Food Issue 2016: Hillsborough's 10 best bargain restaurants

Al's • Anise • bartaco • Byblos • Chop Chop Shop • Eddie & Sam's • Fresh Kitchen • Ichicoro Ramen • Thai Gourmet • Udipi

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.

Shanna Gillette


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,

Chip Weiner


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,

Chip Weiner


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,

Chip Weiner


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,

Chip Weiner


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,

Chip Weiner


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,

Chip Weiner


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,

Chip Weiner


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,

Chip Weiner


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,

Chip Weiner


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,

About The Author

Jon Palmer Claridge

Jon Palmer Claridge—Tampa Bay's longest running, and perhaps last anonymous, food critic—has spent his life following two enduring passions, theatre and fine dining. He trained as a theatre professional (BFA/Acting; MFA/Directing) while Mastering the Art of French Cooking from Julia Child as an avocation. He acted...
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