Top 50 Restaurants Of Tampa Bay: Cheap Eats Edition

Jan. 26, 2017 By Laura Reiley, Times Food Critic

By December, we could scarcely moisten a hanky. After Harambe and David Bowie, the Disney alligator attack and the Orlando Pulse shooting, even Carrie Fisher and her mom got short shrift. We were emotionally desiccated. Mariah Carey’s horrific New Year’s Eve blooper bonanza prompted only a shrugging: “Eh, it’s 2016 — what do you expect?”

The news wasn’t much better with the Tampa Bay restaurant scene. Some folks will stop me right there and say, “Wait, it was a huge year for restaurants. I count at least a dozen new ones in downtown St. Petersburg alone.” Those folks are not precisely wrong. But there’s also this: Our area’s most anticipated restaurant opening was Goody Goody in August, its POX burger $4.95, $5.50 if you spring for cheese.

Yes, there were many dozen openings in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties, many of them pizzerias (two on the same block in St. Pete) and purveyors of wings, burgers, tacos, sandwiches or Asian noodles. What became scarcer this year: sit-down restaurants, high-end restaurants, special-occasion restaurants or the kind of ambitious establishments that elevate our status on the national culinary stage. Some of our most notable restaurants refocused their efforts on more casual and affordable fare (the Refinery), others closed entirely (Pearl in the Grove) and still others retooled to accommodate the growing enthusiasm for grab-and-go and delivery (BT to Go and Bistro BT).

Tampa Bay is not alone. This circling-the-wagons conservatism is happening nationally. If the restaurant bubble hasn’t burst, it is getting mighty tenuous. Industry types say it’s a perfect storm. Too many restaurant openings has meant more competition for qualified workers and thus higher wages, coupled with 21 states and 22 cities raising minimum wages in 2016. Rents have risen at the same time restaurateurs have been required to provide health care. And behind it all, unwavering, is the dining public’s quest for a bargain.

The number of independent restaurants in the country dropped by 3 percent in 2016, according to the research firm NPD Group. That number is likely to rise in 2017. And so, this year, let us celebrate what we do have in abundance. Let us dive deep into the very good work being done by Tampa Bay restaurants at more modest price points — all those pizzas, wings, burgers, tacos, sandwiches and Asian noodles. What follows is Tampa Bay’s Top 50 Restaurants: Cheap Eats Edition, where a delicious meal may be had for about $10.

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Top 50 Restaurants Of Tampa Bay: Cheap Eats Edition


Top 50 Restaurants Of Tampa Bay: Cheap Eats Edition