Taste the Best of Tampa Bay presented by The Straz Center

June 1, 2012 | By | Reply More

For 27 years, The Straz Center has hosted its annual fundraiser: Taste the Best of Tampa Bay sponsored by Raymond James. I was lucky enough to attend the fundraiser this year and try some new restaurants. The event promised to “tantalize” taste buds and it certainly delivered with a crazy delicious array of over 40 restaurants serving food and drinks to what looked like thousands of hungry patrons.

The event is normally outdoors, but was held indoors this year due to rain. Over three floors were jam packed with great food left and right. It was a little overwhelming, but nothing I cannot handle!

The first sample we had was the gumbo Del Rio’s Cafe and Bakery. A solid broth with a slight kick, generous portions as you can see. Latin and New Orleans cuisine is certainly enticing. I am very interested in trying their paella in the future – always looking for new places in Ybor City as well. Miguel’s Mexican Restaurant and The Columbia both neighbored Del Rio and were providing Spanish cuisine. Since I have been to both restaurants I only stopped by for a minute, but both were serving good food. I enjoyed quite a tasty taco from Miguel’s.

Del Rios Cafe on Urbanspoon

When we entered the building we saw a mob of people around a booth. Interested we walked over. It was a pizza stand. Intrigued, we grabbed a sample of pizza and my cohort Jenn and I were blown away by how delicious the pizza was. The pizza booth was run by Sally O’ Neals Pizza Hotline and it was honestly one of the best pizzas I have ever tried in Tampa Bay. After doing rounds at booths, we found ourselves wanting more and when we came back every single box had been cleared. You know pizza is great when a crowd attacks it at an event with at least 40 restaurants showcasing their food.

Simply amazing pizza. I cannot get over how great it was. Sally’s also offers gluten-free pizzas and pastas and has been in business since 1985 serving from the SoHo District.

We grabbed some chocolates from Toffee to Go next – their chocolate is excellent and brought back memories of Chocolate Sunday in early 2011. If you’re ever having a party and looking for some great chocolate I highly recommend them. Diagonally adjacent to Toffee was a restaurant that has long been on my to-do list, Queen of Sheba!

Sally O'Neal's Pizza Hotline on Urbanspoon

Queen of Sheba is an Ethiopian restaurant and one of few African restaurants in Tampa Bay. All three samples the owner gave me were delicious! The thing I liked the most was all the flavors were new and there is certainly a menu still left to be tasted at Queen of Sheba. Based on these samples I could tell their spices are excellent and I really look forward to a future visit.

Queen of Sheba on Urbanspoon

While making our rounds on the other floors we passed by a favorite: Timpano Italian Chophouse. The line was pretty long so we just grabbed some coupons and kept making our rounds. Click the link for a previous review I have written about Timpano. I love their flatbreads and it is a great place to grab a drink in Old Hyde Park. We also passed by Blend Lounge near World of Beer and had an excellent cocktail shooter.

On the top floor we encountered Chart House. I first was acquainted with them at the Dine Tampa Bay Launch Party last year where they had some great samples. Their sample at Taste the Best of Tampa Bay was amazing and honestly my favorite sample at the entire event. It was very creative and packed with so many great flavors. The dish is called East Meets West and utilizes fresh tuna tartare, plantain chips, and kimchi  with wasabi cream. Kimchi has been growing as a food trend in the United States and it’s very exciting for me as someone who has traveled and lived in Seoul to see it used at an event.

The kimchi played well with the tuna and all the ingredients only enhanced each other. I would go to the Chart House just for this dish. I wish I could have taken a gigantic batch of this home with me, it was that good. If you’re driving down the Courtney Campbell Causeway do yourself a favor and try this dish out.

Just when we thought we were finished we found another room on the side of the first floor packed with even more restaurants. We gave Schakolad Chocolate Factory a shot and had enjoyed the food off their chocolate fountain. Across from them was our last stop: Urban Cantina. I have seen Urban Cantina several times while visiting Downtown Tampa, but never heard anything too pleasant about it. Boy was a I wrong. I tried their tacos de carne asada and they were superb. All the ingredients tasted fresh and the steak was packed with flavor. I also had their watermelon juice and it was great as well. Simply delicious Mexican cuisine – I will be visiting soon!

Chart House on Urbanspoon

Schakolad on Urbanspoon

Urban Cantina on Urbanspoon

Overall, The Straz Center’s Taste the Best of Tampa Bay had many great restaurants and was certainly a bargain – no wonder the event has now passed its 27th year. $80 this year included food, open bars, and live entertainment – a steal. Here’s to a great 28th and many more years of happy Tampa diners at this fundraiser.

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Category: Food Events

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