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Monday, Aug 20, 2018
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Food tours offer an informative, and delicious, look at different areas of Tampa Bay

There is a running list on my phone of restaurants to try. A romantic evening at St. Petersburgís Reading Room. The Safety Harbor double date night, so we can finally take our friends to Pizzeria Gregario. Splurging on the chefís tasting menu at Noble Rice in Tampa.

Sometimes itís hard to know where to begin.

Thatís part of the inspiration behind this story this story, in which we suggest different neighborhoods or areas of Tampa Bay perfect for conducting your own kind of progressive dinner. Three or four stops, a taste at each ó itís a fun and useful way to spend an evening in an area overflowing with options.

Here are our suggestions for:

Tampa Heights

Safety Harbor

South Tampa

But if you want something more structured that you donít have to plan, try a food tour.

The gist: Pay for a ticket, and that ticket gets you food and (usually alcoholic) drinks at multiple locations in a distinct area. One of the most expansive is Tampa Bay Food Tours, a company that currently hosts walking tours in Tampa, Dunedin and St. Petersburg. (Thereís also the very historical Ybor City Food Tour, and the St. Pete Food and Drink Tour that explores either the EDGE District or the Grand Central District, among others.)

I tried Tampa Bay Food Toursí new Heights Urban Food and Spirits Tour recently, which takes place along Tampaís Riverwalk and stops at Ulele, Armature Works and the Hall on Franklin. It was three hours of eating and drinking and walking, and at the end of the evening I was torn between wanting to sprint down the Riverwalk to work off all the comestibles and curling up on the couch in a food coma.

If you want an evening that flows at your own pace, to be able to explore each location in your own way, Iíd recommend crafting your own dinearound. But these kinds of tours are great for those who want to learn about a specific area, whether you go there all the time or not. Iíve been to Armature Works a dozen times since it opened in February, but I hadnít ever looked up at the ceiling above the entrance and noticed the old cranes from when the building used to be home to an electric streetcar line. And our tour guide, Kimberly McAvoy, who started the company in summer 2017, introduced us to the chefs behind the meals we were eating, a fun perk for diners.

Food tours make great gifts, too, an activity and dinner all in one. One of the women on my tour was celebrating a birthday; at our final stop, the restaurant brought out a dessert platter with a candle in the chocolate tart, just for her. And food tours seem ideal for large groups that can be difficult to corral. The Tampa Heights tour is $72, which seemed reasonable for the amount of food and drink served. I wouldnít recommend a tour like this for picky eaters or those who canít pack it away over the course of three hours (although they were great about accommodating any dietary restrictions). And they just added a new tour: The Riverwalk Dine and Wine Tour in Tampa began in June.

But eating your way through an area remains one of the best ways to get to know it, to understand what makes it tick.

"I try and do a food tour in any city I visit," McAvoy said. "It is an amazing way to explore a city and its cuisine and culture. I saw a void for that in Tampa."

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