Most entrees less than $10
Cha Cha Coconuts Cuisine: American, Sandwiches This place practically screams "touristaville!" But that's not a bad thing on a hot day when you're thirsty for a swirling tropical drink and in need of some conch fritters. Located at the top of the Pier jutting into Tampa Bay, this Caribbean-flavored stop is more for snacking than for a big sit-down dinner. But oh what a view! So go ahead, order that second rum runner, mon. The Pier, 800 Second Ave. NE St. Petersburg. (727) 822-6655
Cuisine: American, Local Flavor A bit of the South lingers at this open-air burger spot, a landmark in southern St. Petersburg. While away time in the sun among the picnic tables and bathtub planters. Specialties are big sandwiches, topped by the Chattaburger. 358 22nd Ave. S, St. Petersburg. (727) 823-1594.
Ferg's Sports Bar and Grill Cuisine: American, Sandwiches, Wings Inside the two-story, TV-and-memorabilia-filled bar, an electric feeling of hometown team spirit keep the locals amped. All the regular beers are available, which are normally put to good use with pitcher and bucket specials of Bud and Miller. Ferg's specializes in the fan favorites. The whole team is here: cheesesteak from Philly, chicken from Buffalo and Mr. Burger from Greasetown. During the Series it may be difficult to actually nab table service, but it's the place to go for liquid fortification. 1320 Central Ave., St. Petersburg. (727) 822-4562.
Cuisine: Healthy, Sandwiches This small chain of takeout shops boasts seating and a healthful difference: Minnesota wild rice converts to bread for huge sandwiches, salads, soup and pudding. Every item has extra flair and spice. Lunch only. 425 Central Ave., St. Petersburg. (727) 894-1944.
Cuisine: American, Sandwiches You want clatter, clutter and kvetching, you'll get it here. And monstrous corned beef and pastrami, chopped beef, big bowls of matzo ball soup and a case full of fresh pastries you shouldn't think of touching. It all moves faster than the A train. You want better? Not in this town. Lunch only. 277 Central Ave., St. Petersburg. (727) 895-5859.
Primi Urban Cafe
Cuisine: Bistro, Italian Proprietors Arno and Irene Von Waltsleben have created the atmosphere of a cozy Italian village market. Shelves of bottled water, canned tomatoes and the like line two walls, and a beautiful, big communal table dominates the middle of the room. The menu offers up the requisite Italian fare, from polenta to gnocchi at dinner and toasted panini, burgers, salads and pastas at lunch, all gussied by little touches like flavored mayos and homemade chips. 27 Fourth St. N, St. Petersburg. (727) 895-4909.
Cuisine: Caribbean, Spanish/Cuban No one in downtown St. Pete puts more color and spice in a sandwich, soup bowl or pitcher of iced tea. Funky, chunky eating from thick turkey sandwiches to fork-ready gazpacho plus black beans and Cuban sandwiches. It's all fired up with jerk from the back of the house and hot sauce from Trinidad and cooled off with herb tea and sweet potato fries. 226 First Ave. N, St. Petersburg. (727) 894-1695.
Wild Shrimp Company
Cuisine: Seafood takeout The new order-at-the-window little shack/store, fronting the Haslam's bookstore parking lot, has an immense funk factor. Decor includes a stuffed monkey, a cap gun out of ammo and menus festooned with pictures of Seinfeld's Soup Nazi (except the idea here is, "no gumbo for you"). Its location is no accident, situated a little more than half a mile from Bama Sea Products, its chief purveyor and muse. The owners have built their concept around the small, sweet wild gulf shrimp Bama sells. They come crumb-battered and deep-fried, paired with horseradish-powered cocktail sauce, or they come in gumbo, jambalaya or packed into a po' boy. 2005 Central Ave., St. Petersburg. (727) 209-0813.
Cuisine: Casual Dining, Mexican Zachary Gross will soon open his new restaurant, to be called Z Grille, in the northwest corner of the new Signature Place condo complex. There, in a stylish and edgy dining room, he will serve some of the more gastronomically ambitious, Mexican-inspired dishes that he has been dishing up since he opened his first tiny Z Grille location in 2005. Meanwhile, his original location has been rethought and renamed. Welcome, Zurritos. Which rhymes with burritos. It's basic building blocks — shredded pork or beef, grilled shrimp or lengths of grilled chicken breast, battered and fried fish — in the guise of tacos, burritos, or enchiladas. 269 Central Ave., St. Petersburg. (727) 896-3101.
Most entrees $10-$20
Ceviche Tapas Bar and Restaurant
Cuisine: Tapas That cocktail of marinated fish is only one item on the biggest spread of hot and cold tapas laid out on both sides of the bay. The Tampa location is dark and cozy, St. Pete's opens to the embarcadero. Crowds and food are fast and fun: olives, quail, sherried chicken livers and albondigas. 10 Beach Drive, St. Petersburg. (727) 209-2302. cevichetapas.com
Garden Cuisine: American, Italian, Mediterranean The former steak and burger joint that once hosted acoustic and blues acts was reborn in 1993 as a Mediterranean bistro under the new ownership of downtown restaurant pioneers Emmanuel Roux and Frank Bouvard. The dinner menu features pastas and chops, with a side serving of entertaining jazz music by the Buster Cooper Trio on weekend nights in the courtyard. The setting under the banyan tree is a perfect spot on a spring or fall night. Added bonus: The upscale and always-hopping Lobby bar adjoins the restaurant. 217 Central Ave. St. Petersburg. (727) 896-3800
Craig Chapman has hit on a formula that feels just right in the current economic climate: Southern classics, served homey and big, at super-affordable prices in a casual, open-kitchen setting. The same menu at lunch and dinner makes Grillside affordable at noon and a steal in the evening. There's a separate, also budget-friendly breakfast menu. Shrimp and grits are offered all day, perfect buttery grits capped with fat shrimp and a drizzle of a dusky sauce. Enough for an entree at lunch, it's better as a starter at dinner, maybe followed by an enormous plate of crispy, moist fried chicken. 437 Central Ave., St. Petersburg. (727) 820-9200.
Cuisine: Indian At lunch the small downtown storefront features a moderately priced Indian buffet of gently spiced Northern Indian dishes (chicken from the tandoor, chickpeas in a garam masala-kicked tomatoey sauce, fluffy basmati and fresh naan), while at dinner the menu is divided into familiar sections of tandoori dishes, curries, rice biriyani and a broad array of meat-free pulses and veggie dishes. 320 First Ave. N, St. Petersburg. (727) 894-7455. indiagrillinc.com
Cuisine: American, Casual Dining
This downtown St. Petersburg lunch staple pulls folks in with fast service, full plates and a menu that offers all the bar food staples you could want. A sure bet is the Brunswick stew, and we're told Gov. Charlie Crist is partial to the wings there. Decor is wood and brass rail, and the area is spacious enough to boast pool tables so the night crew can shoot a little 8-ball. The bar is also a great spot for watching sports on TV, whether it's a Final Four basketball marathon or a leisurely baseball afternoon. 200 First Ave. S St. Petersburg. (727) 502-0222.
Moon Under Water
Cuisine: Indian, Pub Since 1996, its calling card has been a loose and ethnically diverse array of pub grub, all able accompaniments to a delicious, foam-capped black and tan. The signature dish is chicken tikka masala (said to be "Britain's true national dish"), and even Moon Under Water's walls are deep red tinged a slight curry color, against which assorted flags and Brit-obilia pop. The regular chicken curry is something of a party, arriving with a hot metal bowl of saffron-hued basmati, another of dusky curry, a crisp, peppery pappadam, an oblong of warm naan, and little bowls of mango chutney, onion pickle and cuke-spiked yogurt. 332 Beach Drive NE, St. Petersburg. (727) 896-6160.
Cuisine: Asian, Sushi, Thai Thai and sushi combine again in a disco clash of uptown dining in downtown St. Pete. The Thai is first-rate, hot and crispy, from whole snapper to yummy yums; the sushi is its equal, not a sideline, from uni to special hand roll treats. 270 First Ave. N, St. Petersburg. (727) 821-7733.
Cuisine: American Taking down-home Southern up-market is fraught with tough decisions: how much to change, how much to leave the same. Fried chicken, black-eyed peas, bread pudding: "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" isn't a bad credo. Owner John Warren has made mostly good decisions here. First off, the restaurant has been blessed with some seriously good bone structure in space, the 1926 former Pinellas Auto Sales building. Next, he has upscaled the classic mint julep, taken a complex spin on fried green tomatoes and pulled pork, and kept desserts like bread pudding and pineapple upside-down cake sweet and homey. 1113 Central Ave., St. Petersburg. (727) 388-4371. savannahsstpete.com
Most entrees $20 or more
Cuisine: Brunches, Mediterranean This touches the tastiest parts of every coast: sausages and bean casseroles from Spain, eggplants and beets from Italy, bouillabaisse and mussels from France and the lamb tagine across the sea. Smart drinking, friendly bar plus a Saturday brunch. 260 First Ave. S, St. Petersburg. (727) 502-5002. cafealma.com
Cuisine: Continental, French Sheer high price will impress showoffs. But that money does buy something friendly and familiar, not nouvelle or intimidating, just the old-school Continental. Big bucks dining as it has been for generations: red meat, lobster and chocolate souffles served with fuss and a slight French accent. 136 Fourth Ave. NE, St. Petersburg. (727) 894-7163. chateaufranceonline.com
Columbia Restaurant Cuisine: Spanish/Cuban This branch of the original Ybor City location, the oldest restaurant in Florida (started in 1905), occupies the fourth floor of The Pier. Just as with the original, you'll be able to feast on its signature 1905 salad (mixed with flair at tableside) and paella as you sip sangria. An added bonus is the incredible view you get when the sun is shining (or a violent thunderstorm is raging). Most of the dining area is surrounded by windows. The Pier, 800 Second Ave. NE St. Petersburg. (727) 822-8000.
Marchand's Bar & Grill
Cuisine: Brunches, Fine Dining, Mediterranean The Vinoy has undergone a major makeover that includes retooling of Marchand's, showing off the central Vinoy Bar. A small wine cellar room provides an enviably intimate dining space for four. But perhaps the biggest change is the dining concept: One side used to be Marchand's, with a Mediterranean menu, the other the Terrace Room, seafood-heavy American. Now it's all called Marchand's. The kitchen has wisely kept the seafood focus, but dishes reflect a more stylish and still loosely Mediterranean sensibility with saucing and garniture. Renaissance Vinoy Resort, 501 Fifth Ave. NE, St. Petersburg. (727) 894-1000.
Cuisine: Asian, Pacific Rim, Sushi Downtown St. Petersburg's Pacific Wave is proof positive that a restaurant that's been around awhile has had time to mature, settle and really to grow up. The restaurant's interior exudes casual elegance. It's not too loud, too frenetic or too dark. The strengths of the menu are sophisticated but traditional sushi and sashimi, but also Japanese- and Pacific Rim-inspired cooked dishes and an appealing short wine list and alluring cocktail list. A real treat, servers are polished and seasoned, they pace a meal appropriately and show a deep knowledge of the menu's ingredients and flavors. 211 Second St. S, St. Petersburg. (727) 822-5235. pacificwaverestaurant.com
Cuisine: New American Outside tables offer a view of the bustling downtown revival and namesake park. Inside, a curving bar is flanked by a glass-encased wine closet that doubles as a design feature and includes some fine, moderately priced California cabernets and pinot noirs. Plates emerge from the open kitchen as finely crafted American cuisine with a twist. Think beef Wellington, grilled lamb chops, lobster pasta, or pan-seared scallops, only this version sweet and tender, circling a mound of sauteed baby spinach with the rich smokiness of Southern greens. 300 Beach Drive NE, St. Petersburg. (727) 896-9463.