There isn’t anyone alive today who hasn’t been touched by Covid-19 in one way or another. Restaurants, however, were more than touched. They have practically been strangled.
This year has been arguably the hardest on the hospitality industry in American history, thanks to the pandemic that has been a living nightmare and is likely to have long-lasting effects.
Locally, as the novel coronavirus spread through the state, restaurants were closed in the spring for more than a month. Employees lost their jobs. Owners had to pivot to a takeout model for survival, and the community rallied around many of them. Facebook pages implored their communities to place orders and help local eatery owners stay afloat.
But, even as restaurants, and finally bars, reopened, tables inside remained empty. The fear is real. Covid-19 is still in full (or is it fuller?) swing, businesses in virtually every industry — but especially restaurants — still haven’t bounced all the way back, and the road to full recovery is a long one.
So this year, it’s our hope that our annual Reader Dining Survey & Contest results will serve as a celebration of food and drink, and of all of our readers’ favorite places in New Tampa and Wesley Chapel.
The number of you who took part in the survey this year was less than half of those who entered last year, although a lot of that probably can be attributed to the fact that we didn’t spend nearly as much time in restaurants and bars in 2020 as we have in previous years.
But nonetheless, more than 100 restaurants and bars in the Wesley Chapel and New Tampa area received votes in one category or another.
In the favorite restaurant category, 99 restaurants in Wesley Chapel and New Tampa received votes. More than 25 Asian restaurants were selected as the favorite by readers, 26 restaurants offering sweets like cake, ice cream and drinks were chosen, and more 30 different pizza places — yes, 30! — received votes. That is a lot of choices, people. And clearly, you do have your favorites.
Let’s start with the top 20 Restaurants in New Tampa as chosen by our readers.
1 — STONE GRILL & TAVERN
Stonewood Grill & Tavern in Tampa Palms has been either the #1 or #2 favorite restaurant in New Tampa every year since it opened and this year was no exception under new managing partner Matt Passardi.
For anyone who has never tried Stonewood, it combines fresh fish and seafood, perhaps the best variety of hand-cut steaks of any restaurant in either of our distribution areas (Longhorn and Outback are the only ones even close), and the addition of lunch a couple of years ago definitely enhanced its standing as New Tampa’s favorite place for a great, more-upscale meal out, whether for lunch, dinner or even Sunday brunch.
Yes, Stonewood now offers “bottomless bubbles” (for just $12 per person), along with unique brunch items like a crab cake or prime rib “Benny,” creme brulée French toast and shrimp and grits on Sundays, 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m.
And yes, Stonewood may also have New Tampa’s favorite upscale bar scene, even though it didn’t make the top-10 in this year’s Survey.
2 — Cali-Tampa Palms (nee Ciccio Cali)
The name has changed, but Cali was the first to bring “bowl culture” to New Tampa and still has some of the best wrap sandwiches, stir-fry dishes and thin-crust pizzas in our area.
3 — Mr. Dunderbak’s
While it may have originally been located in the University Mall, Mr. Dunderbak’s has been New Tampa’s favorite German eatery since its move more than a decade ago to the Oak Ramble plaza south of Tampa Palms.
4 — The Fat Rabbit
Although it has only been open for a few years in Tampa Palms, The Fat Rabbit has made its mark on not only our readers but our staff as well — especially since it added a fresh catch entrée to its more upscale sports bar fare (amazing wings & burgers, and don’t forget the side of tater tots!).
5 — Liang’s Bistro
Liang’s Bistro has been among the top-10 in New Tampa with our readers every year since it opened and continues to be your favorite Asian restaurant in our area — for good reason. Our faves are the NY-style appetizers.