Florida's Oldest Restaurant Is Also The World's Largest Spanish Restaurant

With year-round sunshine, major theme parks, and fresh seafood available at all times, people come from all over the world to vacation or live in Florida. And with all of that foot traffic, the Sunshine State's restaurants are in demand 365 days a year. There are a lot of notable places to eat in Florida, including Michelin-starred restaurants, Joe's Stone Crab in Miami, which was the first restaurant to serve stone crabs, and Blue Heaven in Key West, where their mile-high key lime pie has gained fame.

Among the hoards of dining places sits a not-so-discreet restaurant in the Ybor City area of Tampa. Known for its Spanish and Cuban cuisine, this place also happens to be the recipient of two notable titles. Not only is it the oldest restaurant in the state, but it happens to be the largest Spanish restaurant on the face of the earth. 

This is no hidden secret or hole-in-the-wall place, in fact, it's practically impossible to walk by it without noticing it since it takes up an entire city block. Needless to say, it can accommodate a lot of people and has been doing so for well over 100 years.

Withstanding the test of time and space

Just how big is a restaurant that encompasses a city block? Put it this way: Columbia Restaurant can seat 1,700 guests, has multiple dining rooms, and spreads out over 52,000 square feet. Each dining room is beautifully decorated with vibrant colors, Spanish tiles, and art paying homage to historical Spanish figures. Columbia wasn't always such a large location. It began in 1903 as Saloon Columbia, a small café opened by Cuban immigrant Casimiro Hernandez, who had arrived in Tampa with his four children in tow. After working in a local brewery, Hernandez was inspired to open a watering hole that catered to the area's blue collar workers. By 1905, the café had become Columbia Restaurant, an eatery specializing in Spanish and Cuban food.

Owned by the Hernandez family since its inception, Columbia is now run by Casimiro's fifth generation of descendants and has expanded into the spacious place it is today. In its 118 year history, the family has opened an additional four Columbia Restaurants and two Columbia Cafes in the state. Floridians and tourists come for the food, pitchers of Sangria, and for the nightly Flamenco dancing show. 

It is definitely a place you don't want to miss the next time you're in the Tampa area.