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TASTES OF TAMPA

(ran T edition)

The following is a sampler of recommended restaurants in the Tampa 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

CDB's. Families, couples, college kids, toddlers _ all are welcome at CDB's, where Italian food and friendliness have made the restaurants Tampa institutions. (The Fowler location is a USF favorite.) Terrific pizza and massive portions are served. Be hungry or take plenty of teenagers with you.

_ 5104 E Fowler Ave., Tampa, 985-1336. Five other locations in the Tampa area. Full bar. Children's menu available. Prices $4.95 to $12.95.

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.

JOFFREY'S. Much like the French cafe or the German Konditorei, 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. While you stake out an outdoor table, have your companion wait in line to order. Open until midnight (except 11 on Sunday), making it perfect respite after a movie or shopping.

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

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.

MEL'S HOT DOGS. The big daddy of hot dog places in the area. Mel's only does 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 to $4.99.

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.

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, even Greek salads, but prices are low, making for easy eating whether you grab a seat or order your seafood by the box to go.

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

STEAK 'N SHAKE. One of the last of the breed _ a real drive-in. Pull up to the spaces outside, eat indoors or use the drive-up window. On Saturday night, expect to see convertibles from the '50s and other classic wheels cruising by. It's Happy Days and the Fonz, Tampa-style. Great for strong coffee and late-night breakfasts or a short-order steak, but the best bites are classic drive-in fare. Have a burger or chili and a milk shake and don't forget the cheese fries.

_ 1450 E Fowler Ave., Tampa; 971-9700. Other locations in Tampa: 2315 S Dale Mabry Highway, 4502 Gandy Blvd., 5917 E Hillsborough Ave. Open 24 hours. Non-smoking section available. No credit cards accepted. No alcohol served. Prices, $2.50 to $12.

MAIN COURSE

BELLA'S ITALIAN CAFE. 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. No reservations. Non-smoking area provided. Full bar. Prices, $1.50 to $10.50.

BOSTON COOKER. This place serves reliable seafood and treats you like family, proving hospitality is not exclusively Southern. Rolls are served hot from the oven in unlimited quantity; salads refilled without question. Maine lobster, fresh scrod and big-belly Ipswich clams provide a strong New England flavor.

_ 16023 W Tampa Palms Blvd. (City Plaza), Tampa; 972-9600. 3705 Tampa Road, Oldsmar; 855-2311. Reservations recommended. Full bar. Non-smoking section available. Dinners, $6.95 to $15.95.

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.

_ 1941 W Lumsden Road, 684-5551 (and other locations in Tampa Bay). No reservations. Full bar. No non-smoking area. Prices, $5.50 to $13.95.

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 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.

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. Dinners, $6.50 to $15.

CARLINO'S. This restaurant converted from a nice old home in the Interbay section has become a favorite spot for elegant lunches. That's 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.

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

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

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.

GIANNI'S. The see-and-be-scene in Hyde Park for the casual crowd that likes Italian food and plenty of it. The waiting game played out in the adjacent wine bar is half the fun. House salads and pasta dishes are fresh, flavorful and for healthy appetites; desserts sinful.

_ 317 S Howard Ave., 251-8623. No non-smoking section. Beer, wine. Dinner, $6.95 to $13.95.

HO HO CHINOIS. Chinese food for those more comfortable with black-tie service and French decor. The menu is largely traditional but with a lighter hand than usual. Lobster and steamed whole fish are the specialties. Be sure to have the fish with soy and ginger.

_ 720 S Howard Ave., Tampa; 254-9557. Full bar. Children's menu available. Dinner prices, $4.90 to $13.95.

HOPS GRILL & BREWERY. One of the area's first "brew pubs," Hops makes its beer and most of its food from scratch and does well in both categories. The four house beers range from a surprisingly tasty light to a British-style ale. Expect more than bar food, too: Pastas, soups and steaks all show extra effort. The miniature brewery's educational and the atmosphere's congenial.

_ 14303 N Dale Mabry, Tampa; 264-0522. Full bar. Credit cards. Prices, $2.45 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.

_ 13164 N Dale Mabry, Tampa; 962-6936. Beer, wine. Reservations recommended. Dinners only. Prices, $8.95 to $15.95.

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.

TAJ. This first-class North Indian restaurant is a sensory adventure with no risks (except not getting a table): Both place and plates are pretty and sparklingly clean. There's a caravan of curries, from sweet kormas to spinach sag, made with chicken, lamb, beef, shrimp and vegetables in all degrees of heat. Treat yourself to naan and other fresh Indian breads and ice cream for a true Indian feast.

_ 2734-B Fowler Ave., Tampa; 971-8483. Beer, wine; dinner entrees, $5.95 to $14.95

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.

_ 5252 S Dale Mabry, Tampa; 837-1793. Beer, wine served. Dinners, $4.25 to $12.50.

TEX MEX CANTINA. A small local Mexican outfit with an accent on funk, fun and typical fare: The food is not pretty and is a little greasy, but it's served in hearty portions, and it's good enough to attract a following among the young and chic. Fajitas, margaritas are favorites.

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

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. (Many other locations in Tampa Bay area). Beer, wine and liquor served. Non-smoking section provided. Dinners, $6.95 to $15.95).

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.

BERN'S STEAK HOUSE. Overlook hodge-podge 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.

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 ambience 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.

_ Full bar. No non-smoking area. reservations only for parties of six or more. Dinner, $7.95 to 12.95.

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.

MISE EN PLACE. Decor _ and waiting line _ are hip but the best show is on the plate: exceptionally clever food from a New American menu that changes daily. Entrees mix meat and fish with fruits, peppers, nuts and a whimsical array of sauces. Spa fish, salads, soups and ice creams are always devilishly good; prices surprisingly reasonable.

_ 442 W Kennedy, Tampa; 254-5373. No reservations. Full bar. Dinner, $9.95 to $15.95.

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, $12.95 to $19.95.

SELENA'S. A small but elegant place for dinner, Selena's is a hit with Hyde Park, for fancy dining and informal nibbling. Food ranges from quiche to steaks and seafood, with two fashionable accents, Italian and Cajun. Expect plenty of pasta and lots of blackened entrees; look for the unexpected like steak with garlic, olive oil and Romano cheese. Jazz attracts a good crowd in the lounge on weekends.

_ 1623 Snow Ave., Old Hyde Park Village, Tampa; 251-2116. Full bar. Children's menu available. Reservations recommended. Lunch, $3.95 to $9.95; dinner $8.95 to $19.95.

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