Top 5 Diners and Dives: Brandon/Tampa Edition

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I consider myself to know a thing or two about good food. I frequently am looking for local food and folks, who go out of their way to make it right. My three most favorite items on a menu will always be a good burger, bacon (or pork in any form), and local crafted beer. And although there are many places to get one or all three of these items, here are my top 5 spots to go and eat in the Brandon/Tampa Bay area.

South Pacific Grill

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South Pacific Grill is a food truck here in Brandon, Florida that started in May of 2012. It is run by Hung Nguyen and Ginger Carney, a dynamic duo that crank out some of the best Asian Hawaiian fusion you will ever have. They have a small, but mighty menu that is sure to bring your taste buds to the islands of Hawaii. My favorite item is the teriyaki burger with a side of citrus ginger slaw. The burger marinates in a specially formulated Teriyaki sauce and is glazed with the sauce during the cooking process. It is then topped with lettuce, tomato and a homemade grilled pineapple salsa that brings it all together. You will also find their Huli Huli chicken, which continues to be their best seller. It is marinated in SPG’s signature Huli sauce and topped with their grilled pineapple salsa. SPG’s newest sandwich on the scene is the pork belly Bahn Mi. This guy shows up on occasion, so you have to be stalking their Facebook status to see when they will have it available. And when they do, you stop whatever you are doing and run to get this sandwich. It’s crispy, salty, and rich but balanced with Hung’s Vietnamese vinaigrette fish sauce and fresh cilantro. It’s almost symphonic how the flavors and texture come together.

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Their sides fall nothing short of amazing. They consist of mac salad, french fries, coconut fried rice, white rice, and citrus ginger slaw. Everything made on this truck is freshly prepared and cooked to order. I have been going to this food truck for two years now (possibly on a weekly basis, don’t judge me) and their food and service is unmatched. Hung and Ginger treat their customers like family and create an atmosphere that is unique all its own. They cook, and serve this community with their aloha spirit.

Visit South Pacific Grill’s Facebook page for their whereabouts and schedule.

The Stein and Vine

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Don’t let the shopping center fool you; There is an amazing Gastropub in there. This small and quaint bar is serving up local beer on tap, and some pretty amazing burgers. My favorite is the 33 1/3 burger & a bird. It is described as the hungry man’s burger as it is 1/3 BACON. You read that right. It comes with lettuce, tomato, cheese, bacon, and an egg over easy and a side of crispy tater tots. I, without shame, can chomp one of these down in no time. My next favorite would have to be the pig wings. Even though I know pigs really don’t have wings, I’m sure glad that The Stein & Vine came out with these. Alongside your order of these delicious porky wings, they are served with one choice of a home made sauce for dipping: Sriracha Ranch, Habanero BBQ, Latin Lime, Teriyaki Chili, Buffalo. One of the things I like about The Stein and Vine is their changing menu. They have specials that change daily, but also have their usual suspects, that keep the locals coming back for more. And if you’re feeling adventurous, give the PB&J burger a try. Trust me. Amazing.

Check out their website for more information.

The Shrimp Boat Grille

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The Shrimp Boat Grille, located in the Brandon/Bloomingdale area, opened in 2004 and is family owned and operated. In the kitchen, you can find the father and son chef duo of Al and Al Paone Jr. creating dishes that will tantalize your taste buds and produce visually alluring plates. It’s a little seafood, a little traditional Italian, and their Saturday category 4 menu is total rock-n-roll.

I first went to The Shrimp Boat Grill when it was still located in The Viva Plaza off of Kings and Lumsden. We would go every Friday night for their fresh seafood and cheap, yet enjoyable draft selection. Since they moved (Bloomingdale and Bellshoals in the Plaza Bella shopping center), they have expanded the size of the restaurant and the menu has made some changes. At lunch only, you will find the juiciest burger your mouth will ever encounter. I go in with a hunch like Guy Fieri to keep the juices from going down my arms. That is when you know the burger is good. My favorite entrées are the coconut shrimp and the grilled mahi mahi. Without fail, our meals have always been cooked and seasoned perfectly. My favorite sides consist of their potato pancake, and fresh steamed broccoli. But it doesn’t stop at dinner. They have a wonderful dessert menu and everything is made in-house, including their salted caramel ice cream.

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On Saturday evenings only, Al Paone Jr. creates a new menu for his Category 4 meal option.  It is a four course meal that is reasonably priced at $25. This menu stands out due to Al’s imagination and willingness to be a little rebellious in the kitchen. With this [genius] madness, he continues to execute each dish using culinary techniques, flawlessly. Each course builds upon the next, leaving your mouth and belly quite satisfied. This is a must try for your next date night. Huge points will be earned.

LoKo Cuisine

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This isn’t a restaurant as much as it is a monthly event. It’s almost like a dinner social or club that occurs at least once a month. John Loscalzo is the chef and owner of LoKo Cuisine. LoKo Cuisine hit the scene in 2009 as a creative outlet for John’s passion for cooking. Each month, he prepares a menu themed to the beers and ingredients that inspire him from locally grown businesses. John has paired up with various breweries such as local favorites Angry Chair, Cigar City Brewing, Coppertail Brewery, as well as Yuengling Brewery, Bells Brewery, and many more. His menu consists of four well thought out courses that, will on occasion, have an infusion of a particular beer. You also receive one free beer during the event. John has a gift for showcasing specialty items and products and integrating them harmoniously into innovative dishes.

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It is no wonder that his social dinners have grown as people are starting to want to eat more locally. Although his menus change, it is well worth looking into attending one of his social events, as you will eat and drink well and support your local community. This makes for a great night out with couples, friends, or a date. Find out more about upcoming events here and get your tickets! They sell out quickly.

Cigar City Brew Pub

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Last, but certainly not least, Cigar City Brew Pub, how do I love thee? Let me take the sips. We all know that Cigar City is known for the outstanding beer, but their food is just as top notch. Cigar City Brew Pub is a microbrewery AND restaurant. It opened in 2013 with a menu that was greatly influenced by the rich culture of Tampa Bay. What I love about CCBP, is their dedication to keeping their food source as close to home as possible. They use local farmers who use sustainable and humanely raised practices to ensure quality ingredients and serve outstanding dishes. My personal favorite is the grass fed beef burger. This bad boy contains sofrito, sweet plantain, smoked bacon, house-made pickles, and a garlic aioli.

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This burger will knock your socks off with how juicy and flavorful it is. My mouth is watering just sitting here thinking about it. They also serve homemade chicharrones. Yes, cooked to order pork belly, in mojo salt and lime. Their menu has much to offer, as everything they do, is done with great care and preparation. This would be a fun place to take out of towners, a beer enthusiast, friends, and the family. Check out their website to learn more about Cigar City Brew Hub.

These are my top five local places to eat. Tampa is filled with many new and independent restaurants that are just as great as these. Share in the comments below some of your favorite restaurants with us.Untitled design

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