for one of the area’s newest developments — feels like stepping into a whole new city. You can take a 1-mile stroll that spans a handful of hotels, trendy restaurants and Sparkman Wharf, the outdoor food court that kick-started the area’s revitalization when it opened in 2018 right along the waterfront. There are tall buildings and terrible parking options and overpriced cocktails — just like a real big city!
There is a wine shop, a home design store and no less than four places to grab a casual bowl-style lunch: Cava, Crisp and Green, Naked Farmer, Wagamama. Bring your takeout to Raybon Plaza, one of many lovely courtyards with ample seating where you can eat, work remotely or just soak up the scene. For an area that once seriously lacked worthy dining options, there are now almost too many to choose from, from breakfast to brunch to happy hours to dinner.
If your budget was deep enough, you could spend days eating around Water Street. And there is more to come, with dining options including Ash, Toastique and Yard House still to open. Here are just a few ideas for where to eat and drink. Find a full list of restaurants here.
Get coffee and drinks at The Edition
Don’t overlook The Edition for dining. Yes, it’s a five-star hotel that draws celebrities and other well-to-dos. But it also has great food and drink options. At The Market in the lobby, an Italian-leaning menu is accompanied by a full bar, which is currently offering a “social hour” with deals from 3 to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday. The Market is the more accessible dining option here compared with Lilac, a prix fixe restaurant that received one of the area’s first Michelin stars earlier this year, and Azure, a rooftop spot that showcases Greek cuisine.
If you’re looking for more cocktails, you can’t do much better than Punch Room on the hotel’s second floor. An intimate space swathed in royal blue velvet, the vibe alone is worth the trip. But the drink program is unique, “taking cues from Tampa’s history of 17th century pirates, traders, and privateers,” according to its website. The menu revolves around old-school punches, pulling in flavors and spirits from the Caribbean especially.
And, if you come between the hours of 3 and 5 p.m., look for a punch cart in the lobby. The woman doling out little samples of the (alcoholic) punch on a recent weekday said the service happens every day between those hours, and is offered to basically anyone who walks in the lobby, even if you’re not staying in the hotel.
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For a different kind of beverage, stop by the Edition’s lobby coffee bar for espresso drinks and a wide selection of confections. From a spelt wheat croissant to giant slices of cake, it’s a tranquil spot for your morning or afternoon coffee fix.
Eat dinner at Predalina
This seafood-driven restaurant serving Mediterranean cuisine has some of the tastiest bites in the development. The stunning space is made up of a large bar and a modestly sized dining room full of natural light. The restaurant feels tranquil, even when it’s buzzy. Predalina pays homage to the founders’ great-grandmother, Predaliana Oliveira, who lived in seaside communities throughout the world. The menu is inspired by her and, according to the restaurant, many of the ingredients it uses are sourced directly from such places in Europe.
The menu is big but focused, with a section for raw seafood, smallish plates and entrees. Some of our favorite items on a recent visit were the Crudite and Pita, a sampling of four different spreads plus house-made pita and fresh veggies; and the Blistered Cauliflower small plate, a tender whole floret topped with herbs and set atop a creamy tahini puree. The snapper dish was a standout entree, with artichoke, roasted fennel, chickpeas and a complex saffron broth. The saganaki may be my favorite plate on the menu: Aged kasseri cheese is wrapped in crispy phyllo and served with truffle honey, preserved cherry and za’atar. This is a splurge spot for sure, but if you’re going to go big, this is the place to do it.
Pull up a bar stool at The Pearl
The Pearl is a nice option when you find yourself on Water Street but still want something relatively casual. The nautical-themed gastropub from restaurateur Cameron Mitchell has a wide seafood selection and raw bar, plus a tavern-style menu that elevates some classic dishes.
Start off with plump raw oysters or get a salty-sweet fix with the Devils on Horseback — dates stuffed with cheese, wrapped in bacon and topped with chimichurri. Jalapeno Corn Spoon Bread with whipped butter and local honey is a decadent sharable. The Pub Burger features beef that is ground daily — and you can taste the freshness. With melty Cambozola cheese and tomato jam, it’s a nice update on a classic, especially when paired with the perfectly textured Tavern Fries.
I have returned more than once for the margarita, which is citrusy and among the best I’ve ever tasted. The Pearl is the kind of place where you can just drop in for a drink at its ample bar and indulge in prime people-watching. — Maggie Duffy, Times staff writer
Soak up big-city vibes at Boulon
One of the first big restaurants to open in the new development, you can’t miss the large red letters spelling this restaurant’s name as you’re walking or driving around Water Street. It’s a splashy sign for a splashy place, a French brasserie with an American twist from restaurant group Next Level Brands.
From caviar to steak frites to a $19 bowl of lobster bisque, this is a high-end spot. Boulon serves lunch, brunch and dinner, and boasts a bar and bakery, too. It’s a fun place to indulge in some French classics, from garlicky escargots in puff pastry to the iconic chicken dish coq au vin to French onion soup heavy on the melty cheese. The stunning dining room gives big-city vibes, its floor-to-ceiling windows offering great views of the busy roads outside.
Get tequila and guacamole at Lona
This Mexican spot from chef Richard Sandoval is inspired by the original location in Fort Lauderdale. This one is in collaboration with chef Pablo Salas, founder and owner of Mexico restaurant Amaranta. Grab a seat at the large bar and order a couple of small things to snack on, either at the beginning or end of a long night. I opted recently for the traditional guacamole with tomato, onion, lime and cilantro, which was pretty standard but delightful. My favorite plate was the Lona Chopped salad, with mixed greens, bacon, roasted corn, cheese and a cilantro ranch dressing. Although the greens in this salad are not chopped per se, most of the toppings were, making it easy to get all the delicious flavors in one bite.
This is the spot to grab a tequila cocktail. Nearly all the drinks on Lona’s signature cocktail list feature the spirit, which makes sense: The beverage program includes a list of more than 200 mezcals and tequilas.
If all else fails, go to Publix
Floridians know we can always rely on Publix, and if you haven’t been to the Greenwise Water Street location, well, it will not disappoint. Nestled under Heron, the residential and retail complex at 815 Water St., it’s an oasis of grab-and-go goodies. There are standard groceries, sure, but it was created to serve the residents and visitors of Water Street who are in need of a quick lunch or a to-go dinner. Aside from the classic sub counter, there are stations offering made-to-order pasta, pizza and Italian appetizers; sushi, ramen and rice bowls; and burritos. Surrounding the stations are coolers full of every beverage imaginable, fresh fruit and other snacks. It’s certainly the most affordable dining option on Water Street.
On the opposite side of the store, you’ll find the “Pours” bar, serving up coffee, kombucha and, yes, beer and wine. Chill on the bar stools or shop the large selection of wine bottles and beer nearby. Don’t miss the wine bottle chiller in the wine section, which is able to chill any bottle of wine in the store in seconds.
Where to park
Street parking is available and can be easy to score when it’s not too busy. Parking lots are plentiful too: There’s the Cumberland Parking Lot (309 S Caesar St.), and the Garrison Parking Lot (615 Channelside Drive) across from Sparkman Wharf is a two-minute walk away.
If you have the Park Mobile app, you can reserve a spot at the Cumberland Garage (1045 E Cumberland Ave.) and the Channelside Garage (369 S 12th St.), or you can reserve it at waterstreettampa.com. This is really helpful when there’s an event at Amalie Arena, but you can also try these garages even if you don’t reserve a spot. The Pam Iorio Garage (301 Channelside Drive) is another option. And, in general, it’s wise not to come when there’s an event at the arena if you’re able to be flexible.
You can valet on Water Street starting at 4 p.m. Tuesday-Friday and from 11 a.m.-4 p.m. and 5 p.m.-close Saturday-Sunday. Additional valet options are at the JW Marriott (510 Water St.) or the Tampa Marriott (505 Water St.). — Maggie Duffy, Times staff writer