If you’re running for Tampa mayor, where do you eat? Mike Suarez has a list.

MARTHA ASENCIO RHINE   |   TimesTampa mayoral candidate Mike Suarez received the first question of the evening, regarding Tampa's identity, during the Vision Series: Mayoral Debate on Wednesday Oct. 3, 2018, at Hillsborough Community College in Tampa.
MARTHA ASENCIO RHINE | TimesTampa mayoral candidate Mike Suarez received the first question of the evening, regarding Tampa's identity, during the Vision Series: Mayoral Debate on Wednesday Oct. 3, 2018, at Hillsborough Community College in Tampa.
Published October 4
Updated October 5

Tampa’s first mayoral debate covered a lot of ground in 75 minutes. Transportation issues, budget details and the history of Tampa pro stadium deals were among the topics chewed up by six of the candidates vying to replace Mayor Bob Buckhorn next year.

But the best news-you-can-use (or munch) takeaway from the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce debate was food.

PolitiFact's Aaron Sharockman, who moderated the event, posed this question to the candidates: Name a favorite business or success story from a part of Tampa that isn't downtown or South Tampa.

Harry Cohen, a City Council member, mentioned a black business bus tour he took and urged residents to buy local.

Topher Morrison, a business consultant, said another tour through East Tampa had made him ashamed to be a white man and vowed not to forget the mostly black, poorer neighborhoods in the city's east. He quoted Maya Angelou.

Then, the foodies put in their plugs.

Former police Chief Jane Castor's pick was  Al's Bar-B-Que in Ybor City, although she gave a tongue-in-cheek warning: "I don't want everybody to go there."

Ed Turanchik, a former Hillsborough County commissioner, pronounced the beef tips at Mama's Southern Soul Food Kitchen on Dr. Martin Luther King Boulevard as the city's best and also mentioned the oxtail at Open Cafe on 34th Street as good eats combined with a second chance for ex-felons who work there.

Then, Mike Suarez unloaded. The City Council member noted that he'd visited all of Tampa's 70 neighborhoods and then took the audience at Hillsborough Community College's debate on a culinary tour of the city.

Ya Boy's BBQ in West Tampa has the best chicken wings, he said. The Fat Rabbit Pub in New Tampa was another Suarez pick, at least in part because of its "cool name."

Tampa institution Mr. Empanada and Michelle Faedo's rounded out Suarez's recs.

Suarez said his son thinks Faedo's serves the best Cuban sandwiches, but Papa Suarez doesn't agree.

Perhaps aware of the possible political risks for announcing his own pick for Tampa's best Cuban, Suarez kept that opinion to himself.

Count LaVaughn King as skeptical. The community activist, who grew up in East Tampa, said he hadn't seen any of the candidates noshing in his neighborhood.

"It's kind of timely that you have a vested interest in East Tampa at this point of time," King said.

The election is March 5.

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