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  1. 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 …

  2. 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.  …

  3. Parts of Paris

    Editor's pick

    Safety Harbor : 146 Fourth Ave. N, Safety Harbor, 34695

    This charmer, set in a 1936 Florida bungalow, has a recently expanded menu of traditional French bistro fare, with steaks (entrecôte, ribeye, filet) that can be paired with optional sides (pommes Lyonnaise, haricots verts, little French lentils) as well as full liquor service, and an attra …

  4. 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.  …

  5. 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 …

  6. 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 …

  7. 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  …

  8. 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 …

  9. 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.  …

  10. 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 …

  11. 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 …

  12. 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 …

  13. 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 …

  14. 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 …

  15. 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 …

  16. Simply Delicious

    Editor's pick

    Kenneth City : 4601 N 66 St., Kenneth City, 33709

    It's a straight-up paean to New York City. The exterior is painted to look like a subway stop; inside it's all caricatures of NYC familiars, skyline photos and Big Apple-obilia. Opened in the spring, they've already got a devoted lunch following, folks who camp out in the red leatherette booths  …

  17. Engine No. 9

    Editor's pick

    St. Petersburg : 56 Dr. MLK Jr N, St. Petersburg, 33705

    In August, St. Pete's Grand Central District held a burger competition, which served to underscore just how many hamburgers are on offer in town. One of the best became available just after that heated battle. Tucked into the old Chatterbox space, Engine No. 9 opened in September, a long, narrow …

  18. Salt and Pepper Bistro

    Editor's pick

    Largo : 1757 Clearwater-Largo Road, Largo, 33770

    Crepes go sweet (heavy on the Nutella) or savory, largely under $15, with croissants, quiches, baguette sandwiches and salads rounding out the mostly French menu. It's a sweet little family-owned restaurant, its exterior lovingly stenciled with curlicued grape vines.Hours: Lunch from 11 a.m.-2:3 …

  19. Bamboozle Tea Lounge

    Editor's pick

    Tampa : 109 N 12th St., Tampa, 33602

    The condos in the Channel District filled up enough in 2012 to merit some infrastructure. It was the year cafes, restaurants and boutiques sprouted up outside the still-beleaguered Channelside Bay Plaza. Buoyed by the success of their downtown Bamboozle, Lynn Pham and partners branched out, brin …

  20. Inside the Box Cafe and Catering

    Editor's pick

    Downtown Tampa : 505 N Tampa St., Tampa, 33602

    Just celebrating its first anniversary, this little spot with a big conscience has had a good run. Brainchild of Cliff Barsi, the concept is simple: Go to the attractive downtown cafe and order a box lunch. Maybe a half sandwich or a salad with a couple of extras ($6.90), and half of that money  …

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