A Native's Guide to Great Vegetarian Food in Tampa
There is a great selection of unique ethnic restaurants in Tampa that serve vegetarian food. Most vegetarians outside of large cities like New York or San Francisco find it a bit difficult to find good restaurants with a real selection of vegetarian cuisine. After years living in the suburbs and relegating myself to the paltry selection at most big restaurant chains; the black bean burger at Chili’s, the buffet at the local Chinese place and the ever present past primavera that the “chef” will make you if you ask, we made the move to the much more palatable South Tampa area. Jackpot!
There are an abundance of restaurants within just a few miles of downtown in the SoHo area (South of Howard) that serve some exceptional vegetarian food. Since my family is a melting pot of ethnicities with a penchant for spicy foods we’ve enjoyed exploring the ethnic foods that Tampa offers. Here are the best we’ve found:
Ceviche Tapas Bar & Restaurant
Ceviche’s is ostensibly a Spanish restaurant that specializes in its namesake seafood dish. In reality, it offers a great mix of Spanish food (not Mexican, Spanish) and original tapas dishes that will make your mouth water. The idea behind tapas is to order many things that come in smallish portions and share with the table, Ceviche’s serves just enough on each plate to give everyone the need for MORE! They have 16 dishes in their “Vegetals” section, but see the whole menu on their website.
Here are my favorites:
Espinacas: Sauteed spinach with figs, honey and garlic
Portobello Relleno: Portobello mushrooms stuffed with fresh spinach, shallots and cheese, then drizzle with sherry.
Vegetales a la Parrilla: Grilled squash, eggplant, asparagus, and mushrooms.
Sangria: Served by the pitcher and absolutely the best I’ve ever had!
What the fabulous menu won’t tell you is that not only is the food excellent, but the atmosphere is wonderful as well. You can eat in the courtyard or the lounge. Recline on sofas with a large group or share an intimate table next to the dance floor and listen to the live 6 string guitar. Very cool.
My favorite restaurant in Tampa!
The Soho Oasis
The Soho Oasis Café is billed as a Lebanese restaurant, but you’ll recognize the cuisine from many of the Mediterranean countries. What sets the Oasis apart is it’s cool atmosphere and particularly tasty vegetarian dishes. Located in the heart of Tampa’s SoHo on South Howard Avenue, the Oasis is set back from the street with a nice large outside patio area where you can not only enjoy people watching, which is a treat in Tampa, but can smoke Hookah too. If it’s too hot, the interior seating is intimate, with a dim, cool atmosphere and very attentive international staff.
My favorite dishes are the Hummus, which I will sometimes get to go just to keep a tasty treat in the house, and the falafel, which they do particularly well. But don’t just get those, try the Vegetarian Mix Plate with falafel, hummus, baba ghannouge, tabbouleh , stuffed grape leaves and labneh – YUM.
Queen of Sheba Ethiopian Restaurant
We just recently tried the Queen of Sheba, having never had Ethiopian food before we really didn’t know what to expect. The restaurant isn’t easy to spot, tucked into an older strip mall on Henderson Blvd in South Tampa and will not win any curb appeal prizes, but was a great experience. Queen of Sheba is a family-style restaurant with simple furnishings, Ethiopian artwork on the wall and music playing while what appears to be a single family operates the small bar, kitchen and handles service. There were adorable little kids that not only ran back and forth between the kitchen and dining room, but actually ended up spending our entire time there playing with 2 children that came in with their parents to eat. That’s family atmosphere!
If you’ve never eaten without utensils before, you’re in for a treat. Since my Trini wife introduced me to West Indian food decades ago, I’m an old pro and fork-free dining, but be prepared! Don’t bother with picking dishes, just ask for a selection of their vegetarian dishes family style. They’ll bring one big plate for the center of the table filled with little portions a surprisingly Indian-like food, some napkins, and a basket of injera. Injera is a rolled, sponge-like bread that you use in lieu of a fork. Just rip a piece off the roll and use it to scoop up the dish of your choice.
The best part of eating at the Queen of Sheba is definitely the experience. The atmosphere is unique and the people friendly and fun.
Tara’s Roti Shop
A little north of downtown and the farthest of the restaurants reviewed so far is Tara’s Roti Shop. If you’ve never had Trinidadian food (Trini is the more commonly used adjective) you are in for a taste sensation. This particular cuisine is close to my heart as my wife is Trini and my girls travel there as much as they can. Trini food tastes like home to all of us!
Trinidad is an island in the southern Caribbean with a great mix of peoples that settled there over the years. One of the largest ethnic groups came from India, and their descendents have developed their own wonderful twist on Indian Cuisine.
Roti is a flat, tortilla-like bread that’s used both to wrap food up like a burrito and served Indian style to be torn and used in lieu of utensils. If you order Roti at and Indian restaurant you’ll get a plate of round pieces stacked and ready to rip. Order at a Trini Roti shop like Tara’s and you get a huge burrito-style meal stuffed with curry potato, pumpkin, chick peas and spice.
Tara’s is set up like a diner, with a large counter/bar area and lot’s of great reminders of Trinidad posted on the walls. Tara herself is usually posted up on a stool behind the counter or working away in the kitchen…if you’re expecting a “welcome to Bennigan’s” mentality you’ve come to the wrong place Trini’s are beautiful, friendly people, but they have a sharp wit and sense of humor and treat everyone like family. Order a Peardrax, which is a particularly nice pear soda that goes great with Roti, and you may just be told to go behind the counter and get it yourself!
Nothing at Tara’s tastes anything but authentic. Go. Order some Roti. WITHOUT PEPPER-NOT HOT. Personally, I like Trini pepper. I take a bite, cry a little, take another bite, and sweat a little, and so on, but you may not feel the same way. Tara’s website doesn’t live up to her food, but you can get directions and phone info there.
The City of Tampa is one of the most diverse small cities in America, and great for Vegetarians, come take advantage!