The dining pleasure is all yours at Florida restaurants.
Dining out is one of life’s satisfying joys and it becomes even more so for vacationers who happily leave the job of daily cooking at home. Luckily for Sunshine State visitors, there are plenty of Florida restaurants to sample.
Restaurants in Florida run the gamut from beachside shacks to five-star gastronomic palaces. There are joints that welcome shorts and flip-flops as standard attire and others where fancy duds are more at home. Well, fancy in Florida-style, which might just mean designer shorts and Tommy Bahama shirt.
Florida’s culinary history is on the plate all over the state, and that’s especially true in South Florida. The state’s Cuban cuisine is showcased at legendary restaurants like Versailles Restaurant on Miami’s famed Calle Ocho. Ropa vieja and picadillo are just two of the many favorite dishes on the menu. Latin restaurants dot the landscape there with regularity stretching south to Key West where hungry travelers taste authenticity at El Siboney. Prepare to wait in line.
Tampa’s Ybor City, arguably the birthplace of the Cuban sandwich, is home to the Columbia Restaurant that’s been serving up Spanish and Cuban specialties for more than 100 years. There are five locations around the state and even airport travelers can get a taste of yellow rice and beans before they jet away from Tampa International Airport.
Tarpon Springs, the west coast’s Greek community, serves up pastitsio and spanakopita all along the Anclote River sponge docks. Take an amble through the village and stop at Mykonos for broiled octopus and then Hellas Bakery for seriously sticky baklava.
Many travelers to Florida have seafood on their minds. That makes perfect sense because Florida is surrounding by water teeming with delectable possibilities. Stone crabs are in season from May to October and are on the menu (market price of course) at restaurants throughout the state, most notably Joe’s Stone Crab on Miami Beach and Billy’s Stone Crab in Tierra Verde, south of St. Petersburg. There are less well-known seafood gems and the best way to find them is to ask the locals. They will lead you to places such as Singleton’s Seafood Shack in Atlantic Beach near Jacksonville, Walt’s Fish Market Restaurant in Sarasota or The Red Bar in Grayton Beach in the Panhandle. Do not go home without eating a bowl of the Red Bar’s award-winning gumbo.
There are lots of downhome diners and eateries, and then there are some upscale restaurants that will leave a luxurious taste in your mouth. Disney’s Victoria & Albert’s in the Grand Floridian resort might just be the finest of them all, with upholstered stools placed next to the ladies to cradle their handbags. It’s billed as elegant Victorian but the six-course menu is quite contemporary. Disney’s California Grill at the top of the Contemporary Resort is another special-occasion restaurant. Sync your dinner reservation with the nightly Magic Kingdom fireworks.
Celebrity chef Norman Van Aken’s 1921 in Mount Dora is indicative of the chef-driven and ingredient-proud restaurants popping up in Florida. Modern Florida cuisine can also be tasted at Chef Hari Pulapaka’s Cress in Deland. Pulapaka’s globally inspired cuisine is augmented with local and sustainable ingredients. Oh, and a few James Beard nominations, too.
Dining in the Sunshine State is as varied as an experience as travelers will find anywhere. Leave room in the belly for a mouth-puckering key lime pie.