There's no excuse for not eating exciting food when you go out. The Bay area dining scene is exploding with great flavors for any budget.
This is part one of a six-part series in CL's annual Food Issue. I'll share my picks for the 10 best bargain restaurants in Pinellas on Tuesday; my favorite tastes from a year of reviewing (and some staff picks, too) on Wednesday; and my choices for the 20 very best restaurants in Hillsborough and Pinellas on Thursday.
AL’S FINGER LICKING GOOD BAR-B-QUE
Reviewed 08/02/12, 4 stars
Check out “fall-off-the-bone turkey leg Thursday.” The service is quick and friendly, with amazingly juicy turkey breast, ribs and smoky shredded brisket and pork. Al’s only offers a single sauce, but the meat is so moist and flavorful, it doesn’t matter. 1609 18th (Angel Oliva Senior) St., Tampa, 813-956-0675, alsybor.com.
ANISE GLOBAL GASTROBAR
01/09/14, 3.5 stars
I’m not sure who first paired craft cocktails with small plates, but it’s a match made in heaven. The menu is anchored by five delicious “stinky bunz.” Anise’s gastronomic juggling act has all the flair of The Flying Karamazov Brothers, and the flavor fireworks bursting forth are worthy of your attention. 777 N. Ashley Drive, Tampa, 813-225-4272, aniseglobal.com.
09/17/15, 4 stars
The two splendid chef’s samplers are real steals. The large tray features a thrilling selection of nine tacos made with soft 4-inch tortillas, two tamales wrapped in warm corn husks, three sides, and a creamy bowl of no-frills, super-fresh guacamole with crisp corn tortillas. Hyde Park Village, 1601 W. Snow Ave., Tampa, 813-258-8226, bartaco.com.
10/10/13, 4 stars
Share a full Taste of Lebanon sampler here. While the menu lists this Middle Eastern smorgasbord at $67 for two, 10 courses are ample enough to serve a party of four. That, dear readers, is a bargain in any culture. 2832 S. MacDill Ave., Tampa, 813-805-7977, bybloscafe.com.
CHOP CHOP SHOP
10/22/15, 4 stars
Chop Chop Shop’s Korean bowls follow chef Steve Sera’s wonderful formula of meat + rice + sauce + side = explosive flavors at affordable prices. The variety of scrumptious proteins, one-of-a kind sauces, and surprising sides is one of the Bay area’s most exciting bargain meals. 6605 N. Florida Ave., Tampa, 813-770-7306, facebook.com/chopchopshoptampa/.
EDDIE & SAM'S
03/12/15, Best New York-style (Hillsborough)
One of the margherita stalwarts from CL’s 2015 Pizza Marathon. Absolutely tons of fresh, diced tomatoes dance wildly with dots of yummy basil; miraculously, the crust maintains crispness despite the odds. It’s a supreme example of New York-style pizza that’s so YUUUUGE it’s almost laughable. 203 E. Twiggs St., Tampa, 813-229-8500, eddieandsamspizza.com.
01/08/15, 3.5 stars
FK teases diners with healthy items as you assemble your meal to taste in four simple steps: 1) Toss in two bases; 2) Pick two proteins; 3) Pile on two veggies; and 4) Sauce it up. The ingredients are fresh, fresh, fresh and full of flavor with the sauces superbly balanced. 1350 S. Howard Ave., Tampa, 813-280-0515, cicciorestaurantgroup.com.
11/19/15, 3.5 stars
This restaurant’s ethereal Japanese broth, noodles and distinct shochu cocktails have patrons queuing out the door. The game-changer at Ichicoro is the complexity of its broths. Use your olfactory senses to smell the soup as you might a fine wine; take time to let the aromas fill your head. 5229 N. Florida Ave., Tampa, 813-517-9989, ichicoroya.com.
THAI GOURMET MARKET
11/20/13, 4 stars
Regardless of how you do the math, the food at Thai Gourmet Market offers so much flavor at such a modest cost that I feel like I’m guilty of insider trading. Plus, they’ve got four stunning sauces to use at home. 5831 Memorial Highway, Tampa, 813-817-9050, thaigourmetmarket.com.
01/21/16, 3.5 stars
Udipi’s south Indian cuisine is living proof that a vegetarian menu can deliver flavor-filled healthy offerings. The appetizer platter is a “lavish gourmet medley.” And the royal south Indian thali entree’s little buffet is a panoply of delicious salty, sweet, sour and bitter dishes. 14422 N. Dale Mabry Highway, Tampa, 813-962-7300, udipiusa.net.