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2017 WOW Dining Survey: Your Winners and Runners Up

Drum roll, please!

In August and early September, scores of Westchasers completed the 2017 WOW Dining Survey to pick the Best Restaurants in Tampa Bay.

While the Best in Tampa Bay appear on page 28, the runners up in each category are worthy of honorable mentions here.

Who took silver and bronze in all the categories?

After winning Best Chinese in solid victories for the past two years, P.F. Changs, located in the WestShore Plaza slid to second place behind this year’s winner. Placing third was last year’s third place winner, Yummy House, which serves Cantonese fare on Waters Avenue just east of Armenia.

Catch Twenty-Three’s annually destroys the competition for Best Seafood. This year’s second and third place winners, however, displaced last year’s silver and bronze finishers. Placing second in this year’s survey was Bonefish Grill on Tampa Road while Oystercatchers, a perennial Best Brunch winner located on the grounds of the Grand Hyatt, won third.

If you’re looking for alternative options for steakhouses, the Dining Survey gave second place to Outback, a steakhouse chain on Sheldon Road, and Charley’s Steak House, located on West Cypress Street in the Westshore district. Last year, the two swapped silver and bronze finishes.

Given how one particular establishment dominated balloting for Best Place for Dessert, it’s almost misleading to list a second place finisher. Nevertheless, Twistee Treat, the ice-cream cone shaped building at Hillsborough and Sheldon (the one with the sprinkles that light up, which alone makes it worthy of a visit), did receive enough votes to technically be called second place, with Yogurtology across from Sickles High School placing third.

In the always popular Best Pizza category, the overall winner, who took this category for more than a decade before ceding the spot to newcomers, convincingly returned to the winner’s circle after a third place finish last year. Mellow Mushroom on Sheldon Road, the winner the last two years, finished second, tying with Marco’s in West Park Village. Grimaldi’s in Westfield Citrus Park mall finished fourth by a single vote.

After taking first place in Best Barbecue last year, Mission BBQ on Waters Avenue placed second in a race clearly dominated by the victor. Meanwhile Smokey Bones (which previously won this category for years) took a respectable third place.

Each year there is some confusion among ballots for the Best Spanish category. Alas, just because folks in a country may largely speak Spanish doesn’t make them Spanish. Spanish cooking traditions hail from Spain, so votes for Cuban restaurants don’t count here. (In an interesting twist that isn’t a contradiction, however, the restaurant that did win Best Spanish also placed well in the Best Cuban Restaurant category because it touts itself as offering both Spanish and Cuban fare.) In the Best Spanish category, however, second place was won by tapas-serving Vizcaya, located on Dale Mabry Highway in Carrollwood.

In a very tight race for Best Cuban Restaurant, Columbia in Ybor took second place while another Tampa icon, La Teresita on W. Columbus Drive in West Tampa, took third.

Meanwhile, La Teresita also took third for Best Cuban Sandwich, while second place in the sandwich category went to Cuban Breezes.

The Best Sushi category saw the exact same finish as last year. Meanwhile, Sushi Alive again took second place and Samurai Blue, which has enjoyed a few second place finishes in past surveys, slipped to third.

With Best Ice Cream winner taking gold for the second straight year in a category that has historically proven unpredictable, DQ Grill and Chill, in the Citrus Park Plaza, took silver after completely dropping out of the top three last year. Third place offered a tie between Froyo Fresh (behind Westchase’s McDonald’s), which won first place in 2015, and Strachan’s Ice Cream and Desserts on Alternate US 19 in Palm Harbor.

Balloting for Most Romantic Meal offered a number of fine restaurants that finished in the top three. Following the category’s perennial winner were a couple of newcomers to the category’s top three. Placing second was Bern’s Steakhouse in SoHo and tying for third were Capital Grille in the International Plaza and Eddie V’s Prime Seafood on W. Boy Scout Boulevard.

With the same restaurant taking Most Romantic and Best View, survey takers offered second place for Best View to Oystercatchers, located in the Grand Hyatt complex on the Courtney Campbell Causeway, while Frenchy’s on Clearwater Beach won third place.

Meanwhile the Best Hamburger balloting had a prior Best Burger winner (2010), Maloney’s Irish Pub in West Park Village, placing second while Five Guys took third place. With the Countryway Boulevard location recently closing, the nearest Five Guys is on E. Lake Road in Palm Harbor. Placing fourth and making its survey debut is Goody Goody, located in Hyde Park Village. Be sure to stop by this newcomer and don’t pass on the POX (a special sauce) and their delectable pies.

The Italian category was won by a local chain. If you’re looking for a quieter, more romantic setting, however, Donatello, a non-chain option that is located just north of Kennedy on 232 N. Dale Mabry Hwy., placed a solid second. Third place went to another popular chain, Olive Garden, located in the Citrus Park Plaza.

With a non-chain restaurant handily winning first place in Best Mexican, second place narrowly went to Senor Tequila’s, making its dining survey debut. (It’s located in the commercial plaza at the intersection of Race Track Road and Nine Eagles Drive.) Third place was a tie between Tijuana Flats in West Park Village and Loli’s Mexican Cravings, a casual, counter-service restaurant located on Benjamin Road near Veterans Expressway and Waters Avenue.

Last year’s best wings winner, Patio 6 (which also featured the most expensive wings most people had ever seen), went belly up within a year of opening. This left the winner’s circle to be grabbed by Maloney’s Irish Pub, which pulled ahead in some interesting late balloting. Previous winner McDivot’s on Countryway Boulevard placed a solid second while Hooters finished third.

Since Arigato closed, Best Japanese hasn’t been a very competitive category. Nevertheless, Kuchi Sushi and Hibachi on Anderson Road did garner enough support to justify a respectable second place finish, garnering a third of the votes of the category winner.

While the survey did also include ballot for Best for Families, votes across the category were quite scattered, offering no clear winners.

Until a few years back, Starbucks annually routed the Best Coffee race. No more. For the second straight year, Starbucks took silver, garnering fewer than half the votes of the category winner. Dunkin Donuts, located on Hillsborough Road and Sheldon Road, just edged Kahwa Coffee on Race Track Road for third.

In a nod to healthier, modern eating habits, the WOW Dining Survey this year abandoned the Best Fried Chicken category, which had been won with no exceptions for more than a decade by the Publix deli. We instead asked Westchase diners who sold their favorite chicken sandwich. We expected a tight race but it wasn’t one. Nevertheless, PDQ, a local chain with a restaurant on Waters near Veterans Expressway (and opening soon in the Westchase Costco plaza), did win a clear second place finish.

When looking for good Greek food, Westchasers also like The Hungry Greek on Race Track Road. It took first in this category the previous two years. Third place went to Hella’s in Tarpon Springs.

While we thought Costco’s arrival might make this category finally a bit interesting, we were wrong. Publix again dominated the Best Supermarket Bakery category, winning the most votes here of any establishment in any one category in the survey. Nevertheless, unlike last year, there was a clear second place finisher: Whole Foods. The nearest is on Northdale Boulevard at the intersection with Dale Mabry Highway in Carrollwood.

Being food snobs, a few years back we carved out a new category, Best Non-Supermarket Bakery, to give the smaller mom and pop places a fighting chance. (Yes, we still think any of the results in this category top any supermarket bakery, but a lot of dining survey takers clearly prefer the convenience and lower cost of supermarkets’ commercial kitchens.) A Tampa icon won this year’s category after the Westchase bakery that won last year’s survey closed. Second place went to Wright’s Gourmet House in South Tampa. While also wonderful deli, its selection of cakes alone is worth the drive. Placing third was Sweet Magnolia Bakery in West Park Village Town Center, which just edged Cakes Plus in Westchase Town Center.

After last year’s second place finisher won top prize for Best Deli after recently opening a Westchase location, Westchasers awarded silver again to Wright’s Gourmet House on S. Dale Mabry Highway. Placing third was the friendly deli counter at the Westchase Publix.

The Best Brunch and Best Breakfast categories saw some pretty curious ballot box stuffing for one local establishment. When the obvious over-votes were set aside, Westchase still voted for close and convenient in the Best Breakfast category. Tying for second place was Village Inn on Race Track Road. Placing third was another Race Track Road establishment, Ellie’s, a great, non-chain option for breakfast and lunch.

Historically Oystercatchers in the Grand Hyatt complex wins the Best Brunch category hands down. This year, however, Best Brunch proved a far more competitive race and Oystercatchers was edged by the winner in a tight race. Tying for third were Westchase establishments Catch 23 in the West Park Town Center and Mother’s, located on W. Linebaugh Avenue behind in the commercial strip behind McDonald’s.

Best Sports Bar saw one of the closest races in the survey. Just missing victory was second place finisher Maloney’s Pub in the Westchase Town Center while Buffalo Wild Wings finished a more distant third.

While New Yorkers always have interesting things to say when voting for the Best Bagels in Tampa Bay, Panera also had a respectable second place showing after the winner won a clear cut victory. Third place went to a number of general observations best summarized as “great despair.”

After receiving some requests from our vegetarian readers for meatless categories, we have added a few in recent years but none generally gather enough participation to pinpoint clear victors. This year, however, there was a clearer winner for Best Salad. The downside? Westchasers’ votes for Best Salad picked an option that is served with ham. (Curse you, carnivores!) The remaining ballots offered the chain Sweet Tomatoes a silver medal.

The category Best for Vegetarians did produce a popular winner, however. Taking silver for Best Vegetarian was Sweet Tomatoes, located on Dale Mabry Highway in Carrollwood, and Fresh Kitchen, located on South Howard Avenue in SoHo.

Balloting for Best Overall Restaurants pinpointed a host of great establishments across the bay area. In addition to the category winner, which is close to home, Westchasers also gave enthusiastic nods to Bern’s Steakhouse in SoHo, Columbia Restaurant in Ybor City, Ulele on Tampa’s Riverwalk (1810 N. Highland Ave.) and Capital Grille at International Plaza.

We thank the scores of residents who participated in the survey and congratulate the winners of our random drawing of survey takers: Susan Linehan of The Bridges, Joe Roman of The Greens and Kris Lynch of The Fords. Each received a gift certificate for dinner for two from one of the winning restaurants.

Please see page 28 of the printed WOW for the winners of the 2017 WOW Dining Survey!

By Chris Barrett, Publisher

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