Which restaurants and cafés are your favorites? It can be difficult to narrow the list down to just one. In fact, the Hotspots Central team had trouble narrowing down our favorites to just 50! In this feature, we give you the lowdown on can’t-miss restaurants and cafés, as well as tried-and-true favorites. The list is presented in alphabetical order.
Bay Street Seafood
141 Bay St., Daytona Beach – (386) 255-8650
This small family-run restaurant, open for lunch and dinner, serves up some of the best fried shrimp in Volusia County. Don’t pass up their clam chowder either!
Bern’s Steak House
1208 S. Howard Ave., Tampa – (813) 251-2421
Bern’s features perfectly aged steaks and a legendary wine room which has been written about by USA Today. Every Central Floridian must try Bern’s at least once — it’s a rite of passage!
Brasa Latina Restaurant
3123 US Hwy. 98 N., Lakeland – (863) 225-5992
Arrive early in the evening to get a table at this popular Puerto Rican restaurant between Tampa and Orlando. Recommended dishes include the popular mofongo and arroz con pollo.
California Grill at Disney’s Contemporary Resort
4660 N. World Dr., Orlando – (407) 939-3463
This restaurant serves dishes inspired by mid-century California ambience and cuisine. High points include the on-site sushi bar and the impressive wine list (250 selections!).
1536 E. 7th Ave., Tampa – (813) 341-9555
Housed in the old Spanish Center building in Ybor City, Carne offers some of the best cuts of meat on the avenue, as well as to-die-for entrees like their homemade chicken pot pie. Read our food review in this issue!
Cassis American Brasserie
170 Beach Dr. NE, St. Petersburg – (727) 827-2927
Russ recommends this downtown St. Petersburg bakery and restaurant near the Pier, which serves up such diner-favorite dishes as their traditional bouillabaisse and fresh pastries and tarts.
151 E. Welboune Ave., Winter Park – (407) 790-7997
JB says, “I recommend the enchilada combo. These are not your typical enchiladas; they are very light and fresh.” Other recommendations include the steak tacos and the brisket tacos.
7 locations, flagship at 2117 E. 7th Ave., Tampa – (813) 248-4961
Opened in 1905, the flagship restaurant is the oldest continuously-operating restaurant in the state of Florida. Authentic Spanish dishes are served, including Columbia’s signature paella.
Cristino’s Coal Oven Pizza
1101 S. Fort Harrison Ave., Clearwater – (727) 443-4900
Lenny Cristino and his family operate this authentic Italian restaurant, serving up the some of the most delicious pizza pies and nearly two dozen gelato flavors — all made on-site!
2616 S. Macdill Ave., Tampa – (813) 831-7000
Datz has become so popular that reservations are required most days. With food selections like the chicken and waffles Benedict and the black truffle French fries, it’s no surprise why people love it!
Funky Monkey Bistro and Bar
9101 International Dr., Orlando – (407) 418-9463
Ashley Nickell, who you may know for her appearance on Fox’s Hell’s Kitchen, is the executive chef at this innovative bistro and wine bar, which also features drag shows.
Gennaro’s St. Pete Beach
2004 Pass a Grille Way, St. Pete Beach – (727) 360-0563
This family-owned restaurant serves home-cooked Italian dinners with lots of love. You can’t go wrong with any of the dishes, but Mike recommends the toasted ravioli!
8 locations across Central and North Florida – hamburgermarys.com
Hamburger Mary’s, the place where a side of drag is served with the food, is represented with franchises in Tampa, St. Petersburg, Clearwater, Orlando, Daytona Beach and Jacksonville. Of particular note: the new offerings “Pub House” in Tampa and “Side Bar Café” in Orlando.
Hash House a Go Go
5350 International Dr., Orlando – (407) 370-4646
The San Diego-based restaurant chain serves up lots of smiles at its Central Florida location, where diners can enjoy their famous corned beef hash, as well as large portions of delicious fried chicken.
215 S. Orlando Ave., Winter Park – (407) 740-4005
A chain steakhouse with mom-and-pop service, Hillstone is a popular dinner spot in Central Florida. The Hawaiian ribeye comes particularly recommended, as does the prime rib.
3122 E. Colonial Dr., Orlando – (407) 228-3839
This is one of Mike’s favorites! On weekends there may be a wait to be seated, but the homemade rolls featuring fresh cuts of fish, combined with pots of hot tea, are definitely worth it.
11 locations across Central Florida – kahwacoffee.com
Since opening its first café over a decade ago, customer demand has necessitated the openings of more Kahwa cafés, serving up customer service as good as their joe.
319 Main St., Dunedin – (727) 736-5284
Open all day long, Russ recommends this downtown Dunedin fixture, known for its drinks — try a spicy bloody Mary to start off your morning! — as well as delicious dishes like eggs Benedict.
17 W. Church St., Orlando – (407) 447-7950
Open for lunch and dinner, Kres is the perfect place to take your significant other on a romantic date. We can’t ignore the three-cheese au gratin potatoes and the filet Wellington. Delish!
La Creperia Cafe
1729 E. 7th Ave., Tampa – (813) 248-9700
La Creperia is one of Mike’s favorites, and it has been his go-to place for over ten years! You might be lured in by the large jars of Nutella in the window — order that Nutella crepe!
La Fondita de Leo
528 Cleveland St., Clearwater – (727) 447-4800
Russ suggests dining at La Fondita de Leo, one of the best Puerto Rican restaurants in the state of Florida. Try the mofongo and the ceviche, the latter loaded with fish, shrimp and octopus!
Mad Hatters Ethnobotanical Tea Bar
4685 28th St. N., St. Petersburg – (727) 800-5030
Have you ever wanted to go to a fun LGBT-friendly environment that resembles a bar and…not drink? Mad Hatters has a variety of coffees and teas just for you, including kombucha.
Michael’s on East
1212 S. East Ave., Sarasota – (941) 366-0007
This Sarasota culinary fixture has been open for nearly three decades. Whether you decide on the rack of lamb or the filet mignon, you’ll be making a good choice!
Mitchell’s Coffee House
235 N. Kentucky Ave., Lakeland – (863) 680-2944
If you’re walking around downtown Lakeland during the Saturday morning market, stop by this local coffeehouse and order a drink and a small plate (the chicken salad is delicious!).
Mustard’s Last Stand
415 E. New Haven Ave., Melbourne – (321) 951-3469
This Chicago-style eatery celebrates its 30th anniversary in Brevard County this year. Try their signature Chicago Dog at the flagship location or the location in Olde Eau Gallie.
3215 S. Macdill Ave., Tampa – (813) 831-1210
This authentic Italian restaurant is Mayor Bob Buckhorn’s favorite…he told us! With that kind of endorsement, everything on the menu is sure to be a winner.
Oudom Thai & Sushi
100 S. Eola Dr., Ste. 105, Orlando – (407) 849-3739
This downtown Asian restaurant has a very nice ambience, and even nicer delicacies: We recommend the beef tartar and the red curry chicken.
420 W. Kennedy Blvd., Tampa – (813) 253-0222
Oxford Exchange is a place to see and be seen in Tampa, and it’s recommended that you stop by their restaurant and partake in some of their gourmet options, such as the lobster BLT.
Parliament House’s Rainbow Café
410 N. Orange Blossom Trl., Orlando – (407) 425-7571
The venerable resort’s restaurant serves dishes with large portions for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Dinner specials are available on weekends. Read our food review for more info!
Pig Floyd’s Urban Barbakoa
1326 N. Mills Ave., Orlando – (407) 203-0866
JB tells me that they have some of the best pulled pork tacos in Central Florida, and if you’re still hungry after those, try the pork belly tacos too!
Polo Grill and Bar
10670 Boardwalk Loop, Bradenton – (941) 782-0899
Whether you’re in the mood for prime rib, ham, or other cuts of sumptuous meat, you can walk up to any of the restaurant’s carving stations and get what you want.
Pom Pom’s Teahouse and Sandwicheria
2950 Central Ave., St. Petersburg – (727) 873-6992
Not the original Orlando store by Pom Pom, the franchise owned by Tom Woodard. Pom Pom’s West Coast location serves tea (of course), breakfast, and delicious pressed sandwiches.
Punky’s Bar and Grill
3063 Central Ave., St. Petersburg – (727) 201-4712
With the closing of Georgie’s Alibi, there was a void in the St. Petersburg LGBT scene which Punky’s was happy to fill. Try the appetizer sampler and the roast beef sandwich. You’ll love them!
Red Mug Diner
63 E. Pine St., Orlando – (407) 734-5065
Our food writer previously raved about the downtown favorite Red Mug Diner, which serves delicious traditional American diner food around the clock.
207 N. Primrose Dr., Orlando – (407) 203-0727
Everyone’s buzzing about this popular Colonialtown bakery, which serves excellent coffee and tea as well as sweet (salted caramel pie) and savory dishes (the beef pot pie).
Shari Sushi Lounge
621 E. Central Blvd., Orlando – (407) 420-9420
JB says this Thornton Park sushi restaurant is his hands-down place to go for Japanese food, especially during the early evening, when there is a happy hour (5-7).
6 locations across Central Florida – taco-bus.com
This Tampa Bay tradition — with early locations actually located inside repurposed school buses — must be tried at least once. After all, The Food Network would know best!
932 N. Mills Ave., Orlando – (407) 757-0626
This Asian/Mexican fusion restaurant is the brainchild of Pom Moongauklang (of Pom Pom’s Teahouse and Sandwicheria in Orlando). You will fall in love with the bulgogi taco plate.
The Fat Snook
2464 S. Atlantic Ave., Cocoa Beach – (321) 784-1190
If you’re looking for fresh Florida seafood, you’ve found the right place! Pescatarians will find themselves in heaven, but definitely don’t pass up the tenderloin and foie gras sliders!
The Hammered Lamb
1235 N. Orange Ave., Orlando – (407) 704-3200
This Ivanhoe Village favorite is as famous for their extensive beer list and cocktails as it is for its food — both impressive. Try the Hammered Lamb gyro!
The Mill Restaurant
200 Central Ave., St. Petersburg – (727) 317-3930
This centrally-located (no pun intended!) downtown restaurant was voted best new restaurant in the state, and as soon as you taste the short ribs, you’ll know why!
The Queens Head
2501 Central Ave., St. Petersburg – (727) 498-8584
Don’t be daft, luv — of course this place is fabulously British! Popular menu items include UK comfort dishes (fish and chips, shepherd’s pie) with high-brow twists.
5137 N. Florida Ave., Tampa – (813) 237-2000
Our porcine friends feature prominently in this farm-to-table success story, like in dishes such as “the pork burger” and even crispy pork belly!
The Stone Soup Company
1517 E. 7th Ave., Tampa – (813) 247-7687
Which dishes wouldn’t we recommend? First, try Mama’s chicken soup. The Cuban bread pizza is delicious as well. Finish it all off with some chocolate truffles!
The White Horse Pub
6240 N. Lockwood Ridge Rd., Sarasota – (941) 358-1353
This very British pub is a popular place to dine on the Suncoast. Everything, from burgers to steak and kidney pie, is served with a smile (and HP sauce!).
Tia Cori’s Tacos
2 locations in Volusia County – tiacoristacos.com
Whether you eat at the location in Daytona Beach or the one in Ormond Beach, diners rave about the fresh fish taco plate and the shrimp taco plate.
1810 N. Highland Ave., Tampa – (813) 999-4952
Ulele takes the farm-to-table trend to the next level by combining a number of cultural influences on one unforgettable plate.
Victoria and Albert’s at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort
4401 Floridian Way, Orlando – (407) 939-3862
Elegant and intimate, it is no surprise that this restaurant routinely tops Central Florida dining lists. If you aren’t daring enough to try the quail egg, we recommend the scallops.
3434 Bahia Vista St., Sarasota – (941) 955-7771
This restaurant gives Floridians a taste of Pennsylvania Dutch cooking. Recommended dishes include the pan-fried chicken and Yoder’s famous peanut butter pie.
Yummy House China Bistro
2620 E. Hillsborough Ave., Tampa – (813) 237-3838
The dishes at this location (part of a larger Yummy House chain) are cooked to perfection and offer diners large portions for their dollar. Try the fried rice!
Which restaurant is your favorite? Tell us on our Facebook page: facebook.com/hotspotscentralflorida.