Located on Armenia between MLK Blvd & Columbus is Del Rio’s Café, tucked in a small block just past Cordelia Ave. This is a tiny place with about 10 tables. The walls are adorned with hand painted murals of palm trees and other Florida flora. There is a large flat screen TV on 1 wall and music in the background, neither intrusive on table side conversations. Seating is comfortable although a bit tight if the restaurant is full. The mood is understated and made comfortable by a welcoming staff. My 1st visit and every visit since, one or both chefs stopped by my table to say hello. This is something they do with guests regularly. The 2 chefs are warm, knowledgeable and definitely experienced in their craft. Chef Dave Del Rio has 30+ years in the business including Outback, Lee Roy Selmon’s and Smoke. Chef Dave and his partner Chef Jorge Tamargo opened Dl Rio’s Café late last year. Their menu reflects their background in Spanish, Cajun and Creole influences.
The menu is the same for lunch and dinner. All items are on 1 page but by no means simple. There are 4 items highlighting the soups, salads and appetizers/tapas. My favorite being the Creole Gumbo made with Okra, chicken and Andouille sausage. It is a hearty dish with a good spicy kick. The depth of flavor is wonderful with a taste of the file powder coming through in the background. The black beans and rice is very delicious. You can definitely tell this was cooked long and slow from scratch. The Pepe salad is reminiscent of the salad from the old Tio Pepe Restaurant in Clearwater. I was told it originated at Café Pepe’s over 55 years ago. I enjoyed the crisp lettuce, sweet tomatoes and briny olives all mixed together in a vinaigrette with grated Romano cheese. It typically accompanies the main courses on the menu as a side salad. One day I have to try it with grilled or Creole shrimp. There are 9 main courses, of which I have tried 3 thus far. I love the Filete Salteado. This is a wonderful dish consisting of cubes of beef fillet, chorizo and ham. It is cooked in a rich, well seasoned wine sauce with garlic, onions, peppers, and topped with green peas. It is served with flavorful yellow rice, warm buttered Cuban bread and a small Pepe salad. This is the dish that won me over. The Shrimp a la Criollo is another dished packed with tremendous flavor. It is made with shrimp, onions, garlic and pepper served with white rice. This is very flavorful and delicious with a good spicy kick. A few of the other main dishes include: Ropa Vieja, Bistec a la Milanesa - breaded steak topped with tomato sauce, peas and pimentos; Picadillo Clasico – ground sirloin, chorizo, olives and raisins in a tomato sauce (had this for lunch today and it is very delicious); Basa a la Rusa – breaded Basa fish served with egg, parsley and butter sauce.
Sandwiches include Po’Boys with choice of oysters, catfish or shrimp. I had it with shrimp which were seasoned exceptionally well for a great sandwich. My favorite is the grilled Andouille sausage with grilled onions and peppers served on warm soft roll, which fits its purpose of being a vehicle for the meat and veggies without affecting the taste. This is by far the best Andouille I have ever had outside of Louisiana.
My favorite dish at Del Rio's is the Paella Valencia. This is not on the menu and must be ordered at least an hour ahead of time. I did this on a Tuesday evening, placing an order for 3. We were told to bring our own wine or beer, which worked out great. My friends and I headed over to Total Wines on Dale Mabry and used the hour to get a couple of bottles. I selected a Pinot Noir from Oregon to go with the Paella. A sangria would have been much better.
The rice was a bright yellow color and had that fragrant, sweet, nutty flavor unique to really good paella. It was richly seasoned and loaded with mussels, clams, shrimp, calamari, scallops, chicken, chorizo, peas, roasted red peppers and white asparagus. The dish could have easily fed 6 people as there was plenty left over. My friends were praising the dish with every mouthful. This was truly a treat for us. I think the staff had a kick watching us eat.
Del Rio’s offer seafood specials on Fridays. There is brunch on Saturday featuring Andouille & eggs with Spanish potatoes; Chicken & waffles and their delicious Shrimp & Grits which one of my friends raves about to everyone – this is from someone who hated grits.
The space is small but definitely homey and serving up delicious comfort food. IMO this is one of the best hidden gems in Tampa. It is well worth a visit. Del Rio's is located at 3210 N. Armenia Av. Ph 813-870-0217.