The Columbia Restaurant In Ybor City Is Florida's Oldest Eatery

There's something satisfying about dining in the depths of history, which is quite literally what happens when breaking bread at the Columbia Restaurant in Ybor City, Florida. Not only is it the oldest operating restaurant in the Sunshine State, but it's also the largest, with 52,000 square feet stretching across an entire city block. Harboring almost 120 years of stories since opening in 1905, this eatery is more than just a statistical anomaly — it's a literal unfolding of Spanish and Cuban history in America.

Ybor City is the cradle of Tampa Bay's Latin Quarter, where an immigrant named Casimiro Hernandez Sr. arrived with four children in tow, unabashedly seeking the American dream of opportunity from hard work. And what better way to do that than sharing his Spanish-Cuban heritage through traditional foods and family recipes? After helping launch the Columbia Saloon during the Christmas holidays of 1903, Hernandez expanded and rebranded the popular gathering spot as the Columbia Restaurant just two years later. 

This treasured institution still perches within the cluster of brick buildings once housing the neighborhood's prolific cigar factories, where workers from Cuba, Spain, and Italy built their lives — including their eclectic intertwined cuisine. Hernandez's descendants, five generations and counting, still dish out his recipes as well as their own exclusive signature creations such as snapper alicante and a chaco-spirit filet mignon. There's daily seating for up to 1700 people in 15 uniquely historic dining rooms clad with handmade tiles, sculptures, mosaics, chandeliers, live music, and flamenco dancing.

The dining rooms inside the Columbia Restaurant tell stories

Unless you've crossed the threshold of Columbia Restaurant in Ybor City, it's hard to imagine such an elegantly sprawling eatery. It's like a conglomerate upscale version of a family picnic, extravagant hotel lobby, old-club bar, and art gallery — with all 15 dining rooms serving taste explosions in every dish. 

Expect to find menus stacked with specialties such as classic Cuban sandwiches, paella dishes, white chocolate bread pudding, chorizo-stuffed boliche, Spanish and Cuban bean soups, empanadas tapas, and many Spanish-Cuban interpretations of seafood, steaks, and roast pork. The restaurant's signature sangria drink features prominently, as do its private-barrel spirits and 1,000-plus types of wine, mostly from Spain.

Each eating room tells stories of the past, through Latin-centric food, literature, and decor. The original 1903 saloon that morphed into the Columbia Restaurant is now called the Cafe Dining Room and still holds the treasured bar. In 1935, the family created the Don Quixote Room, an homage to the now-classic novel written by Spanish novelist and playwright Miguel de Cervantes in the 1600s. Intricate handmade art tiles tell the Quixote character's story that coined the phrase "tilting at windmills." 

The list goes on, with the private-dining King's Room featuring royal portraits, and the El Patio hosting an elaborate fountain with mosaic tiles and an enormous carved statue replicating one rescued from the ruins of Pompei. The grand ballroom, El Sibone, has it all: flamenco dancing, tumbling fountains, original tapestries and paintings, and collectible antiques.