2117 E 7th Ave, Tampa, FL
One of my favorite experiences during my last trip to Tampa was dining at the historic Columbia Restaurant in Ybor City. Ybor City is one of the biggest enclaves of Cuban culture in this country, second only to Little Havana in Miami and is known as the cigar capital of the US, and is one of the most popular tourist areas for restaurant, nightclub and bar activity in the Tampa area. One of its biggest fixtures is The Columbia Restaurant, which was established in 1905 by Cuban immigrant Casimiro Hernandez and is known as the largest Spanish restaurant in the United States — it can sit 1700 people and in busy seasons it has a staff of 120 or more, although they actually don’t have enough plates to serve everyone if they fill the entire restaurant to full capacity. Columbia has branches in other cities in the greater Tampa area, but none of them compare to the original. The restaurants are still run today by the 5th generation of the Hernandez-Gonzmart family.
The 52,000 square foot Columbia occupies an entire block on Seventh Avenue in Ybor City.
The sidewalk in front of The Columbia has a tile walk of fame similar to the Chinese Theatre in Hollywood.
The tile-work here is absolutely stunning.
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The first dining room. Each dining area has a distinct theme or feel. There are actually 15 separate dining rooms but I only got to see the 4 major ones.
Columbia’s original bar.
If you’re looking for a serious Mojito in Tampa, this is the place to go.
Gazpacho cocktail, foreground, which is like a Spanish version of the Bloody Mary. It was excellent.
Mojito Closeup. Note the sugar cane swizzle stick, which I thought was a nice touch.
The dining area in the bar. There are certain aspects of this restaurant that make me feel like I am in New Orleans, not in Florida. You could almost compare this place to such New Orleans legendary restaurants as Commander’s Palace and Galatoire’s, except this restaurant utterly dwarfs the two of them (combined!) in size.
The patio dining room with its dolphin sculpture, perhaps the one that the restaurant is most known for.
The largest of the dining rooms, which we were seated at, has a stage where a flamenco dancing troupe does a show every night. Have a look at the video below (click link to view larger version) for a taste of the performance!
You can tell this place is serious from just the way the menu looks.
I love the way the hot, crusty bread is presented at this place, wrapped in parchment.
Columbia’s house salad is mixed at the table.
1905 House Salad, which is similar to an Italian antipasto salad. See this Rachael Ray article for the recipe.
Mussels with Chorizo “Andres” appetizer, which was wonderful.
Baked Scallops “Casimiro”, one of the signature dishes of the restaurant. This one disappeared rather quickly.
Rachel’s Steak a La Parilla, one of the Latino/Cuban dishes on the menu.
Arroz Con Pollo a La Valencia. This is prepared differently from most versions, as the chicken is marinated and then roasted separately, and the rich chicken-flavored rice (presumably cooked with a seasoned stock, which is what it tasted like) is plated underneath. Very good.
For dessert, we got the Brazo Gitano, which translates as “Gypsy’s Arm” as this is essentially a big jelly roll that is sliced into pieces, which are then dressed with meringue icing and a strawberry sauce. The Columbia version is also doused with brandy and set on fire!