The fall season brings with it the typical hustle and bustle of back to school, new jobs starting, people relocating and preparations for the high season of tourism here in Florida. Of course we like to work hard here, but that doesn’t preclude playing hard and enjoying the finer things in life. Fortunately, a solid schedule of concerts and cool cultural activities await all around the Tampa Bay area to keep us busy. To extend the experience, why not enjoy a delightful meal at one of these great establishments in close proximity?
441 Central Ave.
St. Petersburg, FL 33701
La V makes for the perfect pit stop to enjoy refined Vietnamese fare at relatively affordable prices on the way to Tropicana Field, Janus Landing, the State Theater and the multitude of other music venues and bars in downtown St. Petersburg. The chefs of La V take pride in classic Vietnamese traditions, all the while adding a spin of sophistication. It features another trendy favorite of foodies around Tampa Bay: the Banh-Mi sandwich, which first came together in the bakeries of Vietnamese expat communities. Here, they always come fresh and taste delightful. A fusion of Vietnamese-influenced ingredients and French flavor on a baguette, La V offers many versions of this newly inducted classic. Don’t miss the superb spring rolls, pho and bun, especially the lemongrass chicken version. Grilled and placed over noodles and fresh vegetables, with a brilliant sauce on the side, it’s one of the most delectable in the region. The restaurant also provides several great choices for vegetarians and gluten-free diners, so everyone can find something on the menu to enjoy.
1633 W. Snow Ave.
Tampa, FL 33606
Piquant’s founders, a chef-duo named Rivera and Castro, combine impressive educations and many years of experience to concoct a variety of delicious patisseries, breads, sandwiches, soups and other French-inspired cuisine. On the same block as the trendy Timpano jazz bar and restaurant and elegant Wine Exchange, which boasts an impressive variety of options, one can enjoy a veritable foodie’s paradise within walking distance. SoHo, downtown and Ybor City’s concert halls are just a five- to 10-minute drive away. While high quality and appetizing, the sandwiches and other items on the menu don’t stand out here. Pastries are the star of the show.
Fire Bar & Grill
3023 W. Kennedy Blvd.
Tampa, FL 33609
Located not far from Raymond James Stadium in a building formerly occupied by Seven Seas, a nude dancing bar, one could hardly imagine a restaurant opening here two years ago. Yet, Fire breathes new life into this busy strip of Kennedy Boulevard. Visitors to the establishment during its previous life may have trouble recognizing it, as its new owners have done an excellent job with top-to-bottom renovations. According to Fire’s website, the “shell of this building became the working canvas to make our vision a reality.” Fire brings the same passion about design to its cuisine and drink menu. Regulars to the restaurant rave about the flatbreads and pizzas, especially those with mushrooms and goat cheese. Calamari comes with an original twist: hot peppers. Don’t miss the shrimp and grits, or the BLTCE, which adds cheese, pork belly and eggs to the mix. That is, unless of course you’re trying to watch your waistline. Wash it all down with weekly drink specials, including $2 martinis. Fire promises a great new option for those on their way to and from concerts at the stadium and near Westshore.
Related: Best Autumn Desserts In Tampa Bay
Istanblu Restaurant Bar
1919 E. 7th Ave.
Tampa, FL 33605
Another recent addition to Tampa’s growing culinary choices came in the form of Istanblu. Taking over the large, open space once occupied by Sunday’s Fine Dining, the new restaurant accomplishes the task with relative success. A prime location directly on Ybor’s well-renown Seventh Avenue, the main center of Tampa’s nightlife scene, makes bars, concerts and boutiques available from mere minutes away. For instance, you can find the Orpheum, a popular night club and concert scene, literally next door. In terms of cuisine, Istanblu serves classic Turkish cuisine of high quality. The stuffed grape leaves and hummus appetizers surpass those of other Mediterranean restaurants in the area. If accompanied by a group, don’t miss the mezze platter, an ideal combination of doner, chicken, beef and grilled vegetables. The prices can seem steep on a few items, however Istanblu merits this for its classy vibe and attention to detail. In addition, servers seem responsive and consistently ready to appease their clients’ wishes.
56 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. St. N.
St. Petersburg, FL 33705
Looking for another idea when in downtown St. Pete, perhaps before or after a ball game or concert at Tropicana Field? Relatively small and unassuming from the outside, few probably venture into Engine No. 9 based on appearances alone. However, once you step in and check out the menu, you’ll notice this is anything but your typical sports bar. Engine features unique and original gastronomic inventions of the burger sort, for instance topped with red wine BBQ sauce and white cheddar, Sriracha hot sauce, roasted peppers and grilled pineapple or even a pork version roasted over garlic. Take a trip back in time to your childhood with tater tots, far better than the ones your school cafeteria offered. For the less patty-inclined, Engine also cooks up a mean vegetarian-friendly mushroom risotto. Other favorites include ahi tuna and ribs. You can wash it all down with New Orleans’ famous Abita-brand brews, one of the few establishments in the Tampa Bay area with them available.
Aaron Phillips has experience in marketing and journalism. Recently back to his hometown, he’s excited to discover and share what Tampa has to offer. His work can be found at Examiner.com.