Call SoHo what you will -- yuppietown, fraternity row, Rodeo, you've probably already come up with your own -- but it's hard to argue with the sheer volume of dining options created to cater to the vibrant, free-spending natives and visitors to this South Tampa neighborhood. Pretty people, packed nightlife and great dining? Maybe it's not London or New York, but Tampa's SoHo has a lot to offer.
It's a long 13-block walk from Mangroves down to Ceviche, but on a busy Friday you need to take in the entire scene: crowds stumbling between bars and eateries, dark limos cruising up and down the block, tattooed parents pushing strollers with macchiato and latte in hand (eventually everyone on S. Howard winds up at Starbucks). You can eat find ice cream or Belgian chocolate, onion rings or bouillabaisse, hamburgers or Kobe beef, sometimes all at the same place.
Although the area is populated by a mass of relative newcomers to Tampa dining, there is some serious tradition. Longstanding landmarks like Bern's and Hugo's provide a little gravitas to rambunctious Howard Avenue, along with elder statesmen Bella's, T.C. Choy's and a few others. But who are we kidding? Gravitas is not the SoHo way.
The new guard is led by Jeff Gigante and James Lanza of Ciccio & Tony's fame. They've created a little SoHo empire of four restaurants, each with a different menu and a different feel, ranging from mod diner fare at Daily Eats; Westernized sushi at Water; pseudo-Mex with South American influences at Lime and, of course, their flagship restaurant featuring standard Cal-Itali cuisine.
Ethnic eateries get a nod, with places like T.C. Choy's, SoHo Sushi and Royal Palace repping Asia, Bella's serving Italian and Seven 17 South straddling both, like Marco Polo crossing the Tigris. Sangria's and Ceviche will get you the tapas connection, MacDinton's serves up Irish pub standards along with prodigious quantities of beer (with Dubliner just off the drag to back them up), while St. Bart's serves up Franco-Caribbean in high style. Meanwhile, Chateau France has recently moved into the neighborhood with its fussy French fare.
Then there's SideBern's, with Chef Jeannie Pierola's nationally recognized "one world under food" cuisine. She's never met an ingredient that she didn't like, and reading the SideBern's menu might make you reach for a culinary encyclopedia. SoHo is not a melting pot -- except when it comes to the stew of up-and-coming single professionals -- but there's enough International influence to spice things up.
There is good dining, sure, but never forget that you're here for the scene. Are you the one seeing or the one being seen? Here's a rule of thumb: If you don't know, then you should be concentrating on the food.
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