With apologies to Dave, Top Ten lists are so limiting. Even finding the Top 25 of something always seems like you’re barely scratching the surface. Maybe it points a compulsively indecisive streak in our nature, but here at CL we couldn’t cram all our favorites into such a meager list. And 100? Too many to maintain quality.
That’s why we present CL’s list of Tampa Bay’s Top 50 Restaurants, the perfect size to cover the entire Bay area, region by region, with room enough for all the best and no need to pad with inferior filler. From soul food lunch counters to chic hotel restaurants, from drive-up fried shrimp to reservation-only sea bass, you’ll likely find everything your stomach desires on these pages. But only if your stomach desires good food.
Oh, did we say it’s CL’s list? entirely. We picked 45 of the restaurants, then gave the readers a chance to pick the final five in a titanic battle of ballot-stuffing food fans. And you guys did a great job, every restaurant you picked worthy of its spot on the list. We were so proud, we gave you another challenge.
Last week we asked you to pick the best restaurant in each region of Tampa Bay, from our list. Didn’t vote? No problem. Starting today, you can join the fun by visiting cltampa.com/top50 and voting for Tampa Bay’s Top Restaurant from among the five regional winners – Council Oak Steakhouse, Backfin Blue Cafe, Guppy’s on the Beach, and Bin 27 Bistro.
If you’re into that sort of thing. We’re pretty comfortable with 50.
Bern's Steak House
What's left to say about Bern's? It's the single Bay area restaurant that receives -- and often deserves -- regular national press coverage for both its food and wine. It's Bern's. 1208 S. Howard Ave., Tampa, 813-251-2421, bernssteakhouse.com.
Bin 27 Bistro [READERS' CHOICE]
This new South Tampa spot -- a Readers' Choice entrant -- was opened by a restaurant newbie who spent a couple of years apprenticing to learn the trade. The result is casual fine dining with an interesting menu seasoned by international ingredients; here at CL we love the spicy, herbaceous chicken wings. 2702 W. Kennedy Blvd., Tampa, 813-878-2700, bin27bistro.com.
Founded in South Tampa by local restaurateur Gordon Davis -- and now owned by an investment group and working, managing partners -- Ceviche has established itself as the spot for traditional tapas in the Bay area. The Tampa location is back in Davis' old stomping grounds (formerly his Le Bordeaux), while the St. Pete spot features a gorgeous Spanish update of the old Ponce De Leon Hotel. 95 Central Ave., St. Petersburg, 727-209-2302; 1502 S. Howard Ave., Tampa, 813-250-0203; ceviche.com.
Don't think of Datz as a deli, in spite of the long list of sandwiches. It's more a wine/beer bar, gourmet market, cheese and salumi joint that's still in search of an identity. Owners Roger and Suzanne Perry source artisanal ingredients from across the globe and serve their drinks at retail prices, making Datz a Bay area culinary destination. 2616 S. MacDill Ave., Tampa, 813-831-7000, datzdeli.com.
Paci's Pizza [READERS' CHOICE]
This relatively new pizza joint across from Plant High School won our Readers' Choice poll by a sizable margin. Having since tasted their pizza -- classic NY-style with one of the best crusts in the entire Bay area -- I can see why its fans have been so supportive. 2307 S. Dale Mabry Hwy., Tampa, 813-253-2973, pacispizza.com.
Although Pane Rustica won our 2008 Tournament of Burgers with its perfectly seasoned, ideally cooked patties served on incredible house breads, there's much more to the place than mere ground beef. Breakfast and lunch fare is highlighted by the hand-crafted breads Pane produces, while dinner features often rustic-inspired, fine-dining selections that are beyond the scope of a simple bakery. Plus, the place is loud, funky and cool. 3225 S. MacDill Ave., Tampa, 813-902-8828, panerusticabakery.com.
Queen of Sheba
When owner Seble Gizaw brought Ethiopian cuisine back to the Bay area, she started a renaissance. Do two Ethiopian restaurants in two years count as a trend? Gizaw's Queen of Sheba still serves the best of this home-cooking cuisine, and she brings plates to the table along with her welcoming conversation. 3636 Henderson Blvd., Tampa, 813-872-6000, ethiopianrestauranttampa.com.
BT Nguyen is the only game in town for rarefied Vietnamese fare, her French-influenced dishes and professional techniques right at home in the posh Hyde Park location. You'll still find the flavors of Vietnam on the plate, though imbued with elegance instead of rusticity. 1633 W. Snow Ave., Tampa, 813-258-1916, restaurantbt.com.
Over the past two years, SideBern's has undergone a little rennaissance in the Tampa dining scene, with new people checking out the changes wrought by executive chef Chad Johnson and his team. The traditions are still there, but there's also some forward-thinking cuisine in Johnson's mutable menu. 2208 W. Morrison Ave., Tampa, 813-258-2233, sideberns.com.
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