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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 weekly in Weekend. 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 +

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. The 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.

The Butlers' Barbecue $

If you spell barbecue an N-C (as in eastern North Carolina), where pigs linger in pools of pepper and vinegar, this is the place for you. Also, 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.

Lee Roy Selmon's

Southern Comforts $$

NFL Hall of Famer Selmon teams with Outback muscle to serve up Southern cooking, including the sides that really make the meal: greens, red beans and rice, corn bread pudding, cheese grits, vegetables cooked with a little meat and a lot of love. Recipes inspired by Lee Roy's mom fill a massive menu that includes barbecue, catfish, shrimp and grits, and cornmeal fried oysters. Save room for cobbler. 4302 W Boy Scout Blvd., Tampa; (813) 871-3287.

Pit Boss $

A homegrown barbecue chain puts its brand on the redskin potato salad and on 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 a 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.

+ CHINESE +

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.

Forbidden City $$

Special effort makes this Chinese fare fresh, authentic and proud, with rare favorites such as rice congee and dim sum dumplings. Tradition comes most alive with big crowds and rolling carts at weekend lunchtimes. There's 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.

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.

TC Choy's Asian Bistro $ to $$

Big-city Chinese arrived from the West Coast and from a big local Asian pantry, Oceanic Market. The huge open kitchen uses tiger clams, plump scallops, monster oysters and eel (and chicken feet) to produce dinners with black beans and XO sauce, Peking duck on demand and a weekend parade of dim sum. The food tastes and feels like the real thing, although service ranges from perfect to too slow, and sometimes too fast. 301 S Howard Ave., Tampa; (813) 251-1191.

+ ITALIAN +

Alfano's $$

Classically prepared Italian food, a superb (and affordable) wine list and an elegant building make you feel at home, not outclassed. From pasta with simple sauces to fine veal, the cooking is fresh and the service warm. Full bar. 1702 Clearwater-Largo Road, Clearwater; (727) 584-2125.

Armani's $$$

The Hyatt's rooftop temple of Italian is once again on top. No longer content with Big Bucks veal in cream, chef Massimo Patano can make simple salads of fennel and Parmesan, and pasta with clams and rapini, or stretch out with risotto and foie gras, and dress sweetbreads with crawfish. The wine list includes some bargain bottles; dining above the twinkling city is still a luxury. 6200 Courtney Campbell Parkway, Tampa; (813) 281-9165.

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; 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.

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.

TuscaBella $

The quality, style and price of this Italian chainlet will astonish. The tomato sauce is fresh, the homemade pizza dough crackling crisp and the menu spilling with goat cheese, pesto, prosciutto, baby spinach, roasted eggplant, sun-dried tomatoes and wicked semifreddo desserts. The best bites are baked polenta, soups with asparagus and peas, and tiny pastina with spinach, mushrooms, pancetta and Parmesan. 9212 N Anderson Road, Tampa; (813) 290-7744.

+ NEW AMERICAN +

Ashley Street Grille $$$

Come to this quiet room with a view of the river and minarets for the kind of secrets discreet hotels keep: some of the best modern cuisine in town, all subtlety, no flash. The menu sounds simple, but the chefs get the best seafood, heirloom vegetables and fine cheeses, and design ways for them to shine, including good service and bargain wines. Baking is first rate, from peasant bread to pastry. Radisson Riverwalk Hotel, 200 N Ashley Drive, Tampa; (813) 223-2222.

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.

Grand Finale $$ to $$$

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

Grill at Feather Sound $$$

This is a rare serving of New American zest and postmodern flash in mid Pinellas. The entire menu, from seafood to red meats, gets imagination and care. There are ethnic flavors, fine cheeses, crisp vegetables and wonderful side dishes. 2325 Ulmerton Road, St. Petersburg; (727) 571-3400.

Mia's $$ to $$$

This Naples import injects Hyde Park with stylish energy and food fit for a Beautiful Neighborhood. Yuppity comfort food is mussels with fennel and boldly herbed meatloaf, served against tiles and mirrors that glitter like a sailfish in the gulf. Chef Todd Johnson fishes waters near and far for the likes of trigger fish and arctic char, and he does them with style. 1633 Snow Ave., Old Hyde Park Village, Tampa; (813) 258-9400.

Ovo Cafe $$

Perfect for postmodern grazing, Ovo gives the artsy cafe society in 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, or indulge in waffle-liqueur combos, soups, pierogies and other light meals heavy on fun fusions. Full bar. 515 Central Ave., St. Petersburg, 895-5515; 1901 E Seventh Ave., Tampa, (813) 248-6979.

+ STEAKS +

Fleming's $$$

Fleming's aims to be a different kind of steakhouse: casual, youthful and more inviting to women. But much is familiar. The distinctions: bone-in Kansas City strips and T-bones; the richest, juiciest veal chop in town; spinach so lightly sauteed it's still a green vegetable; and an addictive key lime pie. Wedge salads, the iceberg's retro revenge, are well executed. Wine is well-picked, well-organized and deep by-the-glass. 4322 W Boy Scout Blvd., Tampa; (813) 874-9463.

Julian's at the Heritage $$$

St. Petersburg's big spenders get their own top-dollar steakhouse, where booths and bills resemble the $30 steaks: big and juicy. Veal is a worthy alternative. Best sides are crab cakes, scallops and creamed spinach. Professional service. Full bar. 256 Second St. N, St. Petersburg; (727) 823-6382.

St. Larry's $$

Swank trimmings match the rich quality of red meat to give this north Pinellas neighborhood spot big-city treats. Good cuts of beef, fish and duck get dressed up with crab, bacon, cheese, exotic hollandaises and onion marmalade. There's a fine bar stock and affordable wines, too. Fountains Plaza, 34980 U.S. 19 N, Palm Harbor; (727) 786-0077.

Sam Seltzer's Steakhouse $$

Beef, pure beef and bargain dinners are the centerpiece of the first Seltzer restaurants outside Canada. Plates and crowds are huge, but prices are small. A 1-pound slab of prime rib is $12. Have yours with mushroom sauce. Full bar. 3500 Tyrone Blvd., St. Petersburg, (727) 381-7267; 4744 N Dale Mabry Highway, Tampa, (813) 873-7267; 18409 U.S. 19 N, Clearwater, (727) 519-7267.

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