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

Mott & Hester Chicken

Mott & Hester’s chicken, spinach casserole and summer squash satisfy.

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.

Holy Hog Barbecue: This family-friendly place is known for sumptuous sausage, pulled pork, and tender chicken. When Danny Hernandez changed his menu from Cuban to barbecue, West Tampa businessmen traded guayaberas for bibs. There is good Latin food all around this area but slim pickings for the rib-crazed. Flavorful just begins to describe Danny’s tender, 14-hour brisket, collard greens and loaded baked potato salad. The food is cafeteria-style so your eyes guide your stomach. (Read Taylor’s full review)

Holy Hog; 3501 N. Armenia Ave.; Tampa, FL; (813) 879-4647; M – W, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., Th – S, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.; www.holyhogbbq.com (Danny recently opened a second Hog with take-out, “Cue to the Curb Service’’ at 4004 Henderson Blvd; (813) 282-4647). 

Kurdi’s Fresh Mediterranean Grill: Don’t be tempted to fill up on the enticing roasted baba ghanoush, tahini-heady hummus, fresh mint tabbouleh, or flash-fried kibbeh, because there are plenty of reasons to save room for Kurdi’s dusky, tender beef marinated in lusty seasonings. It imprints your taste buds for days. The feast sampler teams delightful mezzo, chicken sharwarma, marinated steak, and veggie skewers in a bountiful combo. Hewien (He-VEEN) Kurdi also makes healthy, Mid-Eastern soups, salads, and other offerings at her restaurant at the foot of Skypoint condominium.

Kurdi’s: 777 N. Ashley Dr., Unit B; Tampa, FL; (813) 223-5800; M – Th, 11a.m. to 10 p.m., F-S, 11-11; www.kurdisgrill.com

Little Greek Restaurant: It’s an exercise of mix and match whether to go for the luscious, meat-sauced pastitsio or the oven-baked eggplant, beef and béchamel sauced moussaka. The only solution is to order both. Enjoy a feta rich Greek salad, chicken kebabs, plump stuffed grape leaves and pork souvlaki, too, at the new Palma Ceia eatery. Jim Mayberrie, co-owner, says all soups, dressings and marinades are made fresh in his to-go eatery that also sports a few tables.

Little Greek Restaurant; 1155 S.Dale Mabry Hwy.;  (813) 443-4594;  11 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily; www.mylittlegreek.com

MarketPlace Chicken Salad

St. Pete’s Marketplace packs pockets of chicken salad.

Marketplace Express: Just across from the eye-catching, St. Petersburg Museum of Fine Arts, the Express has a welcoming ambience, an extensive variety of imported and domestic bottled and fountain beverages, and comfort snacks. Quick wraps, clubs and other sandwiches feed downtown dissidents. Frozen Oreo,  Extreme Toffee Coffee and Hazelnut Winkie round out an inviting beverage selection.

Marketplace Express; 284 Beach Dr. NE; St. Petersburg, FL; (727) 894-3330; M, 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., T-Th, 7-7, F and S, 7 a.m. – 9 p.m., Sun., 7 a.m. to 8 pm. www.marketplace-express.com

Mekenita Mexican Grille: Rand and Tiffani Packer’s colorful neighborhood restaurant focuses on Mexican with a whiff of the Pacific. Growing up in Southern California, Rand used to hunt the best, south-of-the-border food vendors. His Baja-style fish tacos are so good, they won the 2011 Tampa Bay Year of the Taco award. Sup on smoked chicken eggrolls with chipotle lime cream. The former Roy’s Restaurant chef serves a memorable, tiger shrimp salad with tangerine-ancho vinaigrette, grilled skirt steak burritos with chili salsa, and a rustic, chicken ranchero with smoked ancho sauce. Olé!

Mekenita Mexican Grille; 17623 Dale Mabry Hwy. in Van Dyke Commons Shopping Center; Lutz, FL; (813) 264-1212; M-Sat., 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; www.mekenitamexicangrille.com

Mott & Hester Deli: It doesn’t look like the kind of place where you can spend a lot of money, but the food is so good we order more than we need. For 30 years, Ted Kelly has ladled lusty gumbo, fried spicy po’ boys and  tossed mighty salads. The blackened chicken tortellini with Alfredo sauce, turkey sandwiches with pepper Jack cheese and Muffuletas keep customers returning.  Remember Selena’s in Hyde Park? His family’s recipes harken from there as well. Taste the spinach linguini and clam sauce, spinach-artichoke casserole, summer squash and cheddar cheese duo and you’ll know Ted’s attention to detail. Kelly’s UF-Gainesville memorabilia join pictures of New York’s Little Italy street corner, which inspired the deli’s name.

Mott & Hester Deli Co.; 1155 S. Dale Mabry Hwy.; (813) 289-9758;  M-F, 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., S, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.; www.mottandhesterdeli.com 

PDQ: Modeled after a chain called Tenders in North Carolina, serves freshly fried chicken that reminds me of the bountiful baskets I grew up on. Other not-to-miss dishes are a turkey breast with cranberries (months from Turkey Day) and crisp turkey sandwich with sweet heat. A grilled chicken salad, dotted with candied almonds and craisins, and splashed with a ginger-blueberry vinaigrette, provide a nice balance of salt, sweet and tart. The skinny French fries and thick, milkshakes are addicting. Bob Basham, an Outback Steakhouse co-founder, and Nick Reader partnered in this venture. Nick says everything is made from scratch and there is not a freezer in sight. (Full Disclosure: I have some family ties to the place but if I weren’t totally sold on it, I wouldn’t tout it.)

PDQ: 2207 S. Dale Mabry Hwy., Tampa, FL; (813) 254-7373; S- Th, 10 -10, F and S, 10 a.m. to 11 p.m.;  www.eatpdq.com

PDQ Chicken Tenders
Always fresh, PDQs chicken tenders win me over.


Our Orlando star: Emily Ellyn, a finalist in Season 8 of The Next Food Network Star, is a Culinary Institute of America graduate studying hospitality management at UCF. She’s a lively representative for the Sunshine state. Good luck, Emily. You can vote for your favorite


Sweet eats: An all-you-care-to eat, quick-serve, Sweet Tomatoes Express opens May 29 at 2689 Gulf to Bay Dr., Clearwater. Two dates to note: Friday, May 25, 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. and Saturday, May 26, 11 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. That’s when guests can enjoy a Sweet Tomatoes Express meal, entrée salad and a beverage, for $5. All money goes to the American Red Cross Tampa Bay Chapter. www.sweettomatoes.com


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