Heard on the Hill

Tasting Tampa (on the Cheap)

Olympics, schmalympics. You wanna talk test of wills, try covering the upcoming political conventions.

Living out of suitcases. Navigating congested walkways. Muscling through sweaty scrums. It's the stuff political reporters DREAM about.

The Republican National Convention is looking to tap into that quadrennial excitement with their GOParty Card, a passport to sliding-scale savings throughout greater Tampa Bay, Fla.:

GOParty Discount Card

(Courtesy Republican National Convention)

The prospective discounts (good Aug. 17 through Sept. 3) apply everywhere from zoos and museums to golf courses and watering holes. But your dedicated HOH Food Desk decided to focus on what matters most: cheap eats.

We decided to parse out those specials most worth your while, starting with eateries extolled by local critics (we scoured the archives of the Tampa Tribune, Tampa Bay Times and Yelp) while also calculating those with the biggest bang for your hard-earned bucks.

The must-hits include:

1. Pizzaiolo Bavaro: This Neapolitan-style pie slinger has gotten glowing reviews from all three of the local outlets, including an editor's pick from the TBT and a cumulative four-star rating from dozens of satisfied Yelpers. House specialties include wood-fired, brick-oven baked pizzas and house-made pastas. GPC deal: 20 percent off total check (booze not included).

2. Alesia Restaurant: The Pan-Asian innovator pairs bahn mi with pinot noir, soy-marinated short ribs with chateauneuf-du-papes, and fruit-spiked bread pudding with sauternes. Is it any wonder the TBT showered it with three stars and Yelpers have nudged that love to five-star territory? GPC deal: free glass of wine with entree purchase.

3. Wine Exchange: The wine list boasts a worldly array of splits, 1/2 bottles, traditional and large-format pours, as well as daily drink specials. The TBT loves 'em (editor's pick) as do the Yelpers (3 1/2 stars). GPC deal: 20 percent off total check (booze not included).

4. Pizza Fusion: A new-wave pizza chain that hangs its earthy hat on organic ingredients and vegetarian-friendly fare. The Tampa Tribune was very impressed with the quality of the food. GPC deal: 50 percent off lunch check; 25 percent off dinner.

5. Urban Culinary Cuisine: Need a break from working your jaw? This chef-driven property has eschewed food giveaways, opting instead to spread the gospel of healthy eating. GPC deal: 25 percent off a "health and wellness" lecture.

6. Retreat: A dive bar that bears the TBT stamp of approval AND is in the Guinness Book of World Records? We'll drink to that. GPC deal: BOGO drink.

7. Sumos Thai Cafe: Traditional Thai cooking. Open kitchen. Fresh-squeezed limeade. Welcoming patio. Sold. GPC deal: two for $20 menu (vegetarian spring rolls/crab rangoon plus choice of entrees).

8. 400 Beach Seafood: The sprawling facility promises indoor/outdoor dining, buffet brunches and pre-programmed "beachside picnics" (seafood chili, house-made biscuits, assorted fish selections). It also has dozens of craft beers and drafts. GPC deal: 10 percent off entire check.

Here's to keeping up your strength.

Topics: food nationwide