U Poke Spot: Quality poke bowls arrive in Tampa near USF

Full disclosure: I was invited to try the menu at U Poke Spot in exchange for my opinion about their food. These opinions are my own and do not reflect U Poke Spot.

U Poke Spot opened recently just a block away from USF across from MOSI by Einstein’s and Qdoba. It’s a fast-casual Hawaiian-style poke restaurant.

Despite the national popularity of poke, it hasn’t quite taken off yet in Tampa. Many restaurant have tried to use poke as a marketing tactic to upsell their typical fish without offering real poke. Often times the sauces will be downright awful or the fish doesn’t taste good.

Poke Rose at The Hall on Franklin was the first serious take on poke in Tampa, but unfortunately it does not allow you to customize your bowls. The Poke Cafe may be good to the people in Dunedin, but to me it was a disappointing example of poke.

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U Poke Spot resembles more of what I expect in a poke restaurant. The owners background ties back to sushi restaurants, so the fish and toppings reflect that and they go well.

They have salmon, tuna, spicy salmon, spicy tuna, octopus, and even chicken for people who are trying to avoid fish all together. Some toppings include masago, edamame, tempura flakes, seaweed salad, guacamole, mango salsa, crushed nuts, and more.

The main sauce is poke sauce but there are at least 4 other available. The eel sauce and spicy mayo sauces I tried were also great and just what you would find at any sushi restaurant. To be honest, this is the best poke I have had since I last went to San Francisco.

Some things I hope to see added to the menu are tamago (Japanese egg) and eel.

I went with the spicy salmon all the way and added a bunch of toppings and I found all of them to be fresh and flavorful. I built my bowl the same way I would build a sushi burrito or a sushi roll and modern poke is pretty much that.

The guacamole was flavorful, but I would be interested in seeing the guacamole mixed with some other things perhaps in the future. I’a Poke in San Francisco has sun-dried tomato guacamole which sounds ridiculous, but is actually ridiculously amazing with poke and sushi burritos. The cool thing about poke bowls is you can constantly re-invent the menu for customers.

The key to a good poke bowl will depend on how you mix the fish, toppings, and sauces. You have to think about how the flavors all complement each other. There are pre-arranged bowls to help those who might struggle with that.

The prices seem a little expensive for the college area it is situated in with 2 proteins at $10.95 and 3 proteins for $13.95, but it is actually comparable to other poke restaurants. The price will mostly increase when you add higher end toppings such as guacamole or avocado which is expensive pretty much anywhere.

On average I think a typical for me would probably run around $13-15 which isn’t unfair for the bowl portions in my opinion. The truth is quality fish is never going to be cheap without something else to make up for the margins lost such as alcohol or events.

The owners could mitigate that feeling for students by providing a rewards program, student discount, or flash sales that will draw them in even if they are reluctant. Although students claim to be price-conscious, they are willing to spend extra for the right brands. See Chipotle, iPhones, electronic music festivals, etc.

I was also a fan of the drink selection with numerous drinks from Japan available including various green tea brands, Japanese Ramune sodas, and Calpico which I love.

This selection was also available at poke places I visited in San Francisco and the owners of U Poke Spot told me much of their inspiration came from poke restaurants in New York that they visited.

The interior is modern with digital screens and clean and to me makes a good case of probably a franchise one day if U Poke Spot is successful.

The owners indicated they will be adding sushi burritos to the menu as well which I look forward to trying in the future.

I really enjoyed U Poke Spot and look forward to coming back again soon. It is the first time I have felt like poke is being done how I imagined it in Tampa. I recommend giving them a look.

Restaurant name: U Poke Spot

Neighborhood: USF, Temple Terrace

Cuisine: Poke

Address: 5001 E. Fowler Ave., Unit F, Tampa, FL 33617

Phone Number: 813-533-3707

Hours: 11AM-10PM Sunday-Thursday, 11AM-11PM Friday & Saturday

Menu: http://www.upokespot.com/menu-2/

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NEW: H20℃ Boba Shop & Thai-Rolled Ice Cream opens near USF

USF has no shortage of dessert shops and cafes. There has to be over 10 cafes and shops near the USF campus.

Last year Ice Smile was one of the shops in Tampa to popularize Thai-Rolled Ice Cream and people went nuts for it. We’re talking over an hour wait for Thai-Rolled Ice Cream. Now a new shop has emerged on Fletcher Avenue just minutes from USF.

H20℃ opened in August on Fletcher by the USF – Tampa Campus and is serving Thai-Rolled Ice Cream and bubble tea at 13520 University Plaza Street. The bubble tea is served in light bulbs which has been a popular fad on the west coast for over a year now.

Got Tea was one of the first shops in Tampa to serve light bulb boba last year.

For more info on H20℃ visit them on social media:

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/H2OCicecream/

Instagram: http://www.instagram.com/h2oc_tampa/

It is open daily from Monday to Sunday from 12PM-11PM.

You can reach them at (813) 559-1645.

 

Grand Opening! Thai Inspired Roll Ice Cream in Tampa.

A post shared by H20°C (@h2oc_tampa) on

Fuzzy’s Taco Shop Opens January 26th in Temple Terrace

Fast-casual restaurant chain concept Fuzzy’s Taco Shop is expanding into Temple Terrace and opening doors to the public on Thursday, January 26th. The restaurant is 4,100 square ft. The first Tampa Bay restaurant, built in February 2016, is located in Brandon and is located off Causeway Boulevard and Providence Lakes Road.

The University of South Florida location, located off the corner of Fowler Avenue and 56th Street, will feature a large garden-style patio with “truck-bed seating”, large communal style tables, a live music stage for local singers and DJs, and a full-liquor bar with six barrels of signature frozen cocktails and 16 beers on tap.

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Fuzzy’s Taco Shop’s 100-plus locations serve breakfast all day long, offering a robust selection that includes breakfast tacos and jumbo burritos (guests can choose from eggs, bacon, cheese, potatoes, chorizo, and shrimp) as well as the brand’s “breakfast favorites”, including huevos rancheros, migas, chilaquiles, and the breakfast taco plate (all served with Latin-fried potatoes and refried beans), or the signature Big Fuzz Breakfast Sandwich.

Considering how successful all-day-breakfast has worked for fast food restaurants – it’s interesting to see a fast-casual concept also offering this option. Fowler Avenue is filled with a variety of breakfast options from IHOP to First Watch.

Parents note: kids menus will be available serving taco plate, nachos, cheeseburgers, quesadillas, and chicken sticks, with carrots and ranch dressing offered as a side.

The restaurant will be open late – a plus for students. Service at Fuzzy’s Taco Shop will be provided from 8AM to 12AM from Monday to Wednesday, 8AM to 2AM from Thursday to Saturday, and 8AM to 11PM on Sunday. Catering will also be available.

For more information visit: www.FuzzysTacoShop.com

USF Homecoming XX Food Truck Rally

Full disclosure: This is a sponsored post for Tampa Bay Food Truck Rally. I have been compensated for my time and writing. Tampa Bay Food Truck Rally works with more than 100 food trucks and books them for events, corporate and private catering, among other services. Opinions posted are my own and do not represent the views of Tampa Bay Food Truck Rally or businesses listed.

On Friday I visited the University of South Florida Sun Dome for a food truck rally for USF Homecoming XX. Food trucks were spread around the event including Boom Boom BoxChurroland TampaJust Smokin BBQ, Kebablicious, SantoriniSawadee Thai Food, and WING BOX. Homecoming is one of USF’s longest traditions, dating back to 1964, the year after USF’s first graduating class.

Boom Boom Burger

First we stopped at Boom Boom Box food truck. It was hard to decide what to order – but their Boom Boom Burger looked appetizing so we decided to order it. Indeed, it was an extremely delicious burger down to the last bite and a large portion that would be filling for hungry food truck rally attendees. The sauce really makes this burger and definitely makes me want to try the other things on the menu that utilize it. The fries were also great.

Sawadee Thai Food Truck

Next we stopped at Sawadee Thai Food Truck, not to be confused with Sawatdee Thai Cuisine located on 56th Street by USF. I wasn’t really sure what to expect out of a Thai food truck – but we decided that a Pad Thai would be a quick way to judge whether the food was good at Sawadee.

Chicken Pad Thai

I was surprised with both the portion size and dedication to quality on Sawadee Thai Food Truck. It tasted just as good as a Pad Thai you can get in a Thai restaurant and the price was fair at around $7. The attention to detail was there and the owners at the food truck were really friendly and remembered a friend of mine who visited the truck over a year ago.

Noodles

One of the last things I tried was the noodles off the Sawadee Thai Food Truck. Also delicious and clear dedication to authentic cuisine. I’d definitely go back to this truck and try some other more exotic things in the future – they had quite a few choices and the prices were definitely inviting.

Overall, we had a blast wandering around the food truck rally trying different food at the rally and the weather was favorable thanks to Hurricane Matthew bringing in a cold front and lots of windy weather which is welcome after an extremely hot summer. This concluded our visit to the USF Homecoming XX Food Truck Rally.

Gyro Zone serves up excellent, affordable Lebanese food

There is this is hole-in-the-wall restaurant I have been frequenting by USF and the University Mall called Gyro Zone. It fits every definition of the phrase “hidden gem”.

The prices are fair and trend under $10 with student deals and combos that can appeal to the college students. The hours are also college-friendly with Gyro Zone open until midnight from Monday-Saturday (good luck finding a decent meal after 10PM at other places by campus). The food will leave your heart and stomach in a good place.

When you walk into Gyro Zone – you’re not sure what to expect. The place is simple enough – a long hallway with tables and a counter for ordering your food and pickup. The kitchen is open you so you can see the schwarma in all its fine excellence and their dedication to quality as they prepare the food.

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Picking a menu item can be tough – I have trended towards chicken schwarma on most visits – simply because it is the best chicken schwarma I have had in the Tampa Bay area. It’s incredible. I usually grab it in a pita, but on my last visit yesterday I decided to go for the Schwarma Bowl which comes with rice, chicken schwarma, some veggies, and a drink. All for around $7. It. is. amazing.

Gyro Zone has 41 reviews on Yelp and seems to have organically reached a 5-star average, yet every time I visit the place isn’t busy which has me concerned, so here I am…writing my love to this excellent food. I have visited over 6 times in the last 3 weeks and I left happy and satisfied every single time.

The fries that they serve with their pita are better than Five Guys and cooked to perfection. The owner (I assume) and employees who work there are always super chill and friendly. They offer delivery (I hear they may be on UberEats soon? – let’s hope).

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I finally tried the hummus on my last visit. I LOVE hummus – but my experiences with it are all over the place depending on what restaurant you eat it at. The hummus at Gyro Zone was excellent and came with some of their pita chips which I’ll add are also crazy good. Everything here is just on-point and exceeds expectations.

My friend was feeling adventurous yesterday and decided to order the cheeseburger at Gyro Zone. Sure – not an ode to Lebanese cuisine. However, I took a bite or two or three out of his burger and it was insanely delicious. I’m not sure if it was the sauce in the burger or the seasoning in the beef that made it taste so good – but this burger was not your average burger and it seems like that applies across the entire menu at Gyro Zone.

It’s hard to open a great, local business and restaurant in Tampa Bay and all the right elements are at Gyro Zone. All that is left is for people to go and experience it for themselves. Don’t just take my word for it. Go try it yourself. The prices are fair and the food is excellent.

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Restaurant Name: Gyro Zone

Address: 2709 University Square Dr. Tampa, FL 33612

Phone Number: (813) 284-0777

Website: http://www.gyrozonetampa.com/

Menu: http://www.gyrozonetampa.com/menu.html

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/Gyro-Zone-166848396852439/

In Memory of Lisa Tian, Joy of Tokyo in New Tampa restaurant owner

I stumbled upon Joy of Tokyo in New Tampa one day in January of this year when a friend and I were heading to SoHo Sushi North and found it closed at 2PM. We decided to try a new restaurant we had seen on Bruce B. Downs by Acropolis, Joy of Tokyo. Once inside we had a great meal and the owner, Lisa (Lixin) Tian, came and sat with us. We talked for quite some time about her new business and how much I liked the food. She told me she moved all the way from Ohio down to Tampa to support her son attending USF and had successful businesses in Indiana and Ohio. I gave her some suggestions about using social media and setting up a website and she took my suggestions.

The next time I visited for lunch the owner and I talked about her new website and Facebook fan page. She told me her son who attends USF made the accounts for her since she wasn’t too familiar with how to use the internet. We laughed and after another great lunch I decided I wanted to schedule a sushi social with the organization I started at USF, The Japanese Club at USF. She was happy to set it up and I talked with her for about thirty minutes over the phone, she said she was happy to work with the USF community and would plan special discounts for my members and work with us however best she could.

The sushi social had a decent turnout for being scheduled during the day and the owner prepared everything and was completely hospitable to us. The next time I would interact with Joy of Tokyo would be at a Sushi Workshop organized by USF organizations Sigma Lambda Beta and Asian Students in America (A.S.i.A.). The employees from Joy of Tokyo came to our school and explained to students how to make certain sushi rolls. It was clear that Lisa was a smart businesswoman who was open-minded and happy to be a part of the USF community.

Unfortunately, in late May 2011 – I heard that Lisa Tian had been hospitalized after being severely beaten by her husband, Chunping Lin, and Lisa  suffered severe bleeding from the brain and a broken wrist in a case of domestic violence. Chunping a six-foot tall, 160 pound man, also attacked his 10-year old son who was defending his mother and caused a laceration of the son’s finger with broken glass. Lisa became comatose at St. Joseph’s  Hospital and after two months of the restaurant being closed down, I heard that she died a few days ago. Her husband was being charged with attempted murder, domestic violence, and child abuse according to article released in June. I am unaware of his current criminal charges.

During the week that Lisa became hospitalized a positive article was written about her business by a local newsletter. I am deeply saddened that her business never had the chance to reach success in the Tampa Bay area and that a local community leader has been lost in such tragic circumstances. The restaurant was hardly at it’s half-year point. My condolences go out to her children who must be struggling through such a difficult time. We have lost a pioneer in New Tampa and a local friend. Rest in Peace.

SoHo Sushi North

I have been by SoHo Sushi North numerous times, but never stopped in until this past week. It is the same plaza as the fantastic Wood Fired Pizza, and these two restaurants really do make this plaza boom with foodie activity. I first heard of SoHo Sushi when they became a sponsor for the Japanese Club at USF‘s “A Night in Tokyo” cultural event (a Japanese cultural-themed dinner).

We came during their “Happy Hour” which is from 5:00PM-7:00PM everyday and offers $5-7 special rolls and appetizers as well as 2-4-1 house wine, draft beer, and hot sake. USF students can get 10% off with their student ID making SoHo Sushi North affordable for the college students nearby and for diners who don’t mind having dinner early.

We decided to order two appetizers: their $5 Sunomono (cucumber salad topped with crab, steamed shrimp, octopus, and fined with rice wine vinaigrette) and $6 Geso (Japanese style calamari, flash fried and dressed in ponzu sauce).

The sunomono was excellent and had a very refreshing taste to it. It was a nice start to our meal and whenever we wanted to refresh our taste buds throughout our meal the rice vinaigrette really hit the spot. The shredded crab and shrimp were delicious and although I don’t like cucumbers on my sushi (I feel it detracts from the taste of the fish), I love cucumber on the side with some sauce. There was enough for two people to share so I say $5 is not a bad price for some sunomono.

The geso was quite a change in taste buds from the sunomono we had before it. The calamari was a little rough, but still quite tasty and the ponzu sauce was the best part of this appetizer. We could have dipped almost anything into the sauce and been happy. Although the geso wasn’t my favorite food of the night it was pretty good and I think I would try it again and see if maybe the chef just timed the cooking a little off on the appetizer. $6 is a great price for calamari. It is a nice switch from the usual calamari found in most restaurants and the batter was noticeably less greasy as well.

We decided to order four rolls and went with the K-Town Roll ($6), Lobster Tempura Roll ($6), SoHo Roll ($5), and Tuna Fresh Roll ($7). They came rather quickly and it wasn’t long before we had a pile of food in front of us. The Lobster Tempura Roll (top right) was tasty on the inside, but the outside tasted a little odd…like the tempura didn’t reach the amount of crunch one desires when having a tempura roll. Still definitely worth the price, but a little off what we wanted.

The fish was good in the other rolls, but the mayo was a little off-putting. My friend mentioned that the mayo tasted American and I couldn’t help but agree. The mayo was detracting from the roll and indeed the two rolls that had mayo on them would have been better without it. On the other hand, the rice paper was a refreshing change from your average sushi roll and kept the sushi from becoming too heavy. I also thought the tuna and salmon were both appetizing and my friend commented that the tempura chips were great.

Overall, I would say the sushi at SoHo Sushi North was good, but not the best I have had. They face fierce competition in the area with Tomo Sushi and Joy of Tokyo within a few minutes of driving distance and Tokyo Sushi Japanese Restaurant down on Fowler Avenue. SoHo is really a seller because of the good deals they offer with their Happy Hour and USF 10% student discount that few sushi restaurants will match nearby. With the rough economic times everyone faces today you can’t deny a good deal.

As we were about to close our check we decided we would have some dessert and order their fried ice cream for $6 (pictured below). The ice cream tasted satisfactory (not too sweet and the fried piece on top was a pleasant finish) and was a nice close to our meal.

Soho Sushi on Urbanspoon

Restaurant Name: SoHo Sushi North

Cuisine: Japanese

Neighborhood: USF

Address: 2826 E. Bearss Avenue Tampa, Florida 33613

Phone Number: 813.977.8744

Website: http://www.sohosushinorth.com

Hope For Japan: Charity Dinner and Candlelight Vigil @ USF Tampa

“We all know of the devastation that happened in Japan on March 11, 2011.

-A deadly 8.9 earthquake and a massive 23 foot tsunami stormed the country
-The effects of this natural disaster has killed over 10,000 innocent people and left over 500,000 homeless and thousands have been without power
-The effects of these disasters are devastating, still lingering within Japan and they need our help!

We need to come together as the University of South Florida and show that we care and we want to help this country in need.

Together as one we will make the difference…

Hope for Japan Charity Dinner and Vigil
Date: 4/7/11 5pm-7:30pm
Location: MLK Plaza

All donations will go to Charity
$5 per ticket
Enjoy speakers and performances
Tickets will be sold at the event
Raffles will be sold off. Come out and win gift certificates and other things for donating to Japan relief!

Food provided by:
Sushi Tsu
The Rack
Hiro’s
China First Buffet
Tum Nak Thai

Hosted by:
Japanese Club at USF
Chinese Culture Language Club
Vietnamese Student Association
Korean American Student Association
Asia Students in America
Red Cross Club
WWAKE
Association of Filipino Students
Khmer Student Organization
INTO at USF
Sigma Beta Rho
alpha Kappa Delta phi
Pi Delta Psi

Facebook event: http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=189918907719216

Bangkok Jazz

Bangkok Jazz is a restaurant that I passed on my way to school maybe 600 times or more in the time that I’ve been a university student in Tampa. The Victorian-style building always caught my eye, but before I could read the sign I would already be passing 56th street and speeding away. Bangkok Jazz’s choice of location may not be the best spot, they are more or less not visible to drivers who are passing by, but the venue itself is a beautiful and unique setup for Thai restaurant.

The outside has a picnic table and is surrounded by Victorian-style architecture, perfect for an outdoor lunch date during a beautiful sunny day. Inside, the restaurant has your typical Thai setup on the left side of the restaurant with lavish gold decorations. The right side of the restaurant is where the restaurant is unique. The stage for local jazz performers is surrounded by red walls and a bar. The tables are made of fine wood and the overall feeling of the room is romantic. Although, I wasn’t able to see a live performer during my visit I did see the stage and watched them practicing. It looked like restaurant diners were in a for a treat.

For an appetizer I decided to order their Cococnut Chicken Soup ($2.95). It was savory, but also not the best I have had in terms of flavor of the broth. I enjoyed the ingredients inside which really brought it some zest with the exception of the mushrooms they used…which I really didn’t care for. It was pretty big bowl for the price so quite a good deal.

The Chicken Pad Thai ($9.95) came out quickly. Probably not even 10 minutes after ordering. The Pad Thai looked much darker than the Pad Thai I have had at any other Thai place in Tampa. There was plenty of sauce and flavor to it and it was large. The chicken was great, probably some of the best I had in a Pad Thai. They used lots of vegetables, plenty of peppers, bean sprouts, and scallions. The waiter was satisfactory, but he had a slight language barrier.

Overall, Bangkok Jazz was a good experience. I want to return for lunch and try sitting outside, lunch prices here are pretty cheap ($5.95).

Bangkok Jazz on Urbanspoon

Restaurant Name: Bangkok Jazz

Cuisine: Thai

Adddress: 6840 E Fowler Ave.Temple Terrace, FL 33617

Phone Number: (813) 374-8879

Neighborhood: USF

Website: http://www.bangkokjazztampa.com/

Wood Fired Pizza Wine Bar

Part of my USF Dining Guide

Wood Fired Pizza Wine Bar is a unique experience into pizza. When most people think of a pizza joint, they think of fountain soda machines, kids screaming and running around the place, and large families taking a trip out to eat. Wood Fired Pizza is none of those things. Wood Fired Pizza is elegant and a great place to take a date or a close friend, I have seen plenty of people on dates during visits. The restaurant is dimly lit and the tables and chairs aren’t what you find in a normal pizza restaurant, they are sleek and stylish. My friend and I decided to order their Michaelangelo pizza during our last visit (House Made Fresh Mozzarella, Pepperoni, San Marzano Tomatoes, Caramelized Mushrooms, Caramelized Onions, Organic Herbs) Grandi size ($20). The waitress during our visit was very friendly and helpful throughout our meal and the pizza expert himself, Peter Taylor, came to our table to let us sample a slice of a new pizza he was concocting made out of pork. My friend and I agreed it was the best free sample we have ever had.

Our pizza was a work of art. Each part of it from the crust, to the sauce and cheese, and the toppings was enjoyable. The onions and mushrooms were sweet and crunchy, melting away in our mouths. The cheese and sauces were unique and flavorful. The crust had a crunch to it. Any piece of our pizza that might fall off was instantly picked up with a fork and consumed. The flavor of the pizza hasn’t been matched by any place in Tampa that I have visited. Everything tastes so fresh, it is hard to relate the pizza to other pizzas because most pizza places try and fail to deliver this level of quality in a pizza. Normally after eating a bunch of pizza you feel a little sick because of all the grease that you just put into your body, but Wood Fired Pizza left us feeling great. One thing we haven’t been able to try yet that we want to try is their vintage sodas.

At the end of our meal the waitress brought us the dessert menu, but we were too full to try anything. The cannoli caught our eye and we debated for about twenty to thirty minutes before deciding we just too full. Wood Fired Pizza is located near the University of South Florida on Bearss Ave. near Soho Sushi and Collegiate Hall. The price range may be a little bit too high for a college students budget, but splitting the bill with a few friends may remedy that. The pizza creations at Wood Fired are worth the prices, in my opinion. Wood Fired also offers beer and wine specials on various nights and a happy hour (check their website for details on that). If you’re ever craving pizza and want to take a date out or go to dinner with a few friends, drive over to Wood Fired and experience pizza in a way you never have before.

Wood Fired Pizza Wine Bar on Urbanspoon

Restaurant Name: Wood Fired Pizza Wine Bar

Cuisine: Pizza

Address: 2822 E Bearss Ave. Tampa, FL 33613

Phone Number: (813) 341-2900

Neighborhood: USF

Website: http://wood-firedpizza.com/