Our office Christmas tree was festooned with pictures of all the beloved celebrities who died in 2016. We're a gallows-humor lot, but this year has been bumpy for many. Maybe you don't feel like whoop-di-whooping it this year with free-flowing champagne. For those of you who feel like taking the frenzy level down a few notches, here are six restaurants that opened this year where you can ring in the new year without so much fuss, with all serving regular menus during regular hours.
This was one of the year's hottest debuts. Decor is absolutely charming, eclectic in the best sense, with long communal tables and little marble-topped rounds, rustic wood floors and bold Spanish tile in the bar area. Foodwise, it's contemporary without cliches. The menu draws broadly from exotic parts of the globe — roasted oysters get a fragrant sambal butter and scallops' sweetness is enhanced with a little curry flavor — but there are a number of items that feel squarely Italian. 1501 W Swann Ave., Tampa. (813) 251-0110.
Thinh An Kitchen & Tofu
This is part attractive sit-down restaurant, part grab-and-go traditional Vietnamese ingredients (sua dau nanh, a fresh soy milk; cha bo and cha lua, Vietnamese sausages you find in banh mi sandwiches) and part order-at-the-counter boba teas, milk slushes and novelty drinks the average 14-year-old girl would swoon over. You know, drinks with the wide straws and neon crystal pearl jellies and popping boba lurking at the bottom. A number of things set Thinh An Kitchen & Tofu apart, but at the top is seven different kinds of tofu they make every day. 8104 W Waters Ave., Tampa. (813) 249-2222.
The 2,500-square-foot space is spare but gorgeous, with old St. Pete hexagonal tile floors from the 1920s, playful murals by artist Michael Vahl (the most arresting: a heated ramen fight in a bathhouse), rustic charred wood walls and handmade wooden tables. Since its debut, the restaurant has added a chicken ramen and tuna. Their anchor tonkotsu broth is lush, unctuous and nearly opaque, blanched chicken and pork bones simmered with roasted vegetables for 22 hours before it is strained and married with noodles and toppers like bits of duck confit, fatty-edged pork belly or smoky beef brisket. 911 Central Ave., St. Petersburg. (727) 202-7010.
Opened in April, this newcomer is adorned with elaborate chandeliers, crystal beading echoing a bubbling water wall and lapis blue accents that allude to sea and sky. The domed hall to the bathroom, with its dew-on-a-spider-web wall treatment, will cause countless dates to wonder if foul play has waylaid their partners. That hallway is prime selfie territory. Owner Candy DeBartolo (whose husband Eddie DeBartolo Jr. is a 2016 Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee) has a fondness for familiar, nurturant Italian-inflected food. There's the family marinara recipe elegantly scrawled across one mirrored wall. A trio of veal and pork meatballs in that marinara is the signature Sacred appetizer. 15405 N Dale Mabry Highway, Tampa. (813) 609-8000.
Fish Bar and Grille
It is pure Gulfport casual, a historic bungalow with wide patios, tables trailing outdoors. And the mission is clear: fresh fish and shellfish served in a convivial environment without a lot of frippery. You'll find starters like a dozen Manatee County Joe Island clams steamed with lemon, garlic, butter and wine or fat gulf oysters, shucked and sent out with cocktail sauce, horseradish and saltines. There's New England clam chowder served in a sourdough bowl, so rich and thick that when completed it may result in an inability to operate heavy machinery. Key West peel 'n' eats can be served hot or cold and feel like a mini vacation. 3038 Beach Blvd. S, Gulfport. (727) 328-2720.
Burgers for New Year's Eve? Why not. These are fancy Lithuanian burgers. In February, Simas Slabaciauskas and his co-owners debuted a quirky box with whimsical drawings by David Schiesser (naked armless dude giving a piggyback ride to a sailfish; martini-hefting pith-helmet guy riding a flamingo) and live plants hanging from the exposed rafters. The single best sandwich isn't a burger at all. It's the thin-sliced housemade pastrami piled onto a glossy, soft brioche bun with a spicy house mustard-mayo, thin curls of red onion with some snap and tangy herbal pickle slices. The second-best sandwich is the burger upon which that pastrami has hitched a ride. The fries and other sides are worthy of praise as well. 2420 W Kennedy Blvd., Tampa. (813) 252-3072.