Receiving orders to MacDill Air Force Base in sunny Tampa, Florida might be a dream come true for some. Others might dread the thought of endless summer weather, crazy traffic, and the local reptile population (alligators and snakes). Whether or not MacDill was on your dream list, Tampa has a lot to offer as a major city and top retirement spot for veterans. Along with no state tax, affordable living, and employment opportunities, Tampa has ample shopping and a diversified food scene. The area surrounding MacDill offers a variety of restaurants to explore. If you’re running to or from base, want to wait out some of the traffic on Dale Mabry, and feeling adventurous enough to skip some of the more popular dining options in Hyde Park or chain restaurants – head to one of these hidden gems!
Chubby’s Super Subs and Pizza
Tucked away in the side streets five minutes outside the Bayshore gate, Chubby’s Super Subs and Pizza has been a favorite of MacDill service members for decades. Famous for (obviously) their subs and pizza – swinging into Chubby’s on your way off base for a weekend day trip or in the evenings to pick up dinner big enough for family is a great way to experience the local atmosphere. Just make sure to plan your lunch trips there with a lot of time in your schedule – this place is extremely popular with the CENTCOM and SOCOM employees who’ve been working on base for decades (You might even run into one of the general’s grabbing a quick bite after sneaking off base)!
Thai Five Fast Food
Photo Credit: Thai Five Fast Food, Tampa, Florida
If you are craving Thai food, Thai Five Fast Food will not disappoint you – or the future you when you have leftovers the next day. Located on Dale Mabry next to a pool supply store, Thai Five is exactly what you would imagine a greasy-spoon Thai restaurant to be like and is a quick 10 minute or less drive from base. In true Thai fashion, portions are generous and the spice level can be adjusted based on your preference. Refreshingly for the area, almost everything on the menu can be made gluten free for those with dietary restrictions. Some dishes to check out are the Green Curry and Pad Woon Sen. Apart from the good food, Thai Five sits right beyond a Dale Mabry side street with a stop-light, so you can get in and out of traffic (relatively) easily.
Big Ray’s Fish Camp
Often regarded as a favorite by South Tampa locals, Big Ray’s Fish Camp serves up all your seafood dreams (raw, boiled, grilled, or fried). It’s one of those spots that someone mentions casually a year or two into your time at a new place and you feel like you’ve been missing out on a big secret. Located on Interbay Boulevard just minutes from base, this tiny joint packs some big flavor with menu items like the Grouper Reuben sandwich or fried key lime pie. With a 4.5 star rating and over 600 reviews on Yelp, Big Ray’s popularity has grown so much they are opening a second location in Tampa.
Interbay Meat Market
Any list about cheap, good food in Tampa has to include Cuban sandwiches – and if you spend any amount of time in the area, you’ll find just how opinionated everyone is about where to find the best one in town. People will use all sorts of factors about type of bread, bakery, time, and even the angle the sandwich is cut – but no one considers the best sandwich for the least amount of hassle. Made in front of you in minutes with fresh ingredients, the Cuban sandwich from Interbay Meat Market is the best kept secret of the area – hands down. They’re also right off base and can get you back to Bayshore or Dale Mabry in minutes. It’s nothing more than a gas station and a mean sandwich shop – but just like Big Ray’s Fish Camp, everything about you will be mad if you don’t know about this place before visiting or moving to South Tampa (except your waistline).
If you’re hungry, keep an open mind next time you’re driving South of the Gandy or leaving MacDill as some of the best food spots might be easily overlooked. While there are many hidden gems in that area, starting with these four will put you in the same favorite spots that people living there for decades visit, and make you feel right at home.
Brittany Rose is a SAHM and military spouse. Prior to becoming a SAHM, Brittany held successful careers in Human Resources and real estate. She is very passionate about helping military spouses and volunteers with American Corporate Partners and on the Ft. Bragg HOH MSPN leadership team. In her free time, Brittany enjoys writing and wine tasting.