... these restaurants sampled and recommended by St. Petersburg Times food critics. Inclusion is not related to advertising. For more recommendations - and to search by cuisine, price, location and more - go to dining.tampabay.com. Got a restaurant we should try? Send submissions to firstname.lastname@example.org or to Weekend, St. Petersburg Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731
Most entrees less than $10
Alan's N.C. Bar-B-Que
Cuisine: Barbecue Lots of windows and a spotlessly clean interior make it comfortable to eat in, but most folks seem to do takeout. The best bet is the pulled pork, straight-up North Carolina-style, gussied up with a sauce that's mostly boiled cider vinegar with crushed red pepper and brown sugar. The huge pork spareribs are gas-grilled slowly, then slow-roasted. A little fatty, they get a squirt of hickory smoke sauce. 7305 State Road 54, New Port Richey. (727) 376-4408. www.alansncbbq.com.
Four Green Fields
Cuisine: Pub It's not home brew, but Guinness from the auld sod is revered here. With Irish stew, corned beef, fish and chips and shepherd's pie to match. 205 W Platt St., Tampa. (813) 254-4444. www.fourgreenfields.com.
Johnny's Pizza and Restaurant
Cuisine: Family Style/Home Cooking, Pizza Food doesn't get warmer, friendlier or cheaper than this converted gas station: meatloaf, Swiss steak, pasta, souvlaki and not just one blue plate but a dozen daily. It's not quaint or diner-chic, yet the thin crust pizza with fresh tomatoes would shame L.A. 3001 28th St. N, St. Petersburg. (727) 323-3919.
Mama Fu's Asian House
Cuisine: Asian The menu is an Asian mix, from lo mein and teriyaki to Thai green beans and Vietnamese pho, all with fresh, crunchy vegetables. 2689 Gulf-to-Bay Blvd., Clearwater. (727) 712-0201. mamafus.com.
Cuisine: Mexican The taqueria has expanded with a spectrum of meats and moles in hailing distance of the carniceros at the butcher counter. Come on weekends for menudo.
- 812 Court St., Clearwater. (727) 443-5892.
- 6050 Park Blvd., Pinellas Park. (727) 548-8721.
New World Brewery
Cuisine: Pizza, Pub, Sandwiches 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. Pizzas, quesadillas and tacos for munching. 1313 E Eighth Ave., Ybor City. (813) 248-4969.
Cuisine: Mexican Picnic tables, cane-bottom chairs and lots of happy customers in this tiny, bustling, off-the-beaten-path place. Tomatillo, mole and enchilada sauces are pure Mexico. 32804 Pennsylvania Ave., San Antonio. (352) 588-3037.
Cuisine: Italian, Pizza, Sandwiches Another chunk of up-North pizza tucked into a faceless shopping center, but this one's special and the crowd will tell you. Crisp New York pizza, good calzones, fat sandwiches and a whole family behind the counter. 1744 Bruce B. Downs Blvd., Wesley Chapel. (813) 907-0005.
Sea Horse Tavern and Restaurant
Cuisine: Breakfast and Lunch 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. 800 Pass-a-Grille Way, St. Pete Beach. (727) 360-1734.
Ted Peters Smoked Fish
Cuisine: Local Flavor, Seafood Mullet has made these waters famous for years. For a rich taste of the "cracker salmon," come to this historic fish shack for mullet, amberjack or mackerel. Too fishy for you? Have a burger. 1350 Pasadena Ave. S, South Pasadena. (727) 381-7931.
Most entrees $10-$20
Cuisine: Barbecue Fat spareribs are seriously caked with a spicy/salty dry rub, with a tabletop squeeze bottle of straightforward, sweet, tomatoey sauce. They say it's North Carolina-style, but it's kind of its own invention. There's no smoke, and the baby backs are a little more tender and less fatty than the spareribs. And get this: barbecued tofu. Boo's blue cheesy coleslaw is near world class. 13855 W Hillsborough Ave., Tampa. (813) 854-3999.
Cuisine: Mexican One of the first Mexican restaurants with a difference: veggie-friendly cooking in a no-lard zone. All the usuals, plus crab enchiladas, stuffed squash, cactus salads, posole and fresh moles and a lively Day of the Dead observance. 369 Main St., Dunedin. (727) 734-9226. www.casatinas.com.
Ciccio and Tony's
Cuisine: Italian, New American Upper West Side roots, pump-you-up health trends and culinary imagination make the menu mostly Italian. Look for special pasta Sundays, when one price buys a taste of dozens of pastas in a nonstop festival. 1015 S Howard Ave., Tampa. (813) 514-4426. www.ciccioandtonys.com.
Cristino's Coal Oven Pizza
Cuisine: Italian, Pizza Three Italian brothers, Lenny, Marco and Joe Cristino, opened Cristino's Coal Oven Pizza. It's not anything fancy - a dozen or so tables done up casually. Service is friendly and unfussy. The big coal oven is unobtrusive, but it's the source of half of the excitement here. The good stuff comes in the form of four basic pies: margherita, marinara, bianca and quattro formaggi. Keep 'em simple and you're in for a delicious, thin-crust pizza. The other half of the excitement at Cristino's? The house gelatos are spectacular. 1101 S Fort Harrison Ave., Clearwater. (727) 443-4900.
Frenchy's Rockaway Grill
Cuisine: Local Flavor, Seafood 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. Rockaway's specialty is the she crab soup. 7 Rockaway St., Clearwater. (727) 446-4844. www.frenchysonline.com.
Cuisine: Bistro, Fine Dining, French For years this cozy refuge was called Cafe de France. It was a reliable outpost of superb yet simple French fare. It served classic French food (coq au vin, duck confit, lobster bisque, escargot) at a steady but unhurried pace. Don't worry: It has a new name, but not much has changed. This café turned bistro offers the same inviting French fare. 15225 Gulf Blvd., Madeira Beach. (727) 392-8627.
Rigatoni Tuscan Oven
Cuisine: Italian Rigatoni may be the noisiest restaurant on either side of the bay. The boisterous feel matches the food: lusty, old-fashioned southern Italian, red sauce made from real tomatoes, lots of oregano and seemingly all the garlic in Gilroy. 3437 W Kennedy Blvd., Tampa. (813) 879-7000. www.cateringbyrigatoni.com.
Rusty Bellies Waterfront Grill
Cuisine: Greek, Seafood A little Greek, with feta in the kitchen and potato salad on the menu, but so much fresh fish, it's all Tarpon Springs. The fish come from the market and boats next door, the recipes from around the South. Fried or grilled, the food matches easily with great beers. 937 Dodecanese Blvd., Tarpon Springs. (727) 934-4047.
Cuisine: Asian, Sushi Smart sushi, sharp sake and the fieriest beef tartare that Seoul cooking can make. www.samuraiblue.com.
-1600 E Eighth Ave., Ybor City. (813) 242-6688.
-12950 Racetrack Road, No. 120, Oldsmar. (813) 341-6688.
Cuisine: Asian, Japanese, Sushi, Thai Thai food gets sophisticated. The best eating is chicken and duck. Try pad Thai or the sweet and sour whole fish. www.sukhothairestaurant.net.
-8201 N Dale Mabry Highway, Tampa. (813) 933-7990.
-18101 Highwoods Preserve Parkway, Tampa. (813) 615-2345.
T.C. Choy's Asian Bistro
Cuisine: Asian, Chinese, Sushi The longest menu in town and the freshest inventory, even if you don't count the best dim sum dumplings. T.C. Choy's takes the best of Oceanic Market - swimming fish, softball oysters and ever-ready Peking duck - and adds a top chef and a big crew who know all of China, sushi and more. Come for lunch and dinner. 301 S Howard Ave., Tampa; (813) 251-1191.
Cuisine: Cajun, French, Greek This is not a gallery, more like a living collage, the family restaurant as performance art. All the antiques, children's toys and children are packed into a tiny shop. The food roams the waterfronts from Greece to New Orleans, the spirit from garden party to bohemian. 13 N Safford Ave., Tarpon Springs. (727) 934-5558. www.zantecafe.com.
Most entrees $20 or more
Cuisine: Fine Dining, Italian Back in the '90s, Bernini's lionhead roared with hipness, and it's still king of this jungle. The old gold interior is comfy now, the service is both old-pro and young. The menu's modern standards of crisp pizzas, rustic pastas and smart salads make it a fine room for dealmaking dinners or urbane lunches. 1702 E Seventh Ave., Ybor City. (813) 248-0099. www.berniniofybor.com.
Cuisine: New American Folks have come here for grand meals under various flags for more than 20 years. The space is tiny, with plush decor and posh service. The food ranges from top-dollar classics to clever contemporary fare among the specials, all with first-rate vegetables. 315 Main St., Dunedin. (727) 734-3463. www.theblackpearlofdunedin.com.
Cuisine: Italian At BayWalk. A revamped Gratzzi relies on the familiar: American restaurant Italian. The menu is heavy on pastas and grilled entrees but done well with touches of vodka, wild mushrooms and goat cheese. Big spenders can find steaks, chops and lobster dishes. One good addition: lunch on the shady patio above the lively marketplace below. 199 Second Ave. N, St. Petersburg. (727) 822-7769. www.gratzzi.com.
La Cachette de la Plage
Cuisine: FrenchContinental 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; $48 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. lacachetteflorida.com.
Marchand's Bar & Grill
Cuisine: Brunches, Fine Dining, Mediterranean The Vinoy has undergone a major makeover that includes retooling of Marchand's, showing off the central Vinoy Bar. A small wine cellar room provides an enviably intimate dining space for four. But perhaps the biggest change is the dining concept: One side used to be Marchand's, with a Mediterranean menu, the other the Terrace Room, seafood-heavy American. Now it's all called Marchand's. The kitchen has wisely kept the seafood focus, but dishes reflect a more stylish and still loosely Mediterranean sensibility with saucing and garniture. Renaissance Vinoy Resort, 501 Fifth Ave. NE, St. Petersburg. (727) 894-1000.
Cuisine: New American Outside tables offer a view of the bustling downtown revival and namesake park. Inside, a curving bar is flanked by a glass-encased wine closet that doubles as a design feature and includes some fine, moderately priced California cabernets and pinot noirs. Plates emerge from the open kitchen as finely crafted American cuisine with a twist. Think beef Wellington, grilled lamb chops, lobster pasta, or pan-seared scallops, only this version sweet and tender, circling a mound of sauteed baby spinach with the rich smokiness of Southern greens. 300 Beach Drive NE, St. Petersburg. (727) 896-9463. www.parkshoregrill.com.
Ponte's Tuscan Grille
Cuisine: Bistro, Fine Dining, Italian Chris Ponte, star chef of mid Pinellas gourmets, takes a turn with contemporary Italian for an upscale bar crowd and everyday indulgence. Creamy soups, lusty chops, strong flavors on big plates and small. Order polenta fries, antipasti and tart lemon torta. 2544 McMullen-Booth Road, Clearwater. (727) 724-5716. www.cafeponte.com/TuscanGrill.