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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. 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 weekendtampaby.com or send a note and a menu to Weekend Dining Guide, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731.

+ BARBECUE +

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 Gandy Blvd., Tampa; (813) 837-3774.

Roger's Real Pit Bar-B-Que $

Roger's homegrown, home-fired barbecue is good and quick, and it draws enough of a crowd that you have to 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.

+ CHINESE +

China Garden $

Chinese food inside this plain white wrapper is fresh, tasty and inexpensive. The setting is plain, clean, 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.

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.

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 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.

+ GREEK +

Athenian Garden $ to $$

A neighborhood staple for Greek appetites, light and heavy. Greek salads come with everything from beets to potato salad, but the biggest attraction is the sweet spectrum of phyllo, nuts, honey and cream, from kataifi to pudding. Beer, wine. 6940 22nd Ave. N, St. Petersburg; (727) 345-7040. Take out and delivery only: 9939 Fourth St. N, St. Petersburg; (727) 570-4500.

Byblos $ to $$

The Estephan brothers, from Lebanon, wanted "someplace nice" to enjoy the cooking of their homeland with sophistication. So they built one. The food sticks to the staples: stuffed grape leaves, falafel, hummus and such, each made on the premises with polish and tradition. The adjoining market is packed with bulk olives and feta, za'atar bread, fresh spinach pies and elaborate confections of nuts and honey in phyllo. 2832 S MacDill Ave., Tampa; (813) 805-7977.

Mykonos $ to $$

The Salivaras' restaurant is pretty comfy, although it's new by Tarpon Springs standards _ 10 years old. The menu is unrestrained Greek, with fishy spreads, wonderful ways with octopus and calamari, lamb shanks and a daily range of whole fish. All taste like the real thing and should; the family cares enough to own a bakery, Fournos, in downtown Tarpon. 628 Dodecanese Blvd., Tarpon Springs; (727) 934-4306.

Mykonos II $

For an unbeatable mix of Mediterranean and Tampa Bay area cuisine _ Greek, Cuban and Italian _ North Suncoast eaters land here. Fantastic pizzas, black beans and yellow rice with chopped onions, Cuban pork dishes and, of course, Greek specialties by the owner himself. 1740 E Jefferson St. (State Road 50 E), Brooksville; (352) 799-3154..

Paul's Shrimp House $$

This old favorite has moved to massive new digs, but it's still just a few steps from Tarpon Springs' dockside tourist zone. Atmosphere's changed, but beer, ouzo, fresh seafood and Greek dishes still draw the locals and longtime snowbirds. You can't beat the shrimp or smelt. 80 W Live Oak St., Tarpon Springs; (727) 937-1239.

+ PACIFIC RIM +

Pacific Wave $$ to $$$

After a year on the edge of downtown St. Petersburg, Joe Chouinard has found his groove and a following for high-end Pacific Rim dining with dramatic presentation and a wide array of ingredients. The kitchen and sushi bar are partial to Hawaiian fish, big shrimp and perfect scallops. Cooking is fresh, flavorful and fashion-forward; service puts the accent on comfort. 211 Second St. S, St. Petersburg; (727) 822-5235.

Regina's Philippine Cuisine $

This little Asian grocery has a small steam table and takeout business with a distinct Filipino flavor. Entrees change daily, but you'll usually find noodles, crunchy vegetables, pork and chicken spiked with garlic, vinegar and sweets. No credit cards. Pancit guisado always available. 9727 66th St. N, Pinellas Park; (727) 544-7145.

Rice & Co. $$

This postmodern bistro makes the mall safe for pan-Asian food that's fresh and hip enough to fit between Pottery Barn and Restoration Hardware. Slick choices roam the Pacific, from sushi to beef with citrus zest, udon noodles with tempura and bright papaya shrimp salad. All served in cool design under the Gen Zen banner "Eat rice, drink tea, slurp noodles." Citrus Park Town Center, Tampa; (813) 920-7423.

Roy's $$$

Roy Yamaguchi, a Japanese-American chef with classical French training, brought East and West together in Hawaii and then with this chain, now partnered with the Outback empire. Maybe you have had fish this good, but rarely. Add risottos, Asian slaws, Okinawan sweet potatoes, squash mash, somen noodles and the lightest fried rice imaginable for relaxed, sophisticated dining. 4342 W Boy Scout Blvd., Tampa; (813) 873-7697.

+ SEAFOOD +

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 N Pinellas Ave., Tarpon Springs, (727) 944-2252; 7604 Ehrlich Road, Tampa, (813) 926-2149.

Crab Shack $ to $$

You can't get much closer to Florida's waters and 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 and wash it down with a cold beer. Then ask for key lime pie. 11400 Gandy Blvd., St. Petersburg; (727) 576-7813.

Frenchy's $ to $$

Forget fancy settings. These cozy, hole-in-the-wall favorites on Clearwater Beach serve up seafood fresh from the boat at bargain prices. Served with cold beer, good humor and modest fixings (plus great desserts). Look for great grouper, oysters and stone crab in season. Beer, wine. Frenchy's Saltwater Cafe, 419 Poinsettia Ave., (727) 461-6295; Frenchy's Cafe, 41 Baymont St., (727) 446-3607; Frenchy's Rockaway Grill, 7 Rockaway St., (727) 446-4844.

Mystic Fish $$ to $$$

It's the kind of quality seafood restaurant rarely seen here: a broad array of fresh finfish, served with a world of sauces, modern sides and slick decor. Dishes range from classic bouillabaisse with generous shellfish and saffron, and properly garnished with rouille, to perfect amberjack, crusty yet moist, and lightly done crabcakes in smoky roast pepper sauce. 3253 Tampa Road, Palm Harbor; (727) 771-1800.

Salt Rock Grill $$ to $$$

Flashiest place on the beaches, with a broad view of the Intracoastal Waterway and food as polished as the high-style interior. Best meats and fish are from the big oak-fired %% WARNING %%grill; other goodies include Greek pasta and creme brulee. 19325 Gulf Blvd., Indian Shores; (727) 593-7625.

STEAKS

Bern's Steak House $$ to $$$

Owner Bern Laxer has passed the torch, but his passion for quality still brings connoisseurs of red wine and red meat to his legendary steakhouse and cellars. A new generation is adding subtle innovations in desserts and trimmings. Steak haters can have fish fresh from the tank, tour the kitchen, sample the caviar, marvel at the wine list and luxuriate in the dessert room. Red velvet alert: The taste that counts is in the food, not decor, although revamping is under way. Full bar. 1208 S Howard Ave., Tampa; (813) 251-2421.

J. Alexander's $$

Handsome, comfy bistro from a Nashville chain delivers painstaking quality in food, service and decor. Menu is familiar, not fancy, but roast chicken, steaks, Caesar salad, fish and desserts are best in class. Full bar. 913 N Dale Mabry Highway, Tampa; (813) 354-9006.

Outback Steakhouses $$

Birthplace of the chain that put steak back on the yupscale menu and Tampa on Wall Street is worth a visit by carnivores and stockholders alike. Steaks, lamb, chicken and shrimp "on the barbie" plus smooth operation can still draw lines. 3403 Henderson Blvd., Tampa, (813) 875-4329, and many other locations.

Shula's Steak House $$$

Eat (and spend) like a winner _ a big winner. Entrees are hefty enough to embarrass an NFL lineman. Most beef comes in 1{-pound slabs, and lobsters are much bigger, but the clubby setting suits the skybox set. Best bets in sides are shredded potatoes and apple pie. Wines cost less than some steaks. Full bar. Wyndham Westshore, 4860 W Kennedy Blvd., Tampa; (813) 286-4366.

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