The results of our annual Reader Survey have been published, and first up:
The Favorite Restaurants.
In total, we had a record number of right around 1,500 ballots cast this year, surpassing our old record of more than 1,200 a few years ago. And the split of the voters was roughly 900 Wesley Chapel ballots and 600 New Tampa votes submitted this year.
One thing that I know helped stimulate more votes this year was the fact there were far fewer categories. For example, the only way to judge who won categories that didn’t appear on this year ballots — like favorite Latin, Asian, Mediterranean and favorite burgers was to see who received the most votes (five faves per ballot) for favorite restaurant in our coverage areas.
Your favorite Asian restaurant in Wesley Chapel was Yamato Japanese Steakhouse, followed by Bonsai Sushi, Umu Japanese & Thai, Asian Buffet and Arroy Thai. In New Tampa, the top vote-receiving Asian restaurant was Liang’s Bistro, followed by Kobe steakhouse, Sushi Café, Koizi, Sukhothai, Thai Ruby, Thai Lanna and Minerva.
The Latin restaurant that received the most Favorite Restaurant votes in Wesley Chapel was Chuy’s Tex-Mex, followed by Capital Tacos, Los Vallartas, Rice & Beans and Cantina Laredo. Rice & Beans also received more “Favorite Restaurant in Wesley Chapel” votes than any other newcomer, beating out Walk-On’s Bistreaux & Bar and Blaze Pizza.
The Latin restaurant in New Tampa that received the most Favorite Restaurant votes was Vallarta’s, followed by Las Palmas (which will finish quite a bit higher on my list next month), Cantina, Tijuana Flats and Chipotle.
And, despite there being several more options, only two Mediterranean restaurants — Acropolis and Little Greek — finished in our readers’ top 40.
Other top-20 surprises this year (at least in one editor’s opinion) included Chick-fil-A (#7 Favorite Restaurant?), Cracker Barrel and Panera Bread.
Here’s your overall winners for Favorite Restaurant:
1. BAHAMA BREEZE
Bahama Breeze Island Grille has only been located on the north side of S.R. 56 for two years or so, but the popular chain continues to attract large numbers of visitors — and votes in our annual Reader Dining Survey — each year it has been open.
New general manager Melissa Altamare recently took over for the beloved former GM Jeannie Lafever, but Melissa is a long-time Bahama Breeze employee who helped Jeannie open what we call the Wesley Chapel location.
Melissa is equally as friendly as Jeannie and the bottom line is that a lot of people love the whole tropical feel and menu of Bahama Breeze — even though some locals complain that the restaurant seems somewhat out of place here because it’s not located on a body of water.
Jannah and I have always been fond of Bahama Breeze’s blackened or almond-crusted fresh catch, as well as the burgers and the ahi tuna salad, and I’m a fan of the churrasco steak pictured top left on this page and the braised oxtail and Jamaican sampler platter.
Melissa says her favorite dishes are the habañero wings, the jerk chicken pasta and the “tequila sunburn” glazed salmon (bottom left). “But I keep finding new favorites,” she says. “I really do love our food.”
And, considering that Bahama Breeze took first place for not only Favorite Restaurant but also Favorite Bar in WC (see next page) with our readers by comfortable margins this year, Melissa and her outstanding staff should continue to have big crowds to contend with at arguably our area’s most spacious freestanding restaurant. — GN
Grillsmith has always been among Wesley Chapel’s most popular eateries since it first opened in the Shops at Wiregrass, but a recent menu upgrade to include a truly fresh catch every day has kept it close to the top on my list as well. Try the mashed cauliflower, too!
3. NOBLE CRUST
Noble Crust has stayed near the top of the favorites list for both yours truly and our readers in WC, not only for its unique “Southern Italian” cuisine, but also the great vibe at the bar. I do still wish there were more choices like the gnocchi appetizer, Chicken Fried Chicken Parm and double pork chop entrées.
4. FIRST WATCH
First Watch was the only real surprise for me in our readers’ top-5 in WC, not just because it’s only open for breakfast and lunch but also because the parking and wait times, especially for weekend brunch are often unbearable. Even so, I agree that the menu options are unique and tasty.
5. 900 WOODFIRED
900 Degrees Woodfired Pizza also won this year’s “Favorite Pizza in Wesley Chapel” category and owner Steve Falabella’s quick stop in the Shops at Wiregrass has great NY-style and woodfired Neapolitan-style pizza. But, I was glad to see it also get some props as a restaurant because it has yummy pastas & salad, too.
7. CHUY’S TEX-MEX
8. BONEFISH GRILL
9. BJ’s BREWHOUSE
10. TEXAS ROADHOUSE
11. FORD’S GARAGE
12. CAPITAL TACOS
13. HUNGRY GREEK
18. RICE & BEANS
19. MELLOW MUSHROOM
20. LONGHORN STEAKHOUSE
1. STONEWOOD GRILL
Stonewood Grill & Tavern’s three-peat as our readers’ Favorite Restaurant in New Tampa should come as no surprise.
Zip code 33647’s most upscale eatery features great steaks and fresh seafood, plus an always-hoppin’ bar area that helped Stonewood also finish as our readers’ second favorite bar or tavern in New Tampa this year (see next page).
For me, Stonewood’s decision to start opening for lunch a year or so ago was a great move. And, even though the menu is a little pricier than what many people want to spend for lunch, the food is great and the quieter, less-crowded atmosphere is perfect for conducting a business meeting or social event.
Jannah and I especially enjoy the seared ahi tuna appetizer, the 6- and 9-oz. filet mignon options, the fresh fish (we shared an excellent grilled grouper on our most recent visit) and the fresh, always tasty veggies.
In terms of food quality and service, nothing has changed since new managing partner Matt Passardi took over after the beloved Dave Rathbun departed last year, so this favorite 8-location, Florida-based mini-chain can expect to stay at or near the top of our readers’ list every year. — GN
2. CICCIO CALI
Ciccio Cali, also located in the Shoppes at The Pointe plaza in Tampa Palms (in the same parking lot at Stonewood) should receive all the credit for first bringing “bowl culture” to New Tampa, and also has great pizzas, burgers and wrap sandwiches.
3. LIANG’S BISTRO
Liang’s Bistro Asian Cuisine may not be New York-style or even authentic Chinese food, but that hasn’t stopped it from being the favorite Asian restaurant in New Tampa with our readers virtually every year it has been open. Try the BBQ ribs and sautéed green beans (order ‘em spicy!).
4. MR. DUNDERBAK’S
Mr. Dunderbak’s and Stonewood were the only restaurants that made the top-5 in two categories (Favorite Restaurant and Bar) this year, so people obviously love it for more than just its beer variety. I enjoy the tasty schnitzel, sausages and sandwiches, plus German chocolate bars. Sehr lecker!
5. ACROPOLIS GREEK TAVERNA
Acropolis Greek Taverna has been the highest-rated Mediterranean restaurant in New Tampa by our readers since the days when it was the only Greek restaurant in New Tampa. If you haven’t tried the saganaki (flaming cheese appetizer), lamb chops, filet shish kabobs, or the Athenian fish, you should.
6. THE FAT RABBIT
9. KOBE JAPANESE
10. SUSHI CAFE
11. GLORY DAYS GRILL
12. LAS PALMAS
13. CRACKER BARREL
14. CAPPY’S PIZZERIA
15. THE LITTLE GREEK
16. BAYSCAPE BISTRO
17. KOIZI ENDLESS HABACHI
19. RED LOBSTER
20. PANERA BREAD