(credit: strazcenter.org)

Taste the Best of Tampa Bay
David A. Straz, Jr. Center
1010 NWC MacInnes Pl.
Tampa, FL 33602
(813) 229-7827

Date: Saturday, April 21, 2012
Price: $80
Hours: 7 p.m. to 10 p.m.
Pricing: $65 general, $85 VIP

Can you pack all of the best flavors that Tampa Bay has to offer in one event? Come down to Taste the Best of Tampa Bay at the Straz Center and find out. This annual fundraiser, which supports the Patel Conservatory for the Performing Arts, takes place along the Riverwalk behind the Straz Center and affords guests the opportunity to sample some of the finest foods and beverages of more than 40 Bay Area restaurants. Read on to learn more about what you can expect from downtown Tampa’s biggest party.

(credit: Thinkstock)

Incredible Italian

Tampa Bay pulls out all the stops when it comes to authentic and delicious Italian dishes. Seven Italian restaurants – the most out of any ethnic cuisine — regularly participate in this annual event, including Benedetto’s, Giordano’s, Gourmet Pizza Company, Pizzaiolo Bavaro, Sally O’Neal’s Pizza, Spaghetti Warehouse and Villagio Ristorante. Pizza and pasta abound, but guests can also expect some other Italian specialties, such as stuffed eggplant or fried calamari.

Related: Top 3 Italian Restaurants

(credit: Thinkstock)

Spectacular Seafood

It wouldn’t be Florida without some seafood specialties. Jerk Hut Island Grill, Shell’s Seafood Restaurant and Oystercatchers usually have delicious seafood samples at Taste the Best of Tampa Bay. Jerk Hut features Carribean favorites like conch fritters with calypso dipping sauce and fish bites with curry mango mayo. Shell’s has traditional southern seafood fare like beer-battered fish and fried clam strips, and Oystercatchers has – you guessed it – oysters.

(credit: Thinkstock)

Marvelous Mexican

If you’re searching for something spicy, you’re in luck, because Mexican restaurants will be turning up the heat. In past years, Mekenita Mexican Grill, Miguel’s Mexican Grill & Seafood and Tijuana Flats served up some spicy samples for those who can handle the spice. Nachos, tamales and tacos are all on the menu from these vendors. Tijuana Flats, famous for its hot sauces, gives each sauce a rating from “sissy sauce” at the mildest to “death wish” at the hottest. How brave will you be?

(credit: Thinkstock)

Delectable Drinks

If you’re going to be sampling that hot sauce, you’ll need something to put out the flames. Fortunately, the Tampa Bay Brewing Company, WineStyles and World of Beer will all be giving out drink samples. Different styles of beers, including ales, lagers, ciders and stouts from all over the world will be available right in Tampa Bay. The Tampa Bay Brewing Company brews some of its beers in-house, and has created some original recipes, such as the Wild Warthog Weizen and the Redeye Ale. WineStyles offers wines from local and large wineries alike.

Related: Best Wine Bars In Tampa

(credit: Thinkstock)

Dreamy Desserts

Don’t forget to leave room for dessert. Bluebell Creameries, Lindt Chocolate, Stefano’s Gelato, Toffee to Go and Blondie’s Cookies are counting on you to save the best for last. Luscious ice cream, sinful chocolate truffles and sweet snickerdoodles steal the show. Some sweet treats are just what you’ll need to wind down from an exciting night out.

Amanda Mole has been writing since she was old enough to hold a pencil and cooking since she was tall enough to reach the stove. She believes that food provides more than just vital nutrients: it is an irreplaceable part of countless cultural and social activities. As a Tampa Bay resident for the past 21 years, she is well acquainted with the incredibly diverse range of restaurants, bars, and food festivals that the area has to offer. Her work can be found at Examiner.com.