Categories
Web 2.0

Tampa Bay Blogger Shoutouts

I’ll take some time each week to highlight some bloggers and critics in the area or outside of the area who I think deserve some recognition and attention.

A California Girl’s Quest to Fall in Love with Florida (http://myothercitybythebay.com/): This blog written by a NorCal blogger who is now living in Florida is a great concept. She relates some of her blogs back to her experience living in California and is indulging in the traditions of Florida such as Cuban cafes. Her blog highlights some places I never heard of prior so + points for that.

The Cheat Seat (http://thecheatseat.com/): Man this guy cracks me up! A humorous blog about bars and drinking/getting drunk. Stationed in the Tampa Bay area, this blogger attempts to uncover the best (and worst) bars while risking his liver. I can’t read one of his posts without laughing, even reviews where he hated the place are funny. Check his blog out. My current favorite is Magnum Wine Gets You Crunk (Unless you are white).

Tampa Bay Food Monster (http://tampabayfood.com/): This Tampa blogger also employs humor throughout his blog, but uses it on food/restaurant reviews instead of bars and alcohol. His blogs are entertaining and although we have different opinions on certain restaurants, I still enjoy reading his reviews. He made me want a Red Robin burger.

Categories
Web 2.0

How To: Research Restaurants Before You Dine

Many people search Google for restaurant reviews and are not sure about where they should be looking for reviews or the reputation of where they are looking. Big cities have a number of resources for residents, but coming from a smaller place like Tampa we only have a few guaranteed spots to research restaurants before you eat. Here is my guide to researching restaurants that pretty much anyone should be able to use.

1. Yelp

Yelp (http://www.yelp.com) is a great restaurant review site for a number of reasons. Each restaurant has an individual page filled with reviews, photos, and owner input as well. Cities also have home pages where you can view the top places in each city and the talk of the town. One of the things that makes Yelp stand above the top though is the sense of community it has. Even some smaller cities have active Elite Yelpers that regularly review restaurants and businesses. If you message someone asking for help or post in the Talk thread you will likely get a reply helping you out. You can check each persons page and see if they like what you like and also how reputable they are. Do they have only 1 review and say that a restaurant sucks? If they do you may want to question their recommendations. You can take Yelp with you on the go through their phone applications as well. Yelp Tampa can be found at: http://www.yelp.com/tampa-fl

2. Urbanspoon

Urbanspoon (http://www.urbanspoon.com) has city pages just like Yelp does. Urbanspoon is not quite as flashy though and most people simple use a button to decide whether they like or dislike a restaurant. This allows for more user feedback, but at the same time lowers what you can get out of it. Like Yelp you can view each users page and check their reputation. Urbanspoon also does a good job of separating businesses into neighborhoods so it is easier to find the top place in Brandon or Ybor City. There is still an ability to review businesses, which some people take advantage of, and Urbanspoon has just started to allow reviews of specific menu items so you can find out just how the Chicken Marsala is at a restaurant. Urbanspoon also has phone apps that you can carry with you on the go. To visit Urbanspoon’s Tampa page visit: http://www.urbanspoon.com/c/30/Tampa-Bay-restaurants.html

3. Urbanspoon Blog Leaderboard

One feature that is unique to Urbanspoon is their blog leaderboard (http://www.urbanspoon.com/blogs). This feature lists the top blogs according to the city you are currently reading about and also the number of views/posts on the blog. You can also take it to a worldwide-view and see the top blogs around the world. This may help to find more personal reviews if that is what you are searching for. There are few other good listings of local food blogs so I suggest this for those of you searching for local blogs in your area. Urbanspoon’s Tampa Blog Leaderboard can be found at: http://www.urbanspoon.com/blogs/30/Tampa-Bay.html

4. Chowhound Message Boards

Chowhound (http://www.chowhound.com) uses a much simpler site than that of Urbanspoon and Yelp, but it is still quite efficient. They have their main pages for big towns and then you can head into their message boards for information from some of your local foodies tips and recommendations. Frequent topics will be about the top restaurants in a food category or places to take someone for Christmas, for example. There is a search bar at the top where you can search for a restaurant you are trying to find out about or you start a thread asking about a place as well. Chowhound’s Florida Board can be found at: http://chowhound.chow.com/boards/10

5. Foodspotting

Foodspotting (http://www.foodspotting.com) is a relatively new site that keeps getting better everyday. You can search specific menu items in an area using their website or app and then look at how a dish actually looks at a restaurant and read comments people post about that menu item. If you have the app on your iPhone you can also upload photos to it while you are out and tag it to a restaurant, or wait until you are home and upload your photos manually using their upload form. You can search by city as well and few the latest things spotted in town. Tampa’s foodspotting page: http://www.foodspotting.com/#/loc/Tampa, FL/

Depending on which city you live in there may be other resources you can use, such as Zagat and Thrillist. Foursquare‘s growth has allowed more tips to allow on business pages as well. However, if you live in a smaller town or area then you still have all the resources I listed above so get researching and have a great bite to eat!

Categories
Reviews

Tomo Sushi

My friend and I have been planning to eat at Tomo Sushi for months, but something always comes up. We finally had a chance to have lunch yesterday, and I really enjoyed my first visit to this sushi restaurant. It’s located near USF on Bearss a short drive from Campus Lodge or Collegiate Hall. We were seated right when we entered.

They have some visual representations of things on the menu on the table and the menu has a few pictures as well. After spending some time deciding I decided to have the Tomo Lunch Box, a bento (おべんと) box ($10.95) which comes with one piece of salmon, one piece of tuna,  teriyaki chicken, rice, 4 pieces of California Roll, tempura shrimp and vegetables, miso soup, and salad. It didn’t sound like much at first thought, but I was stuffed in just a short while. My friends ordered some sushi rolls from their sushi menu.

The Ginger Salad was excellent! Not the best I have had, but up there with plenty of ginger sauce that didn’t make the salad bland, but kept it tasteful down to the bottom.

The Miso Soup was also pretty good, plenty of seaweed and tofu inside, however it did taste a little too much like onion powder.

The Tomo Lunch Box was excellent. There was plenty of food. The salmon and tuna nigiri tasted great and fresh. The California Rolls were good, but I probably take out the cucumber from them on a future visit. The tempura was great and the shrimp tempura is some of the best I have had in quite some time. They included plenty of teriyaki chicken and rice with several vegetables in the mix as well. It was more than enough to feed one person and well worth ($10.95).

My friends with their sushi.

I really like the decor inside of Tomo. You can see the booths are very personal and have dividers in between booths separating your party from other ones in the restaurant. There are paintings on the walls of fish and a number of traditional Japanese paintings around the restaurant. The sushi bar also looks nice and I would like to sit there in the future. They play some traditional music in the background as well, which is low enough to allow your party to have a nice conversation, but still enjoy some music while dining.

Mmm looks appetizing.

Overall, the food was great and service was on point. They have a number of Korean BBQ dining options as well, being Korean owned so I will have to return in the future to try their Bulgogi or Galbi. Tomo has traditional Japanese food as well such as Yakisoba, Don Katsu, and various types of Udon. I’ll be back in the future.

Tomo Japanese Sushi Bar on Urbanspoon

Restaurant Name: Tomo Japanese Sushi Bar

Cuisine: Japanese, Korean

Address: 15021 N Florida Ave. Tampa, FL 33613

Neighborhood: North Tampa

Phone Number: (813) 962-1560

Categories
Reviews

Mel’s Hot Dogs

Mel’s Hot Dogs is a part of my USF Dining Guide.

Mel’s Hot Dogs is well-known as one of Tampa’s best places to have a Chicago-style hot dog since 1973. The menu has a number of quality hot dogs, corn dogs, chicken choices, and burgers to choose from. Once you decide what main entree you want you, you choose whether to upgrade to a basket and have coleslaw or baked beans with french fries. They have both soda and draft beers to choose from.

My personal favorite is their corn dogs ($2.50). They are crispy just like you would have at a fair, such as the Florida State Fair, and the beef hot dogs inside taste fantastic. The french fries are also crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. The baked beans are usually sweet and the coleslaw tastes like real home-made slaw.

The hot dogs ($2.75) vary depending on which one, but you can usually count on the bun to be toasty and soft and the beef to taste just right. I normally will not eat hot dogs, but Mel’s is probably the only place where hot dogs actually taste good to me and it’s because of their attention to making quality food. I have tasted their Angus Beef Burgers ($4.75) as well and was impressed with how good it tasted, Mel’s can do more than just your average hot dog. Checkout their menu for more.

The employees are friendly and strike up a conversation every once in awhile. Normally you only wait a few minutes for your food and Mel’s is located right next to Busch Gardens and just two miles from USF so it is a convenient local business for students and tourists to stop at. There is plenty of seating for both small and large parties as well, though parking is a little limited they have extra in the back.

Justin happy with his hot dog.

Mel's Hot Dogs on Urbanspoon

Restaurant Name: Mel’s Hot Dogs

Cuisine: American

Address: 4136 E Busch Blvd. Tampa, FL 33617

Neighborhood: USF

Phone Number: (813) 985-8000

Website: http://www.melshotdogs.com/

*Prices do not include basket prices

Categories
Reviews

California Tacos

California Tacos is part of my USF Dining Guide.

California Tacos is a true taco stand in every sense of the name. Most people don’t know what to make of the exterior. It looks like it was shipped from Southern California and dropped on Bearss Ave. in Tampa, Florida. The name “California” itself drew me to this place because California is known for quality food and after a few Tampa Yelpers reviewed the location with positive reviews I decided to try it out for myself.

Upon parking I found myself staring at a taco stand with only a few tables and chairs around. This place was going to be a completely different experience then the Taco Bus. I was greeted by a man at the cashier window and he asked me if it was my first time. When I responded yes I was provided some surfer munchies (carrots and various other veggies) while I waited on my order. I decided to order their California Burrito with Carne Asada inside (around $8 or $9 with guacamole and sour cream). The thought of having french fries inside a burrito blew my mind. When I tasted it though I was so impressed.

The taste is completely different from anything you have probably had anywhere else. Nothing like Moes, Chipotle, TJ Flats, or authentic Mexican joints like the Taco Bus. The cheeses are clearly American cheeses (tasted like cheddar), but somehow it was just amazing. The steak wasn’t seasoned like Vallartas or Taco Bus, but man it was still good. The french fries, which had blown my mind actually tasted amazing inside a burrito. It’s like when you put onion rings in your burger for the first time or first dipped french fries in your ice cream…an unknown genius thought.

The Horchata was actually made very well. The perfect amount of sweetness, I think sometimes Taco Bus has too much cinnamon sweet taste, but California Tacos does it just right. The drink size is unfortunately smaller.

Delicious tacos! Too bad they aren’t bigger.

On my next visit I had their Tijuana Tacos (3 for $3), which are like miniature tacos with their pork. They are simply heavenly. The man at the stand wasn’t lying when he said they would leave me wanting more. I ordered two and then still decided to try their Tasty Tostada ($2.79), a huge tostada that maybe I should not have ordered because man I was going to gain some weight eating all this good food. Regardless, I was glad I tried both and after trying them I became confidant that this place deserves attention and love for making all this good food.

Their tostadas are loaded. Full of ingredients and tastes great, but hard to grab because of all the ingredients…make sure you grab a fork!

To rate this restaurant against the Taco Bus or any Mexican restaurant is simply unfair (though comparison works due to some similarities). The meats have the same names, but have different (and interestingly good) tastes. The Southern California style is something I am unfamiliar with as I was a Northern California former resident, but I am impressed with their quality of food and will happily visit California Tacos many times in the future.

California Tacos To Go on Urbanspoon

Restaurant Name: California Tacos

Cuisine: Mexican

Address: 1450 Skipper Rd. Tampa, FL 33613

Neighborhood: USF

Phone Number: (813) 971-8226

Website: http://www.californiatacostogo.com/

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/California-Tacos/75129943307?ref=ts

Categories
Reviews

Miller’s Ale House

Normally I try to refrain from reviewing chain restaurants, but my first visit to Miller’s Ale House was such a good experience that I have decided to write about it. My friends recommended their Honey Mustard Wings, we ordered 50 wings for about $24. Not bad pricing and more than enough to feed 5 people. The wings tasted great and didn’t need anything on top, though some of my friends added some spicy sauce and some extra honey mustard sauce. Normally I always dip my wings in blue cheese no matter the flavor, but these wings were so good I didn’t bother. It also did not take long for the wings to come out, which was good because some people dining with me were extremely hungry.

Delicious Honey Mustard Wings!

Tampa Yelpers also happened to recommend the Captain Jack’s Buried Treasure (my friends favorite) from the dessert menu, so we decided to have a moment of gluttony and indulge in dessert.

The Captain Jack’s Buried Treasure (homemade ice cream cake with Oreo cookie crust, caramel, chocolate fudge, and heath bar crunch) was the best part of our visit. Every bite was an enjoyable as the last. The chocolate taste was there, but not overdone. You could taste the cake and ice cream well without a strong contrast from the rest of the dessert. It mixed together perfectly and this has to be one of the best desserts I have had (and certainly the best in a pub). It tasted so good that waiting for someone else to have their piece made me a little anxious…next time I really want to try their other version which has Nutter Butter cookies inside.

A good dining experience…now I want to check out the one in Brandon.

Miller's Ale House Restaurants on Urbanspoon

Restaurant Name: Miller’s Ale House

Cuisine: American

Address: 14803 N Dale Mabry Hwy. Tampa, FL 33618

Neighborhood: Carrollwood

Phone Number: (813) 969-0020

Website: http://www.millersalehouse.com/

Categories
Reviews

Jackson’s Bistro-Bar-Sushi

Two exchange student friends I made from South Korea recently finished up their semester here at USF in Tampa. I wanted to take them to a nice restaurant before their trip back home, so I took these friends out to Jackson’s Bistro on Harbour Island by Downtown Tampa. I have been visiting this restaurant since I was a kid and it is has been the place of important times in my life, such as my dinner before my senior prom in high school. The restaurant has a nice selection of seafood, sushi, and a great waterfront view of Tampa. Jackson’s is spacious with many rooms and outdoor seating and is used as a nightclub during the weekends.

My two good friends from Seoul, South Korea.

We were seated quickly after entering and were able to select a window with a nice waterfront view of Tampa. While gazing at the sushi menu we decided to order their new england style clam chowder ($5.95). The clam chowder was appetizing, but not the best I have had. The taste was not strong enough to my liking, but was still appetizing with some crackers. Once we cleared out our soup we decided to order some sushi: I ordered a California handroll ($4.50) and a Rainbow Roll ($9.95) (tuna, whitefish, salmon, and shrimp over a California Roll), while my friends ordered Jackson’s Arizona Roll ($6.95) (yellowtail) and Hollywood Roll ($6.95) (an upscale California Roll made with blue crab claw meat).

The sushi tasted fresh and was appetizing. The rolls were large and had plenty of ingredients inside. I assumed my Rainbow Roll was still on the way and after some time passed I checked on the waitress and she admitted she forgot to put that in. Service took a dip after that. The waitress didn’t come back around for maybe thirty minutes. I finally got my Rainbow Roll after the wait.

The Rainbow Roll tasted great and the wait wasn’t so bad since I was conversing with my two friends while I waited. However, after this we asked for our check and it took the waitress forever to bring our check. When she finally brought it she didn’t come back to check on us anymore and we had to actually get up and talk to someone about paying our bill (I was pretty embarrassed because it is the last meal I would have my friends in the USA and I wanted them to have a perfect meal). The sushi was great so I hope Jackson’s will work on their customer service because this waitress was not satisfactory.

Oh well, the view was still great and the skies were clear that day so we went outside to take pictures with the great view that is offered here. Here are some of our pictures goofing around out back:

Jumping pictures hehe.

A great waterfront view of Tampa indeed.

Jackson's Bistro on Urbanspoon

Restaurant Name: Jackson’s Bistro

Cuisine: Sushi, American

Address: 601 S. Harbour Island Blvd. Tampa, Fl 33602

Neighborhood: Downtown Tampa

Phone Number: (813) 277-0112

Website: http://jacksonsbistro.com/

Categories
Reviews

Sushi Ninja

Sushi Ninja, located in the Bell Shoals shopping plaza off Bloomingdale Avenue in Brandon, is a quiet little sushi restaurant and bar that we decided to visit yesterday. The restaurant was empty at around 3pm and we made our way to the bar. All you could hear was water falling from their little waterfall. The restaurant itself was full of wooden booths made to look traditionally Japanese and decorations can be found all over, giving the restaurant a relaxing vibe to it.

At the bar my sister and I sat and had lunch. The owner made our sushi rolls, she was friendly and we found out that we actually know some of the same people. My sister ordered salmon skin with cream cheese and I ordered a California Roll ($4.00) with miso soup and ginger salad. The ginger salad was fantastic, savored it down to the very last bite. The miso soup was also great, enough flavor without tasting too powerful.

Ginger salad and Miso Soup.

When we got our rolls though, that’s when I decided this place is pretty awesome. The rolls were eight pieces and large. They weren’t cheap with the masago or the avocado (one of my sushi pet peeves). There was plenty of fish and it tasted fresh and flavorful. I ate my California Roll so fast that I ended up decided to order another one because it was just that good.  My sisters salmon and cream cheese was also great, though I am not a fan of cream cheese. The service was quick and painless and my sister and I were pretty much the driving voices there. They have a selection of Japanese sakes and Korean liquors as well, though we decided against it today and there were a wide variety of rolls on the menu.

You can see in this photo they were not cheap with any ingredients.

Prices for regular rolls were average, but many of the specials were over $12 or even $15 dollars. We did not make in time for their lunch special, but may have to try that out someday. The food here was unexpectedly great (it’s been a few years since I last ate here) and I would return again in the future.

Sushi Ninja on Urbanspoon

Restaurant Name: Sushi Ninja

Cuisine: Sushi

Address: 887 E Bloomingdale Avenue Brandon, FL 33511

Neighborhood: Brandon

Phone Number: (813) 662-3377

Categories
Reviews

The Italian Kitchen Cafe

My family and I ate at the Italian Kitchen and Cafe last weekend. A small restaurant located on 301 in in the Sweet Bay Shopping Plaza in Riverview. Looking at the plaza its in you wouldn’t expect to find such a nice place, but once you walk into the restaurant you feel like you’ve entered a different world. They have used mirrors, painting, and decorations, such as columns to make the place feel fancy and elegant. The actual restaurant is not very big, but has plenty of space for dates and a special area for large parties as well. Prices were between Olive Garden and Carrabba pricing. My Fettuccine Alfredo was only $9.99. Other entrees ranged from $10-$20.

They were quick to seat us and to take our orders and within a few minutes brought our server brought us some bread.

The bread tasted great! What was better than that was the dipping sauce they gave with it that made me want it more and more throughout my dinner. A mixture of olive oil and seasonings.

My Mom ordered their Chicken Piccata ($14.99). I sampled it and it tasted a little too salty with a pungent taste. The texture of the chicken was made right, but the sauce tasted a little off. The pasta was average.

The entree that stole the show was my Step-Father’s Sinful Chicken Parmesan ($14.99).  A few bites of that and we all ended up wishing we ordered that instead. The marinara sauce and mozzarella tasted great and the chicken was crispy. The spaghetti pasta was the best out of the three types we had. In a future visit I think we would all choose the Sinful Chicken Parmesan as our meal choice.

My entree was a standard Fettuccine Alfredo ($9.99). I chose this entree because it is my favorite type of pasta and I wanted to try one of the classics here before venturing into other types of food. They accidentally made the wrong type of pasta at first, but quickly corrected their error when it came out covered in broccoli and mushrooms. The Fettuccine Alfredo was average at best. The pasta was a little too thin for my liking and almost felt like Linguine (my least favorite pasta type) and the Alfredo sauce was nowhere near creamy enough and it ended up tasted watery.

Overall, I was pretty disappointed with my meal and would have preferred to have had this at Carrabba’s or the Olive Garden instead. Next time I would definitely order their Sinful Chicken Parmesan. Service was good and the waitress was very attentive to us. I would return again in the future.

Italian Kitchen & Cafe on Urbanspoon

Restaurant Name: The Italian Kitchen Cafe

Cuisine: Italian

Address: 6915 US Highway 301 S Riverview, FL 33569

Neighborhood: Riverview

Phone Number: (813) 671-0953

Websitehttp://italiankitchencafe.com/

Categories
Reviews

Hiro’s Tokyo Steakhouse and Sushi Bar

Hiro’s Tokyo Steakhouse and Sushi Bar is a popular spot among many people because of it’s late night half-off sushi special. It’s open until 2am from Sunday-Wednesday and 3am from Thursday-Saturday, which is pretty late for a sushi restaurant. Many of my friends frequently drive from Tampa out to St. Petersburg to enjoy some late night sushi with their pals. The place is alive with loud music and a packed bar as well a many customers at the tables and hibachi. The sushi is cheap, indeed, but there is a slight trade-off in quality of the roll when you eat late night there. However, the atmosphere makes up for it.

Most of the sushi rolls are heavy on the sauce to mask the sushi because sometimes it doesn’t taste very fresh, in my opinion. You get what you pay for though. If you just want some cheap sushi to enjoy with friends then Hiro’s is for you. They have a number of appetizers which are half-off as well.

The mussels there are pretty good.

The California Roll was average though neither the Alaska Roll nor the mackerel were appetizing (with the Mackerel having a very strong fishy taste that wasn’t anything like my amazing mackerel at Tokyo Sushi) and I probably would not order either again.

Despite some rolls not tasting  fresh, Hiro’s still has that unbeatable late-night special that attracts many and it is a really cool place to hangout at night with friends, the atmosphere is enjoyable and nothing like some sushi restaurants that are dead silent around night time. I don’t think I would ever go here alone (unless I was sitting at the bar) because it is the perfect place to bring a few friends.

And here are two of my friends: Jason & Mikey

Hiro's Tokyo Steakhouse & Sushi Bar (St. Pete) on Urbanspoon

Restaurant name: Hiro’s Tokyo Steakhouse and Sushi Bar

Cuisine: Japanese

Address:5250 4th St N St Petersburg, FL 33703

Neighborhood: Northeast St. Pete

Phone Number: (727) 522-4476

Website: http://www.hirostokyosteakhouse.com/