Most entrees less than $10
The taqueria has expanded with a spectrum of meats and moles in hailing distance of the carniceros at the butcher counter. Come on weekends for menudo. 812 Court St., Clearwater. (727) 443-5892.
Ted Peters Famous Smoked Fish
Cuisine: Seafood casual, Southern.
It's been featured on the Food Network, but that hasn't made Ted Peters Famous Smoked Fish uppity. Prized for its laid-back style and inviting picnic tables, the big-time draw is, of course, the smoked fish. Smoked fish spread with saltines is fabled, the salmon is excellent, the mullet is an intensely fishy acquired taste. But Ted Peters also produces some beloved cheeseburgers and German potato salad. This is a beer-drinking establishment, it closes early and for a price they will smoke your catch for you. 1350 Pasadena Ave. S, South Pasadena. (727) 381-7931.
Most entrees $10 to $20
Cuisine: American upscale, Italian, Pizza.
With its new location along Beach Drive, it offers a hip yet affordable contemporary Italian menu that leans heavily on wood-fired pizzas (note especially the one with the fried egg on top) and boldly flavored and rustic pastas. Sidewalk seating expands the seating options, and a lively bar keep it among downtown's most active nighttime scenes. 204 Beach Drive NE, St. Petersburg. (727) 895-5515. bellabrava.com.
Kelly's for Just About Anything
Cuisine: American casual, Breakfast or brunch.
The day's fun could start with Butterfinger muffins or French toast with chocolate and Cognac, drift through lunch of banana pancakes or Hell-burgers and head into dinner of duck breast, Emeril's escolar and house-smoked pork chops. Virgel Kelly and pals always add an extra smile and a kick, like gazpacho butter or chili onions — and the wildest silly-tinis outdoors and in the adjoining Chic-a-Boom Room. 319 Main St., Dunedin. (727) 736-5284. kellyschicaboom.com.
Cuisine: Barbecue, Steak house.
It's been an interesting road for the veteran restaurateur Louis Pappas, from his family's flagship business in Tarpon Springs years ago, to overseeing a fleet of eponymous fast-casual Mediterranean-Greek spots. He sold the big restaurant in Tarpon in 2002 and at one point oversaw seven Louis Pappas Market Cafes. That might have been that, had not Roy Speer intervened. The HSN pioneer built a big red barn in Odessa with the aim of doing barbecue. Pappas has taken over, adding his famous Greek salad (Pappas is said to be the originator of the potato-salad-in-the-middle phenomenon) to a menu of smoked brisket, slabs of prime ribs and pulled pork. A second location is at 2630 Gulf-to-Bay Blvd., Clearwater, their phone is: (727) 797-9800. 11345 SR 54, Odessa. (727) 376-3336. pappasranch.com.
Rumba Island Bar & Grill
Cuisine: Barbecue, Caribbean, Seafood casual.
The barbecue and seafood restaurant called Hogfish Grill was reinvented as a lively Caribbean joint with well-conceived food and reasonable prices. There's still barbecue and a wide net of fresh fish, but now it's accented with kicky jerk aiolis, tropical salsas, big squeezes of lime or a splash of coconut milk. Beyond the food, a new wide patio bar with tiki torches sets the mood with an Afro-Cuban beat. A second location is at 3687 Tampa Road, Oldsmar. Their phone is: (813) 475-5974. 1800 Gulf to Bay Blvd., Clearwater. (727) 446-7027. baystarrestaurantgroup.com.
Verducci Pizzeria & Trattoria
Cuisine: Italian, Pizza.
Bustling, intimate, without unnecessary razzle-dazzle and just plain good homemade Italian pizzas and pastas, Verducci has been discovered by snowbirds and winter tourists at the beach. With no shortage of places to eat along Blind Pass or Gulf Boulevard, what stands out here is a commitment to making food from scratch. There's the dense almond chocolate tart and the lighter ricotta cheesecake; buttery garlic knots and calzones lush with ricotta, mozzarella and parmesan; even the creamy balsamic dressing on the included side salad is clearly made in house. 7736 Blind Pass Road, St. Pete Beach. (727) 363-7900.
Most entrees $20 or more
Boca Kitchen Bar Market
Cuisine: New American.
Along with a growing group of Tampa Bay restaurants, the new Boca Kitchen Bar Market isn't satisfied with a little local lettuce and some backyard herbs — it sources locally, big time. The locavore fervor wouldn't mean much if what Boca did with all this bounty was ho-hum. Executive chef Ted Dorsey and chef de cuisine Chad McColgin are brilliant. And it's hip. Gordon's old Smoke BBQ has been enclosed, with lots of wood and cozy hightops in the bar area, two intimate dining rooms with glamorous lighting and cool rock posters (Wilco, Flight of the Conchords, etc.). Bathrooms are funky-posh, and there's free valet parking. It feels like the kind of neighborhood cult find you'd see in San Francisco or Brooklyn. The menu's most provocative item is an unspecified "staff meal, $16." With Dorsey and McColgin at the helm, it's bound to be local, thoughtful and, most importantly, delicious. 901 W Platt St., Tampa. (813) 254-7070. bocatampa.com.
Caretta on the Gulf
Cuisine: American upscale, Seafood upscale.
Part of Sandpearl Resort, the restaurant has all the elements that make for success: knowledgeable service, a gorgeous beach view, plus tasty and fair-priced food and drink. A lovely raw bar near the restaurant entrance sets the tone: ceviche, oysters on the half shell, spiny lobster and spicy tuna sushi rolls. A wood burning oven sends out roasted fishes, chicken and meats that for the most part are paired with thoughtful, unusual side dishes and sauces. 500 Mandalay Ave., Clearwater Beach. (727) 674-4171.
Fleming's Prime Steakhouse
Cuisine: Steak house.
Outback cooked up a higher class venue here with first-rate trimmings. Sharp staff, smart wines, a broad menu and expansive hospitality, updated beyond show-off beef-offs. Fine steak in prime comfort starts with onion soup. 4322 W Boy Scout Blvd., Tampa. 813-874-9463. flemingssteakhouse.com.
Cuisine: American upscale, Seafood upscale.
In the Sheraton Sand Key. Too many locals pass by the finest cooking on the beaches. Chefs on John Harris' crew give Sand Key an exquisite taste of cooking that's seasonal, handcrafted, local and up-to-date. Even the vodka is infused. 1160 Gulf Blvd., Clearwater. (727) 595-1611. sheratonsandkey.com.