What was once a tiny little corner cafe for Cuban coffee and sandwiches in the Ybor City neighborhood in Tampa, FL has now become THE place for all things Cuban cuisine. There are now seven Columbia Restaurant locations in the central part of the state stretching from Sarasota to St. Augustine. A very traditional Cuban-inspired menu from Tapas to Paella, from chicken and pork to shrimp and Grouper.
We stopped by the Celebration location on a weekday for a relaxing lunch and found the place quite busy. We were seated right away and the place seemed to flow like clockwork. We were immediately greeted by our server who happily helped us navigate through the lunch menu. Just after we ordered we were served bread, each individually served to us with butter.
We started with the Cuban Black Bean Soup which is the Vegetarian version of their famous Spanish Black Bean Soup. The soup is served over a bed of white rice and topped with chopped onions.
As our soup was being placed in front of us, our server had also brought a bottle of Balsamic Vinegar. I learned that Balsamic Vinegar is often added to black bean soup to enhance the flavor. Curious, I gave it a try and now I am adding Balsamic Vinegar to not only black bean soup but lentil soup as well!
My Mother tried the Tortilla Espanola from the Tapas menu which was large enough to be a meal in itself. Basically, it was simply a Spanish omelet made with potatoes and onions. She enjoyed it, though again, it was quite large.
Chad ordered the Mahi Mahi Varadero– a plate with Mahi Mahi crusted with ground crispy Plantain chips and topped with a citrus butter. It was crispy and flavorful and served alongside yellow rice, this was a perfect sized lunch entree.
I opted for the Mahi Mahi Cubana– basically the Cuban fish version of a Philly cheesesteak. “Grilled Mahi Mahi seasoned and topped with sautéed onions, mushrooms and green pepppers smothered with cheese on Cuban bread.” The description taken straight from the menu sums it up best. The Mahi Mahi was thick, the cheese was ooey gooey melted and the bread was crusty. An excellent sandwich served with a side of plantain chips.
The Columbia Restaurant is quite a popular place for family gatherings, celebrations and romantic dates. Plan on there being a wait, maybe even a very long one, especially on a Friday or Saturday night at any of the locations. The wait is well worth it. The food was excellent, the service was impeccable and the atmosphere was relaxing. The prices are quite high too. Don’t expect to walk out of there for less than about $20 a person which is high for lunch, but you do get what you pay for. Worth a visit if you have never been before.