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 rotate 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
ANI'S MEDITERRANEAN DELI. This is mostly a takeout counter with folding chairs and zero atmosphere, but that won't matter to underground gourmets, vegetarians and fans of Middle Eastern food. Here they make sandwiches of meatless falafel and baba ghanouj eggplant dip and other goodies, with and without meat.
_ 6570 Central Ave., St. Petersburg; 345-6611. No credit cards. No alcohol. Prices, $1.50 to $4.75.
NICKEL CITY BAR & GRILLE. At last, the sweet taste of Buffalo in Tampa Bay is more than chicken wings. Here you can feast on beef on 'weck, Locker Room chili, curly fries, blackened hot dogs, Mother's cheesecake and a Friday night fish fry. Wash it down with Labatt's or Genesee and you feel you're in a regular neighborhood place, not an imitation. If you can still hear the roar of Niagara, sign your name in the Buffalo book.
_ 7658 Park Blvd., Pinellas Park; 545-9325. Beer, wine served. Prices, $1.95 to $12.95.
NOSH-A-BAGEL DELI. Tiny deli with a water view has a bigger inventory than you might expect. Locals descend from the towers for bagels and coffee but there's plenty more: deli sandwiches, potato latkes, cabbage-raisin soup and traditional delicacies.
_ 2525 Pasadena Ave. S, South Pasadena; 367-6487; No alcohol. No credit cards. Prices, $1.95 to $5.95.
TANGELO'S GRILLE. Hearty Cuban fare here. Sandwiches _ ham, roast beef, pork, chicken _ are traditional and daily soups can be spicy (hope for crab). Specials can be filling bargains, like half a Cuban with black bean soup and pasta salad.
_ 226 First Ave. N, St. Petersburg; 894-1695. No credit cards accepted. Beer and wine served. Meals, $1.95 to $4.95.
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 specialties such as lamb, souvlaki, gyros, etc., plus excellent vegetarian dishes such as spinach pie and falafel sandwiches. Don't miss the homemade pastries.
_ 6940 22nd Ave. N, St. Petersburg; 345-7040. Full bar. Moderate prices.
BITE OF EUROPE. This tiny Bohemian bistro is actually a large, affordable helping of Continental charm, borrowed from Eastern Europe as well as France and Italy. Start with baked cheese or soup and duckling or the special sauerkraut goulash. If dumplings or spaetzle aren't included, they're worth ordering a la carte.
_ 14203 Gulf Blvd., Madeira Beach; 398-7465. No non-smoking section. Prices, $8.90 to 11.30.
CIEGA BAY CAFE. New spot tucked in a shopping center keeps alive the spirit and service of Continental dining on the beach and modernizes it a little. Salads are contemporary but best bets are in traditional riches: pates, lobster tail, Caesar salad and red meats.
_ 672 Tom Stuart Causeway, Madeira Beach; 398-5385. Full bar. Dinner entrees, $7.95 to $17.95.
COYOTE CAFE. The Southwest doesn't get wilder than this in these parts. The Coyote cooks up a different nouvelle taste of Old Mexico every night, topping grilled chicken and fish with spicy sauces and fresh fruit salsas _ at the same time. Tableside guacamole, traditional enchiladas, fresh biscuits and friendly service are special treats.
_ 13002 N Dale Mabry, Tampa; 265-3332. Beer, wine. Dinner entrees, $9.85 to $13.95.
THE KINGFISH. This fish house still specializes in the inexpensive seafood that has made it a landmark on the quiet side of John's Pass in Treasure Island. Best, freshest eating comes from the raw bar and some interesting concoctions with Italian, Cajun and Mexican modifications, cooked to order _ sometimes as you watch.
_12789 Kingfish Drive, Treasure Island; 360-0881. Full bar. No reservations. Non-smoking area provided. Children's menu available. Dinners, $3.95 to $12.95.
OUTBACK STEAKHOUSES. The Australian flavor is in the decor and the entree names; the food is All-American steaks and chicken fresh from grilling on "the barbie," all at modest prices for immodest portions. Best bets are roast beef, grilled chicken, onion appetizers and fresh bread.
_ 3403 Henderson Blvd., Tampa, 875-4329. (Other locations at 3690 East Bay Drive, Largo; Park St. and Tyrone Boulevard, St. Petersburg; Carrollwood, Sarasota and Brandon.) Beer, wine and liquor served. Non-smoking section provided. Dinners $6.95 to $15.95).
SIAM ROOM. If it's time to try Thai, Siam Room serves the full gamut: fragrantly sweet, fiery hot and refreshingly cool. Start with barbecue sate or laab meat salad. For an entree, try the phad thai noodles or anything in Panang curry to see the rainbow of Siamese spices. Food's not fancy, but it's fresh, creative _ and inexpensive.
_ 8200 U.S. 19 N, Pinellas Park; 545-2782. Beer, wine. Dinners, $4.50 to $15.
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 any day, but the biggest selection of dim sum treats is on weekends.
_ 328 M.L. King (Ninth) St. N, St. Petersburg; 821-7936. Beer, wine. No credit cards. Prices, $3.95 to $13.95.
WILLIAMS LUNCH ON LIMOGES. This chic lunchery offers a mix of light and hearty dishes (and a women's boutique). The pecan chicken is substantial, and the portions are generous. Miniature muffins accompany each meal, served with fruit butters. Iced herbal teas are refreshers.
_ 109 S Seventh St., Dade City; (904) 567-5685. Beer, wine served. Reservations recommended. Prices $6.95 to $9.95.
BIG NIGHT OUT
THE BLUE HERON. A quiet nook in a shopping center is home to the most progressive and flavorful cuisine in Pinellas, a New American mix of seafood, fresh pasta with Thai, Latin and Jamaican spices and sauces. If that's too radical, try the roast chicken or pork chops or make a light meal of salads and appetizers. Smart decor and sharp service.
_ 3285 Tampa Road, Palm Harbor; 789-5176. Full bar. Non-smoking section provided. reservations suggested. Dinner prices, $8.95 to $16.50.
THE BUBBLE ROOM. A zany visionary cooked up this stew of Christmas, nostalgia, Pee-wee Herman and Florida; it's heavy on theme, but that doesn't spoil the taste. There's no concern for wallet or waist; indulge in Bubble bread, seafood or massive cuts of meat, and state champion desserts (and homemade potato chips at lunch).
_ 15001 Captiva Road, Captiva Island; 472-5558. No non-smoking section. Full bar. No reservations. Dinner prices, $16.95 to $26.95.
THE LOBSTER POT. Inside the nooks and crannies of a corny nautical setting is one of the best local seafood houses. The chefs concentrate on lobster in classic versions, but they handle all seafood well and as simply as you wish.
_ 17614 Gulf Blvd., Redington Shores, 391-8592. Reservations recommended. Beer and wine served. No-smoking section available. Expensive: $11.75 to $21.50.
THE PEPPER MILL. This Clearwater crowd-pleaser specializes in grilled meat and fish; taste and feel are uptown in a friendly way. Best bet is the house steak with herbed rice and chocolate for dessert. It's not inexpensive, but wines are bargains and service is first class, full of extra touches.
_ 1575 S Fort Harrison Way, Clearwater; 449-2988. Reservations recommended.