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Restaurant Review: Columbia Restaurant, Tampa, Florida

Posted Jan 01 2011 3:32am

First of all, happy new year! Can you believe it is 2011? A new year, a new decade. May the new year bring you much inspiration, happiness, health, and peace of mind, and in doing so, allow you to heal the world and bring joy to those around you in small ways everyday. We all have the power to make positive change this year, for ourselves, for each other, and for our planet! here's to a great 2011, for all of us.

Now, let's talk about food. Really good Spanish food, to be exact. While in Florida for Christmas, my parents and I went to the Columbia Restaurant in Ybor City, the historical neighborhood located in the city of Tampa, Florida.  The Columbia Restaurant was founded in 1905 and is the oldest restaurant in Florida and the world’s largest Spanish restaurant. 

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Founded by Cuban immigrant Casimiro Hernandez, Sr., it began in Tampa’s Ybor City, as a small corner café known for its Cuban coffee and authentic Cuban sandwiches, frequented by the local cigar workers. Over the years, the restaurant has grown. It expanded to five other locations in Florida: St. Armands Circle in Sarasota, the Historic District in St. Augustine, The Pier in St. Petersburg, Sand Key on Clearwater Beach, Central Florida’s town of Celebration, and the Columbia Café at the Tampa Bay History Center, Channelside. All Columbia Restaurants are owned and operated by 4th and 5th generation members of the founding family ( read the entire history here ).  The Columbia has been named an All-American Icon by Nation's Restaurant News, one of only fifty restaurants in the U.S. chosen for this honor.

The Tampa location is lovely to behold. The exterior is covered in Spanish tile, a reference to the Moorish tiles of Southern Spain. Inside, there are multiple opulent dining rooms , each offering a different environment and feel. After glancing in the old café room, and walking through the richly decorated Don Quixote dining room (outfitted with a large crystal chandalier and dark woodwork), we were shown to the Patio Dining Room, a sunny and bright room designed to mimic the patios of Andalucia. It was built in 1937, and I felt as though I were being transported back in time. Waiters busily hurried about the dining room in black tuxedos, scraping bread crumbs off tables and adjusting the folded cloth napkins. Large green palms dotted the room, providing lovely contrast to the white marble floor, crisp white tablecloth, and white walls. A fountain in the center provided the soothing sound of running water. Holiday greenery tastefully hung from the railings of the second story, providing a festive touch. 

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