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Where To Eat In Tampa During The Republican National Convention

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Washington Post food critic Tom Sietsema has done some reconnoitering in the political convention hosts cities of Tampa and Charlotte and his conclusion is that "both are equally ... middle of the road" when it comes to dining.

But Seitsema found a few things to like in both cities.

Leading the list in Tampa is Bern's Steakhouse (duh). Sietsema says it is as much an institution in Tampa as the Supreme Court is in Washington, D.C.

His recommendation is as old school as Bern's: The chateaubriand.

The menu is a beef eater’s fantasy. Fifteen cuts of prime Midwestern meat and dozens of ways to prepare them! If it’s offered, order the truly special “special chateaubriand.” Dry-aged in-house for up to eight weeks, the succulent cut of tenderloin (out of the short loin) is meat for the memory books.

Sietsema also enjoyed the farm-to-table food at Hyde Park's Boca, which opened earlier this year. He recommends the daily "Staff Meal" special.

Does any of this sound interesting?

Boca’s food — pork belly with black-eyed pea succotash, crisp flatbread dappled with zesty tomato jam and chunky pesto — leans to the robust. Roseate slices of yellowfin tuna draped over a mound of vegetable-veined couscous was richer for the red curry butter moistening them.

Boca has even added an "RNC visitors" section to its website.

Finally, Sietsema gets out of downtown for a taste of Seminole Heights' The Refinery.

The catch with The Refinery is that you'll never know what's on the menu because the chef switches it up weekly. Here's a sample of what you should expect:

The first-time restaurant operator rethinks french fries by using mushrooms, which he purees with onions, celery, thyme, wine and cream, then thickens with chickpea and tapioca flours, and pours into a sheet pan to bake. Cut into strips and fried to a crunch, they are a substantial snack made sassier with — forget ketchup — bell pepper sofrito.

The upside? Try The Refinery early during the convention and then check out the new menu on Thursday.

Sietsema's picks are fine (we were underwhelmed by Boca not long after it opened), but they are all pretty high end and they ignore the Cuban, Italian, Caribbean and other cultural influences which spice up Tampa.

So here's a few other places we'd recommend.

Datz' Deli -- Dressed-up home cooking served in massive portions in South Tampa. They've also got one of the best selections of whiskey in Tampa.

Mazzaro's Italian Market -- Sandwiches big enough to make two meals out of, baked goods and imports in an authentic Italian market in St. Pete.

El Puerto -- Bern's is booked, but you might find a table at this Latin steakhouse. This is Ybor City, so there's no white table cloths with your skirt steak and chimichurri here.

Taco Bus -- A polarizing choice, but it's open around-the-clock and will be ready when you need some cochinita pibil tacos.

And for those who are arriving early or staying late and feel like exploring, the Sunday Thai brunch at the Wat Mongkolratanaram temple is a unique experience and the food is delicious. Bring cash and get there before 11 a.m. for the best selection of food and riverside picnic tables.

Sietsema likes Ciro's Speakeasy for a cocktail to finish things off. Great choice.

We'd also recommend The Independent, down the street from The Refinery, and the rooftop deck at Fly Bar if you're downtown (and if they're not booked for private events).

What else would you recommend for our out-of-town guests? Add them in the comments.

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