Tampa's Last GREAT Restaurant. We walked in and were greeted by Carolina the manager who greeted us like she was so glad we were there. We were introduced to our waiter Juan who I knew was a famous Tampa Jai Alai player. Chef Rainel came out and gave us a taste of Shrimp Ajillo. All four of us ordered it as an appetizer. Gaby the bartender brought our Sangria over from the bar so we didn't have to carry it. The value we got and the quality of our food shows that the owners really want you to come back. The paintings in the dining room are World Class!!! Seabass ala Rusa is something I could eat everyday. Tartar Sauce, Salad Dressings, Gravies all made from scratch. There is a reason this place has been around since 1927.....
Their website had better atmosphere. In town for work, I had plenty of time to try the local restaurants. I love paella and went to Columbia. I then read about Valencia Gardens in a travel guide in my hotel room. I went to the website to look at the menu and the website was nicely done. The restaurant on the other hand... The atmosphere was depressing - dark green walls and carpet and chairs from the 80's. There was easy listening music playing from the speaker system. It was not a spanish or cuban feel at all. The waiter was very pleasant and attentive and the sangria was pretty good. The paella took 45 minutes - which is how long it takes to cook paella. This would have been fine if it tasted like it took that long. It tasted like saffron rice mix from a box with previously frozen seafood and peas mixed in. The seafood was not fresh tasting and the peas were mushy and not very good. I make much better paella myself at home and I am of irish descent. After having been to the historic Columbia in Ybor City and the newer and beautiful breezy Sarasota location, this didn't measure up in atmosphere or food. Very disappointed.
Not at the top of my list. My wife and I were in town for the weekend for a late Valentine's Day gift to each other. We decided to give them a try after reading several nice reviews. We were not impressed with the food at all. The shrimp appetizer and the vegetable side tasted like they were previously frozen. The yellow rice was very bland. I had the house specialty sea bass and it was okay. Nothing special. My wife was not that impressed with her crab stuffed shrimp either. It was not a horrible experience, but I would have rather eaten at Olive Garden.
Since 1927, a local family has served Spanish and Cuban food in the same
Tampa building, and experience shows..
An institution among Tampa's movers and shakers, the restaurant attracts an accomplished crowd: At lunch, sometimes, you'll see the mayor, several city council members, the publisher of The Tampa Tribune, a few judges, businesspeople, maybe the president of the University of Tampa. There are several dining rooms, and a nice bar as well; it used to be bright, with lots of windows, but a renovation a few years ago eliminated most of them, and it feels claustrophobic. Still, it's a clean, quiet, civilized place to eat.
Classic Spanish and Cuban dishes.
What to Order
In nearly 28 years of dining there, I have yet to experience a bad meal--quite a record for any restaurant. Start with Spanish bean or turnip green soup; continue with the house salad (ask for dressing on the side, as they're pretty liberal with dressing). The Cuban dish called "ropa vieja," a spicy shredded beef dish, is excellent, as is pretty much any grouper dish. Finish with smooth flan and creamy Cuban coffee.