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May we suggest...

The Weekend dining guide is a listing of restaurants around Tampa Bay sampled and recommended by St. Petersburg Times food critic Chris Sherman and other staffers.

By Times Staff Writers
Published February 16, 2006


Recommendations are not related to advertising. A portion of the guide runs weekly in Weekend.

PRICE: Cost of a dinner for two with tax and tip is indicated by the number of dollar signs: $ - inexpensive (less than $25); $$ - moderate ($25 to $50); $$$ - expensive ($60 and up).

HOURS: Hours and days of operation change frequently, so it's wise to call ahead.

RESERVATIONS: Most restaurants welcome reservations. If you cannot keep a reservation, notify the restaurant promptly.

CREDIT CARDS: Accepted unless otherwise noted.

TIP US OFF: Got a favorite restaurant we haven't reviewed? Contact us at weekend@sptimes.com or send a note and a menu to Weekend Dining Guide, St. Petersburg Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731.

LOCAL FLAVOR

Dave's Restaurant $

Grilled cheese sandwiches, egg salad made to order and patty melts, meatloaf, country fried chicken, liver dinners and spaghetti and meatballs are made with comfort and care. Even veal cutlets, as industrialized as ever, retain a flavor of TV dinners past. All come on heaping plates and rarely cost more than $7.95. Of course, pig-out breakfasts served all day long. 2339 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. St. N, St. Petersburg; (727) 895-6057.

Dockside Dave's $

Dave's is a dive as close and clannish as a fishing boat. The payoff is appropriate: big slabs of the freshest grouper around, perfectly fried and ripely tomatoed, with crisp fries. This is the real deal. In new, temporary digs: 119 Boardwalk Place, Madeira Beach; (727) 392-9399. One of Chris Sherman's best restaurants of 2005.

Mel's Hot Dogs $

The big daddy of hot dog places in the area. Mel's does only dogs and sausagelike relations. Service is assembly line, but the atmosphere puts the accent on the hot dog. Beer, wine. No credit cards. 4136 E Busch Blvd., Tampa; (813) 985-8000.

Sangwich Block $

Folks have stood in line here for 20 years for something beyond the mere sandwich. The Awful Awful triple decker choices would stump Dagwood: turkey, roast beef, ham and two cheeses? Or the tuna salad, hard-boiled egg, ham and cheese? Both come with cole slaw. Plus subs, burgers, fries and spinach pies. You want more? Shame, shame. 9291 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. St. N, St. Petersburg; (727) 577-0888.

SPANISH/CUBAN

Rio Cuban Sandwiches $

Cuban sandwiches fresh from the press and black bean soup from a long-simmering pot are can't-miss staples here. For heartier meals, try chicken and yellow rice or stewed meatballs. Finish off with flan. 5944 34th St. N, St. Petersburg; (727) 528-0206.

Tangelo's Grille $

Basic Cuban soups and sandwiches get extra care and style here, with grilled chicken, fish and pork, New World dishes and a wide range of island hot sauces, plus beans and rice, fresh fruit and spiced iced teas. Beer, wine. 226 First Ave. N, St. Petersburg; (727) 894-1695.

Tio Pepe $$

Clearwater has dined here in grand Spanish style for years. Cuban favorites plus steaks, chops and an expansive wine cellar and hospitality. Hearty food and fellowship make it a see-and-be scene. 2930 Gulf-to-Bay Blvd., Clearwater; (727) 799-3082.

Vizcaya $$-$$$

Modern Spanish food in Tampa is still rich, but the likes of pheasant with mushrooms and brandy cream or merluza in seafood bisque is far from the steam table. Felix Piedra resets our table with chorizo, clementines, clams and a love of Spanish wine, while garnishing the place with Miro colors. Oxtails in sherry are all you need to know about tapas. Beer, wine. 10905 N Dale Mabry Highway, Tampa; (813) 968-7400. One of Chris Sherman's best restaurants of 2005.

BREW PUBS

Hoppers Grille & Tap Room $-$$

Neighbors on the New Frontier get more than a local pub with warm food and friendly service: At Hoppers they get a national champ of a minibrewery. Hoppers makes the most difficult and elegant home brews, such as a Royal Bohemian pilsener. Solid fare is fine, too, from hefty London broil, burgers and onion straws to soups, salads and blackened scallops. 36221 East Lake Road, Palm Harbor; (727) 786-2966.

Hops Restaurant, Bar & Brewery $-$$

The first microbrewery around Tampa Bay was strong stuff; more than a decade later it's a chain with 50-plus units. Hops brews beer on all premises and keeps its food fresh and simple. Borrowings from the Caribbean and Asia add up to better-than-usual fern bar fare. 33086 U.S. 19 N, Palm Harbor; (727) 789-5678. www.hopsonline.com.

New World Brewery $

This is the biergarten that home brewers built, brick by brick as well as brew by brew, in the middle of Ybor City. It no longer brews its own, but beer on tap is well chosen: 18 or more drafts, from microbrews to great imports such as Belgian ales. Pizzas, quesadillas and tacos for munching. 1313 E Eighth Ave., Tampa; (813) 248-4969.

St. Sebastiaan's Belgian Microbrewery $$

The grand brewing tradition of Belgium has been imported to Hernando County and produced a Spring Hill Blond, a native-born bombshell. It's a worthy descendant of Europe's great blond ales and the newest member of a local brewing fraternity. Craft brews may be Tampa Bay's best artisanal products. Full bar. 1320 Commercial Way (U.S. 19), Spring Hill; (352) 666-2141.

Tampa Bay Brewing Co. $-$$

This Ybor pub brews a larger variety than other local brew pubs - and cooks up a more exotic beer-laced menu. 1812 N 15th St., Ybor City; (813) 247-1422. www.tampabaybrewingcompany.com.

NEW AMERICAN

Ashley Street Grille $$$

Come to this quiet room with a view of river and minarets for the kind of secrets discreet hotels keep: some of the best modern cuisine in town, all subtlety, no flash. The menu sounds simple, but the chefs get the best seafood, heirloom vegetables and fine cheeses and then design ways for them to shine, including good service and bargain wines. Baking is first rate, from peasant bread to pastry. Radisson Riverwalk Hotel, 200 N Ashley Drive, Tampa; (813) 223-2222.

Big City Tavern $$

This is the grandest space in Ybor, the top floor of the 1912 Centro Espanol. In it, Big City serves straightforward modern American classics. Ask for a pork chop, and you get a thick one, juicy pink as ordered. Pasta? Linguine with clam sauce or whole wheat penne with porcini mushrooms. Or you can have a big burger with hand-cut fries, tuna salad with basil and capers or scrambled eggs and caviar. Centro Ybor, 1600 E Eighth Ave., Ybor City; (813) 247-3000. www.bigcitytampa.com.

Kelly's For Just About Anything $$

Just rocking good. Three smart meals a day that you can't call squares: banana bran pancakes, Roast Beef Ridiculous clubs and veal chops with mushrooms and blueberries. Plus a sharp wine list, silly 'tinis and white-chocolate pecan pie. Outdoors or in. Full bar. 319 Main St., Dunedin; (727) 736-5284. www.kellyschicaboom.com.One of Chris Sherman's best restaurants of 2005.

Maritana Grille $$$

You can dine like the swells did in the '20s and '30s, but with modern luxuries and style, no expense spared. The pantry is stocked with foie gras, game and wild mushrooms, and chef Eric Neri puts them through all the modern paces, from butter-poached lobster to white bean ragout and banana-pepper ravioli. For seats at the top of the food chain, reserve the chef's table. P.S. Always order the souffle. Full bar. Don CeSar Beach Resort and Spa, 3400 Gulf Blvd., St. Pete Beach; (727) 360-1881.

SideBern's $$$

The kid sister of Bern's, the legendary beefeater, trotted the globe and came home with a backpack full of spices and thoroughly modern ideas. Under Jeannie Pierola, a big, talented staff lets loose on a great selection of fish and game with exotic mushrooms, Asian spices, Mediterranean lemons and chickpeas, great cheeses and clever wines. If it's too much in a bento box, dim sum tower or a single plate, order anything with short ribs or Okinawan sweet potatoes. Full bar. 2208 W Morrison Ave., Tampa; (813) 258-2233. www.bernssteakhouse.com. One of Chris Sherman's best restaurants of 2005.

SEAFOOD

Ballyhoo $$

A big old place crammed with dusty nautical memorabilia and red legs in bad shorts. . . . Got a problem with that? Not if you're looking for fresh seafood and lots of it. Local catch plus big, sweet oysters, cedar-planked salmon and surprising chef specials. 7604 Ehrlich Road, Tampa; (813) 926-2149.

Boston Cooker $$

New England delicacies such as Maine lobster, fresh scrod and Ipswich clams are the specialty, backed by raw oysters and a wide variety of seafood. 3705 Tampa Road, Oldsmar, (813) 855-2311; and 5375 Spring Hill Drive, Spring Hill, (352) 684-6000. www.bostoncooker.com.

Catch 23 $$

The menu is standard-issue modern: four or five grilled fish with contemporary sauces, mussels, pasta and steaks, with a mild tropical accent in the sides. The greater distinction is the careful choice of ingredients, raw and prepared, the starting point of all good restaurants. This one brags about the freshness of its seafood by listing the home ports of all its products on its daily menu. Full bar. 10103 Montague St., West Park Village Town Center, Tampa; (813) 920-0045.

The Lobster Pot $$$

This is top-dollar shellfish of the old school. The menu stars the king of crustaceans plain and fancy but covers a wide range, all served in a cozy, low-key setting popular with beach old-timers. Full bar. 17814 Gulf Blvd., Redington Shores; (727) 391-8592. www.lobsterpotrestaurant.com.

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