Best Of 2021

Mays Alreem USA pita house

The war for most densely packed food options on one street rages on. Is it Armenia Avenue with all its South American, Caribbean, and Latin food ways? Or Waters Avenue, which takes you on a tour of Southeast Asia? My pick right now would be Mays Alreem on 56th Street just north of Fowler Avenue. Expect a no frills beef shwarma all wrapped in a pita with all the fixings, but make sure not to miss almost everything else on the menu. Falafel is balled and fried to order, offering that delicate, light, fluffy interior so many fail to get right. But the real winner here is the hummus and baba ghanouj. The oh so creamy hummus comes spooned and flattened on a paper plate, topped with chickpeas, olive oil, parsley, a garlic and parsley pesto of sorts, and finished with a generous sprinkling of sumac. It might be one of the prettiest dishes in Tampa at the moment… without the dish. Baba ghanouj toes the line between perfectly smokey and savory, without being bitter and stringy. The familiar sumac topper gives it the perfect lemony lift. @maysalreemus on Facebook

Best of the Bay 2021 Food & Drink: Creative Loafing Tampa Bay critics and readers pick all the best things that made their mouths water in 2020.

Best of the Bay 2021 Food & Drink


Get Along strawberry shortcake doughnut

Joel Davis’ Union coffee shop closed at Pickford’s Counter over the summer, but there’s a sweet side to the bad news, and that’s Get Along, a doughnut company where Davis leans on baker, recording engineer and skateboarder Asher Lakes plus Library Coffeehouse co-founder Marie Cullinan who help run the show. The shop—set to eventually open in Seminole Heights—has been doing pop ups, and if you can get your mouth around one of its strawberry shortcake concoctions, then you might petition decision makers in Plant City to make the sweet treats mandatory at their spring festival. @getalongtpa on Instagram

Winner: Mise en Place

Runners-Up: The Library , Caracara

Burnz

Bern’s Steak House is a rite of passage in the Tampa dining scene, but now so is Burnz, just two miles north on Howard Avenue. There’s no wine room at the West Tampa restaurant, but there are Caribbean, Hispanic & American plates in a setting that’s definitely less velvet-y than the Bern’s reception). So next time you’re planning a date night, tell your partner , “We’re going to Burnz, baby.” burnzrbg.com

Peachey’s

It’s the fair food treat that I still think about daily: Peachey’s fresh and warm glazed yeast donut topped with a mountain of coconut cream pie filling, whipped cream and coconut shavings. It was big enough to share, but I didn’t want to. Peachey’s (FKA The Amish Baking Company) gets out of Florida during the super warm months, but should be back in Sarasota by November. @peacheysbakingco on Instagram

Café Gala at The Dalí

"Van Gogh Alive” at The Dalí was the most popular art exhibit Tampa Bay’s hosted in a long time. I had to book an appointment a month in advance to see it, and I’m an arts writer. But as much as I loved the exhibit, it’s not locally made. And it will probably be mostly the same no matter where in the world one sees it. But the Dalí did add a few personal touches that made the experience special for me. My favorites were the vases of sunflowers decorating the tables at Cafe Gala and Chuck Bandel’s Van Gogh-themed charcuterie board. Bandel’s pairing of Dutch cheese with a sunflower seed bar and a roasted pear was absolutely delightful. Before we dug in, I snapped a photo of our art snack next to a vase of sunflowers that would make most any art-lover think of Van Gogh. thedali.org

Xtreme Tacos Seminole Heights stoner burrito

In 2017, Crave Digital founder Chris Fasick, named the Xtreme Tacos Stoner Burrito the “Best Burritos That Need Their Own Blankets and Birth Certificates.” I didn’t think it was possible, but the baby-sized burrito is now stuffed with even more protein, rice, beans, french fries, thinly shredded cabbage, pico de gallo, sour cream, guacamole, and shredded cheese. I’m a 36-year-old, 6-foot, 200-pound human, and this thing literally stretched from my fingertips past my elbow. This thing doesn’t just need a birth certificate anymore, it needs vaccines so it can go to preschool. xtremetacos.com