Tampa Bay’s best restaurants with fast-casual food suit our speedy lifestyle

It’s shorts and flip flops time for quick eats so we have more hours to play. My hubby and I discussed, debated, dissented, and compiled our fave, fast-casual restaurants. These places, where you line up to order, are much more appealing than fast-food options (and cheaper than sit-down cousins). Experts say this hybrid category is on the grow and judging by the parking lots, most patrons agree.

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Fresh shrimp is the bait at Tampa’s Shrimp & Co.

“I love New Orleans. I went to Marti Gras all the time and I can’t eat anything without hot sauce,’’ says Shrimp and Co.’s owner Levent Cilek. His habanero hot sauce blend makes a noticeable addition to Cajun choices such as popcorn crawfish, oyster bayou, and oyster and shrimp po’ boys. Start with a cup of homemade soup like clam chowder, shrimp bisque, spicy crab enchilada with angel hair pasta, or seafood gumbo, served on weekends. You-peel-‘em pink shrimp: seven, large, shellfish (all but one being headless) are boiled in an Old Bay seasoning.

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Tampa defends its Cuban sandwich title: The best in the Bay

Miami has its attributes but can it claim rights to the holy grail of tropical sandwiches? Ybor City was turning out these banquets on Cuban bread before the turn of the previous century. Early bricklayers flattened their “mixto’’ sandwiches between hot bricks thus toasting bread, melting cheese, and melding flavors. But Miami Herald reporter Fabiola Santiago says Tampa has no culinary chops and started a cat fight about Miami boasting the original. “There’s no doubt that our Cuban sandwich, served all over South Florida, is more authentic and tastier. Even in its Americanized or gourmet incarnations, a cubano in Miami is superior– my Tampa and Miami friends agree,’’ whined Fabiola. Harrumph!

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Tampa's Boca Kitchen Bar offers a mouthful of farm-fresh favorites

Boca is restaurant, market, and watering hole. Wood dominates its décor and low lights glint off the expanse of a wall of windows. A convivial bar allows a small peek into the kitchen. It’s more contemporary and has more enclosed space for eating than Smoke, the barbecue establishment formerly located here.

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Pillsbury Bake-Off prize winner is wholly pumpkin ravioli: Recipe and pictures

On Monday, the Doughboy came to Mickey Mouse’s turf in Orlando at the 45th Pillsbury Bake-Off Contest, the premier American cooking competition. Five men and 95 women, aged 25 to 77, all amateur cooks came from cities like Brookline, MA, Beaver Dam, KY, Koloa, HI, and a few miles away in Windermere, FL to debut their original recipes. The prize seekers baked, braised and whisked their dreams and talent in 100 mini-kitchens set up in the Peabody Orlando Hotel ballroom. Each vied for the sweetest bragging rights of all, a $1 million grand prize and $10,000 in GE appliances.

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The best Irish pub fare in Tampa Bay

If hurling and soccer, shamrocks and goofy Irish wit buttons bring you pleasure, you’re more than ready for St. Patrick’s Day. Tampa Bay’s assorted ale houses don’t always meet lofty standards but with the luck of the Irish, the grub can be filling and satisfying.

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Tampa Bay restaurants where vegetarian, vegan, healthy and hedonist share menus

Just because I’m reaching for my trusty Dove Ice Cream Bar doesn’t mean I don’t like a heart-friendly menu. Who doesn’t like to enjoy dinner without having to loosen the belt? There are enough places where healthy doesn’t mean torture, simply not the food that Paula Deen unleashes on our arteries. The best restaurants in Tampa, St. Petersburg and Clearwater where you can find the best healthy, vegan and vegetarian food.

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Food bloggers agree: Tampa’s Pelagia Trattoria makes a meal of discovery

It took a stint of unemployment to help Todd Sturtz become a cheerleader for Tampa’s culinary scene. Last year, the chemical-environmental engineer and self-proclaimed foodie, started a blog, TastingTampa.com, and organized a dozen Food Truck Rallies throughout the area. The September rally at Hyde Park Presbyterian Church created lots of lines with almost 5,000 visitors. Todd recently launched 13th Step: A Support Group for Foodies, to promote the local talent in our area.

Read more: Food bloggers agree: Tampa’s Pelagia Trattoria makes a meal of discovery