I travel a lot but have lived in Tampa Bay (3 years in Clearwater and 3 in Downtown Tampa), and am almost always surprised at how good of a town Tampa is for food. There are exceptions (bar-be-que and, surprisingly, seafood) where I do feel we're behind other cities of comparable size, but I say we stack up very well against other mid-sized cities (with the exception of the definite food towns of New Orleans and Charleston, SC).
That being said, I'm most surprised at the competition in the steakhouse venue, and I can name 10 very good restaurants solely in Tampa -- not even counting the rest of Tampa Bay. I've had a chance to go to all of these in the past year or so, and I'd be happy to go back to each or take clients to any of them. If I had to rank them in descending order, here's how I'd list Tampa's steakhouses:
10 - Ruth's Chris (Westshore). I find Ruth's Chris just "fine", but I'm often surprised when I go to other cities and people name Ruth's Chris as one of their best overall restaurants. I just don't think it holds up to the competition in Tampa.
9 - Shula's (Westshore - Intercontinental Hotel). Identical to Ruth's Chris above.
8 - Gallagher's (Channelside). It's in my neighborhood, and it has always been good ... but I've never been wowed with their offerings and, if you don't like beef, there's little else. Still, nice for a good meal before taking in a movie right next door.
7 - The Palm (Westshore). I like The Palm, but like their appetizers more than their steak offerings. Another chain, but I feel just a (small) step above Ruth's Chris and Shula's.
6 - Fleming's (International Plaza). Great wine selection and solid meals, with probably one of the best "sides" list.
5 - Capital Grille (International Plaza). For the chains, I find Capital Grille to be one of the more consistent and have always enjoyed my meals there. Still, nothing that wows me or makes me say "I have to get there again".
4 - Malio's (Downtown Tampa). Again, in my neighborhood and love the location. Can't beat sitting out by the river on a great Fall/Spring night, and they always have good options for people that don't prefer beef. Best French Onion Soup and escargots in town.
3 - Charley's (Westshore). I feel that Charley's has the best steak in town, and clients from far away request to go to Charley's again and again. The loudness and crowdedness knock it down a notch or two, but still fantastic.
2 - Council Oaks (Hard Rock Casino). Newest entrant to the steakhouse wars, but give's the #1 a run for its money. Fantastic food that even a non-gambler will ask you to return to.
1 - Bern's (Hyde Park). I'm amazed how many times when people ask me where I live and I say "Tampa", people respond with "oohhh, have you eaten at Bern's?" Even my mom, who lives in rural North Carolina, asks about Bern's because of what she's heard. You'll find the haters (many more "lovers"), but has to be one of the top restaurant experiences in the US.
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