I’m going to start this blog post by telling you that I go by CJ because I hate my name. Carlos Hernandez is about as close to a Hispanic version of “John Smith” as you can get (except for Juan Smitho). There are so many Carlos Hernandez’s around here, I’m not even the most important one in Tampa! No, that title apparently belongs to the renowned Tampa Food-Blogger of carloseats.com. Too many times, I’ve been contacted by someone going “Hey, we’re from the newspaper and we’d like to cover your event!” only to realize that they don’t want to cover my standup shows, they want to cover the food truck rally.
You think you’re a big-shot, other Carlos Hernandez? You think your food blog is more important than my comedy, eh? WELL GUESS WHAT BUDDY, I CAN BLOG ABOUT FOOD TOO! LET’S SEE YOU BLOG ABOUT COMEDY, HUH?
...Okay. So. Uh. Here you go. A food blog. By Carlos Hernandez. Not the foodie Carlos Hernandez. The broke comedian Carlos Hernandez. Enjoy.
If there’s one thing all of us local comedians have in common, it’s that we’re broke! Comedy brings the thrills but it doesn’t always pay the bills, sadly. Luckily, Tampa is a great city with awesome food available that doesn’t break the bank! You just have to know where to look. Here are some of the best eats in Tampa... FOR CHEAP!
1. Seminole Heights: The Chop Chop Shop
6605 N Florida Ave, Tampa, FL 33604
This little Asian-Fusion joint is TINY! Despite the bright red door, the place is easy to miss because it's the size of my apartment. Once you're in, though, you'll find my favorite Asian food in all of Tampa Bay. The Chop Chop Shop offers bowls of Chicken or Pork, served with Rice, one of their signature sauces, and a side of greens or slaw for $9. It may not sound like much, but every single sauce I've tried here has been simply amazing, and the greens with sesame dressing are delicious and refreshing. The bowls are generously sized, I usually eat half at the shop and I take half home with me for the next day! That breaks down to $9 for two meals, which is a great deal. I recommend trying the Shop sauce with pork.
2.Temple Terrace: Taco Son
7521 N 56th St, Tampa, FL 33617
THE UNDISPUTABLE KING OF TACOS IN TAMPA. Taco Bus can burn down for all I care, they used to be great but their portions have gotten smaller and their quality has gotten worse. Thankfully, TACO SON is here to save the day! Basically everything at Taco Son is a buck or two cheaper than the equivalent at Taco Bus, and just flat out better. Their burritos are the size of my forearm. I could DRINK their hot sauces. The specials rotate every day, I'm in love with the Mole Chicken on Mondays! My only qualm is that they're closed on Sundays, which is the day I always end up craving it. The Chick-Fila curse!
(Frugal Pro-Tip: Order a Tostada with a side of half-rice/half-beans, it's a surprising amount of food for under $5! And they have a STUDENT DISCOUNT!)
3. Sushi Haru, 5-7pm weekdays.
3817 Northdale Blvd, Tampa, FL 33624
A lot of people knew about the 5-7pm sushi happy hour at Sushi Alive, formerly in the Carrollwood area, but it had its problems. It was loud and super busy, you pretty much had to get there at 4:45 or suffer an hour+ wait. On one fateful day we were craving cheap sushi, but Sushi Alive was just too packed, so we looked around a bit.
Enter Sushi Haru, the adorable and sadly overshadowed sushi place right across the street. This is a tiny little place staffed by a handful of people, but the sushi is delicious and they’ve been offering the exact same deal as Sushi Alive for ages! It’s quiet, it’s not too busy, and the rolls are simple and tasty. My favorite is definitely the Arizona roll, a combo of tuna and yellowtail, with orange tobiko on the outside. Delicious, and you can easily leave stuffed full for under $10 each.
4. North Tampa/Tampa Palms: Taco Tuesday's at Ciccio Cali
17004 Palm Pointe Dr, Tampa, FL 3364
This upscale Tampa Palms restaurant offers a kick-ass Taco Tuesday deal that simply can't be beat. You think Tijuana Flats has a good deal on Tuesdays? Tijuana Flats gives you two cruddy tacos and a soda for $6. Ciccio Cali has $2 tacos and $1 beer/sangria, and these tacos are FANCY! I'm talking Ahi Tuna with avocado and onion strings, buffalo chicken and bleu cheese, thai chicken with peanut sauce... Great ingredients for great little tacos, and for $2 you'll find yourself saying "just one more..."
5. North of USF: California Tacos
1450 Skipper Rd, Tampa, FL 33613
Yes, I have a bit of a "thing" for tacos if you haven't figured that out. They're cheap and delicious and I'm Hispanic, so it is what it is.
This Taco Shack made an appearance on the Food Network’s “Diners Drive-Ins and Dives” with Guy Fieri, and for good reason: Their Fish Tacos kick some serious butt. The “Guy Fieri Special” is two loaded fish tacos with hot sauce for a little under $10, and the rest of their menu is solid as well. The outdoor seating makes this place perfect for a sunny weekend lunch.
6. Seminole Heights-ish: TN Crab Shack
2120 E Sligh Ave, Tampa, FL 33610
One of my favorites, if you give this place a phone call they’ll simply answer by yelling “CRAB SHACK” into the phone. You simply can’t beat the prices of this little shack on Sligh, the meal above was four blue crabs doused in butter, garlic, and old bay seasoning, a side of fries, and a side of hush-puppies for about $8, and that’s one of their most expensive meals. Most dinners cost about $5 or $6 dollars. Coconut shrimp, clam strips, fish filet, if it’s from the ocean and fried you can get it here for CHEAP.
7. USF area: $5 Fridays at Best For Less Jamaican Food
11618 N 22nd St. Tampa, FL 33612
Alright, I’ll be honest with you: This is one of the shadiest places I have ever eaten at. It’s a weird little shack on a side road on Fowler Ave, and there’s pretty much no mention of it on the entire internet. This is truly an insider secret I’m giving you here. This place has all sorts of jamaican dishes for takeout such as jerk chicken, curried goat, and oxtail, and on Fridays every single meal is only FIVE BUCKS, for a huge amount of food. This one’s for the fearless, if you can get past the sketchy area you will find some absolutely delicious food for so little money.
And there you have it, my cheat sheet to cheap eats in Tampa, FL. Let me know if you try any of these places with a comment, and feel free to send me suggestions of restaurants to try or less-common things I could change my name to at CJHernandezComedy@gmail.com!