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ON DINING/RESTAURANTS

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.

DOGWATER. The gag here is on other gimmicky theme bars as well as the customers. Dinner is served in dog food bowls. Honest. But the food was as good as the joke; nothing special, just everyday grub done well. Lap up the food, but beer comes in regulation glasses.

_ 8300 Bay Pines Blvd., St. Petersburg; 347-6190. Beer and wine. $2.25 to $8.95.

FRENCHY'S SALTWATER CAFE and FRENCHY'S CAFE AND OYSTER BAR. Neither tiny fish house has a water view or fancy decor but both are full of beach locals and atmosphere. Menu is seafood, fresh and affordable. Peanut butter pie is a great finish.

_ 419 Poinsettia Ave., Clearwater; 461-6295 and 41 Baymont Drive, Clearwater, 446-3607. Beer, wine. Prices, $3.95 to $15.95.

KOJAK'S HOUSE OF RIBS. Kojak's is strictly a come-as-you-are kind of place. Sit inside the old house or outside under the big trees. Nothing fancy, but the red-and-white checked tablecloths and plastic plates will make you feel at home or at least on a picnic. The barbecue is no-nonsense, too: filling and fun.

_2808 Gandy Blvd., Tampa; 837-3774. No credit cards accepted. Reservations for large parties only. Beer and wine served. Children's menu available. Prices, $3.25-$13.95.

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.

OVO CAFE. A smart addition to Ybor City, Ovo gives artsy cafe society a snappy late night hangout plus a spectrum of pastries, yogurt, floats, light munchies, coffees and cocktails. Classiest indulgence is a Belgian waffle with yogurt and liqueur; funkiest are cold soups and uptown pierogies.

_ 1901 Seventh Ave., Tampa; 248-6979. Full bar. Prices, $4.50 to $6.50.

TED PETERS FAMOUS SMOKED FISH: Outdoor tables (and the indoor fireplace) have been a roadside landmark so long it now looks out on six lanes of traffic. The charm however is in the food: smoked Florida mullet and mackerel and terrific hamburgers served with no pretense. Beware the Tuesday closing.

_1350 Pasadena Ave. S, South Pasadena; 381-7931. Beer. No credit cards. Prices, $2.95 to 7.95.

MAIN COURSE

ALVAREZ. The long-standing source of Mexican food in Palmetto, the Alvarez family's restaurant serves up an authentic menu for Latinos and gringos. There are hearty breakfasts of tortillas and tacos as well as sizzling platters of fajitas, burritos. Atmosphere is congenial and prices are bargains.

_1431 Eighth Ave. W, Palmetto; 729-2232. beer wine, no-smoking section available; beer, wine. No credit cards. Prices, $2.99 to $6.99.

BELLA TRATTORIA. This is a fun place for chic, one-person-size pizzas with designer toppings and good salads. The paper-covered tables come equipped with crayons, so you can sketch your dinner partner _ or your neighbors _ between courses.

_1413 S Howard Ave., Tampa, 254-3355; 13505 Icot Blvd. (Ulmerton Road), Clearwater, 535-6224. No reservations. Non-smoking area provided at Clearwater location. Full bar. Prices $1.50 to $11.95.

CAFE DON JOSE. One of Tampa's newer Spanish restaurants, Cafe Don Jose is in a shopping center, but it has a patio setting, attentive service and a typical menu of Tampa favorites. In addition to chicken and rice and other reliable standards, there are some creative specials every day, often using fresh fish. It goes well with brandy-spiked sangria.

_11009 56th St., Temple Terrace; 985-2392. Reservations recommended for weekends. Non-smoking section available. Dinner, $9.95 to $22.95.

CARLINO'S. This restaurant converted from a nice old home in the Interbay section has become a favorite spot for elegant lunches. All it serves is lunch and only on weekdays. Look for fresh salads, quiches and croissant sandwiches, all served with complimentary wine.

_2832 S MacDill Ave., Tampa; 837-2322. Reservations suggested. Wine served. Lunches, $5 to $7.50.

EXODUS _ This is a Vietnamese restaurant with delicious differences: French as well as Viet entrees plus high style in decor and on the plate. Good eating runs from egg rolls to fresh lemonade; fish, shrimp with fresh herbs make the best entrees. Plus it's open in the witching hours.

_ 7532 N Armenia, Tampa; 933-1874. No beer, wine. No non-smoking section. Prices: $7.95 to $14.95.

FOURTH ST. SHRIMP STORE. A funky place to show out-of-towners that fresh shrimp is everyday fare for us; only a killjoy would quibble. Seafood comes straight from the cooker, fixed just right and in huge quantities for small change. Frills are limited to Christmas oilcloths on the tables, odd chairs and delightfully detailed, whimsical murals.

1006{ Fourth St. N, St. Petersburg; 822-0325. Non-smoking section available. Beer, wine. Lunch, dinner $3.96 to $8.99.

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; 367-6869. Beer, wine. Dinner prices, $3.95 to $13.95.

KEY WEST GRILL. This is Florida fare with more flair than the usual chain restaurant. The setting is shady, the atmosphere is casual and the food is definitely palate-pleasing, especially for seafood lovers. The day's fish can be grilled or blackened at your pleasure. Dinners include generous entrees, pleasant summer salad and fresh muffins.

_2660 Gulf to Bay Blvd., Clearwater; 797-1988. No-smoking section provided. Children's menu available. Full bar. Prices, $3.45 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.

LEE'S CRAB TRAP I & II. There's crab in many forms and sizes (including mini-platters for light eaters), but Lee's does well by the fixin's, too. Perfect go-withs for the Maryland crab cakes are onion curls or New England clam chowder, spinach salad and sweet potato fries. If you're not in a crabby mood, there are alternatives on the menu.

_U.S. 19, Terra Ceia Bridge, Palmetto, 722-6255; Memphis Road, Ellenton 729-7777. No reservations. Beer, wine served. Moderate prices.

MASARYKTOWN RESTAURANT. This old building dates from the '20s when Czech and Slovak immigrants settled here. Food is a mix of chicken-dinner country and paprikash-and-sauerkraut Old Country, all of it filling and delivered with friendly service.

_398 Broad St., Masaryktown; (904) 796-1087. Beer, wine. Prices: $5.75 to $9.75.

OMI'S BAVARIAN INN. The music is taped, and the decor is kitschy, but there's plenty of oompah on your plate: huge schnitzels, kraut, red cabbage and potato dumplings. Soups are homemade, and German hospitality is as genuine as the beer.

_14702 Gulf Blvd., Madeira Beach; 393-9654. No non-smoking section. Beer, wine. Dinners, $6.80 to $12.45.

PEPE RESTAURANT AND TAPAS BAR. The unique Spanish bar snacks called tapas now have an authentic home here. Pepe slices cheeses and bread and cooks snatches of seafood, spaghetti and the like at a bar-side grill, all for $3 to $5. Upstairs, for the grandees, is a menu of heavier Continental fare.

_3665 Ulmerton Road, Clearwater, 573-3363. Full bar. Non-smoking section provided. Dinners, $12.95 to $22.95.

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.

BIG NIGHT OUT

ARMANI'S. If you're on top of the world, this is your best bet for luxury dining _ and little black dresses. Fourteen stories up and bills are high too, but the food is usually up to it. Antipasto bar, lobster dumplings and salads are stunning. Entrees can be uneven although quail stuffed with risotto is a winner.

_ Hyatt Regency Westshore, 6200 Courtney Campbell Parkway, Tampa; 874-1234. Full bar; reservations required. Non-smoking area available. Dinner, $12.50 to $24.

BASTA'S RISTORANTE _ Northern Italian for the big spender, but sauces are done smoothly and with fresh herbs. Take advantage of bread with cheese or olives, order zuppa and simple pasta or treat yourself to veal. Service and setting can be hoity but usually are elegantly comfortable.

_ 1625 Fourth St. S, St. Petersburg; 894-7880. Beer, wine; dinner, $12.95 to

$20.

BERN'S STEAK HOUSE. Overlook hodgepodge decor (part ooh-la-la, part hardware store), focus on wines and the open kitchen, and you'll see Bern's is still a monumental achievement. Beef's still the best eating, but fish and vegetables are fresh, too; the wine list is a treasure. Dessert room is many steps up in class and a grand finish for the evening.

_ 1208 S Howard Ave., Tampa; 251-2421. Non-smoking section available. Hamburgers and steak sandwiches available for children. Reservations recommended. Dinner, $15 to $50.

THE BLACK SWAN. At this elegant oasis in mid-Pinellas, decor and prices are ritzy, but food is high quality and eclectic, tossing together California style and Florida accents. Clever sauces, wild mushrooms, fresh herbs, nuts and berries give roast and grilled entrees extra style. Even steamed clams, chicken salad and apple strudel dazzle.

_ 13707 58th St. N (Rubin ICOT Center), Clearwater; 535-7926. Reservations suggested. Non-smoking section available. Full bar. Lunch, $4.95 to $11.25; dinner $13.95-$24.95.

BRUNELLO. Italian food has arrived on the beach in high style. Mood is casual and prices manageable but food is elegant. Start with rich soup or zesty salad. Risotto, pastas with wild mushrooms, carbonara and grilled fish are top entrees, but look for New American tricks too. Tiramisu is a must dessert.

_3861 Gulf Blvd., St. Petersburg Beach; 367-1851. Beer, wine. No non-smoking section. Prices: $6.95 to $17.95.

CHARLEY'S CRAB. Perfect for boulevardiers in training. Sit on the terrace with the piano player and watch the beautiful people glide by on St. Armand's Circle _ or sit indoors and let the passers-by envy you. If chic shopping is fatiguing, have a tuna melt or seafood spinach salad; the hungrier should try the "bucket of seafood." Mussel fans should definitely try Charley's.

_420 Harding Circle, Sarasota. 388-3964. Reservations recommended. Non-smoking section provided. Full bar service. Children's menu available. Prices $5.95 to $19.95.

KING CHARLES ROOM. This ornate room has a waterfront view and the highest prices in town, so the best way to sample it is at the $24.95 Sunday brunch, where you can luxuriate in smoked fish, gorgeous vegetables and other delicacies. At dinner, salads, appetizers and duck were best.

_ Don CeSar, 3400 Gulf Blvd., St. Petersburg Beach; 360-1881. Reservations suggested. Full bar. Dinner, $21 to $32.

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