For generations, dining out in West Tampa has meant going to one of several excellent Spanish and Cuban restaurants along Columbus Drive -- La Teresita, Arco Iris and many others -- that led the strip to be nicknamed “Boliche Boulevard.''
There were other eateries, of course, most notably the late and lamented Fourth of July Cafe, which closed in 2017, and the venerable Cacciatore and Sons market and deli and Alessi Bakery.
But when most area residents went out to eat in West Tampa, they sought out Spanish and Cuban food.
And, they often still do, but the food scene is changing just as West Tampa is changing, and Italian restaurants (such as the intimate Piccola Italia Bistro
at 2140 W. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.), Mexican restaurants (Chiles Mexican Restaurant
, 3247 W. Columbus Drive, where the Lincoln Restaurant used to be), Asian restaurants (Lemon Grass Thai Kitchen
, 3635 W. Kennedy Blvd.) and an array of eateries offering global flavors are enriching the neighborhood culinary culture.
People who know the food scene in West Tampa point out that the area has a lot of the characteristics that have made the Seminole Heights neighborhood in Tampa a dining destination.
Both neighborhoods have distinctive architecture in both homes and commercial properties, prime location easily accessible from anywhere in the area and (in West Tampa now and in Seminole Heights until recently) relatively inexpensive real estate.
The restaurant scene in the area is burgeoning. It’s a renaissance that’s in its nascent stages, but observers say that West Tampa is slowly evolving into a trendy dining neighborhood.
"Maybe not so slowly,'' says Chef Ricardo Castro of Piquant, one of the area's newest eateries. "You could be surprised.''
Here's a look at some of the restaurants and people who are shaping West Tampa's evolving food scene.
Renzo's Argentine Steakhouse
Renzo Menzerotolo takes what he calls a "library approach'' to food preparation.
"You ask someone what is in a library, and they'll say books,'' he says. "But books are made of words, and words are made of letters.''
In other words, it's all about ingredients at Renzo's, on the edge of West Tampa at 3644 W. Kennedy Blvd.
Renzo's gets steaks from all over the world, and gets the best it can find. Then its cooks -- there's no head chef -- prepare the steaks using rustic South American cooking methods that bring out the natural flavors of the beef.
"The emphasis is on the flavor of the beef, not in the spices or marination,'' he says.
Order a sirloin at Renzo's and instead of a perfectly trimmed medallion you'll get at most restaurants, you'll get a cut of meat with the fat cap still attached. That fat is where the flavors of the cattle's diet of grasses and grains are stored, and when the fat renders during cooking, those flavors inform the meat. In effect, the steak seasons itself.
Renzo's offers the familiar restaurant cuts, the New York strips and the filet mignons, but specializes in less commercial cuts such as skirt and flank.
Side dishes are made with ingredients from local farmers markets, and take a bow to West Tampa’s cultural diversity by featuring traditionally American and Latin American dishes, such as yucca fries and plantains.
Besides steaks, another Renzo's specialty is an extensive selection of South American wines, selected to be paired with the restaurant’s entrees.
It's upscale food, but the atmosphere is casual, even fun, and the prices are reasonable.
"We could charge a lot more, we really could,'' Menzerotolo says. "But we want to provide a great experience so people will come back again and again.''
Follow this link to learn more about Renzo's Argentine Steakhouse
Perhaps no other West Tampa eatery symbolizes the neighborhood’s trend toward multi-cultural cuisine more than Petit Piquant, a breakfast-and-lunch cafe at 1704 N. Howard Ave.
It's not only the only French restaurant in West Tampa, it’s one of the few in all of Tampa.
Petit Piquant relocated to West Tampa in September, 2017, after a successful tenure in Hyde Park in South Tampa.
"In South Tampa, we were a restaurant with a bakery,” says co-Owner Rosana Rivera. “Now we’re a bakery with a cafe.”
It was the bakery, called simply Piquant, that brought Rivera and company to West Tampa. They were looking for a large commercial building for their bakery business, which prides itself on providing pastries for restaurants all over the area, and West Tampa provided an ideal location and real estate prices far more affordable than what they could find south of Kennedy Boulevard, the traditional northern boundary for South Tampa.
It was supposed to be just a commercial bakery, but plans soon changed.
"Originally we were looking for a space that was big enough for a commercial bakery,'' Rivera says. "But after being here and talking to our neighbors, we saw the need for a retail space.''
The cafe is mostly for take-out, with limited counter seating. The menu is firmly rooted in French techniques, with some classic French dishes (quiche, crepes and croque madame, with two slices of fresh-baked bread, Black Forest ham, gruyére, bechamel topped with a fried egg) and some that blend a French approach to American and Latin American ingredients (a goat cheese and chorizo omelette).
"We have always called it French-inspired,'' Rivera says of the menu. “However, our bakery and all our pastries and breads are strictly French techniques.''
Even the pastries acknowledge the heritage of West Tampa though.
"We use a lot of guava in our pastries,'' Rivera says.
Follow this link to learn more about Petit Piquant
If you’ve lived in the area for any length of time, you've probably had food from Olympia. It's one of the largest and longest-lived caterers in the area, and has provided food for countless weddings and other events all over Hillsborough and Pinellas counties.
Olympia also operates the restaurant at the Museum of Fine Art in St. Petersburg.
Olympia moved from Ybor City to West Tampa decades ago, and for many years has featured a retail bakery in addition to its catering operation.
"About 15 years ago we closed the bakery,'' owner Darren Diaz says. "Ironically bakeries have become popular again now. There are several places in Tampa now that sell cupcakes. Just cupcakes.''
He’s not complaining, though. Catering is his passion, and Olympia is staying busy.
Catering has many of the same demands as traditional restaurant work, but brings its own challenges.
Diaz and chef Christen Spotts have to be able to keep up with and adjust to changing tastes and trends, and offer expert versions of whatever its clientele demands.
"We obviously go to the conventions,'' Diaz says. "And there's pop culture and television. But mostly it's our customers. Our customers really help us keep up the trends. People are certainly much more knowledgeable about food than they have been in the past.''
A couple of the current trends include gourmet versions of comfort foods -- stations for tacos, grilled cheese and mac and cheese are ubiquitous -- and ancient grains, including bulgur, quinoa and farro.
Diaz is a long-time West Tampa resident and he's excited about the changes he sees in the neighborhood, especially the rush of new home construction.
He's not as dependent on a local audience for his business as he would be if he owned a sit-down restaurant. But the same central location and proximity to the interstate system that are promising to help make West Tampa a new food destination for Hillsborough County residents also make West Tampa a great place for a catering operation.
"For what we do,'' he says, ''this location is ideal."
Follow this link to learn more about Olympia Catering
Additional West Tampa restaurants include:
If you recommend additional restaurants in West Tampa, please comment below using Facebook or send us an email.
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- Happy Fish, 4046 N. Armenia Ave., Peruvian, Latin American, Seafood.
- West Tampa Sandwich Shop, 3904 N. Armenia Ave., Cuban.
- Ya Boy's BBQ, 1901 N. Howard Ave., Barbecue.
- K&D Crustaceans, 2917 W. Cypress St., Seafood.
- Montauro Ristoranti, 2501 W. Tampa Bay Blvd., Italian.
- Pupuseria & Cafeteria Centroamericana, 2504 W. Martin Luther King Blvd., Salvadoran.
- Taqueria Emanuel, 2800 N. MacDill Ave., Mexican.
- Rick's on the River, 2305 W. Willow Ave., Bar-Grille.
- Bar-B-Que King, 2132 W. Main St., Barbecue.
- Bull Grill Brazilian Steakhouse, 4820 N. Armenia Ave., Brazilian.
- Mr. Empanada, 4836 N. Armenia Ave., Spanish.
- Sushi Ninja, 3018 W. Kennedy Blvd., Japanese and Korean.
- India's Grill Kennedy, 3437 W. Kennedy Blvd., Indian.
- Holy Hog Barbecue, 3501 N. Armenia Ave., Barbecue
- La Teresita, 3248 W Columbus Drive, Spanish.
- Arco-Iris, 3328 W Columbus Drive, Cuban-Spanish.