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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.

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

CASUAL DINING

Courtside Grille $$

This is the sports bar reinvented with $8 sandwiches and grownup dinners for a millennial crowd. Courtside is unusually long on seafood, from mussels in red wine to shrimp salad on rye with sprouts. Much of the rest is familiar: Philly cheese steak, seafood linguine and chicken teriyaki, but done with extra style and care. Full bar. 110 Fountain Parkway N, St. Petersburg; (727) 561-7433. www.courtsidegrill.com.

Dan Marino's Town Tavern $$

This is no sports bar. The Miami look here is the high-style, high-energy club scene. The menu has contemporary staples, with nods to Southwest, Pacific, Mediterranean and Mom's cooking. Best bets include meatloaf, chicken strips and seared tuna with white and black sesame seeds. Most unusual are flatbreads, a big house-made crisp seeded cracker not at all like pizza. In BayWalk, Second Street and Second Avenue N, St. Petersburg; (727) 822-4413. www.danmarinosrestaurant.com.

Kafe Kokopelli $$

The Dade City restaurant's whimsical decor and small-town warmth aren't the only attractions. From gourmet specials to fresh gator with kumquat salsa, the food is fun. Kafe Kokopelli can serve many functions: a courthouse restaurant, an ersatz Bennigan's, a big night out for a family celebration, a place for a too-tired-to-cook weeknight supper or a date with bananas foster and a live combo. 37940 Live Oak Ave., Dade City; (352) 523-0055.

Mecca $

This mild-mannered former coffee bar serves lunch all day, from 11 a.m. until early evening, plus dinner entrees. The lunch menu fits the classic format of soups, salads and sandwiches, but the formats have been elevated to Asian noodle bowls, baby green salads and Italian panini. 3235 Tampa Road, Suite 105B, Palm Harbor; (727) 773-8839.

Sonic $

This chain invented the drive-up burger stand in Oklahoma 50 years ago to deliver food as "fast as the speed of sound." Although its burgers are thin and unexciting, this is one of the few chains to carry hot dogs, corn dogs and BLTs. And it has tater tots! The restaurant is famous for its limeades punched up with cherry or strawberry and for the roller-skating servers who come to the car. Ten locations around Tampa Bay. www.sonicdrivein.com.

SEAFOOD

Backfin Blue $$

These shady old streets are the perfect setting for backporch cooking done with care and generosity. Chef Harold Russell keeps his plateful of funky Gulfport perfectly simple - lump crab cakes, big prime rib, meatloaf and grouper - and remembers fresh vegetables. 2913 Beach Blvd. S, Gulfport; (727) 343-2583. www.backfinbluecafe.com. One of Chris Sherman's best restaurants of 2005.

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 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; Frenchy's South Beach Cafe, 351 S Gulfview Blvd., (727) 441-9991. www.frenchysonline.com.

Island Way Grill $$-$$$

A T-bone sweetened with Korean barbecue is the equal of the restaurant's boat-fresh fish, raw bar and sushi. Best dishes have clever Asian accents, like baby bok choy in sake and fish crusted in wasabi peas or crushed fortune cookies. Smart management misses few tricks: early birds for the neighbors, oyster shooters, boatload brunch on Sunday, world-class bar stock, brilliant wine selection, all-weather patio seating with a marina view, or indoor dining with Duncan McClellan magic glass. 20 Island Way, Clearwater Beach; (727) 461-6617. www.islandwaygrill.com. One of Chris Sherman's best restaurants of 2005.

Mid Peninsula Seafood $

Before seafood went yupscale, you bought it in fish markets straight from the counter. Buy fresh whiting, sea bass, salmon and snapper, plus oysters, shrimp, crab and conch, raw or cooked to order in sandwiches, dinners or to go, broiled, steamed or, best of all, fried. Good hush puppies and prices under $5, too. Beer, wine. 400 49th St. S, St. Petersburg; (727) 327-8309.

Mystic Fish $$

Folks who take it easy on the beaches and in the condos have come to trust Eugen Fuhrmann and Doug Bebell so much that they may not recognize how fresh their fish and ideas are. You can't miss it here when amberjack gets seared with apricot curry, salmon is green-tea-smoked, and ice creams and vodka are custom-made. The flavors are Asian, but the fish is Floridian and flipping-fresh. 3253 Tampa Road, Palm Harbor. (727) 771-1800. www.3bestchefs.com. One of Chris Sherman's best restaurants of 2005.

STEAKS

Bern's Steak House $$ to $$$

The late Bern Laxer's passion for quality remains and still brings connoisseurs of red wine and red meat to his legendary steak house 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. www.bernssteakhouse.com.

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. www.outbacksteakhouse.com.

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. Fine bar stock and affordable wines too. Fountains Plaza, 34980 U.S. 19 N, Palm Harbor; (727) 786-0077.

Shula's Steak House $$$

Eat (and spend) like a winner here, 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. www.donshula.com.

Texas Cattle Company $$

The people here have cooked steaks over wood fires for 25 years. So overlook the '70s Western theme and the passable side dishes. The star here is the meat: pretty, well-marbled classic cuts, some prime and mostly choice, aged and cut in house. 2600 34th St. N, St. Petersburg; (727) 527-3335.

FRENCH

Le Bouchon $$

You want fine soup, fresh pate, great wine discoveries, a French accent and no air fare? It would be grand to have such an all-day menu at a bistro on every corner, but we'll have to make do with one fine serving. Lucky Belleair Bluffs is the one place you can try it all. Don't miss the soup, fresh pate or rilletes; for a bigger meal, have duck and bon marche wine. 796 N Indian Rocks Road, Belleair Bluffs; (727) 585-9777.

Cafe de France $$

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.

Cafe Largo $$$

Don't be surprised to find polished French food in an office complex in Largo. For 15 years, it has been the place for souffles, sweetbreads, duck, pate, lamb or a taste of Provence, the sunny side of France. 12551 Indian Rocks Road, Largo; (727) 596-6282.

Chateau France $$$

Sheer high price - appetizers average $11 and entrees start at $29 not counting Beluga or chateaubriand - will impress showoffs. But that money does buy something friendly and familiar, not nouvelle or intimidating, just the old-school Continental that has meant big-bucks dining for generations: red meat, lobster and chocolate souffles served with fuss and a slight French accent. 136 Fourth Ave. NE, St. Petersburg; (727) 894-7163. www.chateaufrancecuisine.com.

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; $37 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.

BRUNCHES

The Castaway $$

This causeway landmark sets long tables of eggs, fruit and breakfast fare, as well as carving stations for steamship rounds and ham, plus fresh shellfish and sushi. 7720 Courtney Campbell Parkway, Tampa; (813) 281-0770.

Don CeSar Beach Resort and Spa $$$

The most famous of Suncoast brunches includes a long, cold seafood buffet, chilled chops, gourmet salads and mousses, a carving station, eggs, pastas, hot entrees such as Asian duck and a large pastry display with crepes and fresh waffles. 3400 Gulf Blvd., St. Pete Beach; (727) 360-1881.

Jackson's Bistro-Bar-Sushi $$

This waterside night spot is almost as busy on Sunday mornings - and still serving sushi. Brunch lines also include a pasta station, fresh waffles, smoked salmon, hot entrees, fruits and desserts. 601 S Harbour Island Blvd., Tampa; (813) 277-0112.

Oystercatchers $$$

Brunch with a view of Tampa Bay has been a Tampa hit since the hotel seafood restaurant opened. The spread includes egg dishes and waffles, pasta, hot entrees and an abundance of the restaurant's specialty: seafood. Grand Hyatt Tampa Bay, Courtney Campbell Parkway, Tampa; (813) 207-6815.

Renaissance Vinoy Hotel $$$

The priciest in town, brunch in the Terrace Room includes breakfast items such as waffles and eggs Benedict made to order, plus smoked seafood, carved meats, fresh fruit and a large bread and pastry display. Reservations suggested. 501 Fifth Ave. NE, St. Petersburg; (727) 894-1000.

Red Mesa $

Sunday a la carte breakfast and brunch starts early (9 a.m.) at our most innovative Mexican restaurant. Breakfast burritos, huevos with sauces ranchero, rojo, verde and tortilla strips expand the menu. Chorizo in the hash browns and cinnamon in the hot chocolate give breakfast a spicy accent, but you can wade into heftier Mexican entrees, too. 4912 Fourth St. N, St. Petersburg; (727) 527-8728.

Cafe Alma $

Is brunch on Saturday civilized or extra indulgent? Both, when you're in the Mediterranean breeze at Cafe Alma for the a la carte menu from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays with occasional Sunday brunches for special days such as Mother's Day. Benedict topping for eggs can be salmon with passion fruit hollandaise. Steak and eggs get tiny mushrooms. Have a frittata with feta and olives, something as simple as fruit and honey or a bowl of polenta, or something as light as a beet salad. 260 First Ave. S, St. Petersburg; (727) 502-5002.

Harvey's Fourth Street Grill $

This neighborhood favorite serves most of its menu, from burgers to grouper dinners, plus pancakes, omelets, skillets and poached eggs five ways, from Benedict to tenderloin, for a full-bore Sunday banquet. A smaller brunch menu is available on Saturdays. 3121 Fourth St. N, St. Petersburg; (727) 821-6516.

LOCAL FLAVOR

El Cap $

El Cap is the same as it has always been, which is why we go there and fill up the place daily. Burgers and sports come first, and have since 1964, as do those simple sandwiches you can't get anymore: Swiss cheese on white bread (get rye to be exotic), liverwurst, ham and salami. Yes, they lay it on heavy, but it won't have any trimmings unless you want 'em (and pay extra). 3500 Fourth St. N, St. Petersburg; (727) 521-1314.

Green Iguana $

Some great beer food is here: monstrous burgers, world-class onion straws and sturdy red chili that tastes as if it has been simmering for days. The Iguana is less successful with fern-bar fare. 9202 Anderson Road, Tampa, (813) 288-9076. Also locations at 8790 Bay Pines Blvd., St. Petersburg, (727) 209-1234; 4029 S West Shore Blvd., Tampa, (813) 837-1234; and 1708 E Seventh Ave., Ybor City, (813) 248-9555. www.greeniguana.com.

Jack Willie's Original Tiki Bar & Grill $

Strengths in this ramshackle spot on the edge of Tampa Bay are in the bar food: big burgers; jerked chicken skewers cut from juicy breast meat; fat, crisp Buffalo wings; and peel 'n' eat shrimp on ice or still hot in an Old Bay-style broth. Full bar. 1011 St. Petersburg Drive, Oldsmar; (813) 854-1972.

Nickel City Bar & Grille $

Come here for the full Buffalo. It's more than wings and blue cheese: beef on 'weck, Locker Room chili, curly fries, blackened hot dogs, Mother's cheesecake and a Friday night fish fry. It has the feel of a genuine tavern, and a bottle of Labatt's makes it taste even better. Beer, wine. 7658 Park Blvd., Pinellas Park; (727) 545-9325.

NEW AMERICAN

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.

Floyd's $$-$$$

This bit of Vegas style in the midst of the rather dreary Seminole casino offers smart cooking, flashy presentation, lively spicing and respect for vegetables and pastry. It shows in every course in a way that matches some of our best restaurants, and it tops many. The short, modern menu has indulgences for high-rollers at dinner and burgers for punters at lunch. Full bar. 5223 N Orient Road, Tampa; (813) 627-7757.

Green Springs $$

An artsy small town deserves an art restaurant. Paul Kapsalis' cooking - old Greek pizza, roasted chickens, salmon-lobster "sacks," thick soups and cobblers - are made with care, not fuss. They show as much warmth and whimsy as the big green dragonfly bike rack out front and the rest of the art. 156 Fourth Ave. N, Safety Harbor; (727) 669-6762.

Redwoods $$$

St. Petersburg's pioneer uptown downtown restaurant is back on track with reinventive American food. Prime sirloin with truffle mash, escolar with mustard greens and sage-squash ravioli and bacon are pretty and clever, yet still close to the land and woods. Full bar. 247 Central Ave., St. Petersburg; (727) 896-5118. One of Chris Sherman's best restaurants of 2005.

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