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RSVP TAMPA

The City Times dining guide is a selective listing of Tampa restaurants recommended by St. Petersburg Times food critic Chris Sherman.

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).

CHEAP THRILLS

BAMBOO FLUTE $

Straight ahead Vietnamese cooking, dressed up with uptown decor of polished metals and of course, bamboo. Menu has more pho than bun, plus short ribs, chops and oxtail and a full year of rolls. Good taste in food and art. 2307 S Dale Mabry, Tampa; (813) 258-2858).

EVOS $

This millennial burger stand takes fast food back to a hipper, healthier future in a blaze of warm curves and cool colors. Team Evos fuels the apres-gym crowd with veggie burgers, salmon patties, air fries, vegan chili, tacos, wraps, smoothies and even nonmeat corn dogs. Five flavors of ketchup, plus a vibrant staff to go with it all. 609 S Howard Ave., Tampa; (813) 258-3867.

FIRST WATCH $

The biggest Florida chain to make brunch a daily specialty, it serves eggs, omelets, pancakes, waffles and crepes as well as sandwiches and salads, spiced from Italian to Cajun. It draws a big-city line Sunday mornings in downtown Tampa and crowds anywhere it opens. Open breakfast and lunch only. 520 Tampa St., downtown Tampa, (813) 307-9006; 11610 N Dale Mabry Highway, Tampa, (813) 961-4947; 2726 E Fowler Ave., Tampa; (813) 975-1718.

KOJAK'S HOUSE OF RIBS $

This is 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 table cloths 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.

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.

MAIN COURSE

CICCIO & TONY'S $$

Upper West Side roots, splashy colors, culinary imagination make the menu mostly Italian but sometimes as Pacific as a puu-puu platter. Young families love 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.

OUTBACK STEAKHOUSE $$

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.

VIVA LA FRIDA CAFE & GALERIA $

Five years of struggle turned a used car lot in Seminole Heights into a stunningly warm, charming oasis of art and imagination. Good tastes old and new abound, among them the mole colorado, with the genuine savory flavor of peppers and Mexican chocolate, and the chile verde, with the tart punch of green tomatillos. The artists behind this are Angelica Diaz and husband John Ames, whom we last met in an Ybor cafe feeding starving artists. 5901 N Florida Ave., Tampa; (813) 231-9199.

BIG NIGHT OUT

BLUE GARDENIA $$-$$$

Tom and Emily Golden uprooted Safety Harbor's favorite and replanted it in hallowed ground, the oddball building where Mise en Place was born in the '80s. New proprietors are channeling New American ghosts with elaborate combinations of exotic ingredients, but simple tastes lurk underneath: crusty softshell crab, delicate shellfish soup and very nutty pecan pie. 1809 W Platt St., Tampa; (813) 250-1595.

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