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May We Suggest . . .

The Weekend dining guide is a listing of restaurants around Tampa Bay sampled and recommended by Times food critic Chris Sherman and other staffers. Recommendations are not related to advertising. Each week Weekend will run a portion of the guide. You can also find these dining listings at http:// www.sptimes.com/weekend.

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 ($60 and up).

Hours: Hours and days of operation change frequently, so it's wise to call ahead.

Reservations: Most restaurants welcome reservations. If you cannot keep a reservation, notify the restaurant promptly.

Credit cards: Accepted unless otherwise noted.

Tip us off: Got a favorite restaurant we haven't reviewed? Contact us at weekendsptimes.com or send a note and a menu to Weekend Dining Guide, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731.

+ BARBECUE +

Big Tim's Uptown Bar B Q $

Big Tim made his name with barbecue, especially chicken and ribs, smoked in a pit you can smell up and down 34th Street and now in the shadow of the dome. Sweet potato pie's as good as it should be; fried corn on the cob when it's fresh from the fryer is the real surprise. 530 34th St. S, St. Petersburg; (727) 327-7388 and 1555 First Ave. S, St. Petersburg; (727) 898-2833.

Kojak's House of Ribs $

This is strictly a come-as-you-are place. Your fingers will get messy, and the hot sauce will show your taste buds a good time. Sit inside the old house or outside under the big trees. Nothing fancy, but the red-and-white checked tablecloths make you feel at home, or at least on a picnic. The barbecue is no-nonsense, too: filling and fun. 2808 W Gandy Blvd., Tampa; (813) 837-3774.

Pit Boss $

Home-grown barbecue chain puts its brand on the redskin potato salad and on the high-quality meats cooked slowly over an oak fire. Bossing the pit are founders/owners Tim Sherrell and Gary Taylor, who got their start with their first store in New Port Richey in 1985 and have kept a firm hand on quality control. 4221 Little Road, New Port Richey; (727) 376-2677; 2270 Commercial Way, Spring Hill; (352) 688-2677; 10128 U.S. 19, Port Richey (727) 862-2677; and 35801 U.S. 19 N, Palm Harbor (727) 772-7427.

+ CUBAN & SPANISH +

Columbia $$

Chicken and yellow rice, paella and trout a la rusa are favorites and have been served with great fanfare here since 1905. The Ybor City palace of painted tile and stucco wowed 'em in the mambo-king era and is still an attraction; other locations feature bright water views. 2117 E Seventh Ave., Ybor City; (813) 248-4961; 800 Second Ave. NE, St. Petersburg, (727) 822-8000; 1241 Gulf Blvd., Sand Key, Clearwater; (727) 596-8400.

La Fonda $

It's in south Tampa, and the owners are from Peru, not Cuba. Yet this neighborhood Cuban restaurant's steam table serves the same pork, trout and chicken and yellow rice that have warmed and nourished Tampa families for generations. Nightly specials climax with seafood paella on weekends; good salads, flan and coffee always. 4101 S MacDill Ave., Tampa; (813) 831-1813.

Rio Cuban Sandwiches $

Cuban sandwiches fresh from the press and black bean soup from a long-simmering pot are can't-miss staples here. For even heartier meals, try chicken and yellow rice or stewed meatballs. Finish off with flan. 5944 34th St. N, St. Petersburg; (727) 528-0206.

Juan's Black Bean Deli $

A modest operation with plastic foam plates, plastic cutlery and limited seating, but never mind. You get tostones, empanadas, beans, rice and other Cuban favorites made fresh. Veteran restaurateur Juan DeSosa also turns out hearty daily specials and a full range of pressed Cuban sandwiches, including the elusive Elena Ruth (turkey, cream cheese and strawberry jam). 5442 Main St., New Port Richey; (727) 844-0678.

Tio Pepe $$

Clearwater dines in grand Spanish style here as it has for years. Traditional Cuban favorites plus steaks, chops and an expansive wine cellar and hospitality. Hearty food and fellowship make it a see-and-be scene. 2930 Gulf-to-Bay Blvd., Clearwater; (727) 799-3082.

+ NEW AMERICAN +

Grand Finale $$ to $$$

Finale begins with a wow when you see the post-retro decor and buzzy boho crowd in this downtown fringe restaurant or when you taste the grilled scallops for starters. Menu trims beef, fish and bird with seasonal, Asian and luxury touches of foie gras and such. Finales are grand, too. 1101 First Ave. N, St. Petersburg; (727) 823-9921.

SideBern's $$$

Not your father's Bern's, this wild spinoff of the steakhouse orbits a full planet of cuisines with style and grace under Jeannie Pierola. Start your tour with the dim sum du jour, which could lead to South America or the Middle East. Whatever your plate holds -- rack of pork, monster prawns, short ribs or, yes, a steak -- eat your vegetables and imaginative starches. Exploit the wine list. 2208 W Morrison Ave., Tampa; (813) 258-2233.

Travis $$$

Chef Robert Masson takes diners far away from U.S. 19, far enough to try sashimi tuna with black and white sesame seeds, fire-glazed quail, rack of veal with porcinis, pistachio crusted lamb with rice cakes and potato souffles. Chicken Florentine casserole and upside down apple pie show it's creative fine dining with a cozy feel. 28530 U.S. 19 N, Clearwater; (727) 712-9101.

+ SEAFOOD +

Boston Cooker $$

New England delicacies such as Maine lobster, fresh scrod and Ipswich clams are the specialty, backed up by raw oysters and a wide variety of seafood. 3682 Tampa Road, Oldsmar; (813) 855-2311 and 5375 Spring Hill Drive, Spring Hill; (352) 684-6000.

Ballyhoo $$

A big old place crammed with dusty nautical memorabilia and red legs in bad shorts . . . got a problem with that? Not if you're looking for fresh seafood and lots of it. Local catch plus big, sweet oysters, cedar-planked salmon and surprising chef specials. 16699 Gulf Blvd., North Redington Beach; (727) 320-0536; 900 E Pinellas Ave., Tarpon Springs, (727) 944-2252; 7604 Ehrlich Road, Tampa; (813) 926-2149.

Casual Clam $

Low-frills seafood that tastes of New England: big-belly Ipswich clams, steamed littlenecks and usually some cod or halibut with new potatoes and corn on the cob, served in a Cheers atmosphere. 3336 M.L. King (Ninth) St. N, St. Petersburg; (727) 895-2526.

The Colonnade $ to $$

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; (813) 839-7558.

Crab Shack $ to $$

You can't get much closer to Florida's waters and even its working boats than this Cracker shack for pile-on-the-table blue crabs, shrimp, raw oysters and grouper. This is the kind of place to order a platter with everything fried (or a whole corvina) and wash it down with a cold beer. Then ask for key lime pie. 11400 Gandy Blvd., St.

Petersburg; (727) 576-7813.

Sea Critters $$

With ample boat docks and the Pass-a-Grille beach close at hand, you can get by with just a good grouper sandwich. Critters has them and more: red beans and rice, baby lettuce salads, almond crusted fish, beer-battered fries, olive oil with fresh bread plus clever specials. Yet you can still sit in the sun, laugh at the menu gags and wish you owned a boat (or wish you didn't). 2007 Pass-a-Grille Way, St. Pete Beach, (727) 360-3706.

Oystercatchers $$$

The best contemporary seafood around is served with a picture-window view of Tampa Bay, and the open kitchen and display of fresh fish are just as eye-catching. The kitchen specializes in grilling, tropical garnishes and great salads and light fare, plus an elegant Sunday brunch. Hyatt Regency Westshore, 6200 Courtney Campbell Parkway, Tampa; (813) 281-9116.

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