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TASTES OF TAMPA BAY

The following is a brief sampler of some recommended restaurants in the Tampa Bay area, grouped by the kind of dining they offer. The restaurants named will vary each week and are selected by the news staff of the St. Petersburg Times, without regard to advertising. For days and hours of operation, call the restaurant.ON THE GO

CHUBBY'S. This is a no-frills neighborhood pizza and sandwich place with a genuine Italian aroma, New England grinders and lots of bragging about the Boston Celtics. Business is mostly take-out but there's table service after 5 p.m. (and delivery to a limited area around MacDill).

_ 5023 Bayshore Blvd., Tampa; 831-5557. Beer and wine served. No credit cards accepted. Sandwiches, pasta and pizza, $3 to $12.95.

KOPPER KITCHEN. This is a neighborhood institution, the kind of place where regulars share a common table. Menu combines southern comforts such as icebox pies with mile-high meringue and alternative choices such as salads and low-cholesterol egg substitutes.

_ 5562 Central Ave., St. Petersburg. 345-6339. No credit cards. No alcohol. Lunch prices: $1.95 to $6.95.

LONNI'S SANDWICHES, ETC. Take-out shops with a difference, Lonni's key ingredient is no secret: Minnesota wild rice. Rice is used in custom baked bread, in salads, in rice pudding and, in cooler months, in soup. Menu includes hefty sandwiches, salads and muffins with a number of vegetarian options.

_ 1153 Main St., Dunedin, 734-0121, 736-1969; 603 Pinellas Ave., Clearwater, 441-8044. No alcohol; lunch prices, $2.55 to $4.65.

WOODY'S WATERFRONT. Spicy french fries, beach-side view of Blind Pass, and outdoor seating make this perfect for come-as-you-are sunsets, hot afternoon coolers or fun family meals. Burgers, hot dogs and grouper sandwiches are up to beach-bar standards and there's often live music in the air.

_ 7308 Sunset Way, St. Petersburg Beach, 360-9165. No credit cards. No reservations. Full bar. Prices, $2.95 to $6.

MAIN COURSE

ATHENIAN GARDENS. The Gardens has moved to a new location across from Tyrone Square, but it hasn't lost its popularity or Greek atmosphere. It has traditional Greek specialities such as lamb, souvlaki, gyros, etc., plus excellent vegetarian dishes such as spinach pie and felafel sandwiches. Don't miss the homemade pastries.

_ 6940 22nd Ave. N, St. Petersburg; 345-7040. Full bar. Moderate prices.

BLANCO'S RESTAURANT. Cuban families and underground gourmets who beat a path off Boliche Boulevard find this a comfy source of hearty, authentic food. Try chicken in yellow rice, fish dishes, caldo gallego and occasional Puerto Rican specialties. Order ripe plantains with your meal and you won't need dessert.

_ 3306 Spruce St., Tampa; beer, wine. Non-smoking area provided. Dinner prices, $6.95 to $14.95.

CAFE CREOLE. The setting is ye olde Ybor, the history Cuban, the food and music imported from New Orleans. add a big, trendy crowd and it makes a spicy blend. Skip the dirty rice, but don't miss softshell crabs, oyster po' boys, crawfish or occasional zydeco bands; they've got real bayou flavor. Plus there are plenty of snacks and small portions for grazing and light dining.

_ 1330 Ninth Ave., Tampa; 247-6283. Full bar, credit cards. Prices, $5.25 to $12.95.

JOJO'S CASA DELLA PASTA. This is neighborhood Italian for the beach, not fancy or perfect, but it's bustling, inexpensive and serves more than the usual pizza and spaghetti. Red sauce is good, plus there are a dozen options, including prosciutto, pesto and sarde.

_ 9524 Blind Pass Road, St. Petersburg Beach. Beer, wine. Dinner prices, $3.95 to $13.95.

LA POELE D'OR. Surprise. Sitting quietly in the middle of Pinellas County is a modest French restaurant. It serves omelets, crepes and other comfort food of la belle France; nobody's stingy with portions or cream sauces here. Start with fish soup or pate and feast on a chicken or seafood crepe. You'll get hearty food, decent prices and a pleasant accent.

_ 7629 Ulmerton Road, Largo; 531-4975; beer, wine; no non-smoking section; prices, $6.95 to $11.95.

MARTY AND LOIS' DELICATESSEN. This deli has most of the traditional makings: matzoh ball soup, hefty sandwiches, smoked whitefish, cabbage rolls, potato latkes and knishes, crisp table pickles and plenty of wisecracks.

_ 2155 U.S. 19 N, Palm Harbor; 789-3354; no credit cards; beer, wine; prices, $2.95 to $8.95.

MOONLIGHT BAY CAFE. This tiny beachside bistro, run by two former hotel chefs, stresses imagination, quality and freshness. Try their homemade soups and pate, duck and seafood dishes. Food is cooked with style, but decor, dress and atmosphere are laid-back. A charmer.

_ 6690 Gulf Blvd., St. Petersburg Beach; 360-2978. Reservations required for dinner. No credit cards. Customers may bring beer or wine. $3.25-$7.95 for lunch; $8.75-13.50 for dinner.

TELL'S APPLE. New, crisply run suburban restaurant with Swiss, classic dishes. Decor is minimal but food is hearty, classy with a big choice in summer salads and a few vegetarian options. Look for Italian, German and French accents and unique Swiss ingredients from cheese to chocolate.

_ 10395 Seminole Blvd., Seminole; 397-5110. Full bar. Prices, $7.95 to $17.95.

TEX MEX CANTINA. A small local Mexican chain with an accent on funk and fun and typical fare: The food is not pretty and a little greasy but it's served in hearty portions and it's good enough to attract a following among the young and chic. Fajitas, margaritas are favorites.

_ 6415 Courtney Campbell Parkway, Tampa.; 281-0164. 2501 Tyrone Blvd. N, St. Petersburg, 345-7400. Full bar service. Dinner, $5.50 to $14.95.

VUNG TAU. Behind the hot pink facade, the decor is surprisingly pleasant, but the big treat is the bi-cultural kitchen and menu. This Vietnamese restaurant serves its own light fresh cuisine and Chinese dim sum. These dumplings, often picked from rolling carts, make fun breakfast or lunch anyday but the biggest selection of dim sum treats is on weekends.

_ 328 9th St. N, St. Petersburg; 821-7936. Beer, wine. No credit cards. Prices, $3.95 to $13.95.

BIG NIGHT OUT

ARMANI'S. This nouvelle showcase on the 14th floor of the Hyatt Regency Westshore is the place to propose marriage, impress a date, patch up things with your spouse/significant other. Food is fresh, original and excellent. The view of Tampa Bay is wonderful; service is attentive but not bothersome. Plus there's a tinkling piano in the bar.

_ Hyatt Regency Westshore, 6200 Courtney Campbell Parkway, Tampa; 874-1234. Reservations recommended. Full bar. Non-smoking area available. Dinners, $4.75 to $25.95.

CLEARWATER BEACH HOTEL. The grande dame of the strand decorates her dining room with the charm of the turn-of-the-century beach. Food, however, adds contemporary class and nouvelle touches to traditional top-dollar gourmet fare. Duck, salads and vegetables show flair; service is unobtrusive and gracious.

_ 500 Mandalay, Clearwater; 441-2425. Full bar. No non-smoking section. Dinner prices, $9.95 to $21.95.

MISE EN PLACE. Few frills on the walls here; the big show is on the plate: exceptionally clever food from a New American menu that changes daily. Entrees mix meat and fish with fruits, peppers, nuts and a whimsical array of sauces. Spa fish, salads, soups and ice creams are always devilishly good; prices surprisingly reasonable.

_ 1815 W Platt St., Tampa; 254-5373; no reservations; beer, wine served; dinner entrees, $9.95 to $14.95.

SUNSET CAFE. This is not your ordinary cafe; food is almost hoity gourmet but service and prices aren't haughty. I enjoyed the red meat, but there's a wide selection of chicken dishes, imaginative pasta and clever specials.

_ 9701 First St. E, Treasure Island; 367-2383. Reservations suggested on weekends. Beer, wine. Dinners, $9.95 to $18.95. Non-smoking area.

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