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Times-tasted

Weekend's dining guide is a selection of restaurants around Tampa Bay recommended by Times Restaurant Critic Chris Sherman and other staffers who have sampled the food and enjoyed the meals.

Categories vary weekly; each week's listings do not represent complete lists of restaurants in the category. Recommendations are solely editorial decisions and not related to advertising.

Price: Cost of a dinner for two with tax and tip is indicated by the number of dollar signs:

$ _ Inexpensive (less than $25).

$$ _ Moderate ($25 to $50).

$$$ _ Expensive ($50 and up).

Hours: Because hours and days of operation change frequently, please call the restaurant to confirm them.

Reservations: Most restaurants welcome reservations. If you find you cannot keep a reservation, prompt cancellation is a courtesy both to the restaurant and other customers.

Credit cards: Unless the listing notes "cash only," restaurants accept credit cards.

Smoking: Florida law requires all restaurants that seat more than 50 people to set aside at least 35 percent of their seating areas for non-smokers.

Access for the disabled: Title III of the federal Americans with Disabilities Act, which took full effect in 1993, requires that private entities that serve the public, including restaurants, be accessible to people with disabilities. Complaints are handled by the U.S. Department of Justice.

Complaints: The Florida Department of Business Regulation, 272-2200, regulates restaurants and investigates health and business complaints.

Tip us off: Got a favorite restaurant we haven't reviewed? Let us know about it. Contact us by e-mail at floridiansptimes.com or send a note and a menu, if possible, to Weekend Dining Guide, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731.

ASIAN

Dong Phuong, 3638 Henderson Blvd., Tampa; 874-0526. No credit cards.

Just 10 tables and the traditional refreshing Vietnamese menu of noodle dishes, salads and great spring rolls, but you also get the in-crowd of celebrities and socialites that mobs the place at lunch. Fresh herbs, bright teas, iced coffee and superb service give it extra style. Price: $.

Regina's Philippine Cuisine, 9727 66th St. N, Pinellas Park; 544-7145. No credit cards.

There's a grocery store here, but the lunch and takeout counter has the most Filipino flavor. Entrees change daily, but you'll usually find noodles, crunchy vegetables, pork and chicken spiked with garlic, vinegar and sweets. Pancit guisado always available. Price: $.

Sukothai, 8201-A N Dale Mabry Highway, Tampa; 933-7990. Beer, wine.

Thai food gets sophisticated presentation here, pretty on the plate and surrounded by handsome woodwork and exotic fabrics. Best eating is chicken and duck. Try phad Thai noodles or the sweet, sour and whole fish. Price: $$.

Thai Nana, 2856 Alt. U.S. 19 N, Palm Harbor. 787-0189. Beer and wine.

Crisp vegetable garnish makes the food here as pretty as the surroundings, but the kitchen makes it delicious too, from crisp mee krob noodles and phad Thai to garlic chicken, fish and curries. Sweeten your meal with curry puffs, spring rolls and plum sauce for appetizers. Price: $ to $$.

CONTINENTAL

Beach Bistro, 6600 Gulf Drive, Holmes Beach; 778-6444. Full bar.

Equal parts of French classics, good service and the ease of Anna Maria Island are a recipe for delicious romance with a view of the gulf. Terrific veal, beef, sweetbreads, Canadian salmon and scallops, stand-out vegetables and desserts, creative wine selection and best bouillabaisse around. Price: $$$.

Bon Appetit, 148 Marina Plaza, Dunedin; 733-2151. Full bar.

Tables with bay views are old favorites for traditional indulgences such as rack of lamb, sweetbreads, escargot and Dover sole; menu has been updated with pastas, grilled fish, fresh herbs and half-orders, but there are rich sauces and strudels as well. Sit-down brunch on Sundays. Price: $$ to $$$.

Clearwater Beach Hotel, 500 Mandalay, Clearwater; 441-2425. Full bar.

This rambling replica of a Victorian seaside resort restores fine dining's bygone charms too, but it's not just for vacationers. Black-tie service, classic gourmet dishes with Mediterranean and Caribbean accents, tableside tricks and nouvelle twists draw locals for special occasions too. Price: $$$.

Patrick's Bayside Bistro, 5007 Gulf Blvd., St. Pete Beach; 367-7700. Beer and wine.

Traditional gourmet favorites _ veal chop, roast chicken, duck, pate, escargot _ are done simply here in hearty fashion with personal service and small contemporary touches. Check out daily seafood specials and enjoy cornucopia of fresh breads. Price: $$$.

The Pepper Mill, 1575 S Fort Harrison Way, Clearwater; 449-2988. Full bar.

Omnivorous menu includes gourmet classics, contemporary sauces; some of the best comes from the grill, especially a namesake steak, other grilled meat and fish. Rich desserts, affordable wines and smooth service keep the house packed. Price: $$ to $$$.

Wine Cellar, 17307 Gulf Blvd., North Redington Beach; 393-3491. Full bar.

Known as a traditional purveyor of Old World favorites, from steaks and seafood to cream sauce and caviar, but kitchen is professional and versatile enough to keep up with contemporary trends and special requests. Wine selection is vast. Price $$ to $$$.

DELI

The Brooklyn Deli Too!, 3360 E Gulf to Lake Highway, Inverness (Fountain Square); (904) 637-3354. No credit cards.

A dependable source for traditional deli sandwiches of exceptional generosity. Beware: Biggest heavyweights tip the scale at 10 ounces of cold cuts. Price: $.

J.J. Gioia Italian Deli, 860 49th St. N, St. Petersburg; 321-1242. Beer and wine.

Packed with food, noise and confusion, this deli has an unmistakable Italian flavor. Imported cold cuts, cheeses, pastas and freshly made sandwiches (buffalo mozzarella and tomato is a winner), salads and entrees to eat in or takeout. Sign up for monthly dinners. Price: $.

Old Key West Deli, 1110 Third St. S, St. Petersburg; 894-4363. Beer and wine.

So it's not Key West and you didn't just tie up your 40-foot yacht at the dock, you can pretend when you grab lunch at this portside deli and ships store. Have one of the big sandwiches on good breads and croissants or a fresh salad. Price: $.

Taka-Way Gourmet, 528 Oakfield Drive, Brandon; 653-4911.

Menu here is sometimes low in fat and always high in flavor, rarely mundane. Turkey sandwiches may come with mushrooms or raspberry mustard, pork with orange-chili mayonnaise. Wild rice and pasta salads, soups, French bread and luscious desserts all freshly made. Price: $.

Times Square Deli, 210 S Pinellas Ave., Tarpon Springs; 934-4026.

Stop in for big-city taste and helpings in salads and sandwiches, from veggie pitas, ham and turkey combos to everything-on-em Chicago hot dogs. Big kosher dills and creamy rice pudding too. Price: $.

Wright's Gourmet House, 1200 S Dale Mabry Highway; 253-3838. Beer and wine.

Monster sandwiches, fantasy cakes and originality make this more than a deli, it's been a landmark on Tampa's lunch and takeout menu for decades. Try Golden Gate pork sandwich with peach chutney, beef martini or chicken pecan salad in half-sizes, so you can eat a little cake: chocolate, rum or hummingbird. Price: $.

LOCAL FLAVOR

Airport Variety Store, 4600 Roosevelt Blvd., Largo; 531-7000.

True locals don't just drive by; they stop here for sandwiches and cold drinks. For 20 years the specialty has been pressed Cubans, but there's also pastrami, pork, crabcakes, daily lunch special and homemade brownies, flan and pastries. Price: $.

Backroads Cafe, 4201 Grand Blvd., New Port Richey; 845-6266.

This old Cracker house with its big dining porches, stone fireplaces and lazy ceiling fans is a perfect oasis from the heat and hubbub, but decor and menu are fairly polished. Best bets are big juicy burgers and sandwiches from veggie to grouper. Sweet potato fries are a must on the munchie list. Price: $ to $$.

Mel's Hot Dogs, 4136 E Busch Blvd., Tampa; 985-8000. Beer, wine. No credit cards.

Nothing fancy but hot dogs, sausage and all the trimmings have made Mel's a low-cost favorite for both locals and Busch Gardeners. Price: $.

Nickel City Bar & Grille, 7658 Park Blvd., Pinellas Park; 545-9325. Full bar. Wine served.

If you want more than chicken wings and blue cheese, come here for the full Buffalo menu: beef on 'weck, Locker Room chili, curly fries, blackened hot dogs, Mother's cheesecake and a Friday night fish fry. The feel of a genuine tavern and a bottle of Labatt's or Genesee makes it taste even better. Price: $.

The Sea Horse, 800 Pass-A-Grille Way, St. Petersburg Beach, 360-1734. Full bar. Knotty pine, lots of windows make it warm and comfy inside, breeze and seabirds outside make it Pass-A-Grille. Mood is cozy and laid-back whether you get breakfast, burgers or black beans and rice. Price: $.

Skyway Jack's, 2795 34th St. S, St. Petersburg. 867-1907.

Don't tell the diet police about this landmark for breakfasts and what-me-worry eating. Have your eggs with country ham, brains, scrapple or "pork filet mignon" and great hash browns. Or stuffed french toast, banana nut waffles or crisp corncakes with syrup. Or SOS or baked beans. And come back for true country lunch, too. Price: $.

SEAFOOD

Beachside Grille, 35 182nd Ave. W, Redington Shores; 397-1865. Beer and wine.

Fresh fish comes in sandwiches and dinners with surprising style for the buck, including banana-pepper salsa and grilled vegetables. Try the jerk ribs, gumbo and Chicago hot dogs too. Price: $.

Crabby Tom's Old Time Oyster Bar & Seafood Restaurant, 14404 N Dale Mabry Highway, Tampa, 961-3499. Full bar.

Tom's has crabs, of course, and other fresh seafood like shrimp, clams and scallops a number of ways including pasta dishes. Center of the action is the raw bar with fresh shucked oysters. Price: $ to $$.

The Lobster Pot, 17614 Gulf Blvd., Redington Shores, 391-8592. Full bar. ' This is top-dollar seafood, and well worth it. Menu stars the king of crustaceans plain and fancy, but covers a wide range, all served in a cozy, low-key setting with first-rate service. Price: $$$.

Mid Peninsula Seafood, 3948 Central Ave., 327-8309. Beer and wine.

Before seafood went yupscale, you ate it in fish markets, ordered straight from the counter with no frills. Fresh whiting, sea bass, salmon and snapper, plus oysters, shrimp, crab and conch, raw or cooked to order in sandwiches, dinners or to go, broiled, steamed or best of all, fried. Good hush puppies and prices way under $5, too. Price: $.

Oystercatchers, Hyatt Regency Westshore, 6200 Courtney Campbell Parkway, Tampa. Full bar.

Best contemporary seafood around is served with a picture-window view of Tampa Bay and the open kitchen and display of fresh fish is just as eye-catching. Kitchen specializes in grilling, tropical garnishes and great salads and light fare, and an elegant Sunday brunch. Price: $$$.

Ted Peters Famous Smoked Fish, 1350 Pasadena Ave. S, South Pasadena; 381-7931. Beer. No credit cards.

Smoked fish was our home-grown delicacy long before grouper sandwiches. Here you can get mullet and mackerel or salmon and can eat in a piece of history, an open-air roadside landmark. For the fish-phobic, there's a great hamburger. Price: $.

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