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 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 weekendtampabay.com or send a note and a menu to Weekend Dining Guide, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731.
+ DELI +
Bread & Butter Gourmet Deli $
The most unusual touches here are from the Middle East -- hummus, tabbouleh, baklava -- but the menu covers traditional deli sandwiches and salads and All-American takeout entrees, too. All are fixed with freshness, spice and style. 1880 Alt. U.S. 19 S, Tarpon Springs, (727) 934-9003; 301 N Franklin St., Tampa, (813) 301-0505.
Joel and Ellen Goetz rescued locals starving for a full-service kosher grocery 20 years ago. Their St. Petersburg store is a warehouse brimming with deli, smoked fish and other appetizing goods, plus a kosher butcher shop and dining space for sandwiches. 2619 23rd Ave. N, St. Petersburg, (727) 321-3847.
Lucky Dill $
You want clatter, clutter and kvetching, you'll get it here. And monstrous corned beef and pastrami, chopped beef, big bowls of matzo ball soup and a case full of fresh pastries you shouldn't think of touching. It all moves faster than the A train, especially at Lucky Dill's newest stop in downtown Tampa. You want better? Not in this town. 2800 Alt. U.S. 19 N, Palm Harbor; (727) 789-5574; 477 N Ashley Drive, Tampa; (813) 222-3455. One of Chris Sherman's best restaurants of 2002.
Old Key West Deli $
So it's not Key West, and you didn't just tie up your 40-foot yacht at the dock (though you could). You still can grab lunch at this port-side deli. Have one of the big sandwiches on good bread or croissants, or a fresh salad. Beer, wine. 1110 Third St. S, St. Petersburg, (727) 894-4363.
A long list of goodies account for TooJay's success: old-fashioned matzo ball soup, shrimp salad with real shrimp, satiny nova salmon, crunchy rugalah and black and white cookies. It doesn't pretend to be the kosher deli of old, but it does offer whitefish salad, potato pancakes and cheese blintzes. That ain't chopped liver for deli-starved St. Pete. BayWalk, Second Street at Second Avenue N; St. Petersburg, (727) 823-3354; International Plaza, 2223 N West Shore Blvd., Tampa, (813) 348-4101.
Wright's Gourmet House $
Monster sandwiches, fantasy cakes and originality have made this a landmark on Tampa's lunch and takeout menus for decades. Try the Golden Gate pork sandwich with peach chutney, beef martini or chicken pecan salad. Get only a half-size order so you can eat a little cake: chocolate, rum or hummingbird. 1200 S Dale Mabry Highway, Tampa; (813) 253-3838.
+ VIETNAMESE +
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 Highway, Tampa; (813) 258-2858.
Ben Thanh $
If you like to eat with fingers, explore endless menus, frequent dreary strip centers and save money, Ben Thanh has a banquet for you. Here the fresh, playful flavors of Vietnam go well beyond pho soups and bun salads. Glazed quail, veal, frog legs and catfish stew have spark, salt, sour and sweetness. Plus, there's a playground of appetizers wrapped in leaves, rice noodles and crepes. Try something new. 2880 34th St. N, St. Petersburg; (727) 522-6623. One of Chris Sherman's best restaurants of 2002.
Cafe B.T. $$$
This is the home base of B.T. Nguyen, a one-woman powerhouse of style who has put flair and matching flavor on our Asian menus. Here it's a black and white boite where French and Vietnamese dishes wear gourmet dress, from lobster in Dubonnet to canh cua tom. She also does earthy Pan Asian tapas in a feng shui triumph at Yellow Door and will soon offer her take on a staple at Noodle Lounge. 3324 Gandy Blvd., Tampa; (813) 831-9254. One of Chris Sherman's best restaurants of 2002.
A sophisticated taste of Southeast Asia is served with family warmth and everyday prices. The menu is short and sweet -- and sour and hot and cool with the combination of peppers, nuts, mint and herbs we've come to love. At lunch, there are simple rice dishes and classic pho and bun. Finish with delicate flan or rich iced coffee. 3324 Gandy Blvd., Tampa; (813) 831-3432.
Pho Quyen $
This everyday shop specializes in pho, the Vietnamese daily staple of beef broth and noodles, but its menu includes cooling bun salads, fresh spring rolls, sandwiches and milkshakes. Pho Quyen's pho broth is among the best, a long-simmered distillation of beef bones, with a touch of fish sauces and other spices. The bun shows off grilled meats or spicy curries against cold vermicelli, lettuce, peanuts, fried onions and herbs. 4505 Park Blvd., Pinellas Park; (727) 545-5678.
Sa Sa $
This downtown St. Petersburg restaurant combines a modest selection of mainstream Viet cooking with Japanese entrees and sushi. The chance to munch on sushi or bun, the cool Vietnamese salad in a bowl, is welcomed by anyone looking for a meal of light, bright flavors. And the sushi is fresh and artistic. Beer, wine. 27 Fourth St. N, St. Petersburg; (727) 895-1493.
+ SUSHI +
Tampa's pioneer sushi bar packs them 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. Full Japanese menu. Beer and wine. 310 S Dale Mabry Highway, Tampa; (813) 875-4842.
Sushi Rock Grill $$
Sharply done eating with good ingredients, cleanly prepared with style. The menu offers plenty for those with no fear of raw fish, from octopus and seaweed salad to an appetizer of usuzukuri, paper-thin slices of snapper. Entrees cover traditional meals such as teriyaki, tempura and pad Thai. 1163 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. St. N, St. Petersburg; (727) 898-7625.
It's hard to know where to start in this all-you-can-eat affair, part of a California-based chain: tempura, noodles, salads, cold seafood, hot entrees, sushi or dessert. All are served in big variety in frequent small batches. Two of the best items are the roast chicken with crispy skin and juicy flesh and spicy shell-on shrimp. The sushi selection is large, varied and surprisingly handsome. Beer, wine, sake. International Plaza, 2223 N West Shore Blvd., Tampa. (813) 872-8725.
Tokyo Bay $$
You get more than traditional sashimi and sushi here, with many all-vegetable items, big makimono hand-rolls, raw beef and cooked fish. Menu includes sesame noodles, tempura and bento-box specials. Beer, wine. 5901 Sun Blvd., Isla Del Sol Shoppers Village, St. Petersburg; (727) 867-0770.
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.
+ LOCAL FLAVOR +
Country Harvest $
A "family" restaurant that takes extra care in the kitchen. Steaks are handcut certified Angus; turkey is roasted whole; salads, tossed or mini-Greek, have extra greens mixed with the iceberg; the chalkboard daily lists a dozen specials, which just might include walleye pike or potato pancakes. Apple or berry cobbler a la mode shouldn't be passed up. 1285 S Missouri Ave., Clearwater; (727) 466-0241.
Mel's Hot Dogs $
The big daddy of hot dog places in the area. Mel's does only dogs and sausagelike relatives. Service is assembly line, but the atmosphere puts the accent on the hot dog. Beer, wine. No credit cards. 4136 E Busch Blvd., Tampa; (813) 985-8000.
The Sea Horse $
This 50-year-old building is as much a Pass-a-Grille landmark as the Merry Pier. Good breakfasts, great burgers, friendly service, outdoor seats and a sea breeze. Breakfast, lunch only. Full bar. 800 Pass-a-Grille Way, St. Pete Beach; (727) 360-1734.
Skyway Jack's $
Locals have celebrated breakfast for a quarter-century at Skyway Jack's. The restaurant has changed locations, and founder John Thomas is gone, but the glorious country indulgence of eggs, fried potatoes, sweet waffles, pancakes and all manner of oink continues. If you don't start every day like this, you'll love the one day you do. 2795 34th St. S, St. Petersburg; (727) 867-1907.
Steak 'n Shake $
Last of the real 24-hour drive-ins. Pull up to the spaces, eat indoors or use the drive-up window. You also can stare at impromptu car shows of tricked-out ponies and not so little GTOs. Great for strong coffee and late-night breakfasts or a short-order steak, but best bites are classic drive-in fare. Have a burger or chili with a milkshake, and don't forget the cheese fries. 8101 Dr. Martin Luther King St. N, St. Petersburg, (727) 568-9169; 1450 E Fowler Ave., Tampa, (813) 971-9700. Other locations in St. Petersburg, Clearwater, Largo, Tampa, Brandon, Port Richey, Spring Hill.
+ SEAFOOD +
Catch 23 $$
The menu is standard-issue modern: four or five grilled fish with contemporary sauces, mussels, pasta and steaks, with a mild tropical accent in the sides. The greater distinction is the care taken in choosing the sources of ingredients, raw and prepared, which is the starting point of all good restaurants. The restaurant brags about the freshness of its seafood by listing the home ports of all its products on its daily menu. Full bar. 10103 Montague St., West Park Village Town Center, Tampa; (813) 920-0045.
Crab Shack $ to $$
You can't get much closer to Florida's waters and working boats than this Cracker shack for pile-on-the-table blue crabs, shrimp, raw oysters and grouper. This is the kind of place to order a platter with everything fried and wash it down with a cold beer. Then ask for key lime pie. 11400 Gandy Blvd., St. Petersburg; (727) 576-7813.
There are just three tables and a few seats at the bar here, and the glass case in front is not jammed with inventory, just ice and a few plates of what's really fresh from local fishing crews. Groupers does grilled and blackened, but frying is the real treat here. 9524 Blind Pass Road, St. Pete Beach; (727) 367-9000.
Sea Grill $$
The Sea Grill, resurrected in the Four Points by Sheraton hotel after a few years absence from North Pinellas, is still a place where familiar finfish are fresh, rarely fried and often sparkle with fruits and odd sauces. And side dishes have spice and imagination. Full bar. 37611 U.S. 19 N, Palm Harbor; (727) 942-0358.
+ NEW AMERICAN +
Black Pearl $$$
This intimate room feels like a snug fit of gray flannel. The china is pastel depression glass, but the food is fresh and modern. Mark Hrycko indulges in Asian and Italian flavors while keeping classics from duck to calves liver in polished sauces. Count on personal service. And don't miss the black ice cream. 315 Main St., Dunedin; (727) 734-3463. One of Chris Sherman's best restaurants of 2002.
Bobby's Bistro & Wine Bar $$
Hip spinoff of the landmark Heilman's Beachcomber serves contemporary food and a world-class wine list in cozy style. Steaks and chops, seafood, raclette potatoes, plus gourmet pizzas and burgers taste richly of an Americanized brasserie. Full bar. 447 Mandalay Ave., Clearwater; (727) 446-9463.
Mise en Place $$$
Menus that change with the chef's ingredients and whims daily or weekly were rare when Marty Blitz started 15 years ago, and they still are. Yet, through thick and thin, his imagination has never flagged. The slim set can count on spa fish with grilled vegetables and salads of couscous and who-knows; carnivores rely on the mixed grill. The rest of us take wicked pleasure in two dozen starters and entrees that weren't there before: tuna with charred tomatoes, vanilla-rubbed scallops, duck with cactus and zinfandel, with a jungle of fruits, veggies and grains in a world of constructions. Latest sighting: orzotto. 442 W Kennedy Blvd., Tampa; (813) 254-5373. One of Chris Sherman's best restaurants of 2002.
Pappas' Grillmarks $$
The transition from the longtime Largo landmark to new wave cuisine has taken a couple of years, but early birds still can get meat loaf, Greek salads and, at lunch, spanakopita, pastry filled with good ol' cheesy spinach. For the dinner crowd, though, blue crab cakes come with a tint of blue Curacao for an edge of late-night attitude. Style has gone from blue plate to cobalt, and modern presentation can turn even that meat loaf into Tall Food -- or occasion for an eye-poking herb sprig. Full bar. 607 N Clearwater-Largo Road; (727) 584-6235.
A block down the street from the venerable Bern's Steak House, its wild-eyed offspring is where Jeanie Pierola has filled bread baskets with harissa and kalamatas, stacked up new-age dim sum and patented her Global Cuisine. Behind the galangal, truffles, macadamia and mint, the kitchen does the basics -- fish, risotto, killer desserts and even beef -- handsomely. Wine, too, is up to the parent's standards, a smaller list but just as smart. 2208 W Morrison Ave., Tampa; (813) 258-2233. One of Chris Sherman's best restaurants of 2002.
+ MIDDLE EASTERN +
Byblos $ to $$
Hummus, kebabs, yogurt and such we've had, but never as refined as they've been installed in this handsome restaurant in a tony shopping/dining district. Homemade yogurt, labneh, fava beans, fattouch salad, grape leaves and lamb get the first-rate presentation they deserve on the plate and in this minimalist jewel box of a restaurant. 2832 S MacDill Ave., Tampa; (813) 805-7977. One of Chris Sherman's best restaurants of 2002.
Karim's Bistro $$
Chef Karim Chiadmi serves food with a Mediterranean flair at this bistro in the Thunderbird Beach Resort. Even standard fare such as a burger has a mix of parsley and herbs that makes it reminiscent of kibbe. Watch for the daily Moroccan specialty tagine: a slow-roasted stew. Full bar. 10700 Gulf Blvd., Treasure Island; (727) 367-1961.