Hotel & Restaurant Spotlight: Columbia Restaurant, Tampa, FL

Kari C. Barlow
| February 15, 2024 | 4 Minute Read
 A restaurant with elegant tablecloths, silverware and china on the tables. A large chandelier hangs from the ceiling. A stairway leads to additional tables on a mezzanine level. Columbia Restaurant

Tampa’s Columbia Restaurant (above) is far more than a popular place to eat. It’s a landmark, a museum, a tourist attraction and an example of the American dream all rolled into one. In 1902, Casimiro Hernandez Sr. left Cuba with his family in search of a better life. Three years later, in 1905, he founded the Columbia as a small corner café.

Today, the AAA Three Diamond restaurant has seating for up to 1,700 people and spans 52,000 square feet over that same city block. With its distinctive façade decorated with colorful Spanish tiles and 15 elegant dining rooms—each with its own fascinating history—the Columbia Restaurant has become a beloved Ybor City staple. Now known as the largest Spanish restaurant in the world, the Columbia, which has six other locations across Florida, has been owned and operated by five generations for 118 years. 

“There is a family behind the Columbia,” said Andrea Gonzmart Williams, a fifth-generation caretaker with the 1905 Family of Restaurants, the corporation behind the restaurant. “We care for employees like family members and give back to the community that has supported us for 118 years.”

 Cuban Sandwich cut into halves on a plate. Columbia Restaurant

Williams, who is Hernandez’s great-great granddaughter, said the Columbia entertains new culinary ideas while staying true to its Spanish and Cuban specialties. The menu remains packed with longtime recipes, like its legendary 1905 Salad tossed tableside and The Original Cuban Sandwich (above). 

“Times change. We used to have quesadillas and spaghetti,” Williams said. “It’s what the public wanted at those times in its history. Those items no longer are on our menu. We do not follow fads, but we do pay attention to trends.”

The Columbia has also achieved wide appeal among food lovers of all ages and backgrounds.

Exterior of Columbia Restaurant with a decorative entrance lined with neon lights. Columbia Restaurant

“The beautiful thing about Columbia Restaurant is that we don’t have a target audience,” Williams said. “We love to welcome locals and tourists the same. We love to welcome them back for special occasions, whether wedding or anniversary or other celebrations. We’re a place for romantic dinners but also a place for families with children.”

AAA Inspector Notes:

“Established in 1905, the long-standing and popular family-owned restaurant serves satisfying Spanish and Cuban dishes. My favorite is the crispy empanadas, which make a good start. For your entrée, try the flavorful Ropa Vieja or the Chicken Salteado. Delicious flan and white chocolate bread pudding are listed on the dessert menu. Dining rooms are expansive and ornate. For a small charge, Flamenco shows are featured nightly, excluding Sundays.”

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