This year, the region welcomed a new dining trend on both sides of the bay: casual Japanese gastropubs, better known as izakayas. First came American-inspired Japanese comfort food from Noble Rice in Tampa’s Hyde Park neighborhood, then ramen-driven Buya in St. Petersburg’s EDGE District. Both serve a lineup of adult beverages and soul-warming items like steamed buns, ramen and yakitori in swanky settings. All this food editor has to say is, thank you! —Meaghan Habuda
The finest in comestibles and imbibables.
Let’s face it: Sometimes beer, even local beer, gets old. What to taste? There are plenty of ciders and meads around here, but — speaking of taste — Green Bench’s blend of the two is currently the best thing going if you’re looking to sample local beer culture without actually sampling local beer. Neither too sweet nor too dry, this blend of cider and honey wine traditions is, really, an amazing and utterly unique flavor experience. We can’t recommend it enough for both those who don’t drink beer, and those who are looking for a break from the norm when out at the tasting room. —Scott Harrell
One taste and you’ll be hooked. Because not only are acai bowls delicious, they’re good for you, too. Think of them as smoothies you eat with a spoon. Each smoothie is made fresh to order from the super-berry acai, piled high with anything from coconut to granola to bananas to bee pollen, and served in an enormous bowl. SoHo Juice Co. sets the bar high when it comes to organic smoothie bowls, which will keep you coming back again and again (and again and...) at any hour of the day. —Alexis Chamberlain
One of the fascinating aspects of the dining experience here is the quirky artwork. The whimsical pen-and-ink-style black-and-white line drawings on the outside facade are by David Schiesser, a well-known painter and tattoo artist from Germany. They are oh so much fun and immediately brand the building — delightful to study as you await your burgers or just to make you smile as you zoom past the lit-up W. Kennedy exterior. —Jon Palmer Claridge
We’re having a moment. Gone are the days when the 18th Amendment forbade the creation, sale and transportation of distilled spirits — the Bay area’s number of indie distilleries has continued to grow throughout 2016. Last year, when the National Restaurant Association declared 2015 the year of “micro-distilled/artisan spirits,” Cotherman Distilling Co. launched in Pinellas, followed by St. Petersburg Distillery. Now, our craft spirits scene has seen the relocation of Florida Cane Distillery from East Tampa to Ybor City, the opening of St. Pete-based Kozuba & Sons Distillery, and plans for Tampa’s Fish Hawk Spirits (Ybor) and Twisted Sun Rum Company (Seminole Heights). It’s all resulted in a larger collection of small-batch, award-winning spirits for locals to choose from, including orange liqueur, vodka, rye whiskey and gin, to which we say, drink up! Prohibition who? —Meaghan Habuda
For three years, John Cullen, Zoie Torres and their crew brought something unique to downtown nightlife — a place that was both comparatively upscale and unabashedly casual, a craft-beer haven with a friendly vibe and a dedication to local art and music. It was the latter that did ‘em in this past June (who moves downtown and then complains about the noise?!), but the space at the edge of the EDGE District will still offer a more-than-worthwhile drinker’s destination: Veronica Danko is bringing the Independent Bar, now a Seminole Heights mainstay, back to the city of its birth. Hell, it might be open by the time you read this. —Scott Harrell
RUNNERS-UP: Clearwater Bagels, The Original Brooklyn Water Bagel Co.
RUNNERS-UP: La V, Saigon Deli
RUNNERS-UP: La Segunda Central Bakery, Alessi Bakery