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Dining guide

The City Times dining guide is a selective listing of Tampa restaurants recommended by St. Petersburg Times food critic Chris Sherman.

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).

Cheap thrills

Kojak's House of Ribs $: This is a come-as-you-are place. Your fingers will get messy, and the hot sauce will show your taste buds a good time. Sit inside the old house or outside under the big trees. Nothing fancy, but the red-and-white checked table cloths make you feel at home or at least on a picnic. The barbecue is no-nonsense, too: filling and fun. 2808 W Gandy Blvd., Tampa; (813) 837-3774.

Main course

Ciccio & Tony's $$: Upper West Side roots, splashy colors, culinary imagination make the menu mostly Italian but sometimes as Pacific as a puu-puu platter. Young families love special pasta nights where one price buys a taste of dozens of pastas in a non-stop festival. Beer, wine. 1015 S Howard Ave., Tampa; (813) 251-8406.

Outback Steakhouse $$: 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.

Viva La Frida Cafe & Galeria $: Five years of struggle turned a used car lot in Seminole Heights into a stunningly warm, charming oasis of art and imagination. Good tastes old and new abound, among them the mole colorado, with the genuine savory flavor of peppers and Mexican chocolate, and the occasional chile verde special, with the tart punch of green tomatillos. 5901 N Florida Ave., Tampa; (813) 231-9199.