The Tampa Bay restaurant scene is currently booming — new concepts are popping up nearly every week. When our local chefs make their escape from a long day in the kitchen, or have the rare day off, here is where they dine, date night and do happy hour. I was able to get a few suggestions on where to cure a hangover, but this new generation of health-driven chefs just couldn’t fork over the goods. Trust their palates, and dine like some of Tampa Bay’s finest. The list runs the gamut from the city’s OG staples to some of the newer joints that are busting their way onto the scene.
FERRELL ALVAREZ, Rooster & The Till, Nebraska Mini-Mart, Gallito
Where he gets dinner: Cena, Tampa. No hesitation, the chef instantly names the Italian restaurant and enjoys sampling the menu on each visit.
Where he does date night: Bern’s Steak House, Tampa. “You can always rely on Bern’s for an incredible steak, but if we’re being indulgent, we visit the dessert room,” the chef says. Even after his frequent trips, he makes sure to take time and indulge in his city’s concepts, and this one is a must for him.
Where he gets breakfast: Graze, Tampa. After his morning workout, Alvarez makes his way over to Armature Works to start off his day with a healthy breakfast. “I like to sprinkle my money and my presence at independent spots rather than chains.”
RACHEL BENNETT, The Library
Where she cures her hangover: Trip’s Diner, Tampa. The chef laughs when I ask her the question, stating that her raging days have dwindled over the years. “If I am hungover, though, I need something like Trip’s so I can get biscuits and gravy with a pancake.” When in doubt, stick to the classics.
Where she grabs breakfast: Oxford Exchange, Tampa. Being that her restaurant doesn’t serve breakfast anymore, she goes back to her previous kitchen.
Where she gets a drink: CW’s Gin Joint, Tampa. Her order? An Old Fashioned. “I could have one all day, don’t get me wine, I want bourbon.”
Where she is a regular: Rooster & the Till, Tampa. “When I do go out, I love Rooster & The Till because I’m such a big foodie, and I love how weird [Ferrell Alvarez] is. Just send it all to me. I like to get anything on the menu I haven’t tried before.”
JONATHAN WILSON, Armani’s
Where he cures his hangover: Daily Eats, Tampa. Although he doesn’t experience them often, when he’s hurting he heads for the remedy at Daily Eats. “If I was to ever drink again, that is.” says Wilson.
Where he gets dinner: Mise en Place, Tampa. “Oh, without a doubt.” This is the only place that came to mind when asked where he dines outside of his own kitchen. Part of that has to do with the rarity of dining out, the other part is that it always delivers.
Where he does happy hour: Whiskey Cake, Tampa. The place to be for happy hour. “The selection is incredible, and when I get out, this is the place I go.”
What he craves after a long shift: Chicken Stir fry. After a long shift, the chef still finds himself heading back into the kitchen to whip up something simple, but that still packs flavor.
JASON SALDUTTI, Forbici
Where he is a regular: Cena, Tampa. Depending on his workload, Saldutti makes his rounds to Cena three to four times a month, maybe even weekly. “I go here for dinner, and don’t leave without dessert.”
Where he grabs pizza: Viva Napoli Ristorante & Pizzeria, Tampa. “A little place off of MacDill, this is where I go for Neopolitan pizza,” the chef says, before explaining that Forbici’s pizza counter will be open in less than two months. Roman-style pies, people.
Where he gets dinner: Steelbach, Tampa. “I always hit the usual suspects, like Steelbach and Rooster & the Till,” Saldutti explains. These two concepts continue to be named among this group of chefs.
CHRIS FERNANDEZ, Red Mesa Restaurant
Where he gets tacos: Miguel’s, Tampa. Either this taco joint or its sibling Miguelito’s are Fernandez’s go-tos, although he never orders the same thing twice. “I look at the menu and order whatever gets my attention that I haven’t tried,” the chef says. One thing is for sure — multiple tacos are a must.
Where he goes for a sure thing: Rooster & the Till, Tampa. “I always stop by and see what Ferrell is up to.” Fernandez makes the stop when he’s on the other side of the bridge away from his three concepts in the ‘Burg. He makes it a point to step outside of Mexican cuisine from time to time when he dines out.
Where he gets steak: Bern’s Steak House, Tampa. Which is not a shocking answer. Bern’s has been serving up some of the finest dry-aged steaks in Tampa Bay since 1956. A beloved Bay area classic for chefs and locals alike.
ANNE KEARNEY, Oak & Ola
Where she’s been dining lately: Edison: Food+Drink Lab, Tampa. It’s been hard for Kearney to take a breather from her relatively new concept, but the few times she’s been able to dine out, Kearney has explored Edison, Rooster & The Till and Mise en Place. “I go to a lot of the chef-classic restaurants,” she says.
What she drinks after a long day: Tequila. “As a chef it’s hard to clock out, so when I’m at home and working on my menu, you never really stop working.” But it’s at that time, the chef says, she pours herself a snort of tequila with a cube of ice to sip on, and plucks a key lime from her tree. Some people have suggested an orange slice, but Kearney seems very content with her staple nightcap, although she will venture out and pour up some white or red burgundy.
CODY TINER, CW’s Gin Joint
Where he gets tacos: Loli’s Mexican Cravings, Tampa. Keeping it classic, the chef makes sure to hit the OG Loli’s on Benjamin Road, which serves up tacos out of a quaint house. “I used to live a mile from there, and would crush it almost every day before work,” says Tiner.
Where he does seafood: Big Ray’s Fish Camp, Tampa. Basically walking distance from the chef’s house, he takes full advantage. “I love seafood so much, and I always order the grouper sandwich,” explains Tiner.
Where he gets a cocktail: Soho Backyard, Tampa. If in the mood for a more casual setting, this is the place to be. “It’s my home away from home, I’m close to the bar owners and bartenders,” Tiner says. Another spot to grab a drink is Hotel Bar, for his whiskey fix. The typical order is a Paper Plane for something tart and fruity.
Where he goes for a late night bite: Street vendors. “After 15 hours in here, I absolutely do not cook. On the weekends there’s a guy that sits outside of The Hub with a stand and a grill and serves up the best late-night food you can get in downtown.”
RICHARD ANDERSON, Oxford Exchange
Where he gets dinner: La Teresita, Tampa. The chef is very particular about the way he spends his time outside of the kitchen, so he prefers to go for something quick and easy that he can rely on when it comes to a great meal. Which happens to be at the joint he says serves some of the best Cuban food around, La Teresita.
Where goes for his pizza fix: Mirro’s Pizzeria, Tampa. “They we’re closed down for a while, so I’m happy their back,” Anderson said. The man of simple pleasures goes for the classic pepperoni pie.
How he winds down: Quality time. Although the chef gets out of the kitchen and home before 6 p.m., he doesn’t make it out to other concepts as often as you’d think. So instead, he gets his daily workout in before heading home for a quiet evening with his wife and dog. Wow, that sounds oddly familiar...
NATHAN HARDIN, Steelbach
Where he gets lunch: Bodega, Seminole Heights. Because the Cuban, duh. Also, Hardin reps the Frita, which is a Cuban-style beef and pork burger with spicy mayo, tomato, avocado and fritas on top.
Where he gets a cocktail: Remedy, Tampa. The chef can bike to this haunt from his house, which makes it a no-brainer, especially since the bar can deliver on a prime outdoor vibe. The order? A negroni. “I’m super easy,” the chef says. He then explains how he makes his way to M. Bird for their “fire” boozy popsicles and Bahama Mamas which will sneak up on you, and are dangerously delicious.
Where he gets tacos: La Fiesta Mexican Store, Tampa. He can’t go a week without sliding by La Fiesta to get tacos. “It’s home,” Hardin says with a laugh.
Where he wants to go next: Heights Fish Camp, Tampa. It’s next on his list the next time he makes it out of Armature Works, although it doesn’t seem like he’s running out of options.
JOHN LISTER, Ava
Where he goes for barbecue: Jimbo’s Pit Bar-B-Q, Tampa. “I was born and raised here, Jimbo’s has the flavor that I love,” Lister says.
Where he goes for nostaligic eats: La Teresita, Tampa. Sticking to things that he has known for decades, even before he stepped foot in his own kitchen, Lister names off the Cuban restaurant. “That’s what I grew up on as a kid.”
Where he gets his guilty pleasure fix: Dairy Joy, Tampa. At least three times a week, the chef frequents the ice cream joint. “I always pass it on my way home so how can I not see it?” Lister’s order? A chocolate malt. “After a day of cooking I want something simple,” the chef explains. That’s not his only guilty pleasure: “I get home late at night after a shift and eat like I’m not supposed to before going to bed.” You’re not alone, Lister.
GARY PYRUS, Roux
Where he goes for steak: Charley’s Steak House, Tampa. “I’m a steak guy, so that is my number one go-to place.” Pyrus switches it up between the lamb or some type of ribeye during each of his visits.
Where he gets a cocktail: CW’s Gin Joint, Tampa. “I’m a whiskey man, so every time I’m here, they make me something whiskey-wise,” Pyrus says with his signature smile. The adventurous chef is always up for something out of the ordinary, which ultimately helps him create pairings for dishes to make in his own kitchen. “That’s the only way I’m going to be the best chef possible,” he explains.
His philosophy on dining out: Have food, will travel. Pyrus is not against hopping in his car and heading to a different city to try new cuisine. Whether that be St. Pete or Orlando, if something has caught his eye, he’s on the move. “If you don’t make time for yourself, you’ll lose yourself.” Which is a motto every foodie should adopt to make an excuse to expand their dining horizons.
JOSH BURY, 717 South
Where he gets lunch: Middle Grounds, St. Pete. “To me it is one of the best restaurants in the area, hands down,” he says. The chef credits that to the atmosphere and menu selection.
Where he wants to go next: CW’s Gin Joint, Tampa. “I haven’t been able to dive into the Tampa scene quite yet, but [Gin Joint] is definitely on my list.” Being that the chef is new to the area, he is ready to for that to change. The good thing is, he has no preference when it comes to his next meal. “I’m not a picky eater, I really like to explore when it comes to dining. It goes with the title, you gotta try new things.”
LEE JASPER, Dr. BBQ
Where he gets dinner: Ichicoro Ane, St. Pete. Since the chef doesn’t make it outside of the ‘Burg often, Ichicoro Ane is a frequent dining spot, giving him a taste of the ramen as well as the izakaya-style small plates.
Where he can get a little of everything: Locale Market, St. Pete. The curated grocery store can satisfy any mood, so it’s no surprise that Jasper makes his rounds from time to time.
Where he enjoys the most: At home. ”I’m one of the few here that still enjoys cooking at home.” Depending on the day, the chef is in at 5 a.m. and smoking butts, shoulders and ribs until the evening; but that doesn’t stop him from enjoying a home-cooked meal with his wife.
Drink of choice: Jai Alai. “Ma’am, I’m from Texas, I’m a beer guy.” Upon moving to Florida, Jasper wasn’t quite a fan of the hoppy brew, but over the last three years of living in the Sunshine State it’s grown on him. “Better watch out it’ll creep up on you,” he warns.
GUI ALINAT, CW’s Gin Joint
Where he needs to go: Dr. BBQ, St. Pete. Having a hard time making it out after shifts in the kitchen, the family man does have the barbecue joint on his list of future dining experiences. “[Ray Lampe] is a friend of mine from almost 20 years ago,” the chef says. Alinat then goes on to explain why he makes sure to take friends and family visiting from France to a barbecue joint. “I’m French, so we don’t have barbecue,” he explains. “There’s no silverware or tablecloths, so there is something very satisfying about the different experience.” Wet-naps are in his near future once he experiences Dr. BBQ’s Gochujang sticky ribs, made up of three slow-smoked ribs, smothered in house-made Korean barbecue sauce, topped with sesame seeds and green onion.
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