Channelside Drive wasn’t always the place to be. Sandwiched between Hyde Park and Ybor City, with Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park to the north, there wasn’t much reason to head that way unless you were going to a hockey game at the Ice Palace (now Amalie Arena), a trek through the Florida Aquarium, or a gathering at the Tampa Convention Center.
The Water Street development project, which broke ground in 2018, is changing that, bringing life back to the underused stretch of downtown Tampa.
“Before Water Street Tampa, Downtown Tampa was what we call an ‘in-and-out’ city, the kind of city where you drive in for work and then drive out after work,” said Jessica Anderson. “There was no reason to stick around.” Anderson is retail leasing manager for Strategic Property Partners, the Tampa-based commercial real estate development firm heading up the project, which is a joint venture of Cascade Investment, owned by Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, and Jeffrey N. Vinik, the owner of the Tampa Bay Lightning hockey franchise.
The $3.5-billion mixed-use project, one of the largest in the United States, is creating reasons to stay awhile. The innovative urban space includes expansive office and residential space; a commitment to health, wellness, and community; and a flood of new retail and hospitality businesses, which are bound to excite Tampa Bay eaters. Teeming with talent that includes James Beard nods and Michelin stars while anchored by foundations of local knowledge and flair, Water Street’s food scene is already flourishing into one of the best Tampa Bay has to offer.
“We want a variety of restaurants that … give residents and visitors yet another reason to stay downtown,” Anderson said. “We look for concepts that are unique, respond to the needs of the community, and enhance the cultural fabric of Downtown Tampa.”
When it’s complete in 2027, Water Street will have at least 30 different dining concepts ranging from French cuisine to sports pubs. Here’s a taste of what you can expect:
At Sparkman Wharf:
7th and Grove South opened in Sparkman Wharf in January. The popular concept, with a flagship in Ybor City that was featured on a Pepsi commercial promoting black-owned restaurants, offers an Afro-Cuban sandwich ($14) and elevated Southern fare like shrimp and grits ($17), collard green egg rolls ($7), and fried shrimp or catfish po’ boys ($14).
615 Channelside Dr., 813-649-8422; 7thandgrove.com
Jotoro (see our March 2021 issue) opened last year at Sparkman Wharf as a spot “where hip-hop meets mariachi and sequins mix with sandals.” Michelin-star chef Joe Isidori drives a menu of Mexican staples—burritos ($18–19), wood-fired tacos ($12–14), and enchiladas ($18)— studded with global inspiration from Vietnamese steak to Korean barbecue.
615 Channelside Dr., Ste. 114, 855-352-8676; jotoro.com
The cultishly beloved Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams brand, known for flavors like brown butter almond brittle and brambleberry crisp, as well as the recently debuted everything bagel flavor, opened its first Florida scoop shop last summer in one of Sparkman Wharf’s colorful shipping-container eateries.
615 Channelside Dr., 813-575-1175; jenis.com
Helmed by five-time James Beard Awards semifinalist chef Jeannie Pierola of Edison Food + Drink Lab, known for its highly creative and inventive modern cuisine,Edison’s Swigamajig “divebar and fishkitchen” also landed in Sparkman Wharf last year. Skip to Channelside Drive for a menu that offers refreshing cocktails ($10–12) and fresh catches, with plates of conch fritters ($5 or $9), piri-piri-grilled jumbo shrimp (3 for $12), and fish sandwiches with chips ($16).
615 Channelside Dr., 813-254-7111;swigamajig.com
Naked Farmer will soon be moving from its digs in a Sparkman Wharf shipping container to a larger space at 1001 Water St. where it evolves to a full service restaurant. Naked Farmer is all about the bare truth of the food we eat, from where they source their produce to the way it’s cooked. Buy pre-designed bowls (or build your own) of greens and veggies ($10–15), or order mains like rosemary roasted chicken ($12) or grass-fed beef ($14).
1001 Water St., 813-553-7106; eatnakedfarmer.com
In The Water Street Neighborhood:
Inside the new luxury JW Marriott Tampa Water Street, Tampa’s first five-star hotel, head to Driftlight, a restaurant and bar located inside the four-story glass lobby. Sip on a Sunshine Skyway cocktail (vodka, honey, citrus, and ginger beer for $14), or try the breakfast menu that includes a lemon poppy seed pancake with blackberry & maple compote and lemon Chantilly cream ($18).
510 Water St., 813-314-6611; driftlighttampa.com
Also at the JW Marriott, on the sixth floor, Six offers bistro-inspired fare served poolside—kind of. A new addition to the trendy cluster of rooftop bars in Tampa Bay, Six overlooks both the hotel pool, also located on the sixth floor, and the bay. Offerings include starters like Cedar Key clam chowder ($9) and vegetable croquettes ($13), burgers and sandwiches ($14–22), and mains like focaccia-crusted grouper ($38), as well as cocktails and wine.
510 Water St., 813-314-6666; sixtampa.com
Cross the skybridge from the JW Marriott over to the newly renovated Tampa Marriott Water Street and head to Anchor and Brine, headed by critically acclaimed restaurateur Richard Sandoval,for Florida-focused seafood and a good view of the waterfront.Sample oysters ($18 for a half dozen, $28 for a dozen) and ceviche ($18) from the raw bar or try plates like lemon and fennel-crusted grouper ($28) or a New York strip steak ($32).
505 Water St., 813-204-6391; anchorandbrine.com
Publix Greenwise Market has recently opened with specialty cheeses, hundreds of wine varieties, craft beer, sustainably sourced seafood, and an emphasis on organic and natural foods. Prepared meals will include burrito bowls, artisan sandwiches, and house-smoked meats.
815 Water St.; greenwisemarket.com
And coming soon…
Fans of bourbon, rejoice. From Seminole Heights’ popular C House comes a sister concept heading to Sparkman Wharf later this year. The Battery will offer bourbon, wine, and snacks in the hybrid restaurant, lounge, and event space that is slated to open soon at Sparkman Wharf.
615 Channelside Dr.
Expanding from its original 30-seat location in Hyde Park to a 100-seat venture in Sparkman Wharf, Noble Rice is slated to open this year. Championed as one of the top sushi restaurants in Tampa Bay, the new location will feature outdoor seating and a bar stocked with sake, cocktails, and Japanese whiskeys.
615 Channelside Dr., 813-284-7423; noblericeco.com
The Chilluras, Tampa natives and siblings, source local ingredients like Florida milk and cream for their Chill Bros. Scoop Shops (see our July 2021 issue.) A Water Street shop will open in early 2022.
1011 E. Cumberland Ave., chillbros.com