KRATE: Blush Wine Room
Although some of the locals I’ve talked to about the KRATE at The Grove Container Park complain that most of the restaurants are too expensive for what you get, Jannah and I absolutely love so many of them, I had to make a top-10 (actually, top-11) Favorite KRATE list, instead of just a top-5.
That being said, while there may be a dish or two at other KRATEs that we like as much as, say, the chicken parmigiana meatballs (photo) or the penne ala vodka pasta or chicken ala vodka flatbread at the Blush Wine Room, there is no other KRATE that has a better vibe or better food overall than Blush. We wish they were able to serve hard liquor there, but the rotating frozen wine-based cocktails are delish and you won’t find most of the available wines at Blush anywhere else.
Pisco Express, which too many locals tell me they haven’t tried yet, offers authentic Peruvian Chinese fusion cuisine and lives up to the billing of Peruvian food being the best of the Latin cuisines. Try the ceviche!
In addition to the top-10 shown here, we also enjoy Tacos El Patron, Rhythm Pon de Grille, Shake-A-Salad, El Prince, La Creacion Xpress, Cafe 365, Tasty Ramen, The Fry Room and SubZero ice cream, so in my opinion, the KRATEs are doing just fine, thank you!
2. Pisco Express
4. Bacon Boss
5. Café Zorba
6. Bakery X
7. Chamo Bites
8. Urban Sweets
9. TJ’s Hot Dogs
10. Mojo Grill
FAVORITE ASIAN: Zukku-San Sushi Bar & Grill
Even without a great, true New York-style Chinese place in either of our two markets, and even with Kobe Japanese Steakhouse not yet reopened, I believe we still have a tremendous variety of truly delicious Asian places in Wesley Chapel and New Tampa.
Whether you prefer tasty Japanese, Thai, Indian, Korean or even Vietnamese cuisine, there is something for literally almost everyone to enjoy on the list below.
In fact, there are so many Asian eateries I love in our two markets, I had to expand my list to a Sweet 16 in this category. Yes, the incredible appetizers, fresh sushi and unique entrées at Zukku-San make it my #1 favorite, the sushi, chicken teriyaki and not-tableside hibachi offerings at Bluefin make it a strong #2. And, while Yamato isn’t quite as good, in my opinion, as Kobe was when it was open, its tableside hibachi options are still excellent and plentiful. Newcomers Ha Long Bay, Tessa’s Sweet Café and the Nepalese Gorkhali Kitchen, as well as Liang’s Bistro, Sushi Café, Thai Lanna, Michi Ramen, Thai Ruby, Oishi Express and Sake House, are quality options in New Tampa, as are Umu, Arroy Thai and Ato here in the Chap. Try ‘em all!
2. Bluefin Sushi
4. Ha Long Bay
5. Liang’s Bistro
7. Sushi Café
8. Arroy Thai
10. Thai Lanna
11. Tessa’s Sweet Kafé
12. Michi Ramen
13. Thai Ruby
14. Oishi Express
15. Gorkhali Kitchen
16. Sake House
FAVORITE LATIN (NON-MEXICAN): Pisco Express
This choice even surprised me, but the more Jannah and I eat at (or take out from) Pisco Express Peruvian Chinese Fusion, the more we love it.
The ceviche de pescado (fish), whether it’s snapper, basa or whatever fresh fish they have each day, is as good as you’ll find anywhere, and the tallarin saltado (shown above with chicken) is amazing. And, there are still at least a dozen other options on Pisco Express’ extensive menu I plan to try. Pisco has, in my opinion, surpassed Lima in New Tampa for the best Peruvian cuisine, but Lima still came in as my #4 on this list.
My #2 favorite Latin restaurant could ascend to #1 if Las Palmas Latin Grill ever reopens its brick-and-mortar location just south of County Line Rd. Even with the Las Palmas food truck’s reduced number of menu options, what is available is top-quality, from award-winning Cuban sandwiches to the roast pork and grilled chicken entrées.
Rice-n-Beans, our readers’ favorite this year, comes in at #3 on my list for its delicious Puerto Rican options (my favorites are the chicken or pork chicharrons) and great bar vibe. Other KRATEs on this list include Chamo Bites, Mojo Grill and La Creacion Xpress. Latin Twist Café, a favorite with our readers since it opened, Arepa Mia and the new Macondo round out a very strong Latin top-10.
2. Las Palmas
5. Chamo Bites
6. Mojo Grill
7. Latin Twist Café
8. La Creacion Xpress
9. Arepa Mia
FAVORITE PIZZA: New York New York Pizza
For those who have never heard this story before, I performed at a stand-up comedy show at The Improv in Ybor City at least ten years ago and all of the comics who performed met after the show at this little pizza place around the corner called New York New York Pizza. As a native New Yawka and avowed NY-style pizza fanatic, I was shocked at how good it was. I was even more surprised to find out that NY NY was in the process of opening on BBD Blvd. in Wesley Chapel! It instantly became one of my favorite pizza places in either of our distribution areas and has continued to be at or near #1 ever since — despite the fact there are several other really good NY pizza places in our area — and on the list below.
In fact, there are so many good ones that it’s really hard for anything other than a true NY-style place to finish very high on my list and there are even a few that didn’t make the list again this year. In addition to the ten places shown below, if I was expanding the list, I could include Best NY Pizza, Capri Pizza-n-More, Caprese House, Pomodoro, Cappy’s, Cali, Bubba’s 33, Rock & Brews, Main Event, Bosco’s and even places that serve flatbread-style pizza on my list, I just felt that this is a really yummy top-10.
3. 900º Woodfired
4. 900º New York
6. Taste of NY
8. Via Italia
9. Woodfired (Bearss)
10. Noble Crust
FAVORITE FROZEN DESSERT: Ice Dreammm Shop
Those of you who love the Ice Dreammm Shop as much as I do were probably stunned that this favorite, with locations at The Grove and off S.R. 54 in Lutz, didn’t dominate this category with our readers again this year, as it did in 2021.
There’s no doubt in my mind, however, that owner Joe Schembri’s Ice Dreammm Shops serve the best ice cream in New Tampa or Wesley Chapel, whether you’re looking for alcohol-infused cones, cups or sundaes served on homemade cookies, brownies and bars or the most delicious array of toppings — although I love a lot of other local places, too.
Before I get into my other favorites, I also want it known up front that I prefer hard-packed ice cream to gelato, frozen yogurt or soft-serve. That’s just me. It doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy or ever indulge in any of the others, it just means that when I’m not dieting and want a delicious frozen treat, I’ll almost always choose real ice cream.
I’ve always loved the different peanut butter and banana flavors at Bruster’s and Ice Screammmin is another New Tampa favorite of mine for those options. I also crave the decadent brownies from Mike’s Pies with the locally made ice cream at the new Astro, but a cone or cup from any of the places shown below also will make me smile.
3. Ice Screammmin’
4. Astro Ice Cream
5. Twistee Treat
9. Hello Sweetness
10. 35 Below
FAVORITE BAR & TAVERN: Treble Makers
Jannah and I have very different reasons why we love one bar or another — she wants her cosmopolitans light pink (not red) and wants a place with a list of other sweet cocktail options made with premium vodka. As the guy who pays, on the other hand, I just want my Jameson and other Irish, Scotch and bourbon whiskeys to be reasonably priced, full rocks pours with lots of ice instead of that hoity-toity single ice cube.
Treble Makers isn’t the only place we both love to enjoy a cocktail or two, but it is the place we both prefer, especially for dinner on a Friday night, when most of the places near either of our local malls are total zoos. As a New Yawka, I refuse to wait 45 minutes to an hour to get to sit down (or to find parking), so places like Treble Makers, The Grill at Morris Bridge and Bayscape Bistro (at Heritage Isles Golf Club off Cross Creek Blvd.) will get the nod from us every time on busy nights.
We also appreciate friendly bartenders who make Jannah’s drinks properly and can find me on crowded nights, so Joe Whiskey’s, Brass Tap, Fat Rabbit, Bubba’s 33, the Top Shelf Sports Lounge and Noble Crust also make my list. Neither of us are drink beer, so beer-only bars will never be among our faves, but karaoke & live music places often will.
2. Grill at MB
3. Bayscape Bistro
4. Joe Whiskey’s
5. Brass Tap
6. Fat Rabbit
7. Noble Crust
8. Bubba’s 33
9. Via Italia
10. Living Room
11. Top Shelf
12. Florida Ave.
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