If you’re looking for an epicurean experience to remember, don’t miss Columbia Restaurant in St. Armands Circle.
Serving the effortlessly authentic dishes of Spain and Cuba, from crusty Cuban sandwiches to fragrant paella, the restaurant keeps it all in the family. Casimiro Hernandez opened the first Columbia in Tampa in 1905. The same family still owns that location today, since opening several more restaurants across Florida.
The Lido Key location opened in 1959 and is the oldest restaurant in Sarasota. When you dine at Columbia, expect a meal rich in tradition, history and flavor.
Relax inside the Mediterranean style dining room, or enjoy an outdoor table on the patio. Wicker chairs and Spanish tile lend to the ambiance and decor.
Just as you’re admiring the beautiful artwork adorning the walls, crusty bread is delivered fresh-from-the-oven to your table with heavenly, creamy butter.
(You know how you sometimes feel guilty about eating bread? Nope, not this bread. It’s worth every bite.)
People rave about the “1905” Salad. We were thinking, “Seriously, a salad?” Until they tossed it, right at our table, with crisp iceberg, baked ham, swiss cheese, olives, tomatoes, their famous garlic dressing and grated Romano cheese.
THIS IS THE BEST SALAD YOU WILL EVER EAT.
The dressing is a family secret – even the servers don’t know what’s in it. (And if they do, they’ll never tell.)
PRO TIP: Dip the awesome bread into the awesome dressing.
Naturally, we ordered a Cuban, but we also sampled some other savory dishes.
The Tapas Sampler included Coca de Langosta Coca – a flatbread brushed in 1905 sauce topped with Spanish chorizo, diced vine-ripened tomatoes, Maine lobster and Manchego cheese, the Queso Fundido – completely addictive cheese, and succulent Cakes de Cangrejo – fancy word for crab cakes.
The Columbia claims to have the best steak in Florida, and we’re not arguing. The filet mignon was tender and delicious.
There’s a dish named after Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio, who used to dine at the Tampa location, featuring mixed beef tips, pork and shrimp sautéed in brown gravy over Spanish rice.
Don’t miss the Paella. It may take half an hour to prepare, but it is worth the wait and enough to share – rich and delicious, served tableside from a hot skillet.
Take some time to read the menu, not only to choose what to eat, but also for the rich history of the restaurant, which began by serving soup and sandwiches to Cuban immigrants working in Tampa cigar factories.
You can still order the bean soup that started it all.
We’d be remiss if we didn’t recommend the Cava Sangria, a gorgeous presentation mixed right at your table.
Which, by the way, you’ll want to reserve again and again.