I arrived into Tampa with an insatiable craving for Cuban cuisine. The eight hour drive to Tampa from Alabama was long, only to be exacerbated by my travel companion's excessive talk of all things food and wine. Different nationalities and dishes were discussed back and forth, but the only terms saturating my brain were gazpacho, tamale, paella.
Immediately after the check-in process at our hotel, I asked the clerk what was her favorite restaurant in the city, specifically something Spanish-inspired. She immediately replied, "Columbia Restaurant- just a few minutes away in Ybor City." My companion and I tossed our baggage into the room and immediately headed for Ybor City.
Upon entering the Columbia, I was struck by the sheer size of the restaurant. The edifice covers an entire city block. While glossing over the menu, I discovered it not only serves as a catalog of the various dishes, but also as a history of the establishment. Founded in 1905, the Columbia is Florida's oldest restaurant. Not only that, but the restaurant is also the largest Spanish restaurant in the world.
The Columbia not only quenched my thirst for knowledge, but also quenched my insatiable hunger for Cuban cuisine. The gazpacho was the perfect confluence of spicy and chill. The Pollo Relleno "LeLe," rich and toasty. A pitcher of Sangria enhanced the experience, while Flamenco performers added vitality.
Columbia Restaurant will be a mainstay of my future visits to the Tampa area.