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  1. the Sail

    Editor's pick

    Downtown Tampa : 333 S Franklin St., Tampa, 33602

    However you arrive at the Sail Pavilion — by foot, boat, bike or car — just get there by sunset.What? Never heard of it? The Tampa Convention Center's circular bar opened on the Riverwalk in 2009. In-the-know cyclists and boaters find it, conventioneers and hotel guests wander over.  …

  2. Rusty's Bistro

    Editor's pick

    North Pinellas beaches : 1160 Gulf Blvd., Clearwater, 33767

    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.Read the full review.

  3. Malio's Prime Steakhouse

    Editor's pick

    Downtown Tampa : 400 N Ashley Drive # 310, Tampa, 33602

    Malio Iavarone was the consummate restaurateur and showman, his restaurant, Malio's, an iconic dining destination. It closed in 2005. And now it's back, kind of. Owned by Malio's son, Derek and his wife, Jennifer, and with plenty of parental involvement, the new Malio's (in downtown Tampa's 31-s …

  4. Thuy Cafe

    Editor's pick

    St. Petersburg : 5944 34th St. N, St. Petersburg, 33714

    Vietnamese variety shows on the TV and a few low-slung couches make it an easy place to while away an hour or two, but the bulk of the business seems to be quick in-and-outs for boba tea and one of 10 styles of banh mi. Boba for the uninitiated is a curious thing. Milky tea or fruity smoothies ( …

  5. Mekenita Mexican Grille

    Editor's pick

    Lutz : 17623 N Dale Mabry Highway, Lutz, 33548

    Rand Packer, the celebrated former chef at Roy's in Tampa, chucked the fancy world of Hawaiian-style misoyaki butterfish for something new and different, aiming to fill a gap in the culinary landscape near his home in Lutz. It's a funky and affordable outpost of regional Mexican cuisine, cooking …

  6. Rollboto Sushi

    Editor's pick

    Downtown St. Petersburg : 221 First St. N, St. Petersburg, 33701

    It was the year of the robot. Robot Restaurant opened in Shinjuku, Tokyo, with a robot cabaret of four giant fembots manned by scantily clad women staging mock battles, and this on the heels of Japanese ramen noodle houses staffed by robotic chefs and Chinese restaurants with robot servers. St.  …

  7. The Birchwood

    Editor's pick

    Downtown St. Petersburg : 340 Beach Drive NE, St. Petersburg, 33701

    One of St. Pete's swankiest spots, this renovated hotel opened in the summer of 2013 to large crowds waiting to schmooze on its rooftop bar overlooking St. Petersburg.The place on Beach Drive consists of a 225-seat fine-dining restaurant called Birch & Vine on the hotel's first floor, and th …

  8. German Bistro 2

    Editor's pick

    Largo : 1300 E Bay Drive, Largo, 33771

    Irena Hoxie performed a Teutonic transformation with new sconces, paint in a warm orange-red-cream palette, ficus and trellising greenery, and a soundtrack of oom-pah and Bavarian polka music. For newbies she'll explain what spaetzle is (you have to get it: soft, irregular nubbins of buttery han …

  9. Edison food+drink lab

    Editor's pick

    South Tampa : 912 W Kennedy Blvd., Tampa, 33606

    Edison embodies what was most exciting and new in 2012. I've heard restaurant industry folks grousing: How does Jeannie Pierola keep the prices so reasonable at her inventive Kennedy Corridor newcomer, opened in August (foie gras dishes under $20?!)? To them she might quote Thomas A. Edison hims …

  10. La V

    Editor's pick

    Downtown St. Petersburg : 441 Central Ave., St. Petersburg, 33701

    V is for Vietnamese, the stylish cafe proffering an expanded menu of the noodles, soups and banh mi sandwiches that made the lovely Thuy Le's 34th Street N spot a foodie destination. Le herself is a smiling presence in the dining room, where high ceilings and high spirits can make things noisy.  …

  11. Banyan Coffee and Tea

    Editor's pick

    St. Petersburg : 689-D MLK St. N, St. Petersburg, 33701

    If you look at the acknowledgements of local author and writing coach Roy Peter Clark's latest book, there's a shout-out to Banyan Coffee and Tea. In fact, lots of local writers might credit Erica Allums's little coffee shop as muse. It opened originally in 2008, but closed after three years so  …

  12. Cafe at Art Pool Gallery

    Editor's pick

    Grand Central District : 2030 Central Ave., St. Petersburg, 33712

    Central Avenue west of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Street had a big year, welcoming a generous handful of independent restaurants. One of the most charming opened near the end of 2012 as an annex to the Art Pool Gallery, housing spillover merchandise, a collection of vinyl records and the small c …

  13. Casper's Express BBQ

    Editor's pick

    Kenneth City : 5701 54th Ave. N, Kenneth City, 33709

    Dan Cantara has been doing barbecue at a tiny counter attached to Graham's Market for the past three years. Barbecue itself was a huge trend in 2012, the economy having driven lots of people to Plan B. Barbecue shack is an affordable Plan B. What Cantara added last year, though, was beef jerky.  …

  14. Le Mouton Noir

    Editor's pick

    Tampa : 1112 Channelside Drive, Tampa, 33602

    With its namesake black sheep sculpture standing sentinel in the sleek interior, this new Channel District artisanal bakery is a knockout. It's not an exhaustive array of pastries, but what they do, they do well. I defy you to find a better croissant in Tampa, and I double-dog dare you to locate …

  15. Istanblu

    Editor's pick

    Ybor City : 1919 E Seventh Ave, Ybor City, 33605

    It was a monster year for new Greek restaurants around Tampa Bay, but nearby Turkey got short shrift except for Istanblu. Opening late in the year in the space vacated by Sunday's Fine Dining, this attractive newcomer is owned by Levent Cilek, who also owns Shrimp & Co. down the block. Lamb …

  16. Grimaldi's Pizzeria

    Editor's pick

    Citrus Park : 7990 Citrus Park Town Ctr, Tampa, 33625

    The name has always been associated with blood feuds and long-standing estrangements. Some New Yorkers insisted the best pie was from Lombardi's on Spring Street while others knew in their hearts it was Grimaldi's under the Brooklyn Bridge. Grimaldi's has branched out in recent years, with 27 lo …

  17. First Flight

    Editor's pick

    Tampa : 4100 George Bean Parkway, Tampa, 33607

    A national dining trend in 2012 played out in the country's airports. The idea: Start a visitor's experience right as they step off the plane by assembling shops and restaurants steeped in local flavor. Galvanized by the success of airports like San Francisco International (where 85 percent of t …

  18. Sate Southeast Asian Grill

    Editor's pick

    University Area : 2716 E Fowler Ave., Tampa, 33612

    It was a year when customization really took root. With concepts like Chipotle leading the way, newcomer Little Greek swiftly opened 11 locations around Tampa Bay and recent additions like Your Pie settled in with a simple vision: Pick your protein, pick your starch, pick your toppings and sauce …

  19. Oxford Exchange

    Editor's pick

    South Tampa : 2420 W Kennedy Blvd., Tampa, 33609

    Vacant for decades, it was originally a horse stable. If the horses could see it now: marble and brass, soaring ceilings, flickering gas lamps and a black-and-white checkered floor that attract hungry souls like moths to a flame. It's straight-up gorgeous, with a kind of retro-chic that is nearl …

  20. Noodle Bar at Jubao Palace

    Editor's pick

    Tampa : 5223 N Orient Road, Tampa, 33610

    Mid-year I visited the restaurants at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, flitting between Council Oak steakhouse and Rock 'N Raw sushi bar, noting along the way the number of Asian patrons. The casino has gone one better since then, announcing they would actively court Asian-Americans a …

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