A Traditional Taste of the Tropics at Florida’s Oldest Restaurant

June 21, 2012 by

The Sancho Dining Room at Columbia Restaurant

Beloved magazine Southern Living has listed it among its nine favorite romantic restaurants in the southeastern United States; Distinguished Restaurants of North America has given it an award of excellence; USA Today┬áhas called its 1905 Salad “One of America’s Top 10 Salads;” and its fourth-generation owner/operator and founder’s great-grandson, Richard Guzman, has been named a humanitarian of the year by the National Restaurant Association.

But perhaps the biggest claim to fame held by Columbia Restaurant is the fact that it’s officially the oldest restaurant in the state of Florida.

Columbia Restaurant in Ybor City Florida

Founded in 1905 — hence the salad’s name — the restaurant simply known to locals as “Columbia” was first built in the historic Cuban suburb of Tampa known as Ybor City by a Cuban immigrant serving traditional Cuban coffees and sandwiches to local cigar factory workers.

In 1937, under the hand of the founder’s son, a grand skylight and courtyard with Andalusia-inspired fountains were added, lending yet more grandeur to the already-majestic eatery. By 1957, the Siboney Room had been added to showcase the top Latin talent of the time, and within a couple of years, Columbia’s popularity had spread far enough to open a second location in Sarasota, Florida.

More than fifty years later, the restaurant has extended its Floridian empire to encompass six locations throughout St. Augustine, St. Petersburg, Clearwater, Celebration, and two additional smaller cafes in the Tampa area.

Traditional Cuban Sandwich at Columbia Restaurant

Although still known for its Cuban sandwiches, Columbia Restaurant serves a vast array of traditional Cuban dishes, starting with a full tapas menu and broadening into an array of hearty meat and seafood entrees from carnes salteados to paella.

Cuban Black Bean Soup at Columbia Restaurant

Paella a la Valencia at Columbia Restaurant

In 2010, Nation’s Restaurant News named it an All-American Icon, one of only 50 eateries in the U.S. to earn such a title. Through its storied past spanning more than a century of service, it’s known as the quintessential spot for Cuban food in Florida, a state whose culinary traditions are steeped in salty, sea-inspired flavors as complex as the country itself.


Photo credits: Columbia Restaurant

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1 comment

  1. Julie C. says:

    Now my mouth is watering and my stomach is growing! I can’t wait to try this place out next time I’m in the area.

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