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TASTES OF TAMPA BAY

(ran TP edition)

A brief sampler of recommended restaurants in the Tampa area, grouped by the kind of dining they offer. The restaurants are selected by the news staff of the 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, whose Italian food and friendliness make them Tampa institutions. 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.

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. They deliver to a limited area around MacDill after 5 p.m.

_ 5023 Bayshore Blvd., Tampa; 831-5557. Beer and wine. No credit cards.

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.

_ 3611 W Hillsborough, Tampa; 877-5241; 8300 Bay Pines Blvd., St. Petersburg; 347-6190. Beer and wine.

EXODUS NEWSROOM. Open for breakfast and lunch with an eclectic menu of omelets, crepes, salads, soups, puff pastry and wonderful, fresh Vietnamese sandwiches made with fresh herbs and pate _ each named for a different newspaper.

_3324 W Gandy Blvd. Tampa; 835-6397. Open daily 6:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., weekends 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

JOFFREY'S. Much like the French cafe or the German Konditorei, Joffrey's coffee and dessert house delivers 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 (11 p.m. on Sunday), making it a perfect respite after a movie or shopping.

_ Olde Hyde Park Village, Snow and Swann avenues, Tampa; 251-3315.

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. Children's menu.

LA TERESITA. Call it diner or bistro, this spot puts lots of Cuban food in a little bit of space with prices low and service rapido. Pressed Cuban sandwiches, hearty full dinners, fruit shakes and glasses of strong coffee are authentic; so is the noise, chaos and low-brow setting. Original location on Boliche Boulevard is all counter-seating; Pinellas Park branch is newer but bustles almost as much.

_ 3248 W Columbus Drive, Tampa; 879-4909.

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. No credit cards.

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.

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., Tampa; 253-3334. Beer, wine.

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, 5917 E Hillsborough Ave. Open 24 hours. No credit cards. No alcohol.

MAIN COURSE

BELLA 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.

_ 1314 S Howard Ave., Tampa, 254-3355. No reservations. Full bar.

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 Tampa Palms Blvd. W (City Plaza), Tampa; 972-9600. 3682 Tampa Road, Oldsmar; 855-2311. Reservations recommended. Full bar.

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 is fern-bar Southwest with some old American stand-bys. Bar features some of the best local mixology.

_ Olde Hyde Park Village, Snow and Swann avenues, Tampa; 251-4089. Full bar.

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. 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.

_ 1330 Ninth Ave., Tampa; 247-6283. Full bar.

CAFE DON JOSE. 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.

CHILI'S. This Texas-based chain started out dressing up Tex-Mex food with fern bar decor and now they've updated the menu as well. It's a fun place to sit back and sip a Top Shelf Margarita and munch on spicy chicken tacos, lively fajitas or a grilled tuna salad.

_ 2903 N Dale Mabry Highway, Tampa; 875-2513 (and other locations in Tampa Bay area). Full bar. Children's menu.

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 like spinach salad and fresh muffins.

_ 3401 Bayshore Blvd., Tampa; 839-7558. Full bar. No reservations.

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. Beer, wine.

HO HO CHINOIS. Chinese food for those 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.

HOPS GRILL & BAR. 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 three house beers range from a surprisingly tasty light to a British-style amber 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. 33086 U.S. 19 N; 789-5678. Full bar.

LATAM. Cuban and Spanish food doesn't get any better than this in a casual, homey setting. Try roast pork with onions, moros y cristianos and fried plantanos, but don't overlook the seafood. In season, there's sea bass, yellowtail snapper and Florida lobster as well as the standard pompano and trout. Menu prices are very easy on the wallet and nightly specials even cheaper. Soups, side dishes and flan never disappoint.

_ 2511 W Columbus Drive, Tampa; 877-7338. Full bar.

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. 2221 Fourth St. N, St. Petersburg; 895-6358. 2141 Main St., Dunedin, 734-5110. Beer, wine. Reservations recommended; dinner only.

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. (Other locations in Largo, St. Petersburg, Carrollwood, Sarasota and Brandon.) Full bar.

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. Full bar.

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.

SUKOTHAI. The fanciest Thai restaurant in Tampa, and one of the area's oldest, Sukothai 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.

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 E. Fowler Ave., Tampa; 971-8483. Beer, wine.

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 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.

THAILAND RESTAURANT. Never a disappointing meal of Thai or Chinese food in this casual place. 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.

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.

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. Hamburgers and steak sandwiches for children. Reservations recommended.

LE BORDEAUX. Everything about this bungalow/bistro is French except price and atmosphere; even $25 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.

_ 1502 Howard Ave. S; 254-4387. Full bar.

MISE EN PLACE. The bay area's most creative restaurant's 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.

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; 874-1234. Reservations recommended (especially for Sunday brunch). Full bar.

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.

_ 1623 Snow Ave., Old Hyde Park Village, Tampa; 251-2116. Full bar. Children's menu. Reservations recommended.

WINE EXCHANGE. This is for elegant savoring and sampling from more than a dozen wines by the glass and an impressive beer list. Match them up with fancy foodstuffs in nouvelle tapas portions, hearty sandwiches or full meals. It's casual fun any time. Even if you don't have a Rothschild's wallet, you'll find the zins, rieslings and other lower-priced wines quite potable.

_ 1611 W Swann Ave., Tampa; 254-9463. Wine, beer. Smoking on patio only.

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