December 28, 2021

Tampa Bay's 50 best restaurants of 2021

PHOTO BY MELISSA SANTELL / DESIGN BY JACK SPATAFORA
Photo by Melissa Santell / Design by Jack Spatafora
In spite of the last two years taking so many beloved restaurants away, some local chefs and restaurateurs have found ways to not only survive, but thrive over the last 12 months.

Sure, a lot of us still aren’t going out—with many more doing so cautiously, mask in hand—but the last year was a time to reconnect with old favorites and find new ones, too. Creative Loafing Tampa Bay staff and contributors joined you in doing our best to support the local food and drink scene, and while these are such “unprecedented times” (aren’t you so sick of hearing that phrase an unprecedented number of times??), what follows is a rundown of our favorite food experiences of the last year, be they classic spots, brand new digs, coat-and-tie kinda joints or straight up holes in the wall.

Here’s to an even better 2022, keep on tipping like your money is on fire, people.—Ray Roa
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7th+Grove
1930 E 7th Ave., Ybor City. 813-640-8422
Haters (you know who you are) say the place is too lively on weekend nights, but that’s a lie. Not only is 7th+Grove now a staple of the Ybor City historic district, but it’s also home to a rocksteady menu of Southern favorites all dished up by an ace team ready to guide you through brunch, taco Tuesday, late night, lunch and dinner. If you’ve never been, get baptised by the braised oxtails, then scream hallelujah, amen.—RR
7thandGrove/Facebook

7th+Grove
1930 E 7th Ave., Ybor City. 813-640-8422
Haters (you know who you are) say the place is too lively on weekend nights, but that’s a lie. Not only is 7th+Grove now a staple of the Ybor City historic district, but it’s also home to a rocksteady menu of Southern favorites all dished up by an ace team ready to guide you through brunch, taco Tuesday, late night, lunch and dinner. If you’ve never been, get baptised by the braised oxtails, then scream hallelujah, amen.—RR

Al’s Finger Licking Good Bar-B-Que
1609 Angel Olivia Sr. St., Ybor City. 813-956-0675
We hope COVID didn’t take your sense of smell because this is a time-tested Ybor City spot you can ID from down the street. Meats are obviously the star here (we suggest smoked sausage, ribs or the pulled pork), but don’t skip out on sides, especially the creamy coleslaw, spicy collards and the only-available-on-Friday mac-and-cheese. If you’re a fiend for a bang-bang, scoot on over to Big Al’s soul food spot located just a few blocks away (2302 E 7th Ave.).—RR
AlsYbor/Facebook

Al’s Finger Licking Good Bar-B-Que
1609 Angel Olivia Sr. St., Ybor City. 813-956-0675
We hope COVID didn’t take your sense of smell because this is a time-tested Ybor City spot you can ID from down the street. Meats are obviously the star here (we suggest smoked sausage, ribs or the pulled pork), but don’t skip out on sides, especially the creamy coleslaw, spicy collards and the only-available-on-Friday mac-and-cheese. If you’re a fiend for a bang-bang, scoot on over to Big Al’s soul food spot located just a few blocks away (2302 E 7th Ave.).—RR

Anju
2827 16th St., N, St. Petersburg. 727-289-8568
Korean food has always been a favorite, but it really feels like the cuisine had a moment locally in 2021, and the main reason was a big, crunchy embrace of a new kind of KFC—Korean fried chicken—that Anju really does better than anyone else. With roots in a 12-foot food trailer, Mee Ae Wolney now runs her restaurant out of a beautiful brick building on 16th Street where slings sweet, salty and spicy K-pops and a drunk person’s dream: tots loaded with bulgogi and kimchi, plus cheese and scallions, crushed peanut and St. Pete heat sauce.—RR
Visit St. Pete-Clearwater

Anju
2827 16th St., N, St. Petersburg. 727-289-8568
Korean food has always been a favorite, but it really feels like the cuisine had a moment locally in 2021, and the main reason was a big, crunchy embrace of a new kind of KFC—Korean fried chicken—that Anju really does better than anyone else. With roots in a 12-foot food trailer, Mee Ae Wolney now runs her restaurant out of a beautiful brick building on 16th Street where slings sweet, salty and spicy K-pops and a drunk person’s dream: tots loaded with bulgogi and kimchi, plus cheese and scallions, crushed peanut and St. Pete heat sauce.—RR

Bayou Bodega
241 E Davis Blvd., Tampa. 813-513-5478
Tampa’s Davis Islands is home to a lot of old reliables (Thai Island, Margarita’s Mexican Food, Islands Pizza, Anchor Bar) plus some solid Italian (Oggi, and it’s even more impressive neighborhood market and wood fired pizza kitchen), but Yarinel Ramos and Robert Sickler have turned it up at their concept which serves a whole lot of natty wine alongside the flavors of New Orleans, Puerto Rico and the wider Caribbean. It’s hard to go wrong, but the po’boys, garlic shrimp, brabant potatoes and simple red beans and rice will guarantee a return trip.—RR
Erin Benik of Emagine Photography

Bayou Bodega
241 E Davis Blvd., Tampa. 813-513-5478
Tampa’s Davis Islands is home to a lot of old reliables (Thai Island, Margarita’s Mexican Food, Islands Pizza, Anchor Bar) plus some solid Italian (Oggi, and it’s even more impressive neighborhood market and wood fired pizza kitchen), but Yarinel Ramos and Robert Sickler have turned it up at their concept which serves a whole lot of natty wine alongside the flavors of New Orleans, Puerto Rico and the wider Caribbean. It’s hard to go wrong, but the po’boys, garlic shrimp, brabant potatoes and simple red beans and rice will guarantee a return trip.—RR

Brgr Kitchen & Bar
10800 Gulf Blvd., Treasure Island. 727-322-7040
I recently found myself on Gulf Boulevard and decided to drop in at Brgr (stylized “BRGR”) to see if it still had the great burgers that put it on my 2019 Top 50 list. If you missed that or my 2016 review, you may not even know that BRGR exits. It keeps a low profile, mostly serving Treasure Island Beach Resort guests. But every time I visit, I’m wowed. The “spuds and rings” are terrific. Choose from skin-on truffle or cinnamon-dusted sweet potato fries. My favorite is the super thick cut Samuel Adams beef-battered onion rings. And “The Nooner” remains as good as any burger that I can recall.—Jon Palmer Claridge
BRGRkitchenandbar/Facebook

Brgr Kitchen & Bar
10800 Gulf Blvd., Treasure Island. 727-322-7040
I recently found myself on Gulf Boulevard and decided to drop in at Brgr (stylized “BRGR”) to see if it still had the great burgers that put it on my 2019 Top 50 list. If you missed that or my 2016 review, you may not even know that BRGR exits. It keeps a low profile, mostly serving Treasure Island Beach Resort guests. But every time I visit, I’m wowed. The “spuds and rings” are terrific. Choose from skin-on truffle or cinnamon-dusted sweet potato fries. My favorite is the super thick cut Samuel Adams beef-battered onion rings. And “The Nooner” remains as good as any burger that I can recall.—Jon Palmer Claridge

Join the Creative Loafing Tampa Bay Press Club

At a time when local-based reporting is critical, support from our readers is essential to our future.