When Charles Dickens wrote A Tale of Two Cities in 1859, there’s no way he could have had our distribution areas in mind.

But, for Wesley Chapel’s already-crowded dining scene, it surely is fair to call 2018 “the best of times,” and equally fair to say that for New Tampa, “it was the worst of times” in terms of its restaurant scene.

Among the new eateries that opened in already-dining-rich Wesley Chapel in 2018 were Bahama Breeze (photo), Mellow Mushroom, Chuy’s Tex-Mex, Batter & Dough, Nothing Bundt Cakes, Umu Japanese & Thai, Pomodoro Pizza, Chipotle, Jake’s Pizza, MOD Pizza, the Gallery Restaurant at the new Hyatt Place Hotel, the Garden Grille & Bar at the new Hilton Garden Inn, the Top Shelf Sports Lounge at Florida Hospital Center Ice, plus new locations for temporarily closed local favorites Amici Pizza and O.T.B. Café and a second Wesley Chapel Culver’s location on S.R. 56.

There were others, but you get the idea.

And, even though Woody’s Pizza & Wings closed in the Wesley Chapel Village Market, a new pizzeria called Fratelli’s Pizza & Café recently opened in Woody’s old spot, and we’ve been told it’s a must-try.

Meanwhile, over in New Tampa, the dining scene took an even uglier turn for the worst in 2018, with favorites like Las Palmas Cuban Café, Café Olé, Ruby Tuesday and Casa Ramos all closing their doors. The only New Tampa newcomers to speak of were the Bayscape Bistro at Heritage Isles Country Club (owned and operated by former Wharton High culinary arts teacher Ed Bujarski) and two restaurants in the Palms Connection Plaza on E. Bearss Ave., just west of Bruce B. Downs (BBD) Blvd. — Prost Kitchen & Bar and Don Julio Mexican Restaurant. 

The good news for New Tampa is that the widening of BBD, which for years has dealt a severe blow to many businesses from Bearss Ave. to the Pasco County line, is for all intents and purpose, Bruce B. Done (thank you for that one, John Cotey).

And, although not many new eateries are expected to open in New Tampa in 2019, there are a few supposedly coming soon, including the Humingbird Jerk House in the former Dairy Queen location on BBD in North Palms Village, the Coffee Speaks & Tea Talks Café in Las Palmas’ former location and hopefully, the return of Las Palmas itself in a new location rumored to be near its old location in Pebble Creek. Also, it appears Chef’s Of Napoli Ristorante Italiano will be opening soon in the old Beef O’Brady’s location in the Cross Creek Commons plaza off Morris Bridge Rd. 

But, there’s even more to look forward to in Wesley Chapel in 2019, from Walk-On’s Bistreaux & Bar to Lutz favorite Rice & Beans (in the former Cody’s Original Roadhouse locale), as well as the Sweetea Café on S.R. 56 and even the deli at the new Earth Fare, which will open in Feb. or Mar., as well as new locations for Chick-fil-A, Dunkin’ Donuts, Steak ’n Shake and Twistee Treat.

So, here are some of our favorite dining experiences at new restaurants that opened in 2018 in New Tampa and Wesley Chapel:

1. Bahama Breeze — Although my opinion is that an “Island Grille” should have more fresh fish options, Bahama Breeze does have some tasty Jamaican jerk pasta and a great bar.

2. Bayscape Bistro — A great place for excellent burgers, sandwiches, salads and specials.

MOD Pizza

3. Garden Grille at Hilton Garden Inn — Although it’s not open for lunch and I’ve only eaten there once since the hotel’s delicious Grand Opening event, you should check out the Garden Grille for dinner sometime for the ribeye steak and “sticky finger” ribs.

4. Prost Kitchen & Bar — German-style cuisine, including some great schnitzel with broccolini (bottom far right), make this hidden gem on Bearss Ave. a must-try.

5. MOD Pizza — It’s only about 11-inch pizzas and create-your-own salads at MOD Pizza, but the pizzas are great and take only a few minutes to make and serve. Fast casual indeed.

6. Top Shelf Sports Lounge — This is where Jannah and I watch Lightning games, not only because of all the TVs but also for the burgers, dry rub wings and the sautéed veggies.

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