Tampa restaurants Koya, Lilac and Rocca earn city's first ever Michelin stars

The trio was among four Florida restaurants that earned their first stars.

click to enlarge Lilac, on the ground floor of the Tampa EDITION. - Photo by Nikolas Koenig c/o Michelin Guide
Photo by Nikolas Koenig c/o Michelin Guide
Lilac, on the ground floor of the Tampa EDITION.
The restaurant industry equivalent of the Academy Awards is happening in Miami right now, and three Tampa restaurants just earned the city’s first Michelin stars. Tampa’s Koya, Lilac and Rocca all earned stars tonight during the Florida Michelin Guide 2023 unveiling at LoanDepot Park.

The trio was among four Florida restaurants that earned their first stars, along with Tambourine Room by Tristan Brandt in Miami Beach. In all, 19 restaurants in Miami, Orlando and Tampa have earned stars.

South Tampa’s high-end Japanese restaurant Koya received Tampa’s first-ever Michelin star, with head chef and owner Eric Fralick accepting the award. John Fraser and Joshua Werksmen from Tampa Edition’s Lilac restaurant welcomed the city’s second star of the night, to chants of “Tampaaaa!” echoing through the ceremony’s massive crowd.

The third star was awarded to Tampa Heights restaurant Rocca and its chef Bryce Bonsack, who received a Bib Gourmand last year for his seasonal, yet innovative, Italian fare.

The ceremony kicked off with Bib Gourmands and special Michelin awards—where two Tampa folks took home red Michelin trophies and black chef jackets. Tampa is also home to 18 recommended restaurants including Yummy House, Columbia, Bern's Steak House and  Mise en Place.

“A restaurant in the Recommended selection is the sign of a chef using quality ingredients that are well cooked; simply a good meal,” says Michael Ellis, International Director of the MICHELIN Guide books.

Matthew Braden, general manager of Tampa Edition’s signature restaurant Lilac, received the “Best Service Award,” while Christina Theofilos—head chef and owner of South Tampa’s Psomi—received the “Best Young Chef” award. The Greek restaurant that’s “influenced by the world,” was awarded a Bib Gourmand earlier this month alongside New Tampa Nepali restaurant Gorkhali Kitchen.

No other Tampa concepts were awarded new Bib Gourmands at tonight’s ceremony. Two Tampa restaurants maintained their Bib Gourmand status from 2022: Proper House Group’s Rooster & the Till kept their bibs alongside recently-closed ramen hotspot Ichicoro.

Both Rooster & The Till and Ichicoro received their Bib Gourmands at the launch of Florida’s Michelin Guide last year in Orlando. Italian restaurant Rocca received a bib last year, and made the massive leap to a single Michelin star this year.

Bib Gourmands go to restaurants that offer a meal of good quality at a good value, while Michelin considers five criteria when awarding stars: “the quality of the ingredients, the harmony of flavours, the mastery of techniques, the personality of the chef as expressed through their cuisine and, just as importantly, consistency both across the entire menu and over time.”

Tampa was shut out of Michelin stars last year when the fabled dining guide made its Florida debut.

Although controversial, a star is considered one of, if not thee, highest award in the culinary world. Chefs who earn a star see an immediate boost in their reputation, with their restaurant (and staff) benefiting from the boost in business and prestige.

Some chefs have killed themselves while under pressure to keep their stars. Others have banned Michelin inspectors from their restaurants and even renounced their stars.

Michelin inspectors, all anonymous, did not visit any restaurants in St. Petersburg or Clearwater because parties that coordinated bringing the guide to Florida included Visit Florida, Visit Orlando, Visit Tampa Bay and Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau—but not Visit St. Pete Clearwater (VSPC).

Last year, Miami Herald reported that Florida’s tourist boards collectively paid Michelin more than $1.5 million to bring their restaurant inspectors to the Sunshine State.

At tonight’s ceremony, president and CEO of Visit Florida Dana Young stressed the importance of tourism throughout the state, stating that it’s the “lifeblood of Florida.”

About The Author

Kyla Fields

Kyla Fields is the Managing Editor of Creative Loafing Tampa Bay who started their journey at CL as summer 2019 intern. They are the proud owner of a charming, sausage-shaped, four-year-old rescue mutt named Piña.
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