When it comes to dining out in Tampa Bay, I like to consider myself somewhat of an expert on the local food scene.
Co-workers often ask me for restaurant recommendations. Some of them have labeled me a foodie. Sometimes, I can't tell if they're joking or not, but I wear it as a badge of honor.
With that in mind, I decided to write a guide to the best restaurants, breweries, bars and coffee shops in Tampa Bay, geared toward visitors making their way to the area for NHL All-Star Weekend.
Check it out here: https://hangtampabay.com/
Tweet at me and let me know what you think. Pass along some of your favorites too.
But, certainly, I'm not the only person at the Lightning who has a strong opinion about food. So, I decided to ask around the locker room for other recommendations.
My first stop was Lightning video coach Nigel Kirwan, who has been with the organization for all 25 seasons of its existence and is THE man to talk to when it comes to food. If I need a great place to eat while on a road trip with the team, Kirwan is the first person I seek out.
So, of course he's going to have plenty of opinions on where to eat in Tampa.
"What kind of food are you talking about, like a steakhouse," Kirwan asked, the wheels clearly spinning in his head as he tries to sum up nearly three decades of local culinary experiences in a couple minutes. "My go-to places steakhouse-wise are probably Eddie V's and Flemings. For Thai food, the Thai Prime Kitchen and Bar."
See, that's why Kirwan's an invaluable resource. I'd never heard of Thai Prime until our chat. Now I have a new place to check out.
"For sushi, I go to Soho Sushi," Kirwan continued. "For Italian, Trattoria Pasquale on Manhattan Avenue in South Tampa is fantastic. Edison is a good restaurant. The Refinery is really good. Circles Bistro is outstanding on North Dale Mabry. A little taco place, Lolis, have you been there? It's awesome. The best Cuban sandwich in Tampa is Brocato's. Best deli in Tampa would be Mott & Hester's. An awesome place for Argentinian food is El Puerto in Ybor City."
That's quite a selection, certainly enough choices to fill an entire weekend in Tampa.
But let's get some more voices.
"I think Bella's is a cool spot," said second-year-pro Brayden Point, referring to the Italian restaurant on Howard Avenue. "It's got a great atmosphere."
Tyler Johnson is a Tampa veteran now having played five full seasons with the Lightning. When he has visitors come in from out of town, he takes them to Tampa's most well-known restaurant, Bern's Steak House.
"It's a whole different experience that you can't get anywhere else," Johnson said. "It looks different on the outside and it's kind of darker inside, has that older feel. It's pretty cool to have your dinner and then have the tour and the dessert room. You must do the tour and see the wine cellar, even though it can take over three hours for the whole experience. Make your reservation for 6 p.m."
Sitting one stall away from Johnson in the locker room, Ondrej Palat agreed with the Bern's recommendation but added a few more.
"Eddie V's or Ocean Prime are also good," Palat said. "Me and my wife like quick lunches at sushi places like Soho Sushi, Matoi Sushi and Ninja Sushi. We love sushi so much. We would eat sushi every day if we could."
What about for a fun night out? Is there a place you like to take your wife?
"I like CineBistro. You go see a movie, get some drinks there," he answered. "I think that's a good date night. Other than that, I'm not big on the night life. In the season, it's so packed, so we don't have the time."
Chris Kunitz joined Tampa Bay as a free agent during the offseason and has only spent about six months in the area, so his knowledge of the local food scene is rather limited. However, he has one go-to spot he and his wife visit frequently.
Noble Rice is a little sushi place on Platt Street that's a little more pricy but is kind of a good date night with the wife," Kunitz said. "We sat up there and had a nice meal. We did the tasting menu. Like I said a little pricy but we really enjoyed the food. But that's the only restaurant that really sticks out in my mind. We haven't been able to do too much since the season's started."
Long story short: There are plenty of great dining options to choose from should you be visiting Tampa Bay for All-Star Weekend. Or even if you're a local looking to mix up your rotation.
You just have to know who to ask for a recommendation.