Kick back on your vacation with a briny plate of fresh oysters. (Photo: Courtesy Skippers Smokehouse)
Dining in a coastal city like Tampa ought to mean seeking out the town’s top restaurants for oysters. And we know where to find the best. The only way to get fresher oysters in Tampa would be to hop behind the raw bar and start shucking yourself. But let’s face it, that takes way too much effort when you could be sipping a Florida Cracker while the professionals do the work.
First-time Tampa visitors hit Skipper’s Smokehouse because they saw the shuckhouse on Man vs. Food. They gawk at gator chili and end up not-so-settling on the blackened grouper Reuben. They get to hear some of the best blues in the country, or maybe they’re lucky enough to catch a band like the Black Keys at the beginning of a meteoric rise. But the locals will tell you it’s all about the oysters, and they pack the place to the rafters to suck them down.
The perfect pair: Skipper’s has a workman’s grit that comes with riding out hurricanes since 1980, so pop open a PBR the way it was meant to be enjoyed, straight from a tall boy can, with your meal.
Ocean Views, Island Booze
If you run into traffic while driving highway 275 to Redington Shores on a Thursday, the $7 oysters available all day at Seabreeze Island Bar and Grill will re-establish your Zen. For those averse to slurping them down raw, they also crank the mollusks out “Chicago-style” with a rich and buttery parmesan crunch. The drink menu is a booze cruise of shooters and island antidotes, along with a wine list that offers more than just “The Red” and “The White.”
The perfect pair: Key West Southern Most Wheat is a beachy beer and a great match for salty oysters.
River Taxi Regatta
A water taxi will haul your crew through the heart of Tampa on the Hillsborough River (right from your waterside hotel), and a stop at Rick’s on the River for a dozen Jacked Up Oysters is pretty much expected. Smother anything in pepper jack cheese and garnish it with jalapeno and it’s certain it will be absolutely inhaled. Do that to a dozen fresh oysters, and it’s almost too beautiful to demolish. Rick’s is open late, every single day of the year.
The perfect pair: When it’s in stock, go with a local, a can of Cigar City Invasion Pale Ale. Earthy up front with a tropical twist, it’s adventurous, but not a beer that takes all day to finish.
Doing One Thing Well
This oyster mecca, formerly known as Central Avenue Oyster Bar, dropped the directional nomenclature but maintains its reputation as one of the best Tampa restaurants for oysters. The Oyster Bar serves them up on the half shell, but under the direction of executive chef Matthew Smith, they finally get the credit they’re due as the perfect canvas for adventurous flavor. Smoked bacon with barbecue and chipotle mayo are two of many crowd favorites at this oyster bar in Tampa.
The perfect pair: For the moment, veer from beer and knock back an oyster shooter. Oyster + Vodka + Tobasco + Lemon (The Classic) = good for what ails you.
Tampa takes its oysters seriously and has something for both amateurs and aficionados. Every stop has a following that swears their place does it best, but at the end of the day an oyster is an oyster is an oyster, right? Guess that depends what you’ve got chasing it.