Startup Cuba writer Kate Oberdorfer explores the traditional Cuban neighborhood and introduces us to two of her new favorite restaurants.
Flor Fina restaurant Ybor City
Flor Fina restaurant in Ybor City, Tampa. Photo: Kate Oberdorfer

The sun is setting in this traditional Cuban neighborhood turned nightlife playground in Tampa, Florida. It’s humid in Bay Area Florida and you are so hungry that you’re not sure if you’re standing on Seventh Avenue in Ybor City or Bourbon Street in New Orleans. 

But have no fear, Sweaty Tourist; many of your kind have trouble with that semi-tropical distinction and luckily for you, Ybor City has many colorful, air-conditioned and affordable spots for your dining pleasure. Let’s try the two new favorites.  

Flor Fina

Flor Fina, located in the new boutique Haya Hotel on 7th Avenue is serious Cuban cuisine at its best. And we’re not talking about the Cuban sandwich – although Flor Fina does offer El Cubano at the bar, complete with mojo roast pork and kissed (yes, the menu says “kissed”) with yellow mustard –  we’re talking that mezcla (mix) of flavors that come together to create something uniquely Cuban. 

Executive Chef Douglas Rodriguez is the son of Cuban immigrants and the founder of what is known as Nuevo Latino Cuisine: food from Latin American countries, everywhere.

Related Post: Ybor City Has Been a Little(ish) Havana Since 1886

Executive Chef Douglas Rodriguez is the son of Cuban immigrants and the founder of what is known as Nuevo Latino Cuisine: food from Latin American countries, everywhere. Rodriguez’s menu feels authentically Cuban for each and every dish is bubbling with imagination – from the beer injections to the sherry soaks to the smoked pears and combinations of tuna with watermelon. These fine details on the menu push past the Americanized ideas of Cuban cuisine and equate Flor Fina to La Guarida, Havana’s most famous paladar.  

Flor Fina restaurant Ybor City blue sweet potato gnocchi
Ybor City’s Flor Fina restaurant’s blue sweet potato gnocchi. Photo: Kate Oberdorfer

Take, por ejemplo (for example), the blue sweet potato gnocchi. The gnocchi appears to be Chef Rodriguez’s nod to the Sicillian community who, along with the Cubans, assisted in establishing Ybor City as a rich community of immigrants. Traditionally, the Italian gnocchi is made of flour, semolina or potato but Chef Rodriguez plays with the gnocchi’s rules by forming the dumpling from blue sweet potatoes and elevating the dish with creamy cauliflower, fava bean and smoked mushrooms. 

Cerealholic Cafe and Bar

You probably aren’t hungry after Flor Fina, especially not if you indulge in that decadent quatro leches cake but no biggie, our next stop is open until 2 am on Fridays and Saturdays so you have plenty of time to make room in that estomago (stomach). 

cerealholic cornelius the rooster chicken sandwich
Cerealholic Cornelius Rooster chicken sandwich in Ybor City. Photo: Kate Oberdorfer

Cerealholic Cafe and Bar is precisely as advertised with a little bit of late nineties nostalgia to boot. The menu is adorned with dishes inspired by all your favorite cereal and the cafe walls are decorated with VHS tapes, beanie babies and Power Rangers. 

And finally, before heading home, a night in Ybor wouldn’t be complete without a visit to one of the many cigar bars along Seventh Avenue.

Aside from the complimentary dish of mixed cereals, the absolute must try on the menu is the Cornelius the Rooster Chicken Sandwich. What makes this sandwich an absolute must try, as well as totally worth the honey sriracha stain on your pink skirt, is the cornflake crusted fried chicken on a bun. Oh. Good. Heaven. This sandwich seriously kicks Chick-fil-A and Popeyes off the fried chicken sandwich culinary map. 

And finally, before heading home, a night in Ybor wouldn’t be complete without a visit to one of the many cigar bars along Seventh Avenue. We went to La Faraona. It’s Cuban-owned and boasts the biggest cigar lounge of any in Ybor. The novice cigar smoker will probably want to opt for one of the vanilla-flavored cigars while the more experienced may go for the classic Churchill. The lounge itself has cozy, reclining seats and flat screen televisions where amidst the tobacco smoke, you can watch boxing matches. The staff are friendly and happy to educate you on all things Cuban Ybor and cigars.

Until next time, Ybor City.

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Kate Oberdorfer is a writer from Tampa, Florida. She studied English and music at Mount Holyoke College, and spent a semester in Havana in 2007. She has returned to the island almost every year since then. Kate wrote her master’s thesis on the Cubans of Union City, New Jersey at the Columbia Journalism School. She is currently finishing her first book in Bethany Beach, DE. Kate loves to cook, sing, and dance and is a diehard Washington Capitals fan.

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