Columbia Restaurant- Ybor City
The Columbia Restaurant in Ybor city is the oldest Spanish restaurant in the country and the oldest continuously operated restaurant in Florida. It’s easily one of the biggest Spanish restaurants in the world. It has its own city block! The space is absolutely beautiful! This restaurant started as a 60-seat space serving cuban coffee and sandwiches. The Don Quixote Room would be the first air conditioned dining room in Tampa.
Today, there are 15 dining rooms that seat up to 1,700 people in a 52,000 square feet establishment. Everyone from Marilyn Monroe to Liberace to Derek Jeter has dined here.
[Sancho Dining Room]
[Red Room Dining Room]
My first and only other time at this particular Columbia Restaurant was in September of 2012. It was their 1905 day, when everything was the same price it was in 1905. That makes coffee $0.05, flan $0.50, chicken and rice $2.95, salad $1.95 and pitchers of sangria were $4.95! I remember getting in a long line that became another long line that became 5 hours spent in total. The wait wasn’t painful at all. Once you got through the door, you could continue waiting with as much sangria as you wanted. I remember alternating my coffee and sangria. I went with three other people. Each person had a soup, salad, entree, dessert and 3 glasses of sangria. The bill came out to $30. THIRTY. IN TOTAL. I’m pretty sure we tipped another thirty. I missed this year’s 1905 day by three days. I have got to plan better!
On my most recent trip to Tampa (and I go home quite a lot), I bribed my little sisters into picking me up with a promise of lunch at the Columbia Restaurant. Everyone, say ‘Hello’ to Rebecca.
I’m almost positive they didn’t need the bribe but who’s going to turn down a pitcher of red wine sangria and a full belly?
Fresh cuban bread and whipped butter came out first while we chatted waiting for the food and reminisced how we used to eat bread when we were younger. I always loved to smell the bread, I don’t know why. It runs in the family, I guess. I fondly recall my grandmother making a beef stew with garlic butter baguettes from Albertsons. I would shove my little hand into the bread and eat everything inside save for the crust.
After settling in, our very well dressed waiter came over and took our order. We ordered some Devil Crab Croquettes. Paella Espanola would take 30 minutes. Perfect! We’ll take another pitcher of sangria!
Chicken and Yellow Rice “Ybor”- “Dark meat,” Salenna requests. We really ARE sisters! I’m so proud. Look at her rip that thing apart!
The thirty minutes went by and I realized the only thing in my stomach before this stop was coffee and a pitiful bag of Doritos from the airline. A couple of glasses of sangria and I was feeling pretty good! We all had the giggles. And everything hit the spot. Take a look at our spread!
That paella, with all of it’s plentiful clams, squid, scallop, mussels, chicken and pork, was so worth the wait!
Flan…two of them <3- Before I could snap a photo, one of those monsters took a bite. So we tried to hide it with a strawberry.
I forgot how much I missed good Spanish food and regret no longer being a 25 minute drive away. I think we started a new tradition. The Columbia after every airport pickup. Perhaps, I’ll come home even more often.