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  1. Best Restaurants

Best places to eat before a show in Tampa Bay

Where to grab a bite before that big concert or musical.
Published Jan. 31, 2019

Osteria Bar & Kitchen

Osteria Italian Bar & Kitchen's chef-driven menu includes over a dozen fresh homemade pastas, slow-roasted meats, wild fish and seafood, a generous pizza selection, and a hearty wine and craft cocktail collection. The Braised Spanish Octopus has Romesco Sauce, celery, fennel, cerignola olives, chilies and burnt lemon sauce. [JAMES BORCHUCK | Times]
Osteria Italian Bar & Kitchen's chef-driven menu includes over a dozen fresh homemade pastas, slow-roasted meats, wild fish and seafood, a generous pizza selection, and a hearty wine and craft cocktail collection. The Braised Spanish Octopus has Romesco Sauce, celery, fennel, cerignola olives, chilies and burnt lemon sauce. [JAMES BORCHUCK | Times]

This past year saw notable celebrity chefs look to our area as fertile ground for new ventures. Fabio Viviani, Top Chef Season 5 fan favorite and prolific restaurateur, partnered with Lanfranco Pescante of the Nocturnal Group (Tampa’s Franklin Manor and the upcoming Mole Y Abuela) to open Osteria at the beginning of October. This is my new no-brainer option before a show at the Tampa Theatre or the Straz Center for the Performing Arts (love the valet parking where you retrieve your car lickety-split via text). Two dining rooms bisected by a big central bar, Osteria is a glamorous space featuring oversized mosaic-style re-creations of Italian restaurant murals, with a menu that hits major regions of Italy in accessible, vibrant dishes. Exhibit A: braised octopus, the fatter parts luscious, the tips just crunchy, sitting in a splash of romesco sauce and a puddle of burnt lemon butter, with shaved fennel and sauteed celery providing a little snap and curls of olive lending pops of saltiness. osteriatampa.com

Address: 903 N Franklin St., Tampa

Phone: (813) 563-5000

Price: $$$

Anise Global Gastrobar

Anise Global Gastrobar in Tampa. [LUIS SANTANA | Times]
Anise Global Gastrobar in Tampa. [LUIS SANTANA | Times]

Kevin and Xuan “Sing” Hurt have a real hit on their hands with North Star Eatery, a Viet-Korean fusion concept inside the Hall on Franklin. Anise is their flagship, really a leap of faith back in 2013 that predated the renaissance of downtown Tampa. The Hurts got their feet wet with the Stinky Bunz food truck, and so pork belly buns with kimchi, or buns filled with lively red curry crispy chicken with cucumber mint yogurt, are the first order of business. Originally masterminded by mixologist Ro Patel, Anise’s tremendous cocktail program continues to shine (check out the Leblon James - killer name - or the Girl Next Door). And Jaime Rogers’ gorgeous design - black-and-white color scheme, oversized chandeliers and Asian-inspired mural work - means Anise remains one of the more chic restaurants in Tampa. aniseglobal.com

Address: 777 N Ashley Drive, Tampa

Phone: (813) 225-4272

Price: $$

Cristino’s Coal Oven Pizza

Cristino's specialty is coal oven pizza. [CRYSTAL L. LAUDERDALE | Times archives]
Cristino's specialty is coal oven pizza. [CRYSTAL L. LAUDERDALE | Times archives]

Clear Sky on Cleveland is an obvious choice if you’re going to the Capitol Theatre in Clearwater - foods that span all the cuisines of planet Earth, solid beer lineup, half a block away. But I will suggest that Cristino’s, north Pinellas County’s best pie, is a mere nine blocks south of the theater. Brothers Joe, Marco and Lenny Cristino closed their Ybor City location not long ago, but the original outpost has soldiered on with grace since 2007. Tampa Bay has been overrun by Neapolitan-style thin-crusters in the past few years. This is not that. Coal ovens turn out a super-crisp, sturdier-centered pie with those charry black bubbles scarring the crust, the oven’s intense heat giving everything a nuttier, more intense flavor and a chewy texture. Go minimalist with the toppings; too many and their moisture gums up the crust. At meal’s end, the house gelatos are compulsory. cristinoscoaloven.com

Address: 1101 S Fort Harrison Ave., Clearwater

Phone: (727) 443-4900

Price: $$

The Rez Grill

The king crab dish at the Rez Grill features grainy mustard butter and chimichurri. An Old Fashioned cocktail is seen in the background. [ALESSANDRA DA PRA | Times]
The king crab dish at the Rez Grill features grainy mustard butter and chimichurri. An Old Fashioned cocktail is seen in the background. [ALESSANDRA DA PRA | Times]

Finding a place to dine before concerts at the MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre (can’t we give it a little nickname or acronym?) has been tricky. The Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tampa is logical, but of its restaurants, Council Oak feels too fancy, Jubao Palace Noodle Bar too jammed (though in October, the noodle bar went from 16 seats to 44). In December 2017, the Rez Grill opened, with culinary director Frank Anderson at the helm, and solved all our pre-Ozzie or pre-Hootie woes. With a background at hipster Los Angeles spots like Animal and Son of a Gun, Anderson has brought a sense of fun and play to this 120-seater, with “table participation” dishes like fried chicken and waffles with loads of fixings and St. Louis ribs with Texas toast and house pickles. The bar program follows suit with things like a Capri Sun-inspired sangria blend in a pouch and a gin and tonic with a giant elderflower ice cube and a lemon peel branded jauntily with the restaurant’s name. The hotel’s dynamic president Joe Lupo moved on to Atlantic City recently, but 2019 promises to be another serious growth year for the casino and resort. seminolehardrocktampa.com

Address: 5223 N Orient Road, Tampa

Phone: Toll-free 1-866-388-4263

Price: $$

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