November 21, 2014

Restaurant Review: The Columbia in Ybor City

More than 100 years old and located in the cigar capital of the world, the Columbia restaurant’s historic Ybor City location is the original restaurant from which the other Florida locations were born. The restaurant has also been awarded the national prize for best Cubano sandwich for a number of years.

I first visited the Columbia at their Sarasota location on a trip to Longboat Key. I was so taken with their menu and atmosphere, I simply had to see where it all began. So on a walking tour of Ybor City, Tampa’s world-famous Latin quarter, my husband and I stopped by for lunch.

What we tried:

We started off with an appetizer selection of black bean cakes which were much more succulent than either of us expected. In fact, we wouldn’t mind heading back sometime and filling up on a double order of those little num nums. They were that good. David had a fish sandwich with plantain chips that was fine, fresh and perfectly respectable for the basic fish sandwich that it was. The real star of the show however was the crispy breaded eggplant Riojana. If you think you’ve tried every spectacular eggplant dish on the planet, get ready for some full, party-in-your-mouth flavor. It’s really a killer entrée.

What we noticed:

The history and charm of this century-plus-old establishment really shines through, particularly in their courtyard seating area and during their evening cultural dance performances. If you have a chance to receive a facility-wide tour from Joe, their goodwill ambassador, don’t pass it up. Joe’s been with the family at the Ybor City location for fifty years and has had his share of celebrity sightings and customer experiences. The private rooms of the Columbia all have unique features and artwork, including some elaborately-decorated tile.

Editor’s note: Ybor City is one of several walking tours in Tampa Bay that are worth your time, and lunch at this establishment is not to be missed while you’re in that part of town. Also of note on the menu are the house sangria, the 1905 salad and of course, their award-winning Cubano.

Photo Credits: The images in this article were photographed by the Trek Hound team.