The Food Issue: Staff tastes too

Not to be left out, CL’s amateur eaters list the dishes they can’t forget.

click to enlarge The Food Issue: Staff tastes too - James Ostrand
James Ostrand
The Food Issue: Staff tastes too

Why should the restaurant critic have all the fun? Here are 13 dishes that haunt the rest of us here at CL — meals we will eat whenever we get the chance, recommend if we ever get asked, and miss terribly if they (or we) ever go away.

What about you? What are your most memorable meals? Tell us at

click to enlarge The Food Issue: Staff tastes too - Chip Weiner
Chip Weiner
The Food Issue: Staff tastes too

Banana Spring Rolls from 
Sweet, soft slices of banana fried in a light, crispy shell and drizzled with honey and sesame seeds. Dip them in the French vanilla bean ice cream and sip some Vietnamese coffee.
—Chip Weiner

click to enlarge The Food Issue: Staff tastes too - Todd Bates
Todd Bates
The Food Issue: Staff tastes too

Breakfast Sandwich from 
There’s no better A.M. sammie than the one served at Banyan Café: Cuban bread loaded with white cheddar, fried eggs, fat slices of hickory-smoked bacon and sautéed spinach. It can also be served sans bacon, but why would you want to do that?
—Leilani Polk

Donuts from the Hot Donut Co.
Vanilla cake donuts that are battered, machine fried-and-flipped, then served piping hot and delicious from a donut truck — plain, iced (vanilla, chocolate) or topped (coconut, nuts). Look for the donut-mobile at food truck rallies, or weekdays from 6:30 to 10:30 a.m. in downtown Tampa on Franklin between Jackson and Kennedy. —LP

click to enlarge The Food Issue: Staff tastes too - James Ostrand
James Ostrand
The Food Issue: Staff tastes too

Dr. Pepper Fried Ribs from 
Z Grille
I’m not a big Dr. Pepper fan, nor am I a fiend for ribs, but there is something so lip-smackingly, rib-suckingly good about these ribs that it is impossible not to order them whenever I stop at Z Grille. And don’t get me started on the deviled eggs … —David Warner

click to enlarge The Food Issue: Staff tastes too - Meaghan Habuda
Meaghan Habuda
The Food Issue: Staff tastes too

Hibiscus Soda from 
Refreshing on any hot day, it’s the perfect combination of sweet and tart. When the staff at this St. Pete hot spot suggests that you mix it with limeade, do it. —Amy Daire

Indie Grilled Cheese from The Independent
Who woulda thought the perfect ingredient to transport grilled cheese from mere sandwichdom to culinary Valhalla would be …  sautéed pears? The independent spirits at The Independent, that’s who woulda, and we bless them for it. —DW

click to enlarge The Food Issue: Staff tastes too - Scott Harrell
Scott Harrell
The Food Issue: Staff tastes too

Jerk Pork from the Jerk Hut 

Truly authentic. The perfect blend of sweet and tangy, chopped with a cleaver and served with beans and rice and steamed vegetables. —Scott Harrell

Rotisserie Chicken from Pollo Garden
With an ample serving of juicy rotisserie chicken and sides like freshly cut French fries and spicy, creamy huancaina sauce, Pollo Garden’s signature dish gives Ybor foodies a rare taste of authentic Peruvian cuisine. —Cody Smith

Shawarma Platter from Row Boat
It’s not just one taste, it’s an amalgam of tastes — savory (the chicken), smooth (the hummus), crunchy (the fries), tangy (the salad) and (if you get the spicy green stuff and the mysteriously delicious orange stuff on the side) wonderfully spicy. Plus you get the best mint iced tea on the planet (or at least in Ybor). —DW

Steak Sandwich from Aguila Sandwich Shop
This nationally recognized sandwich from Aguila (on Hillsborough Ave. between Himes and Armenia in Tampa) layers delectable steak slices, lettuce, tomato, a mayo-mustard combo and blink-and-you-miss-them fries onto a hearty Cuban loaf. —CS

Sliced Bar B-Q Beef from Jimbo’s 
Virtually anything you order at Jimbo’s Pit Bar B-Q is top-notch — they’ve been doing it more than four decades, after all — but the sliced barbecue beef is flavor-rich and fall-apart tender. Have it as a platter with fries and baked beans, or take a sandwich to go. Don’t forget to snag a few pickles and hush puppies, too. —LP

Thin Lizzy from Engine No. 9
Not what most would order from a St. Pete joint known for its burgers, but this is the best tasting veggie “burger” I’ve ever had. Truffled goat cheese pairs well with the toasted sammie’s pesto and medley of portabella, onions, red peppers and zucchini. —Meaghan Habuda

Tuna Cracka’ Stacka’ from 
A snazzy, festive fustion of sushi and Chinese, this is a favorite appetizer at Ella’s Americana Folk Art Café, with sesame, fresh tuna, fried wonton and confetti-like shredded cabbage skirted with festive dots of sriracha and wasabi. Try mashing it up and eating with a fork, ’cause it can get messy. —Julie Garisto