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TASTE 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

JOFFREY'S. Joffrey's coffee and dessert house delivers both first rate coffee, luscious pastries, and lots of conversation. Try the double mochachino or a cold cafe latte. Open until midnight (except 11 on Sunday).

_ Olde Hyde Park Village, Snow and Swann avenues, Tampa; 251-3315. Prices: $1 to $3.50.

KOPPER KITCHEN. 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 (with seating at new downtown St. Petersburg shop), Lonni's key ingredient is no secret: Minnesota wild rice. Rice is used in custom baked bread, in salads, in rice pudding and 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 St., Clearwater, 441-8044; 133 First St. N, St. Petersburg; 894-1944. No alcohol; lunch prices, $3.89 to $5.49.

MEL'S HOT DOGS. Mel's does only dogs and sausage-like 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.

PALIOS BROS. Fried chicken, fresh fish and football memories make this place a neighborhood fixture for South Tampa. Seafood includes shrimp, soft shell crabs and more, not just fish filets. Portions are huge but prices are low.

_ 2302 S MacDill Ave.; 253-3334. Beer, wine. Prices: $2.50 to $9.25.

YA YA'S FLAME BROILED CHICKEN: This is fast-food chicken 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.

MAIN COURSE

ALVAREZ. The long-standing source of Mexican food in Palmetto, the Alvarez family's restaurant serves up an authentic menu. 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.

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.

THE COLONNADE. Tampa has stopped here for a bay view and plain food for 50 years. Seafood is varied, from grilled salmon to Florida's fried favorites, and comes with good trimmings like spinach salad and fresh muffins.

_ 3401 Bayshore Blvd., Tampa; 839-7558. Full bar. No reservations. Prices $4.95 to $16.95.

COLUMBIA. St. Petersburg's branch of Tampa's landmark Cuban restaurant (c. 1905) is ensconced in a very stylish room with a view on the Pier. Food is slowly modernizing, too. Boliche and other traditional Cuban favorites are here, but for the lightest fare, check daily fish specials. Sample tapas, soup and the wine list for Spanish flavor. Service and setting are consistently tops.

_ 800 Second Ave. NE, St. Petersburg; 822-8000. Reservations recommended. Full bar. Non-smoking section provided. Dinner prices, $6.95 to $13.95.

FORBIDDEN CITY. A broad menu includes diet specials and hybridized gourmet dishes. Soups and some entrees are bland, but steamed fish will please dieters and gourmets.

_ 2360 U.S. 19 N, Clearwater; 797-8989. Non-smoking section provided. Full bar. Dinners, $5.95 to $14.95.

HORSE & JOCKEY. The bay area's newest and largest pub has 11 British beers on tap and an extensive menu. Crisp fish and chips, meat pies and other pub fare, plus tea from 3 to 5 p.m. on weekdays and dinner of roast pork or roast beef and Yorkshire pudding on Sundays.

_ 1155 S Pasadena Ave., South Pasadena; 345-4995. Reservations accepted only for parties of six or more for tea. Beer, wine served. Dinner prices, $4.95 to $7.95.

LA POELE D'OR. A modest French restaurant, it serves omelets, crepes and other comfort food; 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.

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

PEPE RESTAURANT AND TAPAS BAR. The 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 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.

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.

_ 3403 Henderson Blvd., Tampa, 875-4329ok. (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).

RED BARN. Just what the name says: a red barn with tables inside where they serve steak that competes with Bern's. Order the Porterhouse (priced by the pound) and indulge. There are 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.

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.

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 hearty portions. Fajitas, margaritas are favorites.

_ 6415 Courtney Campbell Parkway, Tampa; 281-0164. Full bar service. Dinner, $5.50 to $14.95.

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 Swiss ingredients.

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

SEA GRILL. You get fresh fish in creative recipes here, plus quality in most of the little things too: bread, salad, vegetables and desserts are all good. Fried calamari is exceptional and the day's catches are worth trying. Decor, service and prices are uptown.

_ 3253 Tampa Road, Palm Harbor; 787-6129. No non-smoking section. Full bar. Prices, $8.95 to $16.50.

BIG NIGHT OUT

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.

_ 3861 Gulf Blvd., St. Petersburg Beach; 367-1851. Beer, wine. No non-smoking section. Prices: $6.95 to $17.95.

MISE EN PLACE. New location gives Bay area's most creative restaurant uptown space downtown. Clever food from a New American menu that changes daily.

_ 442 W Kennedy, Tampa; 254-5373; no reservations; full bar; dinner entrees, $9.95 to $15.95.

WINE CELLAR. 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.

_ 17307 Gulf Blvd., North Redington Beach; 393-3491. Full bar. Non-smoking section available. Prices $12 to $26.

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