Until recently, Kennedy Boulevard in Tampa was anything but a destination for good eating. Drive-throughs, a few Mexican joints and sub shops pretty much dominated the cuisine. Then came efforts to spruce up Kennedy and make it more of a boulevard than a commercial corridor. A few trees and pedestrian crossings later, and Kennedy is gradually showing signs of new life. Several restaurants have opened or moved there, creating a culinary cornucopia, especially for ethnic offerings. Here are nine places that have emerged in the past year — not including Starbucks, a sure sign that Kennedy has arrived. — Susan Thurston firstname.lastname@example.org
1. Best lunch at your desk
Loon Lake Cafe: Working through lunch doesn't necessarily mean skipping lunch. This tiny cafe serves a large menu of sandwiches, salads and desserts. Run by Lonni Whitchurch of Lonni's sandwich fame, it's tucked inside the Lincoln Center building (same as The Fox jazz club) but is open to anyone. 5401 W Kennedy Blvd.; (813) 289-5329; loonlakecafe.com; breakfast and lunch; closed Saturdays and Sundays.
2. Best place to get stuffed
Gogos Greek Grill: The concept is simple. Choose your pita, wrap or salad base and stuff it with meat, veggies and sauce. Kind of like Chipotle, only for gyros. The restaurant is loud and sterile, but the pace is fast and well-suited for hungry customers crunched for time. 4616 W Kennedy Blvd., (813) 289-4646; gogosgreekgrill.com; lunch and dinner daily.
3. Best don't-sweat-it place
Floridian: This Treasure Island original boasts the best fries and Cuban sandwich on the planet. So eat to your stomach's content and worry about the implications later. Seriously wonder about a menu item called Sandra's Butt Twister Chili. 4424 W Kennedy Blvd.; (813) 287-6662; floridianrestaurant.com; breakfast, lunch and dinner; closed Sundays.
4. Best respite from the ho-hum
Abol Bunna Ethiopian Restaurant: Add some adventure to routine date night with an Ethiopian-style meal of marinated beef stews and honey wine. A $7.99 lunch buffet beckons downtown workers wanting relief from the PB&Js. 3644 W Kennedy Blvd., (813) 964-6889; lunch and dinner; closed Sunday.
5. Best co-worker birthday party spot
SOHO Sushi: Nothing says celebrate like chopsticks and a spicy tuna roll. This sushi shop moved from Restaurant Row on Howard Avenue to serve the Kennedy crowd — mostly downtown workers at lunch and on their way home. 3218 W Kennedy Blvd., (813) 873-7646; sohosushi.com; lunch and dinner; closed Sundays.
6. Best place to close a deal
Bin 27 Bistro: Not simply a restaurant, this bistro brings an element of hip to this otherwise bland hodgepodge of commercialism. Virtually soundproof booths offer privacy for inking a business proposition or popping the question. 2702 W Kennedy Blvd., (813) 878-2700; bin27bistro.com; lunch and dinner; closed Sundays.
7. Best al fresco eats
The Bungalow: Set in an old house with a large outdoor deck, this casual dining spot attracts SOHO and downtown eaters, drinkers and sports watchers. You'd think sitting outside along Kennedy would be noisy, but it's surprisingly tolerable thanks to plants and fans. 2202 W Kennedy Blvd., (813) 253-3663; bungalowtampa.com; lunch and dinner daily.
8. Best fast food that's not fast food
Tun-Du-Ree: Strategically located next door to McDonald's, this brightly colored Indian restaurant draws those seeking cheap and healthy "curry in a hurry.'' This MacDill Avenue transplant serves curries, wraps and smoothies for takeout, dine-in and delivery. 1506-B W Kennedy Blvd., (813) 251-2111, tunduree.com; lunch and dinner; closed Sundays.
9. Best too-tired-to-grill-out spot
Frankies: The oldest of the new bunch, Frankies opened a year ago and boasts 50,000 dogs sold so far. Casual and unpretentious, this souped-up hot dog stand fills the void fast and effortlessly. The kids' menu covers all the favorites. 909 W Kennedy Blvd., (813) 425-3647; frankieshotdogs.com; lunch and dinner daily.