Gary Nager

Every year, after we report the results of our Reader Dining Survey & Contest, I always feel compelled to give you my dining favorites, including all of the restaurants that opened in (or very near) New Tampa and Wesley Chapel the previous year. And, with all the new eateries that opened in our distribution areas in 2020 after the reader voting ended, my “survey” list looks even more different than usual than the places our readers voted for in our last issue.

While Wesley Chapel definitely saw more new restaurants open in 2020, New Tampa did have some wonderful additions to its local dining scene — and, unlike “The Chap,” almost all of the new places that opened last year were mom-and-pop restaurants with a nice variety of cuisine options, from Asian to Italian and from Acai bowls to poké bowls.

Here are my favorite restaurants (new and existing) in New Tampa for 2020, from Nos. 11-25. The top 10 will publish online tommorrow. — GN  

17507 Preserve Walk Ln.
(813) 533-7271
For those of us who had been begging for a great breakfast place in New Tampa, owner Stanley Athan’s The Brunchery filled that void. And, even though I prefer fried eggs over easy with crispy bacon to the beautiful pancakes topped with fresh fruit shown here, this was such a pretty picture we decided to use it instead. The Brunchery also serves a selection of “Benedict” (poached egg) breakfasts, avocado toast, a lox (smoked salmon) platter, ultimate omelettes and an incredible variety of French toast options. The Brunchery also serves great burgers, sandwiches (including tuna and grilled chicken melts) and salads for lunch, too. 

Shoppes at Amberly
15333 Amberly Dr.
(813) 972-1725

Peabody’s is more than just a sports bar taken to the next level — with amazing video games, pool tables, dart boards and more TV screens to watch every game at once than just about anyplace else in New Tampa. It’s also a great place for NY-style pizza, the best wings this side of The Fat Rabbit and a recently expanded menu offering Philly cheesesteak and Santa Fe egg rolls, pickle fries, and “Classics” like country fried chicken, loaded boneless wings and of course, some of the best burgers and hand-cut French fries in town. The full-liquor bar also has great drink prices and an outstanding selection of beers on tap.

Cross Creek Center 
10022 Cross Creek Blvd.
(813) 991-0108

For those of you who don’t live off of Cross Creek Blvd., Thai Lanna is another excellent (and pretty) Thai place that also features really good appetizers like Thai spring rolls, pan-fried dumplings (bottom right in photo above), fried calamari and even fried eggplant. There also are three kinds of crispy duck, with the volcano duck (with mixed veggies and sweet chili sauce) being my favorite. Try the crab fried rice, too. The basil and garlic & black pepper sauces are my faves. Thai Lanna also has added really fresh sushi (cooked shrimp sushi and California roll are shown in the above), too.

New Tampa Center
19022 Bruce B. Downs Blvd.
(813) 972-0707

When you want a great Greek gyro sandwich (photo) or platter served with an authentic Greek salad, and you want it to be affordable, served quickly and delicious, you can’t go wrong by visiting The Little Greek.  The spanakopita (spinach pie) is my favorite starter and in addition to the traditional gyro meat freshly carved off a rotating spit, there also are chicken (and Greek chicken), falafel, lamb, veggie and steak pita sandwiches, plus chicken, lamb and steak souvlaki skewer entrées in “light meal” and dinner-sized portions. Save room for excellent baklava for dessert.

Oak Ramble Plaza
14929 Bruce B. Downs Blvd.
(813) 977-4104

When the original Mr. Dunderbak’s was in the University Square Mall, I thought it was a cool place for German food, even though I really only had roast beef and pastrami sandwiches there. The location on BBD (which has been around the last 15-20 of its 45 years in business) has a much more diverse menu, and I really enjoy German dishes like the crispy jagerschnitzel (available in veal or pork, both are great, photo above), the Holstein schnitzel, topped with two fried eggs, and the kassler rippchen (pork chops). I’m not a big beer drinker, but Mr. D’s biergarten has a huge selection. Great European chocolate selection, too.

6417 E. County Line Rd. 
(813) 575-8002

Island Fin Poké Co., which was opened by former New Tampa residents Brenda,  Jeff and son Jason Sproat in late 2019, is now well-established as the first Hawaiian-style create-your-own poké bowl place in New Tampa. I love the regular and spicy ahi tuna options as my protein (I usually do two scoops of spicy and one scoop of regular), and there are unique options like spam, octopus, shrimp and tofu, plus veggie options (like regular and spicy pickled veggies, edamame and corn), but as the Sproats say, Island Fin’s sauces are delish. I personally only need the OG and Island Fire marinating sauces…and an occasional Dole whip dessert.   

17508 Doña Michelle Dr.
(813) 513-7550

When this, our distribution area’s first Glory Days Grill, opened a few years ago, replacing the popular Lee Roy Selmon’s, I will say I wasn’t a big fan. However, when Jannah and I first tried the new Glory Days on S.R. 54 in Wesley Chapel, we recognized that the menu had been greatly upgraded and we have visited both locations quite a bit since then. We love the steak rice bowl, the comeback chicken entrée, Boston chowda and the 1/2-lb. proprietary blend burgers (photo). Glory Days also has two sizes (7-oz. & 10-oz.) of its tasty “1988” sirloin steak, a great sports bar atmosphere and decadent Oreo cookie ice cream sandwiches.

Palms Connection
2822 E. Bearss Ave.
(813) 341-2900

The first woodfired pizza place to open in (or near) either of our distribution areas is known for its high-quality pizza ingredients, as well as owner Peter Taylor’s unique pizza names — like my favorite Pizza Raquel, which features house-made fresh mozzarella, fresh basil, grana padano cheese and olive oil, to which I usually add either pepperoni, fire-roasted sausage or Italian-style meatballs (Peter’s “carnivore” pizza has all three) and fresh spinach. The woodfired meatball appetizer and wings and fresh Caesar and wedge salads also are excellent, too.   

The Walk at Highwoods Preserve
18015 Highwoods Preserve Pkwy.
(813) 977-7800

For anyone who’s asking, for my money, Sushi Café has the best sushi in New Tampa. With a huge assortment of sushi rolls (photo), including some truly unique options like a Pacific fusion roll with spicy tuna, crunch, cucumber and avocado on top, plus a wide variety of sashimi, Sushi Café also has one of the best spicy tuna tataki appetizers in our area. I also really enjoy the “hibachi from kitchen” entrées, like the filet mignon and chicken options, even though (especially because?) there are no teppanyaki tables. I also recommend the crispy chicken katsu and chicken and veggie tempura.

Pebble Creek Collection
19651 Bruce B. Downs Blvd.
(813) 994-3700

Don’t get me wrong…even though I find the deep-dish, Chicago-style pizza shown above very tasty, I’ll never say I like it as much as the New York-style pizza I grew up with. And, even though I know that deep-dish and thin-crust Chicago pizza is a big reason why many locals love Full Circle, I’m actually a much bigger fan of the other delicious menu items owner/chef Freddy Nova and his wife Julia have added since taking over the place in 2017. My favorites are the chicken and broccoli in garlic and oil and the meatball and chicken parmigiana subs.   

17512 Dona Michelle Dr.
(727) 238-9967

Yes, bowl culture is in full swing in New Tampa and Mahana Fresh distinguished itself when it opened early last year by not just having ahi tuna and grilled chicken poké bowls. Try three kinds of chicken, plus tofu and grilled steak as protein options. I’m addicted to its kale crunch salad as a base, although there also are sweet potato noodles, spinach salad and multiple different rice (including cauliflower rice) options, too. My favorite veggies are the sesame ginger broccoli, the garlicky cilantro green beans and honey sriracha Brussels sprouts. I love the Mediterranean tomatoes as an add-on, and the citrus ginger and cilantro vinaigrette sauces, too. 

18027 Highwoods Preserve Pkwy.
The Walk at Highwoods Preserve
(813) 374-5320

Another newcomer breaking into my top-15 this year, Michi Ramen literally opened as the pandemic hit, and only served at a uniquely designed, plexiglass-enclosed takeout window for several months. But, once it did open, I could see that not only is Michi Ramen great for takeout, it also is a beautiful new place for a delicious sit-down lunch or dinner, with a full, premium-liquor bar. I’m not the biggest ramen noodle fan, but I have heard folks rave about the flavor and variety and I’m not surprised — Michi Ramen’s appetizers like pan-fried gyoza (pork dumplings) and semi-spicy, popcorn-style fried chicken are outstanding.

13. FRAMMI (formerly Oakley’s Grille) 
17631 Bruce B. Downs Blvd.
(813) 523-5075

Even though the restaurant hasn’t been owned by anyone named Oakley in a few years, owner Luca Ammirati kept the name of the popular burger-&-sandwich joint the same until revamping the place into an Italian & American eatery with a much  bigger American variety than Oakley’s, plus a big variety of Luca’s authentic Italian dishes (like the amazing fusilli pasta with house-made pesto and grilled chicken above) with the new name “Frammi.” This year’s 13th-place finish is based on Oakley’s menu, but Frammi will finish higher next year.

Shoppes at Amberly, Tampa Palms
15319 Amberly Dr.
(813) 558-0570

As Thai restaurants go, Thai Ruby is the most beautiful Thai place in New Tampa and also has the best food, especially since Sukhothai closed. The spring rolls, ginger chicken, the spicy Thai combination fried rice (with chicken, beef and pork), the Siam chicken, filet of grouper and soft shell crab are all top-notch and Thai Ruby may have the largest selection of veggie dishes you’ll find anywhere (I love the steamed broccoli with carrots, green beans and snow peas). But, this also is the place I go when I have a craving for Thai-style crispy duck with sweet & sour, ginger or garlic sauce.   

Pebble Creek Collection
19601 Bruce B Downs Blvd.
(813) 994-6600

For those who crave the teppanyaki (hibachi) table experience in our area, please check out Kobe. And, even though Jannah and I usually sit at the bar rather than share a table with families with young children, you get the same great meal, just without the show. Kobe definitely has the best-quality filet mignon, sirloin steak and chicken of any Japanese restaurant in our area, and you can even get pepper-crusted tuna tataki hibachi, as well as beautiful-looking surf-&-turf combos with lobster, shrimp and scallops that I (sadly) can’t eat. Great sushi, too.

Tomorrow: The top 10!

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