Last week I went on a quest to discover the best St.Petersburg restaurants and I discovered something much bigger.
I love St. Petersburg!
I only spent a few nights but I may have become the unofficial ambassador because I can’t stop telling people how much I love this city.
Talk to any Canadian and you’ll hear stories of family winter vacations in Florida and their snowbird relatives living in timeshares. But growing up my family didn’t vacation during the winter and I didn’t really have a reason to visit as an adult.
I was one of the few Canadians that had never visited Florida. Not knowing much about Florida except for the Golden Girls and Disneyland it didn’t really appeal to me.
But the energy of St.Petersburg makes me excited to explore more of Florida, what else have I been missing?
St.Petersburg was once known as God’s Waiting Room, a hot bed for retirees and beach loving families, there weren’t many reasons for inbetweeners to visit the city. But a new generation of millenials is staying and outsiders from all over America are coming for the great weather and zero state tax.
I’m sure there are a lot of cities in Florida that have great weather but St.Petersburg has personality. This new generation of residents are diverse. I met New Yorkers, Chicagoans and Portlanders who all moved to St.Petersburg because of the culture and opportunity. The city also has a thriving LGBTQ community and hosts one of the largest Pride parades in Florida.
My Picks: Best St.Petersburg Restaurants
Just as the medium is the message, where you eat reflects what you spend. St.Petersburg restaurants along the beachside cater to an older, wealthier clientele. You’ll find a younger crowd of bars and restaurants north of 3rd. Grand Central is a bit farther up with a vibrant creative community, gorgeous old homes and LGBTQ friendly bars.
The good news is that they’re aren’t really any chain restaurants in St.Petersburg except for a Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse. That’s always a great sign for a good food city,
Part of a new generation of modern St.Petersburg restaurants focusing on casual dining, Bodega wasn’t created for visiting tourists but local residents.
Here I met Dani, a local DJ who was snapchatting (@DEEJAYDANI17) this was the place to go for a Cuban. Just as social media fosters relationships between strangers online, I used the opportunity to ask this stranger his opinion on best St.Petersburg restaurants.
If you like Bodega also check out Taco Bus, which has been around for ages and featured on Diners Drive-Ins and Dives.
Bodega – 1120 Central Ave, St. Petersburg, 727-623-0942
Brick and Mortar
Perhaps my favourite place to eat in St. Petersburg. Brick and Mortar reminded me most of Toronto restaurants. I really liked the relaxed wine bar feel to the restaurant. Staff at the bar are more than willing to offer their suggestions on the best dishes. You can’t beat the perfectly cooked octopus. Eat at the bar and you’ll make friends.
Brick & Mortar – 539 Central Ave, St. Petersburg, 727-822-6540
With friendly staff and great cocktails it’s not surprising The Mill is so popular and considered one of the best St.Petersburg restaurants. Portions here are plentiful so while you’re encourages to order several courses I think it’s best to skip one and share with friends.
If you’re looking for local dishes ask where the seafood comes from as much of it was from outside Florida. The watermelon bruschetta is one of the most popular dishes here.
The Mill – 200 Central Ave #100, St. Petersburg, 727-317-3930
Red Mesa is a well loved restaurant group in the city with an upscale restaurant outside the downtown core, Red Mesa Cantina taqueria and ceviche bar with a garden patio and Red Mesa Mercado which houses a walk-up window and tortilla factory.
I never really eat out at breakfast or brunch, I’d rather wait for lunch and I loved that I could just pick up a breakfast burrito from Red Mesa Mercado.
Red Mesa – 1100 1st Avenue North St.Petersburg, 727-954-7430
The Lucha Libre Last Supper depicted on a series of skateboards on the wall is a sure sign of the attitude at Z-Grille which doesn’t take itself too seriously.
Creative spins on typical American eats, Z-Grille is known for its creative deviled eggs and Dr. Pepper fried ribs. It’s a local’s favourite for brunch and would be good for snacks with local beer on tap.
Z-Grille – 104 2nd St S, St. Petersburg, 727-822-9600
One of the most beautiful dining rooms in the city, the seafood restaurant features over 75 different kinds of sea salt from around the world (although no local salt) and a whole fish program.
Sea Salt is busy at night and requires a reservation but you can avoid the crowds at lunch or better yet, head here during Happy Hour to try wine from it’s extensive wine program.
Sea Salt – 183 2nd Ave N, St. Petersburg, 727-873-7964
Mazzaro’s Italian Market
Normally I would not check out an Italian recommendation as Toronto has such great Italian food but Dani the snapchatting DJ said this market had the best sandwiches of all the St.Petersburg restaurants.
Sure enough as I drove up I could see cars parked all over the place, and some parking lots warning that it was NOT for customers of Mazarro. An old school deli counter in an Italian grocery store, you take a number and patiently wait for your turn to order a hot or cold sandwich or the special of the day.
Mazarro’s Italian Market – 2909 22nd Avenue N, St Petersburg, 727-321-2400
Okay so this technically a pick for St. Petersburg restaurants because they only serve popsicles but you must go here. With forty gourmet popsicles available you could spend a lot of time here.
I can personally vouch for the strawberry datil – because spicy fruit is amazing.
The Hyppo – 627 Central Ave, St. Petersburg, 727-498-6536
Best Restaurants in St.Petersburg I Missed
Locale Market – Such a deliciously dangerous place for someone like me. I didn’t have time to visit the restaurant on the second floor. But I did check out the gourmet market on the main floor with fresh produce, meals to go, ice cream, beer and enough cookbooks and cool gadgets to happily empty my bank account.
Best Places to Drink in St.Petersburg
Swank: Birchwood rooftop lounge has one of the best views at this posh restaurant on Beach Street.
Cool: Ruby’s Elixir is a prohibition inspired cocktail bar, if you’re into cigars there’s a shop next door. The Mandarin Hide is also a local favourite.
Beer Lovers: Locals are touting St.Petersburg as the next big hub for craft beer. Try Cycle Brewing, 3 Daughters and Green Bench. Rapp Brewery is 20 minutes outside the city but considered to be the best.
Great Eats at the Beach
I didn’t make it outside the city but Walt’z Fish Shack is the place to be at Madeira Beach.
Across the street from the beach this old fishing shack epitomizes the Key West vibe. A chalkboard lists what was caught that day and they’ll sell until they are out of fish. If it’s a bad day and they don’t have fish they will stay closed, or if it’s a beautiful day and they don’t want to work it’s also closed.
Forget the Beach Go to the Park
There is lots of greenspace in St.Petersburg and little parkettes. Locals known the unspoken rule that the homeless population stays in Williams Park without hassle from local authorities, but there are plenty of other great areas including Deman’s Park which holds plays in the spring and the breeze from the water makes for a perfect picnic.
Head to Vinoy Park to see dolphins, if you put your feet in the water they’ll swim right up to you. But please don’t feed the dolphins.
Art is in the streets, walk up and down Central avenue and the streets parallel to it and you’ll find vibrant street art in a plethora of style. It really speaks to the energy of the city.
The Chihuly Collection is a permanent installation of Dale Chihuly’s glass art which is featured everywhere from the Louvre to Toronto’s Royal Ontario Museum.
There is also a museum of modern art but the real star in St.Petersburg is the Dali Museum, which houses the largest exhibit of his works outside Europe. There’s an opportunity to don a 3D virtual reality headset to put yourself in Dali’s world. It’s worth the line to try this.
If you’re visiting in September check out the Shine On Festival. Held every September, this festival run by local artists turns the city into an open air museum. It’s a great opportunity to meet artists and see some spectacular mural art.
First Friday: Like many other cities in North America, St.Petersburg restaurants on Central Ave shut the street down and residents flock to the downtown core to listen to music and bring drinks from the bars into the streets.
Where I Stayed
The Vinoy Renaissance Hotel is the place to stay in St.Petersburg, in fact it’s the unofficial hotel for every major sports team except the Yankees as the owner has property in Tampa. For this reason they ask not to take photographs or ask for autographs.
I didn’t see any professional sports stars there, or maybe I did and had no idea. But I did really enjoy my time. It’s a beautiful lobby where you’ll see Chihuly glass art and service is surprisingly down to earth.
The Marchand restaurant has great options for picky eaters and at night the bar plays local sports. The hotel veranda bar is the place to be if you’re traveling solo, it’s where I had my first Moscow Mule, which is a perfect afternoon cocktail to beat the Florida heat.
Did I miss any St.Petersburg restaurants that you think should be included? Let me know in the comments below.