Founded by Casimiro Hernandez, Sr., in 1905, Columbia Restaurant started off as a corner cafe that was a favorite among local cigar workers looking for a quick jolt of Cuban coffee or spirits, or a hearty Cuban sandwich. Today, the establishment occupies an entire city block, with an interior divided into distinct dining rooms that represent its long history.
Expansion began in 1919, when Hernandez, facing the threat of prohibition, joined forces with a neighboring restaurant: La Fonda, owned by Manuel Garcia. In the following years, the Great Depression and the deterioration of Tampa’s Ybor City threatened the Columbia’s future. But in an equal but opposite reaction, the family introduced dining and dancing, built luxurious dining rooms (including the first air-conditioned one in the city), and brought top Latin musicians and dancers to perform.
The approach worked, and the restaurant is still family-run, typically hosting flamenco dancers every day except Sunday, and offering Spanish and Cuban cuisine, including its long-standing signature dish the 1905 Salad. It features iceberg lettuce, tomato, julienned ham, Swiss and Romano cheese, pimento-stuffed green Spanish olives, Worcestershire sauce, lemon, and garlic dressing—many of the flavors were inspired by the culinary practices of immigrants to the area. The Columbia is now Tampa’s oldest continually run restaurant, the largest Spanish restaurant in the United States, and popular as ever.
Know Before You Go
The massive restaurant features 15 dining rooms and seats up to 1700 people. The family has opened other locations; the most notable is the Columbia Cafe at the Tampa Bay History Center, which features furniture and furnishings from the original restaurant's early dining areas.