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MAY WE SUGGEST . . .

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. A portion of the guide runs in every Weekend. You can also find these dining listings at 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.

+ BREW PUBS +

Hoppers Grille & Tap Room $ to $$

Neighbors out on the New Frontier get more than a local pub with warm food and friendly service: At Hoppers they get a national champ of a minibrewery. Hoppers makes the most difficult and elegant home brews, such as a Royal Bohemian pilsener. Solid fare is fine too, from hefty London broil, burgers and onion straws to soups, salads and blackened scallops. 36221 East Lake Road, Palm Harbor; (727) 786-2966.

Hops Grill & Bar $ to $$

First microbrewery around Tampa Bay was strong stuff; 10 years later it's a 50-plus unit chain. Hops brews beer on all of its premises and keeps its food fresh and simple, too. Borrowings from the Caribbean and Asia add up to better than usual fern-bar fare. 18825 U.S. 19 N, Clearwater; (727) 531-5300; and locations around Tampa Bay.

New World Brewery $

This is the biergarten that home brewers built, brick by brick as well as brew by brew, in the middle of Ybor. No longer brews its own, but beer on tap is well chosen: 18 or more drafts, from microbrews to great imports such as Belgian ales. Pizzas, quesadillas and tacos for the munching. 1313 E Eighth Ave., Ybor City, Tampa; (813) 248-4969.

Tampa Bay Brewing Co. $ to $$

Ybor pub brews a larger variety than other local brew pubs _ and cooks up a more exotic beer-laced menu. Chef Richard Chandler makes gourmet barley, malt and hops you can sink your forks into, including glazes and sauces on pork, fish and Angus beef. 1812 N 15th St., Tampa; (813) 247-1422.

+ ITALIAN +

Bertoni $$ to $$$

Downtown St. Petersburg gets a solid taste of uptown Italian here, including crusty bread, risotto and seafood. Look for veal with tuna sauce and other rarities. Exposed brick walls and historic setting give it an urban accent. Full bar. 16 Second St. N, St. Petersburg; (727) 822-5503.

Ciccio & Tony's $$

Upper West Side roots, New York attitude, culinary imagination make the menu mostly Italian but sometimes as Pacific as a puu-puu platter. Look for special pasta nights where one price buys a taste of dozens of pastas in a non-stop festival. Beer, wine. 1015 S Howard Ave., Tampa; (813) 251-8406.

G. Bellini's Brick Oven & Rotisserie $$

Pay everyday prices for wood-fired oven pizzas with gourmet toppings, roast chicken and rich pastas, and you still get contemporary touches such as good vegetables, cheeses and olive oil on the table. 2544 McMullen-Booth Road, Clearwater; (727) 724-5716.

La Trattoria de Gaetano $$

Modest setting disguises the fact that Gaetano Palmieri cooks Italian the old-fashioned way: slowly and without a menu. He'll show you the ingredients he has, even the raw meat and fish, and tell you how he can fix it. Trust him: The results will be fixed with pride _ and at reasonable prices. 2152 Main St., Dunedin; (727) 733-5664.

+ LUNCHES AND TEAS +

Garden Gate $

Eating a light lunch inside Only the Best! gift store is like dining in a cool English garden surrounded by Victorian finery and a broad view of the languid Pithlachascotee River. Fluffy pink and green decor, delicate bone china, heavy silver and a full English tea (Florida style) create a heavenly bower. Reservations a must, especially during the season. 5546 Main St., New Port Richey; (727) 844-5100.

Kopper Kitchen $

This is a neighborhood institution, the kind of place where regulars share a common table. Menu combines Southern comforts such as icebox pies with mile-high meringue and alternative choices such as salads and low-cholesterol egg substitutes. No credit cards. No alcohol. 5562 Central Ave., St. Petersburg. (727) 345-6339.

Whole Note Acres $

Like a picnic every day, with seating at converted treadle sewing machine tables on a screened-in porch circling an open dining room. Menu features salad, a different soup and quiche each day and lots of desserts, all made each morning by owner Gabriella Banks. First item, with homemade granola and bread, apple butter and drink, is $4. Additional items are $1 more. Betcha can't eat all four in one sitting! 7324 Massachusetts Ave., New Port Richey. (727) 842-3515.

Woody's of Tampa, Famous

Salads and Gourmet Sandwiches $

Tampa shrine to the Greek salad (potato salad division), rescued from the old Riverboat Restaurant decades ago. It's a staple on the midday menu of south Tampa society and can be ordered in sizes for two to 100. Shrimp and other salads, well-made sandwiches, quick service and pleasant setting keep crowds coming. 1722 S Dale Mabry Highway, Tampa; (813) 254-2806.

+ MEXICAN +

Caramba's $

Clearwater's home away from Hidalgo has a full spectrum of sauces, salsas and moles and the authentic peppers that go into them. Carne asada tastes of pasilla, and adobos have vinegar punch. Great tamales and hot caldos. Beer, wine. 1842 Drew St., Clearwater; (727) 446-7469.

Casa Tina $$

Seafood and vegetarian entrees are staples, not an afterthought, on this Mexican menu. Tortillas can be filled with squash, spinach or wild mushrooms, and fish may be garnished Veracruzana, with tomatillo mole or maybe papayas. Beer, wine. 369 Main St., Dunedin; (727) 734-9226.

Pancho's Villa Mexican Restaurant $

Bring a good book because there's always a line for the few rustic tables behind the bright-red clapboard facade in San Antonio. It's worth the wait, though, for such TexMex favorites as taquitos, fajitas, crispy tacos, golden chiles rellenos or wonderful chocolatey moles. 32804 Pennsylvania Ave., San Antonio; (352) 588-3037.

Ramon's Fresh Mexican Grill $

Ramon's adds grilled chicken, steak, lots of vegetables and fresh everything to grab-and-go Mexican eating. Monster burritos, spicy picadillo, cheese enchiladas, daily specials and bean-corn salsas make good quickie dinners to eat in or take home. No credit cards. 3413 S Manhattan Ave., Tampa; (813) 831-1483.

Red Mesa $$

Kitchen uses Mexican cheeses, chipotle peppers and pine nuts to create traditional items like pozole hominy soup and contemporary Southwestern fusions like crawfish quesadillas. Even staples are good; salads and hearty churrasco steaks, cedar-planked salmon and grilled quail are even better. Beer, wine. 4912 Fourth St. N, St. Petersburg; (727) 527-8728.

+ SUSHI +

A Taste of Tokyo $$

This tiny space serves sushi firm, fresh and fast and presents it artfully. Japanese entrees also available. 3428 Tampa Road, Lakes of St. George Plaza, Palm Harbor; (727) 787-6235.

Ganko Sushi Bar $$

This tiny sushi bar by a modest motel by the Pithlachascotee bridge has a devoted cadre of regulars and converts for sushi and rolls prepared by its master sushi chef. Other pleasures include tempura, seaweed salads, imported beers and hot and cold sake. 7407 U.S. 19, New Port Richey. (727) 844-5141.

Jo-To $$

Tampa's pioneer sushi bar packs 'em in with lively chefs who do their tricks with salmon (fresh and smoked), mackerel, eel, conch, shrimp, scallops, sea urchin and roe as well as fried shrimp, grouper and softshell crab. Plus a full Japanese menu. Beer and wine. 310 S Dale Mabry Highway, Tampa; (813) 875-4842.

Sushi on Seventh $$ to $$$

Sushi rocks and pops with high-energy style and Ybor attitude, proving that the Japanese import is at last part of Tampa Bay's present _ and cutting-edge future. Same accent on freshness and flair shows in East-West fusion on a dinner menu that's hotter than wasabi. 1919 E Seventh Ave., Tampa; (813) 247-8744.

Tokyo Bay $$

You get more than traditional sashimi and %% WARNING %%sushi here, with many all-vegetable items, big makimono handrolls, raw beef and cooked fish. Non-sushi menu includes sesame noodles, tempura and bento-box specials. Beer, wine. 5901 Sun Blvd., Isla Del Sol Shoppers Village, St. Petersburg; (727) 867-0770.

Yoji $$

This beach spot was one of the first sushi bars in the area. Good sashimi and sushi rolls of raw fish and cooked items. Tempura and full range of Japanese meals, served with tableside teppanyaki shows or more discreetly in a tatami room. 4615 Gulf Blvd., St. Pete Beach; (727) 367-6762.

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