As a high school student who runs cross-country, I’m guaranteed two things: I’m nearly always hungry, and I’m nearly always broke. As a result, I try to find places that serve good-sized portions of food for as little as possible. While I appreciate chains, most of them are nothing special (though Chipotle will always be a personal favorite, and Lee Roy Selmon’s nacho platter is an embarrassment of riches). In an attempt to broaden my horizons without breaking the bank, I embarked upon a joyous culinary voyage across the vast land of Tampa, planning to visit 10 different restaurants and spend no more on the entire enterprise than $100. Accompanying me was fellow runner, connoisseur and baking enthusiast Yuri Costa.
Taste will be judged on a scale of 1-5, 5 being the highest; price will be assessed as $, $$ and $$$, or cheap, reasonable and unjustifiable.
[Editor's Note: Ah, the best-laid plans of high school seniors. Andrew, a Tampa Prep student who interned with CL in May, didn’t quite get to 10 restaurants. He made it, well, to two. But with everything that intrudes on a graduating senior’s time, we forgive him. And besides, he promised to continue his culinary odyssey on CL’s blog, The Daily Loaf, over the summer. Thanks, Andrew and Yuri; keep on eating!]
3692 W. Waters Ave., Tampa
Cloud: The place was full when we arrived — always a good sign. I ordered the grilled pork bánh mì, which is a Vietnamese sub on French bread. To drink, I had a mango boba smoothie (mango being just one flavor on Saigon Deli’s long list). The sub itself was really good, especially for having cost only $3. The deli was generous with the amount of pork they put in, the bread was firm and had crunch, and the vegetables were satisfyingly crisp. In comparison, the $2 smoothie seemed expensive, but I had no right to complain. It was nothing like a traditional smoothie, being a lot milkier and noticeably less sweet. It was more reminiscent of Thai tea, and just as satisfying.
Yuri: When you’re holding a perfect $3 bánh mì and you know there’s a Subway somewhere trying to market a half-assed sub, your food tastes that much better.
New Soul Restaurant
518 N. Willow Ave., Tampa
Cloud: Just to get this out of the way, New Soul Restaurant (or Soul Food, as the sign outside reads) is not somewhere you’d bring someone for your first date. Or your second date. Or your third. Honestly, develop a strong relationship and determine whether or not you’re really compatible before you bring her here. Everyone’s first impression of this place is the same: it just looks really, really sketchy.
But once we stepped inside, all our worries instantly dissipated. We were greeted by Mrs. Mattie, who was by far one of the friendliest old ladies I’ve ever met, and from what I could tell, the sole person working the kitchen. The menu differs according to the day of the week, so I was somewhat upset that I couldn’t get the mac and cheese. Fighting through my disappointment, I ordered the rice and beans, fried chicken, and an iced tea. Publix has been my standard for good fried chicken for a while now, but New Soul’s absolutely blew it out of the water. I don’t know what was in the thick, tasty batter, but the flavor and the pleasant absence of excess grease made it memorable. The beans and rice were right on par as well, as was the iced tea. Because Mrs. Mattie was out of cornbread, we were given lemon pound cake instead. Again, it beat anything you'd get at a store.
The most remarkable thing about this place, though, was the fact that absolutely nothing was pre-made. Everything was clearly made from scratch, even the lemonade and iced tea. Sure, the physical restaurant itself isn’t especially appealing, but the interior is clean and cozy. I’ll be coming back, if only to try the mac and cheese. For a solid portion of great food, I paid $9.
Yuri: If you’re the kind of person who is bothered by your food being served on paper plates or finding a few bones in your curried goat (as I did), then you may as well forget about this place. The second you step inside, you realize New Soul had been around for a really, really long time. One thing that struck me in particular was their rice and beans. They were some of the best I’ve ever had in Tampa, which is saying a lot considering the number of Latin-American style restaurants in the area I’ve been to.
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Here is a link to the new shot menu! Go grab some! http://bit.ly/16A7PlK
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