St. Pete's No Vacancy has a great aesthetic, but the entrees and service show room for improvement

There are vacancies — where menu items and staff should be.

click to enlarge St. Pete's No Vacancy has a great aesthetic, but the entrees and service show room for improvement
No Vacancy

2 out of 5 stars

937 Central Avenue, St. Pete. Snacks: $10-$13; sandwiches/bowls: $10-$13; desserts: $7-$8; beer/wine/cocktails: $3-$17.5. 727-308-7878,

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”

Thus begins Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. But it’s also the story of No Vacancy, the reboot of Kings Street Food Counter along Central Avenue as seen through the eyes of our two main characters.

Let me introduce you to Ms. Party Animal, the millennial hipster; we’ll call her Ms. PA for short. 

She swoons upon entering the patio; this place has a Vibe with a capital V. The exterior wall has a fabulous dinosaur-sized pink flamingo mural and giant white neon letters that scream “No Vacancy.” It’s got webbed beach chairs and a long ocean blue wooden banquette overflowing with loose pillows. It’s DIY comfort heaven. Ms. PA takes one to sit on, one for her back and three for each elbow to set up the patio as her outdoor throne room. In the center, sandwiched between two Jenga skyscrapers and a pair of colorful Connect Four boards, is a low table with a quartet of super cool bamboo wing chairs. Think beach meets Downton Abbey.

Two young hipsters clad in vintage threads stare lovingly at each other. The light glistens off their Warby Parker specs as they sip a gin-laced cocktail for two. It’s called Swimming Pools, which is totally appropriate as they’re sucking on neon-colored straws from a giant fishbowl. 

It’s millennial Mecca.

But our boomer food critic (we’ll just call him Mr. FC to shield his identity) notes that the patio is severely understaffed. There’s no server, just a bartender cutting fruit at the shipping container bar with a bright neon sign announcing that it’s “everyday VACAY.” Apparently, there’s also no bar back for assistance; our bartender is flying solo. 

Undeterred, Mr. FC bellies up to the bar and after grabbing a menu and perusing the cocktail list, decides on a Sunshine City Mule. 

“I’m sorry, we’re out of ginger beer,” the bar guy offers in an “ah, shucks” manner. 

“May I suggest the Peach, Don’t Kill My Vibe?’” 

This mix of Tito’s vodka with layers of peach and lemon topped with lavender is garnished with a fresh orange slice and a purple dendrobium orchid. It’s as colorful as it is tasty.

We return to the bar to order a couple of snacks. We pass on tacos, nachos, and wings and settle on the Fiyaaahhh Cracker Shrimp and poolside sliders. It takes a while, but the hand-breaded shrimp swathed in sweet chili aioli arrive in a huge white oblique cut bowl that resembles an amphitheater. The dish is nicely balanced, with just a hint of heat that doesn’t overwhelm the tender shrimp. The bed of scallion mixed greens on which they sit is huge, but underdressed. Still, it’s not a bad start.

Even better is the trio of poolside sliders filled with mojo pork, pineapple mango slaw, and pepper jack cheese. The buns are standard issue, but the pork sings. The crisp-edged meat is yummy, its fat cut by the acidity and crunch of the slaw. While the cheese is subtle, each bite is memorable. 

Ms. PA enjoys a Swimming Pool for one in a handsome blue tiki tumbler, and another tablemate (without a pillow throne) finally manages to get a satisfactory cocktail, despite several false starts due to missing ingredients listed on the menu. Mr. FC, however, is perplexed at how a cocktail bar that only has 11 signature drinks can’t keep essential ingredients in stock. 

“No problem. Be more chill,” Ms. PA counsels.

After discussing our main course choices, we decide to build-a-bowl with coconut rice and tuna poke, try a 6-ounce Sunshine City Burger and skinny fries as a benchmark, and The Ladies Man grilled fish of the day. 

“Gee, I’m really sorry... there’s no fish today,” the server aka bartender offers sheepishly. 

“Too bad we don’t live near the water; I guess it must be hard to get fresh fish in landlocked St. Pete,” Mr. FC muses silently, stifling the snarky comment that might blow his anonymity. 

His eyes land instead on the lobster melt, which promises morsels of luxury.

Time passes.

Finally, the dishes arrive. Sadly, they’re as disappointing as the snacks were satisfying. 

The bowl is light on tuna and heavy on shredded purple cabbage and carrots. The burger and the promising-looking skinny fries are cold. I’m not sure how the kitchen communicates with the patio, but this dish feels orphaned.

And then there’s the carb overload of the “lobster” melt. Nicely toasted pepper jack sourdough is stuffed with mac ‘n cheese, but the lobster must have taken a deep dive to avoid capture. There are a few flecks, but they seem like an afterthought and don’t even register. However, if you’ve overindulged, Ms. PA notes that this may be an welcome antidote to avoid a bestie holding your hair back while you lose your cookies into the porcelain throne.

The sweets menu is limited to just three desserts, which is OK because we usually just pick two. As he busses our table, the busboy/bartender/server/bar back informs us that there’s no coconut cream pie or chocolate molten cake, “Would you like some key lime pie?” 

Ms. PA adjusts her pillow throne and nods in the affirmative; Mr. FC smiles silently, lest his head explode.

Unfortunately, this key lime continues our downhill slide. It’s too light, lacks tartness and has a thick layer of unnecessary cream. Mr. FC screams to anyone willing to listen, “don’t mess with a classic.” 

Ms. PA rises from her pillow throne and takes a credit card to the bar to pay the check. 

Next time I see a “No Vacancy” sign, I’ll obey. 

CL Food Critic Jon Palmer Claridge dines anonymously when reviewing. Check out the explanation of his rating system, or email him at [email protected]

Want to know everything going on with Tampa Bay's food and drink scene? Sign up for our Bites newsletter.

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...
Scroll to read more Restaurant Reviews articles


Join Creative Loafing Tampa Bay Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.