Chef Michael Buttacavoli has a lot going on these days. He’s going to New York to promote the new Tampa’s Table cookbook. He’s going to Spain to hunt truffles, and to Sicily to get together with a Michelin-starred chef. Meanwhile, on the home front, Cena, the Channel District restaurant where he has been the executive chef since its launch in 2013, completed a lovely renovation in April, trading somewhat antiseptic decor for warm pigeon-gray walls, black-and-white photos and restful monochromatic design features.
Cena is one of our Best Pasta restaurants of 2019. See the complete list here.
9. Ichicoro Ane
Steve Gianfilippo’s five-story Station House was already super cool and hip-looking before the Ichicoro crew negotiated to take over the downstairs restaurant space. I was chagrined at the time that they gutted the handsome existing restaurant to do something minimalist and edgy. The result has an Asian aesthetic to tie into the ramen-and-small-plates menu, but it’s also got a DJ booth, a graffitied nook for selfies, outrageous martial-arts-seafood-and-psychedelia wallpaper by Half Sumo Collective and a huge Banksy-ish octopus mural.
Ichicoro Ane has one of the Best Restaurant Designs of 2019. See the complete list here.
8. Brick & Mortar
Hope Montgomery and Jason Ruhe took the plunge in 2015, shifting from full-time caterers to full-time restaurateurs and part-time caterers. Their “brick and mortar” effort was smallish and homespun, lots of repurposed wooden pallets and funky terracotta flower pots, but it almost immediately took off, St. Petersburg diners charmed by their distinctive and effervescent Cal-Ital aesthetic.
Brick & Mortar is one of our Best Small Plates restaurants of 2019. See the complete list here.
7. Dr. BBQ
This is where I’m starting: “Mac-A-Phoni” is hominy with sumptuous tequila habanero aged cheddar queso under a capper of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. Dr. BBQ, the huge, multifangled collaboration between Suzanne and Roger Perry (Datz, Roux, etc.) and competition barbecue superstar Ray “Dr. BBQ” Lampe doesn’t take itself too seriously. But in other ways it’s as serious as a heart attack.
Dr. BBQ is one of our Best Barbecue restaurants of 2019. See the complete list here.
6. Cafe Ponte
Chris Ponte has other projects - he’s a partner at On Swann in Tampa and will soon open a family-friendly Italian restaurant called Olivia in the South Tampa Carmel Cafe space - but this is his flagship, for 17 years one of the area’s reliable places for business lunches and amorous assignations fueled by wild mushroom bisque, classic steak tartare and short ribs with Moroccan carrot puree and sesame dates. Click here to read more.
Cafe Ponte is one of our Most Romantic Restaurants of 2019. See the complete list here.
5. Edison: Food+Drink Lab
Jeannie Pierola is one of the area’s most celebrated chefs, pushing the envelope with her own globetrotting-but-still-somehow-uniquely-Floridian culinary take. She has been busy, opening Swigamajig at Sparkman Wharf at the end of 2018, with her Counter Culture opening soon at the iconic Pach’s Place location in South Tampa. Food, service, cocktails and the wine program at Edison continue to dazzle.
Edison: Food+Drink Lab is one of our Best Burger restaurants of 2019. See the complete list here.
4. Il Ritorno
Review restaurants in a market long enough and you see audacious young chefs grow up, expand their families, buy their first house, grow and renovate their restaurant, reflect on what they learned from mentors and distill their own personal style into something as distinctive as a thumbprint. I just learned that David Benstock’s middle name is Lazer, and it feels appropriate because he increasingly has laserlike focus. Since its expansion and remodel in 2017, his restaurant Il Ritorno has dialed its service level and wine program way up and has offered one of the area’s most incisive signature five-course tasting menus.
Il Ritorno is one of our Best Pasta restaurants of 2019. See the complete list here.
3. Noble Rice
Eric Fralick is the kind of autodidact who pushes forward, curiosity about this thing leading to wondering about that thing. Since he opened Noble Rice a couple of years ago, he has taken the small South Tampa restaurant in a remarkable and ambitious direction, moving away from an a la carte menu and toward a seven- or 15-course omakase menu ($125 or $200 per person) with optional sake and wine pairings, reservations only.
Noble Rice is one of our Best Seafood restaurants of 2019. See the complete list here.
2. Reading Room
Lauren Macellaro is the bold chef, Jessika Palombo the dynamic front-of-the-house manager, Freefall Theatre co-founder Kevin Lane and partner Kevin Damphouse the owners. Together they have turned what was once a humble Christian Science Reading Room into one of the most ambitious restaurants in the area.
Reading Room is one of our Best Small Plates restaurants of 2019. See the complete list here.
1. Rooster & the Till
I know Ferrell Alvarez and Ty Rodriguez. I know they are good employers and kind humans. They opened Nebraska Mini Mart in 2018, as well as Gallito at Sparkman Wharf. They also hosted a guest chef series with an all-female cast of noteworthy chefs from around the country. Meanwhile, they sent out consistent and thought-provoking food. They have an amazing team, they keep engaged with national trends while honing their own style, they source responsibly within the limits of our growing region, and like all my favorite restaurants around the country, they continue to detonate the three-quadrant meat-veg-starch expectation of what a dish should be.
Rooster & the Till is one of our Best Small Plates restaurants of 2019. See the complete list here.