Because we shook up our annual Reader Dining Survey & Contest and it had so many new categories, and it took a little longer for us to tabulate those results, the release of my 2017 Dining Favorites in New Tampa & Wesley Chapel was delayed by an issue.
The only thing that hasn’t changed is just how much I disagree with our readers when it comes to dining in our two distribution areas. Yours truly agrees that many of the new restaurants (yes, gulp…including some of the new chains) that joined our dining scene in 2017 deserve to be at or near the top of my list, but that’s where the similarities end.
I will say that I did change my own format for this year — these are my top-50 favorites in our distribution areas, regardless of whether they’re located in New Tampa or Wesley Chapel.
After the top 30, however, the final 20 include some favorite dessert places and even individual items I found myself addicted to at some of the places that couldn’t crack my top 30 (of more than 100 eateries I considered)!
One thing I can tell you is that I love the feedback — even some of the negative comments we’ve gotten from readers who didn’t participate in this year’s Dining Survey & Contest, but have still taken the time to post some unflattering comments about the choices of the readers who did vote on our Facebook page.
But, while I agree with some of those reader rants, the fact is that while we still don’t have enough top-level mom-&-pop places in New Tampa & Wesley Chapel, we do have a lot more variety from which to choose today than we have in years past. — GN
1. Dempsey’s Steak House at Saddlebrook
I also decided that this year, I would rank my favorite restaurants in order, regardless of price, which meant that only the place with both the best Cowboy ribeye steak (above) and best fresh fish in New Tampa or Wesley Chapel could be voted #1— and that place is Dempsey’s. No, I don’t often feel a compulsive need to plunk down more than $50+ for an outstanding steak (and there are plenty of overpriced steak houses in Tampa for that), but whenever I do, Dempsey’s never disappoints me.
2. Noble Crust
I should really call Noble Crust “1B,” because if you have to take price into account, there’s no better value for the money than this two-location chain — especially considering it’s in an upscale mall. Noble Crust’s constantly changing fish and steak specials (and ambiance) keep me coming back, despite the fact the menu isn’t extensive, but from the fried chicken parm (photo) to the meatballs to the kale Caesar salad to the unique pizzas, this was my favorite newcomer for 2017.
3. Café Olé
Although Café Olé was sold towards the end of the year, the two times I’ve been there since the sale, the menu was still pretty much the same and the quality of the fresh fish, special entrées like the beautiful veal chop (right) shown here and unique tapas dishes were still outstanding. I also have to say that I like the way the new owners from Venezuela have transformed one small section of the restaurant into a Venezuelan coffee and dessert place. Muy bueno!
4. Little Italy’s Family Restaurant & Catering
My friends Jessica and Carl Meyers continue to add new items based on customer requests and their addition of the best veal parmigiana in our area (and beer and wine; try Grandma’s sangria) in 2017 was enough to keep them in my top-five in our distribution areas, even though the restaurant is technically in Lutz.
5. Stonewood Grill & Tavern (Tampa Palms)
Another restaurant that benefited from me picking favorites when price is no issue, Stonewood’s addition of a great lunch menu in 2016, including excellent bowls like bruschetta chicken and tuna poke, moved it up for me last year. Steaks, pastas and fresh fish are a little more pricy for dinner, but Stonewood’s bar service is always top-notch.
6. Ciccio Cali
Get a taste of the California lifestyle at Ciccio Cali, where rice and lettuce bowl cuisine has been elevated to an art form. I love all three of the tuna bowls on the menu, as well as the chicken and baby broccoli str-fry and the thin-crust pizzas. I also enjoy the homemade cookies and desserts (some gluten-free) and nice wine selection.
7. Ford’s Garage
I wasn’t overly excited that we were getting a Ford’s Garage in Wesley Chapel, because I can only eat burgers so often, and the rest of the menu is a little limited. Even so, Jannah and I do crave the ahi tuna appetizer, chop-chop salad, chicken Henry and petite filet.
Acropolis on BBD south of Tampa Palms continues to expand its menu with more and more authentic Greek and Middle Eastern dishes, but my favorites are still the lamb chops (photo), the Athenian fish and the Greek salad with a uniquely creamy Greek dressing.
Although we have added some new (and also delicious) Thai options in our area, Sukhothai’s fresh sushi and combination fried rice are my favorites and I also love the crispy duck with ginger sauce and the shoes-off, below-floor seating.
10. Longhorn Steak House
Another new chain that opened in our area for the first time in 2017, Longhorn’s outlaw ribeye isn’t in Dempsey’s category, but it’s also half the price and delish. We love the bar, the bread, the salad, the sides and the Flo’s filets at Longhorn, too.
11. Thai Ruby
The ambiance is second to none and the food doesn’t disappoint. I love Thai Ruby’s fresh fish specials and the crispy duck with ginger sauce is still the best in our area. This is a great place to start an intimate date night.
Some recent menu additions, including reasonable lunch entrées, have helped keep me coming back to Grillsmith, which now offers a larger variety of tender steaks, a daily fresh catch (we were stunned at how good the wahoo was) and a zesty margherita pasta.
13. Capital Tacos
It’s a fast-casual restaurant with a limited menu, but Jannah and I can’t get enough of the chicken and steak fajita salads at Capital Tacos (which is now opening more locations), and the quality of the food seems to exceed what you pay for it.
14. Fushia Asian Bistro
It still makes me crazy when people tell me they’ve never tried or even heard of Fushia, which is located in the same Shoppes at Amberly plaza as Peabody’s and Thai Ruby. But, for authentic dishes like Yan Jian pork, beef with Chinese broccoli and the best combination fried rice in town, you have to try Fushia!
15. Yamato Japanese Restaurant
Although it’s not my favorite sushi place, I do enjoy the fair pricing on quality Japanese teppanyaki (hibachi) fare at Yamato, where the NY strip and filet and even the veggies are my favorites among our local Japanese steakhouses.
16. Liang’s China Bistro
Although my favorite Chinese entrées in our area might be at Fushia, Liang’s has my favorite egg rolls, true New York-style BBQ spare ribs and sautéed string beans in our area and has a great variety of fresh seafood and sizzling steak dishes.
17. Bonefish Grill
Bonefish used to rank higher on my list, but it still has my favorite seared ahi tuna appetizer in our area and is usually reliable for its fresh fish (although I don’t love most of the sauces on the menu) and bar service.
Although owner Steve Falabella’s NY-style pizza is only third on my list (behind La Prima and NY NY), his lasagne, his delicious salads and the best pesto Genovese sauce for his create-you-own pastas helped rank him higher as a restaurant.
19. The Hungry Greek
Still among the most crowded restaurants in our area, especially for lunch, The Hungry Greek has our area’s best gyro and chicken gyro platters, delicious Greek salads and recently added unique bowls to its popularly priced menu.
20. Oakley’s Grille
Featuring our area’s best open char-grilled black Angus burgers and perfect French fries, plus an outstanding Philly ribeye cheesesteak and pastrami sandwiches, Oakley’s would finish even higher on this list if it added some dinner entrées.
21. Kobe Japanese Steakhouse
Not far behind Yamato among our Japanese steakhouses, Kobe also scores points for its great $5 happy hour food specials at the bar and for adding a pepper-crusted, seared rare tuna tataki teppanyaki dish.
22. Outback Steakhouse
Although it’s never been my favorite steak place in our area, Outback continues to keep itself in the mix by reducing the price points on its quality steaks and recently added a bone-in, natural-cut ribeye.
23. Ginza Endless Hibachi
Although the quality of the sushi and not-tableside hibachi fare isn’t on a par with Yamato or Kobe, the endless appetizers, Mongolian beef and other entrées for just $12.95 per person for lunch, $21.95 per person for dinner, make it a great value.
24. Fat Rabbit (Tampa Palms)
Amazing wings (try ‘em blackened), delicious appetizers and even an excellent mahi-mahi sandwich, plus a fun atmosphere, make Fat Rabbit the best new restaurant in New Tampa for 2017. Check them out on St. Patty’s Day!
25. Wok Chi
A great newcomer to the dining scene in Wiregrass, try the BBQ Chi-licious ribs, pot stickers and chicken spring rolls. I also really enjoy the create-you-own entrées with chicken, pork or beef and the freshest snow peas and other veggies in a spicy Sichuan sauce.
26. Las Palmas Spanish Café
For outstanding merluza topped with Russian-style tartar sauce, palomilla steak, pork chops and roasted pork (lechon asado), plus other authentic Cuban favorites, tell my friends Ramses and Ana that Gary sent you.
27. El Pescador Mexican Seafood
Another tasty newcomer in New Tampa, El Pescador has really good fajitas, but the fresh seafood is the main attraction, including the whole fileted snapper and the fresh ceviche, to go with the usual enchiladas and other Mexican staples.
In one man’s opinion, the crust and sauce are still the closest thing to true NY-style ‘za in New Tampa or Wesley Chapel, and it’s all for sale! Owner Willie Lopez has a turnkey pizza operation and a great location (right next to Target), so please call him at (813) 907-2878 if you want to find out more…and please tell him that Gary sent you!
29. Sushi Café
Quite a few sushi places have come and gone from our area over the past several years, but Sushi Café’s quality and presentation make it the best in our area for my money and it is located in the heart of New Tampa (next to Panera on BBD).
30. Texas Roadhouse
Obviously, I love a great steak and although Texas Roadhouse loses points with me for its line-dancing wait staff, it does offer great values on tasty NY strips, filets and yes, its hefty, 20+-oz. bone-in ribeyes.
The Rest of My Top 50 (in alphabetical order)
Bonsai Sushi: Popular for sushi & Japanese fare
Bosco’s: Try the unbreaded chicken parm!
Bruster’s Ice Cream: My favorite (peanut butter!)
Cake Shop: Amazing cakes, cookies & cupcakes
Cantina Laredo: Pricy, satisfying Mexican fare
Culver’s: Good burgers, amazing frozen custard
Fong’s Sushi: Creative, top-level sushi
Hibachi Express: Best prices for tasty hibachi!
Irish 31: Great salads & upscale pub grub
Jersey Mike’s Subs: Best roast beef & tuna subs
Koizi Endless Hibachi: Just below Ginza
Kwan Ming Bistro: Tasty, upscale Chinese
Lanna Thai: Really good food, great atmosphere
Mr. Dunderbak’s: Good schnitzel, great beer!
NY NY Pizza: Try the Grandma’s Pizza!
O’Brien’s Irish Pub: Burgers, tater tots & karaoke
OTB Café : Seared tuna, sliced steak & burgers
Petra Mediterranean Express: Beef shawarma!
Snowrolls: Best rolled ice cream anywhere!
Vallarta’s: Good Mexican, great prices
Wolf’s Den: Inexpensive, good breakfast choice
Woodfired Pizza: Great pizza & salads (Bearss)