In the article High School Confidential, published last month in Creative Loafing's Food Issue, Yuri and I visited a couple of restaurants as a part of our "10 Restaurants Under $100" challenge. However, since "a couple" isn't exactly ten, we wrote a follow-up with the next four restaurants we reviewed, under the title "High School Confidential: Students in search of $10 meals". Catchy title, huh?
Anyways, we finally pulled through and finished reviewing the last four restaurants on our list. We hope you enjoy reading the exciting conclusion to this trilogy as much as we enjoyed eating, but that's a hard goal to reach.
As a reminder: Taste will be judged on a scale of 1-5, with 5 being the highest; price will be assessed as $, $$ and $$$ — or cheap, reasonable and unjustifiable.
Hugo’s Spanish Restaurant — 931 S Howard Ave
Cloud: Hugo’s is another one of those incredibly nearby places that I never bothered checking out, and this time, that sentence leaves me with a little regret. Yuri recommended the Arroz con Pollo (Chicken with Yellow Rice), which happened to be the day’s special (or maybe he planned that, I’m not sure). Service was quick, and I got my food in less than five minutes.
When I opened my take-out box, I expected the chicken to be conveniently cut up and placed into the rice, that being the norm when I had it in Colombia. Instead, they placed the sauteed chicken quarters daintily on top of the rice and just left it there. Holding my plastic fork and knife, I thought to myself, how the hell do they expect me to eat this short of going prehistoric on this bad boy? But then I started using my plasticware, and the meat melted right off. The chicken was done perfectly. Not too tender, but not too firm. The rice was excellent as well. I wish I had more rice-related adjectives, but you won’t be disappointed at all. They didn’t overdo it with the peas or tomatoes either. Nothing to complain about on this end. I also got to choose a side, too, and went with the black beans. My first impressions was that the beans tasted like someone had swirled in fruit punch. Maybe they were just cooked in a style I wasn’t used to, but I didn’t like them. With the quality of the entree, though, I still felt like I was getting every penny’s worth. I’ll just choose a different side next time. And I almost forgot to mention the slices of Cuban bread that accompany your meal. All this can be yours for $6.37 (not including a drink). The price listed on the menu is usually $7.25, but even then it’s a steal. 5/$.
Yuri: I had found out about Hugo’s while Cloud was away vacationing in Virginia and I knew I had an obligation to take him there once he got back. The arroz con pollo reminded me of my grandma’s cooking. The chicken is slow cooked to perfection with the skin on; all good cooks know thats how you keep the meat moist. The yellow rice was great and had some of the chicken taste imbued in it, which leads me to believe they either use chicken stock or cook it with the chicken (I may be wrong). They also have a killer garbanzo bean soup which I recommend as a side.
Arco-Iris — 3328 W Columbus Dr.
Cloud: Arco Iris is in the same vein as Hugo’s, offering authentic Cuban cuisine, but with a twist. Flip their menu over, and you get Chinese options. Or well, mostly Chinese. I don’t think I’ve ever been to a take-out joint that paired their meals with plantains. While Yuri went with a traditional Cuban dish, I was still feeling disappointed from China Yuans fried rice, so I went with an order that paired fried rice with fried chicken and a water, and while I waited, helped myself to the buttered Cuban bread platter they gave us. The rice itself was good, certainly better put together than China Yuan’s, with a more realistic portion. Perhaps I’m expecting too much out of my fried rice, because I keep expecting it to be filled with flavor. I should probably establish a standard for it in one way or another, but all things considered, the meal here was good. The plantains were sweet and tender (I need to use a different word besides tender. Dainty? Delicate? Supple? Amorous?), and the fried chicken was... deliciously questionable. I won’t argue the fact that it was delicious, I loved every morsel. I just don’t know what parts of the chicken they gave us. Each pieces was about the size of an easter egg, wrapped with tasty chicken and featuring a bony center. Nothing that seemed harmful, but out of all of the pieces, I think one was a chicken wing...? For $8.51, I was comfortably full and had about 6 (out of 8) pieces of chicken to take home (which ended up making a decent sandwich). Definitely check this place out. 4.5/$$
Yuri: At first this place seemed really out of the way. Out of the way to the point where I couldn’t see any South Tampa highschooler ever going there. Then I realized that I didn’t know how to work the GPS on Cloud’s phone and that we’d been driving the wrong way on Dale Mabry for over 15 minutes. Eventually, though, we got to Arco Iris and the food was worth the wait. The ropa vieja i ordered was perfect and I, being a lover of all things starchy, felt an affection for the tender side of yuca I ordered. If you’ve got South American parents like I do and you want to treat them to a nice, authentic meal, Arco Iris is a place you should definitely check out.
Café Hey — 1540 N. Franklin Avenue
Cloud: This little semi-awkwardly located cafe offers items that you most likely find anywhere else. Unfortunately for someone like me, who’s obnoxiously picky when it comes to their sandwiches, you’ll have a hard time settling on something on the menu that actually sounds appealing. Such is my culinary weakness. I can’t stand condiments, and I’m not a fan of the lettuce/tomato combo, so I really had no right reviewing this restaurant. But lo and behold, it was one of the miraculous “breakfast served all day” establishments for which I have a soft spot. I ordered their breakfast sandwich (egg, bacon, cheese, standard fare) with mild expectations. It blew Tampa Bay Bagel Co.’s sandwich out of the water. The Cuban bread it was served on was soft, yet flaky, and the egg was in once piece and nicely browned, akin to an omelette, making it easy to eat. To the untrained breakfast connoisseur, I can understand why most of the description might seem mundane and expected, but they did a better job than most places. I also got one of their brownies, which was generously packed with walnuts. It was bigger than the average brownies, but semi-sweet, making the task of eating the entire thing just a little more manageable. If you’re looking for something different and feeling adventurous, or want a really good and really straight forward breakfast sandwich, this is your place. For $9.11, a little pricey, but I got one of the hipster-ish organic lemonades that come in a glass bottle as well. The place is actually pretty reasonable. 4/$$.
Yuri: I had heard a lot of this place during the time i interned at Buddy Brew coffee — which another good spot to check out if you’re the latte-on-a-rainy-day type — so I was pretty psyched when we finally got around to going. I took a gamble and ordered the Yoshimi, a sandwich filled with kimchi (a type of fermented and spiced cabbage) and slathered with cream cheese and guac. It sounds daunting and kimchi on its own really can be, but it’s sourness was balanced perfectly with the cream cheese and guac. Cafe Hey has the kind of vibe which makes you feel like you’re welcome to hang out even after you’ve finished your meal; the assortment of board games and local art they have makes it a pretty kid-friendly place too.
Holy Hog Barbeque — 3501 N Armenia Ave
Cloud: Every so often, Tampa likes to take a stab at BBQ, but not many of my experiences here have been memorable. Then I came across Holy Hog, and all that changed. We arrived for the third time in a week, not because it was so great, but because it was closed the first time, and I misread that sign saying it’d reopen the 8th instead of the 9th, even though there was a huge sign that said they’d be closed Wednesday through Friday. Third time was the charm, though. We walked into the small yet reasonably comfortable restaurant and were greated by pounds of meat, texas bread, baked beans, macaroni, and a bunch of other stuff behind glass and under heat lamps, kind of like Boston Market, if Boston Market didn’t, y’know, suck. I ordered the Pulled Pork Sandwich, a side of baked beans (two free sides and texas garlic bread comes with the more expensive dinner, but sadly, every side is extra with the sandwich) and a homemade banana pudding. When we got our food, though, I mixed up my meal with Yuri’s, since we both got the baked beans and the sandwiches were virtually indistinguishable, but neither of us were upset, so disaster averted. My new meal, the beef brisket sandwich, was delicious. The bun was tasty, the beef itself was smoky and tasty, and the BBQ sauce was equally as tasty. I don’t need many adjectives to describe the food, seeing as how it’s not necessary, and I’m not trying to justify an English degree. The banana pudding was good. I don’t really have any others to compare it to, but it sweet, banana-esque, and more than I could finish. Not much more I could ask for. Pricewise, this place is pretty reasonable, though I can see how the $12.04 might argue otherwise. The sandwich itself was $7, not bad. The fountain drink was $1.75, just as expensive as anywhere else. The pudding was the killer at $2.50, but worth it if you like your pudding. And here comes the bittersweet moment where I type out my very last rating. Definitely check this place out, it’s worth your time. 5/$$.
Yuri: I’d like to begin, ladies and gents, by saying that my friend Cloud still owes me gas money for erroneously making me drive to Holy Hog when it was closed twice. Cash or check will work Cloud. That being said, I have to give a standing ovation to Holy Hog for their pulled pork sandwich. It was smoked until tender and the accompaniment of their mysteriously named “gold sauce,” which i generously doused the bun with made it even better. The only thing holding this place back from absolutely booming with business is their prices. It’s cheap enough to make it a treat every now and then, but not enough to make it the semi-staple of someone on a high school budget.
Overall Cost: $90.32.
Whether you’ve been following us since the very beginning a whole two article ago, or just stumbling across the impeccably well-written and poignant piece, these are the places that I, Andrew Cloud, think you owe yourself to visit:
Saigon Deli - 3692 W Waters Ave,
Brocato’s Sandwich Shop - 5021 E Columbus Dr,
Wat Mongkolrata Temple - 5306 Palm River Road (on Sundays).
New Soul Restaurant - 518 N. Willow Ave (if you don’t judge books by their cover).
Though if you can, visit all of them except China Yuan. You will find nothing but sadness there. That and mediocre fried rice that doesn’t hold well the next day. And thank you, Creative Loafing, for allowing us to write this and making sure I don’t go hungry. — Cloud
A giant thanks from me too. This project you gave Cloud indirectly gave me a chance to really geek out on food, which is something i pride myself on. You’d probably be happy to know I became a CL fan along the way, too. — Yuri