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 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.
EL CAP. The place serves up a good Cuban sandwich, but most dishes are All-American classics: hearty chili, grilled cheese sandwiches and some of the best hamburgers in St. Petersburg. Sports, especially baseball, spoken here. Good, cheap and open until midnight.
_ 3500 Fourth St. N, St. Petersburg; 525-9122. No credit cards accepted. Beer and wine served. Prices, 90 cents to $3.25.
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.
THE SEA HORSE. This 50-year-old building is as much a Pass-a-Grille landmark as the Merry Pier. Good breakfasts, great burgers, friendly service, paneled walls, outdoor seats and a sea breeze: the quintessential beach restaurant for fisherfolk, repair crews, yachting types and anyone in shorts.
_ 800 Pass-a-Grille Way, St. Petersburg Beach, 360-1734. Beer, wine. No reservations. No credit cards. Breakfast $1.50 to $3.45; lunch and dinner $1.95 to $7.95.
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.
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 a 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.
BITE OF EUROPE. This 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.
_ 1301 Pasadena Ave S., South Pasadena; 343-2557. Prices, $8.90 to 11.30.
CACTUS CLUB. Watch out for the shark over the bar _ and the terrestrial variety in the crowd. Come early on Friday or Saturday and grab an outdoor table to watch Hyde Park regulars launch the evening's first wave of nightclubbing. Food's fern-bar Southwest with some old American standbys, too; and for late-night munchies, a chili pie hits the spot. Bar features some of the best local mixology.
_ Olde Hyde Park Village, Snow and Swann avenues, Tampa; 251-4089. Full bar. Dinner prices, $6.50 to $11.95.
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 soft-shell 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. Look for extra Spanish/Italian flavor of old Ybor on Thursday nights.
_ 1330 Ninth Ave., Tampa; 247-6283. Full bar, credit cards. Prices, $5.25 to $12.95.
CAFE PEPE. This place has hearty Spanish food seasoned with olive oil and sherry. Decor is classic and clean. Best entrees are steaks and rice dishes such as paella or chicken.
_ 2006 W Kennedy Blvd., Tampa. 253-6501. Non-smoking section provided. Full bar. Dinners, $6.50 to $15.
DEBBY'S CAFE. This looks like an average diner for beach locals and motel escapees, but inside you'll find the creative, light cooking missing in most big-splurge spots. Prices are as lean as the '90s but you still get crisp vegetables, grilled tuna, fresh baked goods, pasta dishes, fresh herbs and Oriental spices. Plus you can sample it for great breakfasts and lunches.
_ 7370 Gulf Blvd., St. Petersburg Beach; 367-8700; Beer, wine. Dinners $6.50 to $12.95.
ENZO'S ITALIAN RESTAURANT. You might not look in downtown New Port Richey for a small-town version of an Italian bistro, but Enzo's is there, making fresh pasta with an abundance of good sauces. Try fettuccine Alfredo or gnocchi with any of the red sauces. Chicken scarparelli and veal dishes are beyond the ordinary.
_ 116 W Main St., New Port Richey; 842-5083. Reservations suggested. Full bar. Dinner prices, $6.25 to $17.95.
THE HUNGRY FISHERMAN _ Landlubbers flock here for seafood the old-fashioned way: Take a number, wait your turn, buy some souvenirs and dig into a combination platter for less then $10. It's not all fried and true; there's fresh fish nightly and a bit of grilling, steaming and stir frying. Give your visitors this taste of Florida.
_ 19915 Gulf Blvd., Indian Shores; 595-4218. No reservations. No credit cards. Full bar. Prices, $4.95 to $12.95.
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.
KINJO. Kinjo has first-rate sushi and a full menu of tempura plus meat, fish, shrimp and chicken fixed with usual samurai showmanship. Eat at the bar, on the floor in a tatami room, at a teppanyaki grill or a Western-style table; the lucky get water views.
_ 4615 Gulf Blvd, St. Petersburg Beach; 367-6762. Full bar. No reservations. Non-smoking section available. Dinners, $8 to $20.
RED ROE RESTAURANT. Ozona sounds out of the way and it is. This moss-draped chunk of Cracker coast is just the place to fill a picnic table with fried catfish, smoked amberjack and mullet and peel-your-own shrimp, some of it fresh off the owner's boat. No frills, but a genuine taste of old Florida.
_ 303 Orange St., Ozona; 784-0535. Beer, wine. Prices, $3.95 to $9.95.
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.
SAFFRON _ This small family run restaurant dresses up Jamaican food so it can meet company in the parlor (and even serves steak and lobster). Hospitality, as well as ingredients, are straight from the Islands. Fish dishes, soups, spice teas and fruit drinks are remarkably fresh. A bargain for underground gourmets.
_ 2801 38th Ave. N, St. Petersburg; 522-1234. No alcohol. Dinner prices, $5.95 to $17.
SUKOTHAI. The fanciest Thai restaurant in Tampa, and one of the area's oldest, features elaborate dishes, eye-appealing plate presentations, beautiful woodwork and special floor-level, pillow-cushioned seating upon request. Try phad Thai noodles or the sweet, sour and spicy Chicken With Three Spices, duck with veggies, orange sauce and cashews, whole red snapper with fresh pepper sauce or grouper with garlic.
_ 8201-A N Dale Mabry Highway, Tampa; 933-7990. Beer, wine. No non-smoking section.
THAILAND RESTAURANT. Never a disappointing meal of Thai or Chinese food in this casual place; most entrees are $6 to $8, including the sizzling platter specialties. Be sure to try village noodles, pork satay, and the seasoned chopped beef salad. Papaya salad, if available, is a must. If the catch of the day is whole fish, try that too.
_ 5252 S Dale Mabry, Tampa; 837-1793. Beer, wine served. Dinners, $4.25 to $12.50.
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.
YODER'S. Foremost of the restaurants for the winter colony of Amish and Mennonites, Yoder's serves up old-fashioned home cooking all day, starting with eggs, fried mush, biscuits and gravy at breakfast. Specials such as livers and dressing, noodle dishes and cabbage rolls vary daily, but there's always a half-chicken dinner, mountainous hot sandwiches and more fresh pies than you can count.
_ 3434 Bahia Vista St., Sarasota; 955-7771. Non-smoking section provided. No alcohol. No credit cards. Dinners, $4.95 to $7.45.
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 are usually 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 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.
CHAVEZ AT THE ROYAL. This intimate continental restaurant is carefully watched over by owner-celebrity Helen Chavez. The menu is fashionable, yet the chef is accommodating: You want the pesto on the salmon instead of on the shrimp? Just ask.
_ 2109 Bayshore Blvd., Tampa; 251-6986. Reservations suggested. Full bar. Lunch, $5.75-$7.95; dinner, $11.95-$18.95.
MICHAEL'S ON EAST. A handsome example of New American cuisine, mostly Californian, but partly Floridian, shows style everywhere, including its house salad, although service can be pokey. Start with a caviar pancake or roast garlic, and don't be afraid to try red meat entrees here: Maple/mustard pork is as clever as the seafood pastas.
_ 1212 East Ave. S, Sarasota; 366-0007; full bar; no non-smoking section. Dinner entrees, $10.95 to $22.95.
OYSTERCATCHERS. Seafood with style costs a pretty penny, but you get a mesquite grill and a wide selection of fresh fish, fixed with a Florida accent and plenty of light options. Great gazpacho, salads and grilled meats and fish. Bar and deck provide trophy fishing for singles, especially on Sunday afternoons.
_ Hyatt Regency Westshore, 6200 Courtney Campbell Parkway, Tampa. Reservations recommended (especially for Sunday brunch). Full bar. Non-smoking section provided. Dinner entrees, $12.95 to $19.95.