Getting Good Cuban Food in Tampa

Tampa, Florida may not be at the top of your destination list but being close to great beaches and other attractions such as Busch Gardens – and close enough to Orlando – it may be a place you will visit some day.  And if you do, do NOT miss out on the great hole-in-the-wall Cuban food places in the city!  I have been going to Tampa regularly for over 20 yrs. and I enjoy eating the real stuff.

Cuban food in Tampa with pictures

Masitas de cerdo! (Photo credit: http://necessaryindulgences.com/2010/12/el-ambia-cubano/)

———————————————————————————————————————————

La Teresita (http://www.lateresitarestaurant.com/) (in Columbus Ave.) used to be the grand dame of Cuban restaurants in Tampa about 20 yrs ago. Grand dame does NOT mean elegant or fancy. That would be all wrong for a Cuban restaurant. But it was the place with the best food and where everyone went. However, somewhere down the road, it became different. Other places came up. And some of us stopped going.

Florida Bakery (http://local.yahoo.com/info-14447698-florida-bakery-tampa) (also in Columbus Ave.) has been a long standing place to go to for typical Cuban pastries, cakes, and sandwiches such as the famous Cuban sandwiches. Of course, Cuban coffee too; nothing like a cortadito (expreso with leche).

But other alternatives have come up so the typical places are not the ONLY ones around town anymore.  And the other places are, in my opinion, better.

Arco Iris (http://www.urbanspoon.com/r/30/340198/restaurant/Tampa-Bay/West-Tampa/Arco-Iris-Tampa), also in Columbus Ave. and almost next door to Florida Bakery, offers really good food in a very homestyle environment.  It is spacious and I typically haven’t had a problem getting a table.

Las Margaritas (http://www.allmenus.com/fl/tampa/60687-las-margaritas/menu/) in Hillsborough Ave. is a much smaller place and no frills.  But the food is delicious – and cheap!

Pipo’s (http://pipos.com/) which, at last count, has 2 locations offers simple choices that are delicious.  It has been around for a while and always consistent.  Walk to the counter so you see what’s available and they serve you cafeteria style.

Angelito’s Bakery (http://www.cakes.com/bakeries/angelitos-at-la-caridad-bkry-5386/, where the former La Caridad was; the street sign still exists for La Caridad) has phenomenal pastries and seems a lot cleaner than Florida Bakery.  And this one is in Hillsborough as well.

Mr. Empanada (several locations http://www.mrempanada.com/), while not strictly Cuban, deserves a mention.  The fried empanadas are very similar to the ones I would eat for lunch in high school (ground beef, cheese, or pizza fillings).  Except here, besides the ground beef ones, they have fillings I didn’t have as an option in high school such as guava, and cream cheese.

———————————

So if you go to Tampa, be ready to eat GOOD Cuban food and eat well – I do!

Any other favorite Cuban places in Tampa that you like?  I am sure there are plenty I haven’t even discovered yet!

Comments

  1. I hate it when you write about food! It always looks so good and is so far away. Ugh…I love Cuban food.

    • :) Maybe when a tweetup happens in Atlanta, I can cook you all my signature dish… My local friends kill for me to cook it for them. 10hrs slow roasted pork… Lots of garlic. Black bean heaven… OK, I am making myself hungry…

  2. Great suggestions, and so many awesome places to check out. I’ve long been a fan of The Columbia, but these definitely seem a little more friendly on the wallet. Now…when to go to Tampa…

  3. I think I may have to get Cuban tonight for dinner! This all sounds so delicious, thanks for the suggestions on places to check out.

  4. Kevin G says:

    ¡Mil gracias! I can’t wait for my next trip to Tampa.

    • You can be a GREAT judge of how Tampa fares in comparison to Little Havana! Maybe you can tell me abt the best homestyle places in Miami??

  5. Francesca says:

    Ahh, I love Cuban food!! And how cool that I was first introduced to it in Tampa, Ybor City to be exact, more than 25 years ago?? I’m also a fan of The Columbia and that’s the only place I’ve had Cuban food in Tampa. I hope to go back soon and I’ll be sure to check out some (all?) of your recommendations.

    • I hope you get to go back soon! Maybe I will be back there visiting my family and personally take you all to some of these places!

  6. Kevin G says:

    Mimi’s (mi suegra’s) kitchen is probably the best, but she only cooks if you’re related (since you’re one of her Kristencita’s favorites, I’m SURE she would make you whatever you like :) ). It’s been a while since I’ve been to Little Havana, but that’s because there are so many good places in Broward.
    – Padrino’s in Plantation has incredible guava mojitos and coconut mojitos. The food there is excellent and it has a very nice atmosphere.
    – La Caretta is a decent chain (sometimes the churrasco there is excellent, but not always), but only the one on University Dr. in Pembroke Pines has flan diplomatico (it’s the ONLY flan I can eat other than Mimi’s). Unlike the one closer to our home, the atmosphere there is great, too (just ignore the guy dressed in a white suit drinking water from the coffee window – not sure if he’s selling or using something, but I’ve seen him there more than once).

    When visitors from out-of-town want Cuban, I usually take them to one of these places (or, if we don’t have time, to one of the 2 places within walking distance of our house – one has great vaca frita and the other has great breakfast, sandwich Cubano, y mariquitas. I explain that you can tell if a Cuban restaurant is authentic if it has the following:
    – a walk-up window to purchase cafe con leche, pan, y pastelitos
    – a mural depicting the island of or life in Cuba (just in case you forget how much they really miss it)
    – wait staff wearing white shirts serving families of 10 wearing shorts
    – (optional) a throne for the sandwich chef (usually an alpha male) to work his magic with 2 knives, never touching the meat with his hands

    • Kevin, I think you have NAILED the key traits of a true homestyle Cuban place! The mural romanticizing views of Cuba is a must. And that alpha-male on the throne is for sure and essential element! One of my (Cuban) uncles had a sandwich shop in PR and he had an employee that made the sandwiches, an old curmudgeon of an old man who had his throne and only used the knives!

  7. we’re not super familiar with cuban food, but i think that needs to change!

    • I will have to help you making that change :) If you like/eat pork, that is the place to start! Lechón asado (roasted pork) is usually a favorite.

  8. It’s easy to think of Miami and Cuban food, so thanks for bringing Tampa to our attention too! I love empanadas, all sorts of pastries and fried plantains, so if I’m ever back to Tampa (maybe for a baseball game?), then this list will come in handy.

    • Tampa may not be as vibrant as Miami but then it is a place where one can go and relax – and enjoy good Cuban food! Hope you get to go soon!

Trackbacks

  1. […] Cuban cuisine is foreign to most of us from outside of the Florida region and, obviously, Cuba. If your palate likes adventure as much as you do, skip the burgers and fries and give Cuban food a crack. Think Caribbean with a Spanish-African twist. Rice and beans are staples, pork is popular and light, flavourful sauces. I Live to Travel has a great guide to Cuban food in Tampa. […]

Speak Your Mind

*

CommentLuv badge

%d bloggers like this: