The Weekend dining guide is a listing of restaurants around Tampa Bay sampled and recommended by St. Petersburg 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 dining listings at www.tampabay.com.
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 +
Roger's Real Pit Bar-B-Que $
Roger's home-grown, home-fired barbecue is good and quick and draws enough of a crowd that there's a wait to be seated most Friday and Saturday nights. Barbecue comes in sandwiches and plate dinners. Alternatives include catfish and a salad bar. Draft beer. 6851 66th St. N, Pinellas Park, (727) 544-6671; and 12150 Seminole Blvd., Largo, (727) 586-2629.
Fred's Famous Bar-B-Q $
Hometown barbecue champ famed from Crystal River to the Mississippi and beyond proves his talent. All meats, from corned beef to pork ribs, come off the fire so juicy that sauce is irrelevant. Don't stint on sides: Beans, collard greens and spoonbread will put the South in your mouth. And save room for cobbler or a milkshake. Beer, wine. 4351 Fourth St. N, St. Petersburg, (727) 822-3733; and 2257 Gulf-to-Bay Blvd., Clearwater, (727) 799-3733.
The Butlers' Barbecue $
If you spell Bar-B-Q with an N-C (as in eastern North Carolina), where pigs linger in pools of pepper and vinegar, this is the place for you. Plus hush puppies, chicken, Brunswick stew and a for-real Carolina pig-pickin' the last Thursday of every month. Beer, wine. 1100 94th Ave. N, St. Petersburg; (727) 577-3294.
+ CARIBBEAN +
Bahama Breeze $$
You can't see the Caribbean from this corporate pleasure dome on the causeway, but you can hear the islands and get a taste of them here. Lively-up music makes waits on the veranda more fun than a theme park. Drinks are mixed with tropical spirits, and meats and fish are done up with fire and spice. Full bar. 3045 Rocky Point Drive, Tampa; (813) 289-7922.
Guppy's on the Beach
Seafood Grill & Bar $$
Fresh finfish, 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. Full bar. 1701 Gulf Blvd., Indian Rocks Beach; (727) 593-2032.
Mojo's Fine Food & Spirit $$
Big, easygoing spread with laid-back bars and comfy decks under old Florida oaks. Menu is massive too, from fern bar finger food and sandwiches to sophisticated stuff such as Floribbean scallops in a beer and butter sauce as good as any court bouillon on the French islands. Shrimp and conch fritters are crispy puffs of fun, and chefs make soups and sauces with polish and zest. Full bar. 2901 Alt. U.S. 19, Palm Harbor; (727) 773-1200.
Native Seafood $$
Amid a condo forest, this restaurant in the Village Shoppers Center celebrates the bounty of the sea and the vineyard. Fish is fresh, wine selection's vast and recipes are imported from around the Americas, seasoned with fresh herbs, fruits and rums. Full bar. 5901 Sun Blvd., Isla Del Sol, St. Petersburg; (727) 866-8772.
Saffron's $ to $$
Edythe James, the pioneer Jamaican chef who taught Pinellas to love and even cook island food, used Caribbean spice to revive the grand and funky old Prado nightclub on Boca Ciega Bay. Jerk, curries, island peppers and sweet spices liven up vegetables, seafood, steaks and even teas. Plus, there's lively music in the cook-up on weekends. Full bar. 1700 Park St. N, St. Petersburg; (727) 345-6400.
+ CHINESE +
China Garden $
Chinese food inside this plain white wrapper is fresh, tasty and inexpensive. The setting is plain, clean and kid-friendly and diet-friendly. You can get moo shu pancakes with vegetables and plum sauce and go light on the oil if you wish. Try beef with broccoli, seafood and Szechuan dishes. 3801 34th St. S, St. Petersburg; (727) 867-0327.
Dong Nan $
Vegetables that are crisp, not soggy, are a rare treat for any Chinese food fan and a double bonus for vegetarians. Try Szechuan shrimp, spicy broccoli and tofu or moo shu pancakes with veggies. 11210 Spring Hill Drive, Spring Hill; (352) 688-1008.
Dragon Phoenix $
Strip-center ordinary on the outside, Dragon is unusual in the kitchen with fresh, crisp veggies rare in Chinese restaurants. Try hot and sour soup, Szechuan crab and Singapore chow fun noodles. Beer, wine. 9621 Bay Pines Blvd., St. Petersburg; (727) 399-8646.
Eastern Flavor $
Hints of Hong Kong, bright-green vegetables and authentic tastes make this a staple for Chinese fans in north Pinellas. Decor is friendly, low-key; duck, noodles and hot pots are favorites. 2455 McMullen-Booth Road (Building D), Safety Harbor; (727) 726-8601.
Forbidden City $$
Special effort makes Chinese fresh, authentic and proud, with rare favorites like rice congee and dim sum dumplings. Tradition comes most alive with big crowds and rolling carts at weekend lunch times. Less show on weekdays, but you can still order a full array of dim sum with taro, eggplant and turnip as well as steamed pork buns, all day, all week (except Wednesday). Full bar. 25778 U.S. 19, Clearwater; (727) 797-8989.
Ho Ho Choy $$
Go for the Singapore noodles or the whole steamed fish plucked from the dining room tank. Check out extra menus for authentic Chinese and for dim sum dumpling snacks, which show owners' Hong Kong roots. Beer, wine. 12791 N Dale Mabry Highway, Mission Bell Shopping Center, Tampa; (813) 962-2159.
Hin Lee Malaysian Chinese $
Ignore the ordinary shopping-center-Chinese looks. You'll find the tastes and smells of Malaysian spices and Singapore fun. Try the Malay curry, noodles, satay and crispy calamari. Beer, wine. 1757 Main St., Dunedin; (727) 736-3366.
+ ITALIAN +
Classically perfect Italian food, superb (and affordable) wine list and elegant building make you feel at home, not outclassed. From tomato soup and pasta with simple sauces to chicken with rosemary and fine veal, cooking is fresh and service warm, making for gracious lunches and grand dinners. Exceptional wine list. Full bar. 1702 Clearwater-Largo Road, Largo; (727) 584-2125.
Anna's Ravioli and Pasta Co. $
A pioneer in fresh pasta, Anna's still turns it out plain and fancy, made with egg, flour, pepper and spinach. Sauces are fresh and diverse, changing daily. Pizzas are crisp, and fresh bread sticks are a must. A godsend as takeout; eating in is as warm and friendly as home. Beer, wine. 5625 Fourth St. N, St. Petersburg; (727) 522-6627.
Bernini $$ to $$$
Italian-style innovation, big-city hustle and flash made this old bank a glam spot where the people-watching is choice, and the food is too. Classy appetizers, rich soups, bright salads, wood-oven pizzas, creative risottos and raviolis. Plus half-order options, martini madness and a fine cigar. Full bar. 1702 E Seventh Ave., Tampa; (813) 248-0099.
Caffe Paradiso $$ to $$$
You may dine next to big shots, but fine dining Italian-style in this tiny hideaway is casual and comfortable. Veal is at its best here; salmon-stuffed ravioli is exquisite; linguine with clam sauce is perfect. All are set off by crisp salads, fresh vegetables and first-rate service. Beer, wine. 4205 S MacDill Ave., Tampa; (813) 835-6622.
La Vigna Ristorante $$
A polished setting for southern Italian food with rare authenticity, including the real taste of anchovies, capers and olives. Try zuppa di pesce, rustic sausage with rapini, genuine ricotta cheesecake, proper pastas with classic sauces and imported pleasures. Beer, wine. 17807 Gulf Blvd., Redington Shores; (727) 392-8001.
Fresh, stylish Italian in mid-Pinellas. Forget veal; they have it, but the inspiration here is Neapolitan, so the riches include tuna, shrimp, octopus, baby clams, porcini mushrooms, good breads and lots of vegetarian entrees. Beer, wine. 2475 McMullen-Booth Road, Clearwater; (727) 669-9512.
Ristorante Francesco $$
We're not in suburbia anymore. This is a big-city hangout for all of north Tampa and a roster of sports stars, in the flesh as well as in photos. Try veal, trout, linguine with red crab meat sauce or pummarola vegetables, or the trio of tortellini, malfatti and ravioli. Everything comes with Frankie Marchesini's hospitality. Full bar. 1441 E Fletcher Ave., Tampa; (813) 971-3649.
+ NEW AMERICAN +
The Blue Heron $$$
This comfy spot still pioneers New Pinellas cuisine. Whether the dishes borrow from Southeast Asia, Jamaica or the American Southwest, original or classic sauces are perfect, as good as the fanciest entree on the plate. Too many choices? Go for the lamb. Full bar. 3285 Tampa Road, Palm Harbor; (727) 789-5176.
Boulevard Bistro $$
BLT pizzas, fire-roasted peaches, Asian spring rolls and a gorgeous spectrum of cremes brulee turn up in the strangest places. Great catches in fish, art and chefs set the snazziest table in mid-Pinellas. Beer, wine. 8595 Seminole Blvd., Seminole; (727) 399-1800.
New City Diner $$
The old joint's 50, but the chrome and the blue plate specials have new polish. Modern menu gleams with updated meatloaf, great fish, creative sides, good wine and mini rack of lamb for brunch. Clever rendezvous for TIA guests. 1002 N Himes Ave., Tampa; (813) 877-2088.
O Bistro $$ to $$$
Popular caterer Sharon O'Gradney has turned this strip center spot into a hideaway with a luxurious menu. It combines roast duck breast, poached pears and other European finery with exotic touches such as Moroccan bastilla pie, Philippine adobo and mushroom ravioli. Breads, cheeses and salads are the best ingredients; soups and sauces have the best techniques. Beer, wine. 6661 Central Ave., St. Petersburg; (727) 381-1212.
Ovo Cafe $$
Perfect for postmodern grazing, Ovo gives artsy cafe society in downtown St. Petersburg and Ybor City hip ambience and an all-hours menu of idiosyncratic munchies and libations. Fuel up on too-cool martinis and coffees, indulge in waffle-liqueur combos, soups, pirogies and other light meals heavy on fun fusions. Full bar. 515 Central Ave., St. Petersburg, 895-5515; 1901 Seventh Ave., Ybor City, (813) 248-6979.