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!).

Carne ChopHouse

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.

Cocina 214

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.

Columbia Restaurant

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!

Hamburger Mary’s

8 locations across Central and North Florida –

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.

Hillstone Restaurant

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.

Kabooki Sushi

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.

Kahwa Coffee

11 locations across Central Florida –

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.

Kres Chophouse

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.

Osteria Natalina

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.

Oxford Exchange

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.

Se7en Bites

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).

Taco Bus

6 locations across Central Florida –

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!

Tako Cheena

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.

The Refinery

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 –

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.

Yoder’s Restaurant

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!


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