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.
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.
BLUEBERRY PATCH. There's lots of gingham in this old house-turned-tearoom, and the menu is typical light and proper luncheon fare: souffles, quiches and complimentary blueberry muffins. Right across the street from Rogers' Christmas House.
_ 414 E Liberty St., Brooksville; (904) 796-6005. Reservations suggested. Non-smoking section available. No alcohol served. Lunch prices average $4.95-$5.25.
MEL'S HOT DOGS. The big daddy of hot-dog places in the area. Mel's only does dogs and sausagelike relations. Service is assembly-line; but the atmosphere puts the accent on the hot dog.
_ 4136 E Busch Blvd., Tampa; 985-8000. Beer, wine served; no credit cards accepted. Sandwiches, $1.99-$4.99.
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. Noreservations. Full bar. Prices, $2.95 to $6.
YA YA'S FLAME BROILED CHICKEN: This is fast-food chicken, eat-in or takeout, for modern times. It combines grilling for nutritional benefits with herbs and pita bread for an ethnic accent.
_ 6802 22nd Ave. N, St. Petersburg and five other locations. No alcohol. No credit cards. Non-smoking section provided. Prices, $3.49 to $4.89.
ARIGATO JAPANESE STEAKHOUSE. A fun place for kids and adults. Groups of up to 10 are assembled around a teppanyaki table and stove to watch your Japanese chef prepare steak, chicken or seafood with a dash of spice and a flash of cutlery. The food is reliable and you can control the cooking since you're watching the whole time. For full flavor, have some hot sake.
_ 13755 N Dale Mabry, Tampa, 960-5050; 1500 U.S. 19 N, Clearwater, 799-0202; 3600 66th St. N, St. Petersburg, 343-5200. Full bar. Reservations recommended. Dinners, $7.95 to $16.95.
B.T. BONES STEAKHOUSE. If you like your beef with the brand of the Old West, head out to a homegrown chain's version of a Texas steak 'n' beer palace. Meat's not always butterknife-tender, but you can bet the cuts will be hefty, the prices puny and the atmosphere kicked-back.
_ 7022 22nd Ave. N, St. Petersburg (and other locations in Tampa Bay). No reservations. Full bar. No non-smoking area. Moderate prices, $5.50 to $13.95.
BUDAPEST. Not much room in here and not much room left on your plate; this is hearty Hungarian family eating. Don't mind the no-nonsense service; goulash, paprikash and spaetzle dumplings are pure comfort foods, plentiful and affordable.
_ 7411 U.S. 19 N, New Port Richey; 848-4437. Reservations suggested. Credit cards not accepted. Beer, wine. Dinners, $4.95 to $8.95.
CRAB TRAP. A favorite hangout on the banks of the Homosassa, the natural specialty is crabs: hard shell, soft shell or afire with garlic and pepper. You can try all three in a combination platter, or spread out some newspapers and get all you can eat. And you'll like the shrimp, too.
_ 5300 S Cherokee Way, Homosassa, (904) 628-1122. Reservations recommended. Customers may bring their own beer or wine. Dinners, $7.95 to $13.95.
MELTING POT. No matter if you think the fondue fad is passe, you'll probably still spend several happy hours here, cooking your own finger food, whether you boil it in oil or low-fat bouillon or dip it in cheese or chocolate. With new healthful choices, people of every appetite can play with their food.
_ 2141 Main St., Dunedin, 734-5110; 13164 N Dale Mabry, Tampa, 962-6936; 2221 Fourth St. N, St. Petersburg, 895-6358; beer, wine; reservations recommended; dinners only; prices, $8.95 to $15.95.
MOONLIGHT BAY CAFE. This tiny beachside bistro stresses imagination, quality and freshness. Try 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.
RED BARN. Just what the name says: a red barn with tables inside where they serve steak that competes with Bern's. You should be a dedicated carnivore to enjoy this place: Order the Porterhouse (priced by the pound) and indulge. There's also seafood and old Southern favorites like chicken and ham.
_ 6150 New Tampa Highway, Lakeland, 686-2754. Reservations recommended. Non-smoking section available. Full bar. Dinner, $6.75 to $15.75.
SAM OH JUNG. To find out what sets Korean food apart from other Asian cuisines, try the bul gogi and other beef dishes here or the fish. You'll find four seasons of flavor, from fiery kim chee pickle to sesame and sweets. Most entrees come with a tableful of condiments and rice so you can combine your favorites. (There's also sushi for appetizers.)
_ 602 N Dale Mabry Highway, Tampa; 871-3233; beer and wine. Prices, $7.95 to $13.95.
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.
LE BORDEAUX. Everything about this bungalow/bistro is French except price and atmosphere; even $20 can buy la grande fete from the goodies listed on the chalkboard each day. Food is country, and ambiance is citified vibrant and noisy. Banquet on crusty bread, soup, home-made pate and terrific salads and go straight to desserts like poached pear with chocolate. Do try entrees: The kitchen works magic with duck, lamb, beef, pork, salmon and the humble chicken. It's all worth the wait _ and some Bordeaux at bargain prices.
_ 1502 S Howard Ave., Tampa; 254-4387. Full bar. No non-smoking area. reservations only for parties of six or more. Dinner prices, $7.95 to 12.95.
BRUNO'S TRATTORIA ITALIANA. This rather dainty setting serves up quite lusty Italian food, good bread and pasta with a wide spectrum of rich sauces. Try red pesto, creamy carbonara or any sauce with tomatoes and herbs.
_ 432 75th Ave., St. Petersburg Beach; 367-4420. Beer, wine. Dinner, $7.95 to $11.95.
WINE CELLAR. This is old-school indulgence of the first order _ good steaks, chops, seafood and a bit of caviar, usually dolled up with cream and butter. But you may also have sun-dried tomatoes, wild mushrooms and other trendy fancies. Do have some soup and sample a good German wine. My favorites were lamb and trout, but I'd be willing to try the chef's full-course surprise.
_ 17307 Gulf Blvd., North Redington Beach; 393-3491. Full bar. Non-smoking section available. Prices $12 to $26.
WINE EXCHANGE. This is for elegant savoring and sampling from more than two dozen wines by the glass and an impressive beer list. Match them up with fancy foodstuffs in nouvelle portions or a hearty old-fashioned sandwich. It's not cheap, but it's casual fun any time. Even if you don't have a Rothschild's wallet, you'll find the zins and other lower-priced wines quite potable.
_ 1611 W Swann Ave., Tampa; 254-9463. Wine, beer. Smoking on patio only. Prices: $4.25 to $7.95.