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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.

CARIBBEAN Guppy's on the Beach Seafood Grill & Bar, 1701 Gulf Blvd., Indian Rocks Beach. 593-2032. Full bar. Fresh seafood, Caribbean fire, Southwestern flair and healthful ingredients make fun fusion in Margaritaville-by-the-Sea. Fresh fish gets uptown treatment with everything from beet-'n'-bean salsa and brandy sauces to potato crust. Trimmings are packed with fruits, herbs, and grains. Price: $$

Mojo, 238 E Davis Blvd., Davis Islands, Tampa, 259-9949. Full bar. Cuban comfort food moved uptown here and added Mise en Place's flair for service and innovation. Ropa vieja and roast pork are best of the old; try salmon salad or annatto chicken to taste the nuevo. Price: $$ to $$$.

Native Seafood, 5901 Sun Blvd., Isla Del Sol, St. Petersburg; 866-8772. Amid a condo forest, this restaurant in the Village Shoppers Center celebrates the ocean and its bounty. Fish is so fresh you can smell it raw at your table; imaginative recipes imported from around the Americas. Look for corvina, shrimp with macadamia nuts, grouper with bananas, rum and pickapeppa and steak with Argentine chimichurri. Price: $$.

Saffron's, 1700 Park St. N, St. Petersburg. 522-1234. Full bar. Brilliant Jamaican chefs, who first gave us a taste of the islands, have used their Caribbean spice to revive the grand and funky old Prado nightclub on Boca Ciega. Jerk, curries, island peppers and sweet spices liven up vegetables, seafood, steaks and even teas, plus there's music in the cook-up on weekends. Price: $ to $$.

CHINESE

China Garden, 3801 34th St. S, St. Petersburg, 867-0327. Chinese food inside this plain white wrapper is fresh, tasty and inexpensive, and the setting is plain, clean and kid- and diet-friendly. You can get moo shu pancakes here with vegetables and plum sauce and go light on the oil if you wish. Try beef with broccoli, seafood and Szechuan dishes. Price: $.

China Moon Cafe, 2801 S MacDill Ave., Tampa, 839-8859, full bar. Not your honorable father's Chinese food, both restaurants are city-slick from black-tie service to pretty plates and sleek decor. True contemporary edge is in pan-Asian L.A. flavor: cold sesame noodles, stir-fry of mushrooms and Chinese sausage, shrimp in water chestnut batter. Price: $$.

Dong Nan, 11210 Spring Hill Drive, Spring Hill; (352) 688-1008. No credit cards. Vegetables that are crisp, not soggy, are a rare treat for any Chinese food fan, and a double bonus for vegetarians. Try Szechuan shrimp, spicy broccoli and tofu or moo shu pancakes with veggies. Price: $.

Dragon Phoenix, 9621 Bay Pines Blvd., St. Petersburg, 399-8646. Beer and wine. Strip-center ordinary and simple on the outside, Dragon is unusual in the kitchen with fresh, crisp veggies rare in Chinese restaurants. Try hot and sour soup, Szechuan crab and Singapore chow fun noodles. Price: $.

Ho Ho Choy, 12791 N Dale Mabry Highway, Mission Bell Shopping Center, Tampa; 962-2159. Beer and wine. Check out extra menus for authentic Chinese and for dim sum dumpling snacks, which show owners' Hong Kong roots. Go for the Singapore noodles or the whole steamed fish plucked from the dining room tank. Price: $ to $$.

HEALTH-FRIENDLY

Safety Harbor Spa, 105 N Bayshore Drive, Safety Harbor; 726-1161. Full bar. At the spa's public cafe, help yourself to an affordable taste of lifestyles of the rich and slim. Grilled vegetables, fruit juices, yogurt dressings, beans and pasta get uptown culinary garnish here. Great salads and meatless soups for the conscientious; steaks and big helpings for those who can handle it. Price: $$.

Shakespeare's Sisters Cafe, 324 Broad St., Brooksville; (352) 796-6113. You can lunch on meatless sandwiches, vegetarian entrees, fresh salads, desserts, homemade soups of the day and turkey burgers with fast-food speed now. Price: $.

Sweet Tomatoes, 13101 Ulmerton Road, Largo 584-9100; also Brandon, Tampa, Carrollwood and Palm Harbor. The salad bar that ate San Diego came east and draws a full house with infinite buffets of salads, homemade soups and pastas and serve-yourself efficiency and load-your-tray deals. Desserts and fresh-baked breads are good enough to put you on this "diet" full time. Price: $.

Stone Soup, 4122 16th St. N; 526-2975; Stone Soup Central, 27 Fourth St. N; 895-1493. Foods and spirits in these two places are much as they were in the '60s _ natural, friendly and with sprouts. Many vegetarian dishes, great salads, raspberry tea, muffins and fruit smoothies. Price: $.

Tamarind Tree, 537 Central Ave.; St. Petersburg. 898-2115. Food here is fresh, bright and full of flavor as well as healthful. All-vegetable chili has lots of fire, tabouleh is minty cool and dill chicken salad very refreshing. Good smoothies and teas too. Price: $.

IRISH Flanagan's Hunt Irish Pub, 465 Main St., Dunedin, 736-4994.Very cozy, attractive year-round pub with darts, foods and music beloved by the Irish and Scots. Besides bangers and mash, corned beef and meat pies, there's a full lot of sandwiches, full-scale dinners and a big beer selection. Price: $.

Harp and Thistle, 650 Corey Ave., St. Pete Beach; 360-4104. Pub grub menu is short, but the Harp is always long on song and tall on Guinness. Price: $.

Irish Cottage Cafe, 4233 U.S. 19, New Port Richey; 842-5929. Beer and wine. Menu runs from pies to sirloin steak; best bets are beer-battered fish and chips and six-onion soup. Price: $.

O'Keefe's Restaurant, 1219 S Fort Harrison Ave., Clearwater; 442-9034. Full bar. A fixture in downtown Clearwater, O'Keefe's is legendary for its once-a-year wearin' o' the green and year-round great burgers. Price: $.

ITALIAN

Armani's, Hyatt Regency Westshore, 6200 Courtney Campbell Parkway, Tampa; 874-1234. Full bar. This is Italian food elegant enough for a penthouse cocktail party, served on the 14th floor above city lights and budgets of mere mortals. Price: $$$.

Caffe Paradiso, 4205 S MacDill Ave., Tampa; 835-6622. Beer and wine. You may dine next to big shots, but fine dining Italian-style in this tiny hideaway is casual and comfortable. Veal is at its best here, salmon-stuffed ravioli is exquisite, linguine with clam sauce perfect; all set off by crisp salads and fresh vegetables. Price: $$ to $$$.

Campanella's Art In Italian Cuisine,7420 49th St. N, Pinellas Park; 544-7388. Beer and wine. Wide range of pastas, sauces and regional dishes, and good bread. Price: $ to $$.

Emm & Cee Pasta-Seafood Grille,4401 Gulf Blvd. St. Pete Beach; 367-5656. Great meals come from simple things, such as good tomato sauce, rigatoni and fresh ricotta. Or linguine, tomatoes, shrimp and spinach. Atmosphere is casual, but cooking is serious. Mangia. Price: $ to $$.

Fresco, 3333 S West Shore Blvd. Tampa, 839-3933. Beer and wine. Despite goat cheese revisionism and post-modern attitude, his is still Italian: big helpings of lusty, zesty food. The menu offers fairly traditional manicotti and eggplant Parmesan, as well as the likes of chicken stuffed with asparagus and seared salmon with sweet potato strings; just don't expect Volare. Price; $$.

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