We were fortunate enough to find ourselves in sunny Florida for Thanksgiving visiting family. As I’m writing this snow is falling on the ground outside in Tennessee which has me wishing I was back on the beach! While we were there we discovered yet another reason to be grateful that Tampa is just a short plane ride away. Columbia Restaurant is the oldest restaurant in the state of Florida and one of many reasons to add a detour through Ybor City to your next trip. If you happen to miss the incredible tile work on the outside of the building the sheer size of this place is remarkable taking up an entire city block. You can’t miss it!
If you can believe it- Columbia Restaurant has 15 dining rooms and seating for up to 1,700 people. Each dining room has its own style and charm.
I’m happy to report they take their Christmas decorations VERY seriously. Everywhere you looked there were festive wreaths, garland, and bows.
You could easily get lost while exploring the restaurant. There were countless staircases and doors that seemingly led nowhere. As I wandered around I tried to imagine what it looked like a hundred years ago.
For a brief moment, we had this dining room all to ourselves. I have to say the red walls were a little overwhelming at first but I warmed up to them.
Now on to the important part- the food! Of course Columbia Restaurant is visually stunning but it would be less appealing if the cuisine fell short of the surroundings. Before your meal arrives you get a piece of Cuban bread large enough to be a personal loaf and whipped butter. If that’s all I knew about this place I’d be in but our meals did not disappoint! The menu was full to the brim with enough Spanish dishes to please even the pickiest eaters. Among the many dishes they serve are tapas or small plates for sharing, an award winning ensalada- Columbia’s very own “1905” salad, and sandwiches- of course they had a Cuban! They’re also known for serving pitchers of house-made sangria so I happily obliged. It’s basically an adult juice box, right?
Ybor City is a historical hidden gem that deserves at least a half day on your Florida itinerary. If you see the painted tiles and notice a faint smell of Cuban cigars then pull over. You’re in the right place.