Exploring the richness of Mexican flavors at Lona (PHOTOS)

While the Tampa Designated Market Area encompasses eleven counties, Hillsborough County stands out in the culinary scene with three Michelin One Star restaurants – Koya, Lilac and Rocca – all located in Tampa. This trend seems to be propelled by the substantial growth in Hillsborough, where distinct urban pockets like the Channel District, Midtown Tampa, Riverwalk and Water Street are emerging as mini-cities with their own vibrant ecosystems. Water Street Tampa, developed by Strategic Property Partners, maximizes its urban space offering a dynamic live, work and play environment for both residents and guests of hotels, in downtown Tampa, within proximity of the waterfront.

The recent completion of the Tampa Convention Center renovations includes 18 new waterfront rooms and 23,500 additional square feet, accommodating more high-profile events, conferences and conventions, which directly translates to a boost in tourism-related revenue. It comes as no surprise that the Marriott umbrella is elevating Tampa into a luxurious culinary haven for travelers with the trifecta of Tampa Edition, JW Marriott Tampa and Tampa Marriott Water Street. Centered in the heart of Tampa’s vibrant social hub, this trio of upscale hotels, coupled with the city’s triumphant Stanley Cup-winning Tampa Bay Lightning, cements Tampa as the ultimate destination for luxury, leisure and a championship experience.

Tampa Edition is home to the Michelin star restaurant Lilac, and the upscale Greek gastronomic encounter at Azure. A few blocks away, JW Marriott Tampa recently opened Beacon, the stunning rooftop on the 27th floor featuring redesigned delicacies expertly curated by Sous Chef Roy Bryant and Pastry Chef Natalia Meshalkina. 

Tampa Marriott Water Street unveiled Lona, in July, with Chef Richard Sandoval and Chef Pablo Salas leading its culinary vision. Sandoval, a global pioneer in Latin cuisine, has received numerous accolades, elevating Latin American dining worldwide. Sandoval’s hospitality empire spans 60 restaurants, across 11 countries, including Anchor and Brine, the waterfront restaurant at Tampa Marriott Wawter Street. Salas, proud of his Mexiquense heritage, explores the richness of Mexican flavors. 

Lona translates to canvas, in Spanish, encapsulating the restaurant’s essence as a blank canvas upon which the vibrant colors of Mexican culinary artistry are painted. Eating at Lona isn’t just about enjoying a meal, it’s an immersive experience that combines tradition, innovation and creativity.

Lona’s extensive selection of over 200 tequilas is meticulously curated to satisfy even the most refined palates. For the discerning drinker, The Tamarita is a masterful blend of Don Julio Reposado, 400 Conejos, lime, agave and tamarind, tantalizing the taste buds with its harmonious balance. For those craving a hint of spice, the Passion Picante marries Teremana Blanco, Cointreau, morita chili and passion fruit, creating a fiery, yet exquisite, concoction. Each sip is a revelation, a testament to the artistry of mixology. The true tequila aficionado has the option to store their preferred tequila and mezcal selections by leasing a tequila locker at Lona. The VIP tequila service allows patrons the pleasure of indulging in their personally curated collection, enhancing their overall dining experience with a touch of exclusivity.

The menu tantalizes with an array of authentic Mexican delights for the discerning palate. Begin with a choice of guacamole, ranging from the traditional to the upgraded options of crispy bacon or lump crab. Explore appetizers that define perfection, including Lona’s renowned Ahi Tuna Tostada, rich Queso Fundido and Street Corn on the Cob drizzled with mayo queso fresco, lime and chili powder, adding the perfect zing. The Lona Chopped salad is a colorful dish with crispy bacon, roasted corn and queso fresco chopped and separated atop mixed greens, combined with the zest of cilantro in the ranch dressing. The creamy guajillo sauce covering the Shrimp and Crab Enchiladas delivers a rich, smoky and sweet flavor, embodying traditional Mexican sauce preparation. The churros are a delightful way to round out the meal. The Abuelita chocolate dipping sauce offers a velvety, rich cocoa flavor with subtle hints of cinnamon. Paired with cajeta, a luscious caramel sauce made from sweetened caramelized milk, the churros take on a whole new dimension. The cajeta adds a silky, sweet and, slightly, tangy note, providing the perfect contrast to the warmth of the churros. 

DeLorenzo Productions crafted the interior design of Lona featuring an intricate decor and selection of meticulously designed furniture pieces that honor Mexico’s rich heritage of craftsmanship. With versatile dining spaces, accommodating gatherings from 12 to 300 guests, Lona offers a unique venue for celebrations including an outdoor patio, steps from the Convention Center. Mural art is designed by VV Private Gallery, under Project V, with a group of talented mural artists that adds vibrancy and homage to Mexican heritage, including the mural of Sandoval. Lona has a unique advantage over the other Water Street dining destinations since it is adjacent to the TopGolf Swings Suites and provides food and cocktails to the patrons as they golf (reservations are separate for TopGolf). This addition to Tampa’s epicurean panorama promises an unparalleled experience showcasing a refined, but approachable, expression of Mexican cuisine. ♦

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