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 weekendtampabay.com or send a note and a menu to Weekend Dining Guide, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731.
+ CUBAN & SPANISH +
Juan's Black Bean Deli $
A modest operation with plastic foam plates, plastic cutlery and limited seating, but never mind. You get tostones, empanadas, beans, rice and other Cuban favorites made fresh. Veteran restaurateur Juan DeSosa also turns out hearty daily specials and a full range of pressed Cuban sandwiches, including the elusive Elena Ruth (turkey, cream cheese and strawberry jam). 5442 Main St., New Port Richey; (727) 844-0678.
La Fonda $
It's in South Tampa, and the owners are from Peru, not Cuba. Yet this neighborhood Cuban eatery's steam table serves the same pork, trout and chicken and yellow rice that have warmed and nourished Tampa families for generations. Great paella on Fridays, good salads, flan and coffee always. 4101 S MacDill Ave., Tampa; (813) 831-1813.
La Teresita $
The Boliche Boulevard lunch counter that couldn't stop growing now delivers bargain-priced breakfasts, sandwiches and blue-plate specials in three locations, with the fanciest on Columbus Drive. All include strong coffee, stout-hearted soups and fruit licuado shakes. Beer, wine. 8218 Hanley Road, Town 'N Country, (813) 888-8988; 7101 66th St. N, Pinellas Park, (727) 546-5785; 3248 W Columbus Drive, Tampa, (813) 879-4909.
+ BREW PUBS +
Hoppers Grille & Tap Room $ to $$
More than a local pub with warm food and friendly service, Hoppers is a national champ of a minibrewery. Hoppers makes the most difficult and elegant home brews, such as a Royal Bohemian pilsener. Solid fare is fine, too, from hefty London broil, burgers and onion straws to soups, salads and blackened scallops. 36221 East Lake Road, Palm Harbor; (727) 786-2966.
Bar & Brewery $ to $$
The first microbrewery around Tampa Bay is now a chain with 50-plus units. Hops brews beer on site and keeps its food fresh and simple. Borrowings from the Caribbean and Asia add up to better-than-usual 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 in the middle of Ybor City. It 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 munching. 1313 E Eighth Ave., Tampa; (813) 248-4969.
Tampa Bay Brewing Co. $ to $$
Ybor pub brews a larger variety than other local brew pubs _ and cooks up a more exotic, beer-laced menu. 1812 N 15th St., Tampa; (813) 247-1422.
+ FRENCH +
Cafe de France $$
Leave the beach sun outside. Behind the white-lace curtains, you'll find la belle France and long-beloved specialties. Look for frog legs, coquille St. Jacques, great bearnaise sauce, pork chops in Calvados and chevre salad. Beer, wine. 15225 Gulf Blvd., Madeira Beach; (727) 392-8627.
Chateau France $$$
Sheer high price _ appetizers average $11 and entrees $25, not counting Beluga or chateaubriand _ will impress showoffs. But that money buys something friendly and familiar, not nouvelle or intimidating, just the old-school Continental: red meat, lobster and chocolate souffles served with fuss and a slight French accent. 136 Fourth Ave. NE, St. Petersburg; (727) 894-7163.
Jack's Bistro $$
The plainness of the name underscores that French cooking at its best is simple food done well, like a steak with mashed potatoes enriched with creme fraiche. Jack's delivers bouillabaisse, poached pears, chocolate pate, good soups and slick sauces, and it's not even on a charming country road. 31876 U.S. 19 N, Palm Harbor; (727) 784-1881. One of Chris Sherman's best restaurants of 2002.
La Cachette $$$
Continental cooking survives on the beach with charm in this intimate restaurant, where the Jacksons still cook with cognac and brioche; it's like having dinner with your aunt the gourmet. Make reservations, bring cash and your own wine; $35 buys three courses of goodies such as duck confit, lamb chops and pork encroute, rare treats of lamb kidneys and sweetbreads, or heirloom butter pie from Canada. 321 Gulf Blvd., Indian Rocks Beach; (727) 596-5439. One of Chris Sherman's best restaurants of 2002.
Le Bouchon $$
Peter Leonavicius and Dominique Christini have painted their bistro sunshine yellow but kept the essentials: open all day long for coffee, pastries, sandwiches, crepes, pastes and heartier daily fare. Lamb shanks, duck confit, stuffed chicken and French sausages are always on hand; steak au poivre and coq au vin are there when you're lucky. The best of the wines are from Christini's southern France. 796 Indian Rocks Road, Belleair Bluffs; (727) 585-9777. One of Chris Sher man's best restaurants of 2002.
+ SEAFOOD +
Backfin Blue Cafe $$
Harold Russell fashions the namesake crab into crab cakes, chowder and crab anything-else. The prime beef, more than an inch thick, will please the less crabby among your party. Other charms include meatloaf, fine vegetables and the best eatin' front porch in Little Bohemia by the Bay. Beer, wine. 2913 Beach Blvd. S, Gulfport; (727) 343-2583. One of Chris Sherman's best restaurants of 2002.
Boston Cooker $$
New England delicacies such as Maine lobster, fresh scrod and Ipswich clams are the specialty, backed up by raw oysters and a wide variety of seafood. 3682 Tampa Road, Oldsmar, (813) 855-2311; and 5375 Spring Hill Drive, Spring Hill, (352) 684-6000.
The Colonnade $ to $$
Tampa has stopped here for a bay view and plain food for 50 years, with good reason. Seafood is varied, from grilled salmon to Florida's fried favorites, and comes with good sides. 3401 Bayshore Blvd., Tampa; (813) 839-7558.
Island Way Grill $$-$$$
The restaurant boasts a sushi bar, a raw bar, sleek meat cases, a wood grill, a Duncan McClellan glass gallery and endless outdoor space. Big Igloo coolers display the fresh catch of the day, right off boats that pull up to the tiki bar. 20 Island Way, Clearwater Beach; (727) 461-6617.
+ LOCAL FLAVOR +
Airport Variety Store $
True locals don't just drive by; they stop here for sandwiches and cold drinks. The specialty is pressed Cubans, but the offerings include pastrami, pork, crab cakes, daily lunch specials and homemade brownies, flan and pastries. 4600 Roosevelt Blvd., Largo; (727) 531-7000.
Kopper Kitchen $
This is a neighborhood institution with a menu that 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.
Whistle Stop $
Fried green tomatoes, plain or fancied up with cilantro and crumbles of goat cheese, are just the start here. There's a tuna Caesar salad and wraps of portobello, turkey, catfish and veggies, plus crackling calamari salad. Don't forget burgers, hot dogs, catfish, fried dill pickles and Working Cow ice cream at this old roadside stand. 915 Main St., Safety Harbor; (727) 726-1956.
Woody's Waterfront $
Spicy french fries, beachside view of Blind Pass and outdoor seating make this perfect for come-as-you-are sunsets, hot afternoon coolers or family meals. Burgers, hot dogs and grouper sandwiches are up to beach bar standards, and there's often live music. Full bar, no credit cards. 7308 Sunset Way, St. Pete Beach; (727) 360-9165.