Cultural cooking close to campus

By Jimmy Geurts, COMMENTARY
On August 22, 2010

For students with heavy academic workloads in the fall, eating decisions often come down to what's fastest - meals bought on campus, fast food chain combos or hastily prepared Ramen noodles.

Too often then, students are missing out on Tampa's choice international dining. Even the Sweetbay plaza near University Mall, for example, hosts both Japanese and Indian eateries.

Fortunately, many of these restaurants are just a quick Bull Runner ride down Fowler or Fletcher avenues. With a little planning or advance calls for takeout, students can fit a visit into their schedule - or save a certain meal for later as a horizon-expanding treat.

The Oracle suggests five international cuisines and the nearest, most accessible restaurants to USF.

Mexican

Tacos and burritos are already well-loved staples in the college student's diet - but there are Tampa restaurants also presenting variants on the familiar formula.

Taco Bus should appeal to late-night-dwelling students because it is open 24 hours with all menu items under $8. Hosted in a stationary "lunch truck," the restaurant includes such diverse meal fillings as butternut squash and beef's tongue.

If Taco Bus' location on Hillsborough Avenue is too far for students, they can hop onto the Bull Runner and visit the owner's other restaurant Taqueria Monterrey. This restaurant offers freshly prepared tortillas for all its creations - including diced shish kabob, beans, avocados and vegan steak strips - at its Fletcher Avenue location right outside campus.

Indian

If you're eating with a group of friends with varied diet choices, Indian might be a wise international selection because it offers meals ranging from savory sauced lamb to elaborate vegetable concoctions.

Taj Indian Cuisine advertises itself as Tampa's oldest Indian restaurant, and its weekday buffet Tuesdays through Fridays from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. should appeal to hungry college students. Popular dishes include butter chicken and creamy vegetarian paneer makhani.

Anghiti Indian Restaurant and Cilantro Indian Cuisine are located about five minutes from USF and offer a similarly appealing menu with lunch buffets. Students can also venture to Chaat Vegetarian Caf on 6204 N. Armenia Ave., which doubles as an Indian grocery and has takeout options - perfect for saving as a future school lunch.

Make sure to ask about the meal's spiciness if you're inexperienced with Indian cuisine, or your mouth might end up scorched by an exceedingly hot vindaloo.

Thai

If students are craving a quick Thai fix near campus, Fletcher Avenue has two restaurants just a quick car, bus or bike ride away.

Thai cuisine's heat factor ranges from the mild stir-fried noodle Pad Thai dish to mouthwatering red and Panang curries - as well as tastes of lemongrass and coconut milk.

Lai Thai has earned mixed user reviews online, yet it remains the closest Thai restaurant to USF and boasts a lunch buffet. Nearby under a small, unassuming building with a green sign is Asian Noodle World & Thai, with takeout options available for its traditional Thai menu.

However, Thai restaurants appear within nearly every subsection of Tampa - two suggestions would be the lunch specials at Lemon Grass Thai Kitchen on Kennedy Boulevard and Jasmine Thai on North Dale Mabry Highway.


Vietnamese

Much like the cuisine's combinations of noodles, soups and herbs, students have many options when choosing a Vietnamese restaurant within five minutes of USF.

Trang Viet Cuisine should attract college students' attention with its lunch special priced under $7 - which includes a select meal, bowl of soup and summer roll - and a vast selection of vegan imitation meats.

Also on Fowler Avenue, Saigon Bay Vietnamese and Pho Quyen Restaurant both offer fried rice, noodle soup and vegetarian meals nearly all under $10 for the students on a budget.

The "pho" in "Pho Quyen" refers to a beef noodle soup with basil that serves as a good entry point into Vietnamese food. Commuting students might also want to seek out Pho Quyen's other location at 8404 W. Hillsborough Ave.

Ethiopian

Students seeking some uniquely communal cuisine may want to visit Tampa's sole Ethiopian restaurant Queen of Sheba.

Its location near Westshore Mall is roughly a 20-minute drive from USF, which might better suit a night out in Ybor City.

Yet the large, family-style combination platters - a Queen's meat combo with spicy stewed beef and lamb and a vegetable platter with lentil dishes and collard greens - should adequately sate any collection of college students.

These platters and the other Ethiopian entrees are eaten without silverware and scooped up with a sponge-like sourdough bread called injera.

Students can top off their meals with a small cup of thickly strong Ethiopian coffee, sipping it over friends' conversations and regulars' chatter.

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