After a little bit of a break, we're back. Over the past few weeks, we've checked out two Tampa institutions when it comes to Cuban food - Arco-Iris and La Teresita. Both restaurants are located off of Dale Mabry on W. Columbus Drive, which is sort of the Tampa equivalent of Miami's Calle Ocho.
When we visited La Teresita several weeks ago, the first thing we noticed was the great smells of Cuban food that hit us the moment we got out of the car. We went on a weekend and the place was buzzing with activity. We found two open stools at one of the packed counters and sat down. While our server struggled to keep up with her counter area, the food was great- and the portions were huge and cheap.
I ordered ropa vieja with yellow rice and black beans and Traci ordered traditional chicken and yellow rice. The buttered Cuban bread at La Teresita was particularly addictive. Everyone was friendly and we left stuffed. I've heard the knock before that La Teresita isn't clean etc, but we didn't have any problem (their kitchen I'd rather not think about). From a customer point of view, it looks the same as pretty much any old diner - worn down, but comfortable. If you're expecting frills, this certainly isn't your place.
This past weekend, we decided to check out Arco-Iris, which is only a few doors down from La Teresita. We found the food to be equally as good, although we like the diner-like buzz of La Teresita more. Arco- Iris is more of a traditional sit-down place. Again, nothing fancy. The focus is on the tasty and affordable food. At Arco-Iris, I ordered carne asada with yellow rice and black beans. Traci went with chicken and onions with the yellow rice and black beans too. Again, we came away stuffed and happy.
La Teresita and Arco-Iris both serve several Cuban-Chinese dishes as well, which sounded interesting but we decided to stick with old stand-bys. Sue Carlton explained in a recent column the Cuban-Chinese connection, which goes back many years. Fried rice with plantains is certainly a unique combination.
I am glad that I didn't check out the health inspection reports on either until after our visits.
Bottom-line: I should have explored Columbus sooner. For those of you looking for authentic Cuban food in big portions at cheap prices, head over to La Teresita or Arco-Iris, two uniquely Tampa experiences.
La Teresita Inspection Scorecard: Last Inspection: March 2007 violations - Critical (8), Non-Critical (12).
Arco-Iris Inspection Scorecard: Last Inspection: April 2007 violations - Critical (14), Non-Critical (7).