... these restaurants sampled and recommended by St. Petersburg Times food critic Chris Sherman. Recommendations are not related to advertising. A sampling of Sherman's picks runs each week. Price: Dinner for two with tax and tip: $ - inexpensive (less than $25); $$ - moderate ($25 to $50); $$$ - expensive ($60 and up). Tip us off: Got a restaurant we should try? Send submissions to firstname.lastname@example.org or to Weekend, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731.
Breakfast and lunch only
First Watch $
The largest 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. 2569 Countryside Blvd., Clearwater, (727) 712-8769; 520 Tampa St., Tampa, (813) 307-9006; 2726 E Fowler Ave., Tampa; (813) 975-1718. www.firstwatch.com.
Kopper Kitchen $
This is a neighborhood institution, the kind of place where regulars share a common table. The menu 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.
Skyway Jack's $
Locals have celebrated breakfast for a quarter-century at Skyway Jack's, and 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.
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. Full bar. 800 Pass-a-Grille Way, St. Pete Beach; (727) 360-1734.
Ceviche $$ to $$$
Tapas with the true flavor - sherry, almonds, tomatoes, garlic and olive oil - of the little dishes that keep Spain table-hopping until midnight and beyond. Good olives, Spanish ham, sea bass, pork and quail keep a hungry crowd nibbling all night. Big meals, too. Full bar. 2109 Bayshore Blvd., Tampa, (813) 250-0203; 95 Central Ave., St. Petersburg, (727) 209-2299. One of Chris Sherman's best restaurants of 2005.
Chicken and yellow rice, paella and trout a la rusa are favorites that once drew both cigar workers and mambo kings, and they're still a big draw after 100 years. The Ybor palace of painted tile and its ornate 1905 bistro are an attraction; other locations feature bright water views. 2117 E Seventh Ave., Ybor City, (813) 248-4961; 800 Second Ave. NE (the Pier), St. Petersburg, (727) 822-8000; 1241 Gulf Blvd., Sand Key, Clearwater, (727) 596-8400. www.columbiarestaurant.com.
La Casona Caribena $$
The restaurant is packed with grand gestures, heartwarming mofongo, drop-dead dessert and an abundance of good reasons to eat here. Mofongo is a distinctive Puerto Rican fried mash of green plantains, pork chicharon and garlic, eaten as a side or stuffed with everything from chicken to conch and octopus. There's also asopao, a big dinner-in-a-bowl soup with tomato, yucca, seafood, lots of rice, olives, thyme, cilantro and hints of sweeter spices. You can taste Puerto Rico in smaller bites, too, such as empanadillas folded over a curried crab filling. 5709 N Armenia Ave., Tampa; (813) 414-9774.
La Teresita $
The Boliche Boulevard lunch counter that couldn't stop growing now delivers bargain-priced breakfasts, sandwiches and blue-plate specials on both sides of the bay, with the fanciest on Columbus Drive (proudly distinguished as Capdevila's at La Teresita). All include strong coffee, stout-hearted soups, lively company and fruit licuado shakes. Beer, wine. 7101 66th St. N, Pinellas Park, (727) 546-5785; 3248 W Columbus Drive, Tampa, (813) 879-4909.
Big Tim's Uptown Bar B Q $
Big Tim's made its name with barbecue, especially chicken and ribs, smoked in a pit you can smell up and down 34th Street. 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.
Eli's Bar-B-Que $
The notion that good food doesn't happen every day holds true for the barbecue of Elijah Crawford. He fires up his cooking rig next to the Pinellas Trail only on Fridays and Saturdays and then only from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. That's enough. When something is as precious as a thin end rib out of Crawford's cooker, it's worth waiting for. 360 Skinner Blvd., Dunedin; (727) 738-4856.
First Choice Southern Barbecue $
Be early, smell, salivate and yell. Making barbecue here is as noisy as it is original. Besides chicken, ribs, beef and such, First Choice likes turkey, corned beef and sausage in the pit, red-hot fire in its mac salad (you read that right) and apple-pie spice in the beans. You should, too. And don't forget the fritters; cornmeal and pork never tasted so good. 10113 E Adamo Drive, Brandon; (813) 621-7434.
Cafe Cibo $-$$
Sauce is the star here, a thick orange potion served with the bread. It has a little marinara, chopped herbs and a hint of anchovy, but the secret is that it's bound with butter. Longtime fans put it on everything in this bright, lively space (pronounced CHEE-bo). This isn't novello Italian, but pizzas and Mama Mia dishes of the south of Italy and old Italian neighborhoods, served up with fresh style. 8697 Fourth St. N, St. Petersburg; (727) 579-1570. www.cafecibo.net.
Ciccio & Tony's $$
Upper West Side roots, pump-you-up health trends and culinary imagination make the menu mostly Italian, with wild swings from crispy risotto cakes to Atkins-friendlier lettuce wraps. Look for special pasta Sundays, when one price buys a taste of dozens of pastas in a nonstop festival. Beer, wine. 1015 S Howard Ave., Tampa; (813) 251-8406. www.ciccioandtonys.com.
Domenic's Capri $$
Enter this beach joint and you're literally in the barrel; it's dark, woody and smells of wine. Domenic Forlini is old school: Food is hearty pasta with homemade sauce, sometimes local seafood, and always improved by red wine and family warmth. Savvy regulars - and Domenic - enjoy the deep, award-winning cellar. 411 Mandalay Ave., Clearwater Beach; (727) 441-1111.
The Ravioli Company $
All the world loves food in pockets and pillows. Few hold such delicious surprises as the Ravioli Company's, stuffed with squash, shrimp or four cheeses. Lauren Otis makes fresh pasta in many flavors and cuts as wide as you want, from angel hair to lasagne. Add husband Dwight's fresh sauces and take-home gourmet blue plates, and pretend-cooking and fine dining at home were never easier or cheaper. 3413 S Manhattan Ave., Tampa; (813) 254-2051. One of Chris Sherman's best restaurants of 2005.
Lincoln Heights Bistro $-$$
Soul food got a luscious update when an Italian chef from Brooklyn brought a forgotten neighborhood restaurant on the outskirts of Safety Harbor back to life. Gourmet teacher Dawn Algieri went to school herself on country ribs, carrot cake, squash casserole and vegetables with pork fat. She learned her lesson well. Beer, wine. A gift to a neighborhood. 603 Elm St., Safety Harbor; (727) 726-4210.
Mise en Place $$$
After a recent renovation, the food remains creative, handcrafted and exotic: rices of many colors and shapes, Moroccan peppers, escolar, baby fennel and habanero pineapple sorbet. Mise still has L.A. pizzas of fig or asparagus, spa plates of grilled fish with vegetables and other high-Cal favorites it debuted in Tampa two decades ago. 442 W Kennedy Blvd., Tampa; (813) 254-5373. www.miseonline.com.
Pane Rustica $
Glass cases and open kitchen counters laden with bold and rustic foods seem as infinite as the seating: long refectory tables, banquettes, round pedestals and tiny cafe tops. Crusty breads and crisp pizzas with brilliant toppings (zucchini and caviar, steak and egg) star, but carbo-phobes get world-class soups (white bean and sausage) and salads (mesclun grilled tenderloin, blue cheese and onion straws). That's just for breakfast and lunch; this year Pane Rustica adds dinner. Warning: Sunday mornings can be a yuppie PlayPlace; bring your own toddler for self-defense or a counteroffensive. 3225 S MacDill Ave, Tampa; (813) 902-8828. One of Chris Sherman's best restaurants of 2005.
Kiku Japanese Fine Dining $$-$$$
Sushi masters like Daniel Chong are and should be rare. Finding him among Clearwater Beach's T-shirts and tacky thongs is Zen justice. Enter his small garden, surrender to the cool grace of humility and all pleasure will be revealed: Hokkaido scallops, monkfish, ocean trout, baby flounder and bluefin tuna. Ask for a bagel roll or fried grouper and you will miss the best fish of your life. Say "omakase" instead, trusting fish and sake to Chong's knife and palate. You should be so lucky once. Beer, wine and sake. 483 Mandalay Ave., Suite 214, Clearwater Beach; (727) 461-2633. Chris Sherman's best restaurant of 2005.
Sushi Rock Grill $$
Sharply done eating with good ingredients, cleanly prepared with style. The menu offers plenty for those with no fear of raw fish, from octopus and seaweed salad to an appetizer of usuzukuri, paper-thin slices of snapper. Entrees cover traditional meals such as teriyaki, tempura and pad Thai. 1163 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. St. N, St. Petersburg; (727) 898-7625.
Tokyo Sushi Cafe $$
The movie mall at BayWalk gets some uptown taste and civilized space, along with mighty handsome hand rolls. Sushi would be enough, but Tokyo's kitchen delivers a good deal more - soba noodles, udon noodles and finely crusted shrimp tempura. Beer, wine. BayWalk, 195 Second Ave. N, St. Petersburg; (727) 823-1912.