CL Big Game Guide: Soho, South Tampa

click to enlarge The martini (like this one from Restaurant BT) could be the official drink of SoHo. Unless you count beer. - Lori Ballard
Lori Ballard
The martini (like this one from Restaurant BT) could be the official drink of SoHo. Unless you count beer.

SoHo, aka South Howard Avenue and environs, is the beating, sometimes thumping heart of the South Tampa social scene. Elegant dining? Roving frat party? Quiet oasis? Depending on where and when you travel the avenue, you can enjoy all of that and more. Come Super Bowl weekend, it's a safe bet the crowds will be intense and the celebrity-spotters will be on orange alert.

1. The Kennedy. The latest Tommy Ortiz Experience, this one is subtitled a "boutique lounge" and promises "a bootie shakin' new dance floor, and the utmost in VIP seating." 2408 W. Kennedy Blvd., 813-259-9669, thekennedysoho.com.

2. The Bungalow. Nice bar, nice food (especially the sandwiches), nice décor (it's in a 1919 bungalow), nice human scenery and little of the pressurized partying that inundates this dining and drinking district on the weekend. 2202 W. Kennedy Blvd., 813-253-3663, thebungalowtampa.com.

3. Hyde Park Café. The spot to sip Grey Goose martinis while putting the techno-fueled dance moves on the micro-skirt-wearing coeds — or to look for Jeter holding court in the VIP section. 1806 Platt St., 813-254-2542233, thehydeparkcafe.com.

4. The Rack. Perhaps the only Tampa sports bar/pool hall that features a full, recommendable sushi menu, this is the place to gobble Cali rolls, shoot a game of 8-ball and socialize with the well-tended regulars. 1809 W. Platt St., Tampa, 813-250-1595, hittherack.com.

5. Mangroves. On Friday and Saturday nights, this decade-plus-running SoHo seafood grill transforms into a dance club in the loft while the downstairs area, with its quasi-private booths, bars and patio, is the place to drink a cocktail in style with the other stylish patrons. 208 S. Howard Ave., 813-258-3302, mangrovesseafoodgrille.com.

6. T.C. Choy's Asian Bistro. "Excellent Pan-Asian restaurant featuring sophisticated decor; unusual dishes, such as whole steamed fish and elegant lychee pudding; and a dynamite sushi bar," reads the CL dining guide. 301 S. Howard Ave., 813-251-1191, 813-251-2291.

7. SoHo Tavern. Located in the former home of a laundromat on a previously cursed corner, this sports bar/Italian restaurant/ neighborhood hangout has managed to attract a young, convivial crowd. 2221 W. Platt St., 813-253-5900, myspace.com/sohotavern.

8. The Corner Bar. Our former bar columnist, the inimitable Wade Tatangelo, liked this place for its intimate, unpretentious vibe and great service, but worried for its future. The bar is still hanging in there, though, maybe because it offers a counterpart to the bigger, noisier, glitzier spots nearby. 302 S. Howard Ave., 813-258-8999.

9. Cheap. A surprisingly good restaurant with an unfortunate name. The décor is a mishmash of tattoo-parlor and hipster honky-tonk themes, and the menu features exceptionally good fish (including crudo, or Italian sashimi) and riffs on international tapas. 309 S Howard Ave., 813-258-5878.

10. The Dubliner. Irish bar popular with young professionals serves a fine selection of beer and wine (no liquor), pub grub and at night often features cover bands performing on the large wooden deck. 2307 W. Azeele St., 813-258-2257.

11. Taqueria Quetzalcoatl. A dependable stop for quick Mexican, with an outdoor patio perfect for al fresco burrito-munching. 402 S Howard Ave., 813-259-9982.

12. MacDinton's. South Tampa's largest pub attracts 20somethings and students, who pack the place Thursday through Saturday nights. Liquor is served along with a full menu. A tiki bar on the sprawling patio overlooks Howard Avenue. 405 S. Howard Ave., 813-251-8999.

13. SoHo Oasis Café. A refreshing outpost of Middle Eastern mezze, small plates featuring such treats as falafel, chickpea fritters and spicy Armenian sausages. Tasty kebabs, too, in a serene atmosphere just right for smoking a hookah. 410 S. Howard Ave., 813-849-7482.

14. Lodge. Formerly Chateau France, then Chateau SoHo, then Manny's Bistro — all in about 18 months time — Lodge looks to be a more stable tenant, seeing as it's run by Jeff Gigante and partners, aka the Ciccio & Tony's crew. It's a tough corner, though — we'll have to wait and see. 555 S. Howard Ave., 813-555-1212, lodgetampa.com.

15. Gourmet Pizza Company. Pizzas that live up to the name, especially the one with the chicken and artichokes. 610 S. Armenia Ave., 813-258-1999, gourmetpizza-company.com.

16. 717 South. Italian and Pacific Rim cuisine, blended together on the same menu, if not on the same plate. Sesame crusted tuna and sirloin steak coated in espresso powder are among the highlights on a menu of adequately constructed, well-cooked dishes that fit both cuisines. 717 S Howard Ave., 813-250-1661, www.717south.com.

17. Royal Palace Thai. A pleasant, cozy spot for Thai cuisine served with grace by a congenial staff. 811 S. Howard Ave., 813-258-5893, royalpalacethai.com.

18. Daily Eats. A diner with a dose of hip, this popular joint is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, with an accordingly big menu that ranges from benedicts to burgers to bowls. The Ciccio and Tonys guys love the meal-in-a-bowl concept - or should we rename it the bowl game? 901 S. Howard Ave., 813-868-3335, ciccioandtonys.com.

19. Lime. An upscale sports bar serving a menu of gringofied Tex-Mex and Brazilian-influenced food with a distinct frat-boy vibe. (There's an extensive tequila list.) Try the skirt-steak burrito. 915 S. Howard Ave., 813-868-LIME, ciccioandtonys.com.

20. Hugo's Spanish Restaurant. It's been in South Tampa since the 1970s, serving one of the best, priced-to-move pressed Cuban sandwiches in town. 931 S. Howard Ave., 813-251-2842.

21. Tiny Tap Tavern. One of Tampa's oldest watering holes, this former gas station features a couple of pool tables, a judiciously handpicked jukebox and a friendly clientele that ranges from gruff retirees to fresh-faced college students. 2105 W. Morrison Ave.

22. Restaurant BT. A Best of the Bay winner for its mix of quiet chic and deliciously precise French-Vietnamese cuisine from famed local restaurateur BT Nguyen-Batley. 1633 W. Snow Ave., 813-258-1916, restaurantbt.com.

23. The Wine Exchange. A gorgeous window-walled space at the heart of Hyde Park Village, the Exchange offers an exceptional wine-by-the-glass program, with selections ranging from inexpensive to high-end. 1609 Snow Ave., 813-254-9463, wineexchangetampa.com.

24. SideBern's. The sister restaurant to the venerable Bern's advertises "One World Under Food," and has grown into a destination in its own right, with sophisticated cuisine that flirts successfully with the cutting edge. 2208 W. Morrison Ave., 813-258-2233, sideberns.com.

25. Ciccio & Tony's. Originally specializing in Italian dishes, the restaurant now features California cuisine marked by nicely priced sushi plates, delicious crispy salads and entrées like Pollo Ricotta ($14.95). 1015 S. Howard Ave., 813-251-8406, ciccioandtonys.com.

26. Bern's Steak House. Founded in 1956, Tampa's premier steak house features a world-renowned wine cellar that includes bottles from the 18th century and an equally notorious dessert room with private cubicles and fabulously sinful sweets. 1208 S. Howard Ave., 813-251-2421, bernssteakhouse.com.

27. Bella's Italian Café. South Tampans have been coming here for authentic Italian dishes — and pizzas cooked in an oak-burning stone oven crafted in Milan — for more than two decades. 1413 S. Howard Ave., 813-254-3355, bellasitaliancafe.com.

28. Ceviche. The original, locally owned tapas bar and restaurant of the burgeoning Florida franchise opened at the corner of Bayshore and Howard in 1997, and has blossomed since moving into larger quarters in the former location of St. Bart's Island House. Try the homemade sangria and Sunday brunch. 1502 S. Howard Ave., 813-250-0203, cevichetapas.com.

29. Pane Rustica. Fantastic sandwiches on crusty homemade bread at lunchtime (including a Best of the Bay-winning fishwich and seriously good burgers) and an inventive, always tempting menu at dinnertime is why CL's food critic summed up this place as, simply, "damn good." 3225 S. MacDill Ave, 813-902-8828.

30. Four Green Fields. With its thatched roof, lack of TV sets, perfectly poured Guinness, servers with thick brogues, trad music performances and Sinn Fein posters on the wall, this is by far the best and most authentic Irish pub in the region. The food is excellent, too. 205 W. Platt St., 813-254-4444, fourgreenfields.com.

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