Welcome to EAT THIS CITY, your tour of the best restaurants in one of our favorite cities, as chosen by a world-class chef.
This week, join us in Tampa, Florida, where we’re meeting up with Ray Lampe, aka, Dr BBQ. If there’s anyone who deserves a doctorate in barbecue, it’s Ray — who spent fifteen years perfecting and “pitting” his recipes against competitors on the path to becoming a professional, world-renowned pit master. A favorite judge on Chopped, World Food Championships, and American Grilled, he was inducted into the Barbecue Hall of Fame in 2014. But he’s only just getting fired up! Dr. BBQ’s opens in St. Petersburg’s Edge District in 2017.
Ready to see what Dr BBQ prescribes you eat while you’re in Tampa?
I lived in Florida for 10 years before I found the kind of pizza I’d loved while growing up in Chicago. The real thing has a thin, crispy, crunchy crust, topped with chunks of good Italian sausage. To serve, it’s cut into squares. That deep-dish stuff is mostly for the tourists. I’d pretty much given up on Florida pizza until I found Paul’s. It’s totally casual with pictures of Jim McMahon, Mike Ditka and Michael Jordan on the wall, just like any good Chicago pizzeria should have. You walk up, order your pizza, then sit down and wait in anticipation until your pizza arrives smoking hot and crispy fresh.
This is a classic foodie dive joint housed in a couple rooms of an old motel. They serve a variety of Mexican and Mayan food but for me it’s all about the tacos. Homemade tortillas filled with Grilled Puerco, Mayan Cochinita pork, Chorizo, and Carne Asada are my favorites, unless it’s Tuesday. On Tuesday the Picadillo (ground beef) tacos are $1.00 each and just too good to pass up. The tacos are topped with just a bit of chopped onion and cilantro and served with lime wedges on the side. Simple and delicious!
I’d be remiss if I didn’t also mention the Sopa de Tortilla. My fiancé Sandi has this often and it’s truly a meal. A tangy broth packed with chicken and served with fresh fried crunchy bits of tortilla on the side so they don’t get soggy.
Chef BT Nguyen has been cooking up the best Vietnamese food in Tampa for many years. Her delicate rice paper rolls are full of fresh herbs, crisp bean sprouts, and cool rice noodles all wrapped up in this handheld little bundle of freshness. The slightly sweet and salty rich peanut sauce served alongside smooth out this ultra clean, fresh dish. Bahn mi with the freshly baked, crispiest French baguette you’ve ever had. Soft on the inside – crunchy on the outside. Pair that crispy bread with the cool crunch of chilled bright green cucumber and snappy orange carrot shreds, the tart pickled daikon radish, the earthy flavor of roasted shallots, the clean crisp dark green fresh cilantro sprigs…and the richest pork terrine of your life.
It’s over the top – and completely authentic.
Bodega claims to serve Latin street food made with fresh ingredients and that’s exactly what I see when I eat there. They are literally in a window on the street and the food is mostly eaten right there on the sidewalk. It’s on bustling, trendy Central Avenue in Saint Petersburg, FL right around the corner from where Dr. BBQ’s will be. It’s a hip and trendy neighborhood and Bodega is rocking it there. For me, their food is all about the Lechon, a Cuban style roast pork that is tender and juicy and loaded with traditional flavors of garlic and sour orange. There’s also a Cuban sandwich that integrates some of that pork, a coconut marinated chicken known as Pollo Asado, and a couple nice veggie options.
Be sure to save room for a Café con Leche and a guava and cheese pastry. You’ll be in street food heaven.
When you walk into Dough you are immediately transported to your childhood…or at least what you wish your childhood looked like. There are candy bars and donuts and ice cream and cookies and cupcakes and macarons and chocolates and homemade marshmallows everywhere. It’s sensory overload with all the beautiful sweet treats and their luscious aromas. There are coffees and boozy shakes and hot chocolates too and, if you’re really in the mood to live it up, they will make you one of their famous Donut Ice Cream Cones. It’s an ice cream cone made of donut stuff filled with ice cream and topped with everything else sweet that they can pile on top.
The only bad thing about Dough is picking the four or five treats that are your favorites.
Chef Marty Blitz and his restaurant Mis En Place have been the gold standard in fine dining in Tampa for 30 years. That’s not a typo and it’s not just hype. But the food is not what they served 30 years ago, that’s for sure. Chef Marty is a culinary badass and his menu is constantly evolving based on his travels, new trends, and of course what is fresh, local and sustainable. On a recent visit we tried the Sous Vide Lobster, Beef Tenderloin Carpaccio, a killer crab soup and a hangar steak entrée adorned with horseradish chimichurri butter and served with a mushroom corn radish salad and duck fat smashed potatoes.
Nothing plain or boring here and tons of great technique. Great service and a big fun wine list make Mis En Place fine dining at its best.
Datz is the local hangout for a lot of the folks in South Tampa and it’s easy to see why. First off, there’s a world class bourbon selection. That makes me happy but we’re talking about food here. They have a big menu and they take pride in every single dish so don’t be afraid to get adventurous. You can order the Cheesy Todd (a burger between two buns made of fried mac and cheese!) one day, the blackened fish tacos next time and a Kentucky Colonel Bowl the third trip to keep from ever getting bored. There’s breakfast too and a very popular brunch on the weekends where you’ll find my favorite dish, the Short Rib Biscuit Benedict. Pair it with some Funnel Fries (yes, strips of funnel cake) and a Mimosa and I promise you will need a nap later that day.
This may seem like an odd category for me but even I can’t live on BBQ alone. Right down the block from Dr. BBQ’s is The Cider Press Café, a plant based restaurant where even a serious carnivore will be happy. I’d suggest starting off with a Florida roll which subs watermelon and mango for the traditional sushi choices and hits it out of the park. Gazpacho or Gumbo Z’herbes make a very satisfying soup course and I love the cheese enchiladas for my entrée. To me a good dining neighborhood includes a wide variety of choices and these folks cover the vegetarian category very nicely.