... 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 food.tampabay.com. Got a restaurant we shoul
Most entrees less than $10
Boardin House Cafe
Cuisine: AmericanLunches may include roasted chicken or taco salad; potato, cheddar and bacon, turkey noodle among homemade soups. 401 E Jackson St., Tampa. (813) 229-6644.
Country Harvest Restaurant
Cuisine: American, Family Style/Home Cooking A family restaurant that takes extra care in the kitchen. Steaks are hand-cut certified Angus; turkey is roasted whole; salads, tossed or mini Greek, have extra greens mixed with the iceberg; the chalkboard daily lists a dozen specials, which just might include walleye pike or potato pancakes. Apple or berry cobbler a la mode shouldn't be passed up. 1285 S Missouri Ave., Clearwater. (727) 466-0241.
Cuisine: Bistro, Deli and CafeGarden party meets arts and crafts, so you'll want to sit a spell on the porch of this old bungalow. The lush pottery is home-thrown, the good spirits homegrown, the woodworking and art are a delight and the rehabbing a pleasure. Cucumber salad, soups, muffins, coffee and beer will charm you. 2955 Central Ave., St. Petersburg. (727) 323-2787. www.craftsmanhousegallery.com.
Cuisine: Breakfast and Lunch, SandwichesThe biggest 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. 2726 E Fowler Ave., Tampa. (813) 975-1718. 2569 Countryside Blvd., Clearwater. (727) 712-8769. 1648 Bruce B. Downs Blvd., Wesley Chapel. (813) 929-3947. 520 N Tampa St., Tampa. (813) 307-9006. www.firstwatch.com.
Ivory Mandarin Bistro
Cuisine: Asian, ChineseThis bistro has slowly accrued a wall's worth of accolades and "best of" awards along with its devoted, largely non-Chinese clientele. Crisp linens, Chinese floral prints, and sprays of silk orchids lend a dash of formality to the proceedings, but the menu reads like a greatest-hits list of Cantonese-American dishes. That means a workhorse hot and sour soup, juicy pork spare ribs, sweet-tangy orange beef and nurturing pan-fried chow fun noodles. 2192 Main St., Dunedin. (727) 734-3998. www.ivorybistro.com.
Kojak's House of Ribs
Cuisine: BarbecueThis is strictly 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 tablecloths make you feel at home, or at least on a picnic. The barbecue is no-nonsense, too - filling and fun. 2808 Gandy Blvd., Tampa. (813) 837-3774. www.kojaksbbq.com.
Cuisine: Spanish/CubanThis is lunch-counter Cuban at its heartiest and cheapest with strong Cuban coffee, thick bean soups, thin palomilla steaks and hefty pork sandwiches. The most fun is 24-hour eating in the Tampa sandwich shop. 3246 W Columbus Drive, Tampa. (813) 879-4909;7101 66th St. N, Pinellas Park. (727) 546-5785.
Cuisine: Greek, Mediterranean For an unbeatable mix of Mediterranean and Tampa Bay cuisine, North Suncoast eaters land here. Pizzas, black beans and yellow rice with chopped onions, Cuban pork dishes and, of course, Greek specialties by the owner himself. 1740 E Jefferson St., Brooksville. (352) 799-3154.
Cuisine: Ice Cream ParlorsGelato is not just the Italian word for ice cream. It is different altogether: denser, softer, creamier than American ice cream. Gelato often incorporates purees of fruits or nuts, and it is kept at a warmer temperature, making it more amenable to cups than cones. Made with milk, not cream, it has about 70 percent less fat than many ice creams. Opened at the end of 2006, Paciugo (pa-CHU-go) offers 32 to 34 flavors each day. In a small cup you can mix three flavors together. Consider pairing the intense chocolate fondant with a bit of lush hazelnut (the most popular flavor in Italy) and then tie them together with a third selection of gianduja (that's chocolate and hazelnut together, like Nutella). 300 Beach Drive NE, Suite 120, St. Petersburg. (727) 209-0298.
Most entrees $10-$20
Cuisine: Italian, Pacific RimHalf Italian, half Asian and all South Tampa-style, the place feels homey. Burgers, duck salad, Thai beef, bread bowls, lasagne, pizza and espresso-seared steak all get uptown presentation and warm neighborhood vibe. Plus miso, pesto and the whims of chef Robert Masson. 717 S Howard Ave., Tampa. (813) 250-1661.
Backwater's on Sand Key
Cuisine: Sandwiches, Seafood, SteaksBackwater's isn't afraid of the fryer, serving seafood with no frills, including high-quality fish and shellfish, most of it local. 1261 Gulf Blvd., Clearwater. (727) 517-7383. www.backwatersonsandkey.com.
Big Bok Choy Bistro
Cuisine: Asian, ChineseIt's a winning formula: Pan-Asian, but familiar dishes are wholesome, veggie-heavy and modestly seasoned. Suitable for takeout, it's the kind of food busy families pine to dish out after a long day. No mystery meat, nothing sitting in a slick of oil - just the snap of fresh green beans, the zing of lemongrass and perfume of garlic, and nurturing, rib-sticking heaps of pan-fried noodles. The little square storefront seems to focus more on quick, hot takeout, but eating in the cheery, tomato bisque-painted dining room can be equally pleasant, drawing from a mostly Chinese menu, but with a smattering of Thai, Vietnamese and Japanese favorites throw into the mix. 3730 Tampa Road, No. 6, Oldsmar. (813) 854-1961.
Bobby's Bistro and Wine Bar
Cuisine: Bistro, New American Hip spinoff of the landmark Heilman's Beachcomber serves contemporary food and a world-class wine list in cozy style. Steaks and chops, seafood, raclette potatoes, plus gourmet pizzas and burgers taste richly of an Americanized brasserie. 447 Mandalay Ave., Clearwater. (727) 446-9463.
Dominic's Italian Grille
Cuisine: Italian, Pizza, Seafood 3163 Curlew Road, Oldsmar. (727) 784-8100. www.dominicsgrille.com.
Elements Global Cuisine
Cuisine: Latin American, New American, Pacific RimSmall, airy, painted a sunny yellow, Elements is the kind of casual neighborhood restaurant that is increasingly making downtown Gulfport a gastronomic go-to spot. Owners Jose Luis and Catherine Pawelek offer a short globetrotting menu that includes dishes like Kona-braised short ribs with a coffee rub for a little bitterness, a Kahlua glaze for a little sweetness, all nestled in a wide pool of soft Gorgonzola polenta. Jose Luis' Argentine heritage is apparent in the hearty, flavorful grilled flank steak entree, rosy slices elevated by a zippy citrus-based chimichurri with garlic and parsley. Its balance of spicy/salty/sweet is echoed in other well-executed dishes like Indonesian-Thai inspired chicken and veggie stir fry or portobello ravioli with a smoldering Madras coconut milk curry. 3121 Beach Blvd., Gulfport. (727) 343-9894. elementsglobalcuisine.com.
Fish Tales Seafood House
Cuisine: SeafoodSeafood, sandwiches and St. Petersburg's waterfront at its funkiest. This marina-side dining is long on sandwiches, salads and skillets but there's no frying amid the open-air eating, drinking and musicmaking. 1500 Second St. S , St. Petersburg. (727) 821-3474.
Cuisine: IndianAt lunch the small downtown storefront features a moderately priced Indian buffet of gently spiced Northern Indian dishes (chicken from the tandoor, chickpeas in a garam masala-kicked tomatoey sauce, fluffy basmati and fresh naan), while at dinner the menu is divided into familiar sections of tandoori dishes, curries, rice biriyani and a broad array of meat-free pulses and veggie dishes. 320 First Ave. N, St. Petersburg. (727) 894-7455. www.indiagrillinc.com.
Keegan's Seafood Grille
Cuisine: American, SeafoodPicnic tables are fine. You know a great seafood house by its patrons (in line) and its suppliers (docked not far away). Starting with the best local fish, Linda and Cesar Labrador add every trick they've learned on their travels from Tarpon to New Orleans, Jamaica to Spain. Charcoaled octopus, gumbo, ceviche, they do it all, plus our own amberjack. 1519 Gulf Blvd., Indian Rocks Beach. (727) 596-2477. www.keegansseafood.com.
Lee Roy Selmon's
Cuisine: Barbecue, Family Style/Home Cooking Hall of Famer Selmon teams with Outback muscle to serve Southern cooking. 17508 Dona Michelle Drive, Tampa. (813) 977-3287;4302 W Boy Scout Blvd., Tampa. (813) 871-3287;2424 Tyrone Blvd., St. Petersburg. (727) 347-5774. www.leeroyselmons.com.
Cuisine: GreekLoud and crowded, and why not? Tourists who squeeze in among the locals get a true taste of Greek in anything grilled in lemon and oregano along the Sponge Docks. 628 Dodecanese Blvd., Tarpon Springs. (727) 934-4306.
Cuisine: Deli and Cafe, ItalianSouth Tampa's beloved eat-in bakery has grown up to be a brave new bistro, and it has added sit-down dinners as high-end as you wish. A big, wood-fired oven cranks out a wild assortment of crisp pizzas and roast chickens, monster pork chops and robust pastas. Plus there are brilliant salads, irresistible pastries and monster sandwiches, made by hand and with no fear of flavor. 3225 S MacDill Ave., Tampa. (813) 902-8828.
Most entrees $20 or more
Bern's Steak House
Cuisine: Fine Dining, SteaksNaysayers can grouse, but there's no denying the fine meat and one of the world's best and cheapest wine lists. You can drink back through 20 years in Spanish, Italians, Rhones and zins for $75 or less. Lighten up and relax; just exploring the menu's new additions takes time. Dessert takes more. 1208 S Howard Ave., Tampa. (813) 251-2421. www.bernssteakhouse.com.
Crazy Conch Cafe
Cuisine: Local Flavor, SeafoodThe condo crowd can feel warm and fuzzy over short ribs, gumbo and squash souffle and still feel stylish at this hideaway. It's Michael Peel's neighborly home for home cooking with a water view. The menu mixes Southern and coastal dishes and no-carb blowouts like a $30 T-bone on greens and Parmesan. Wines are just as clever. 1110 Pinellas Bayway S Suite 206, Tierra Verde. (727) 865-0633. www.crazyconch.com.
Cuisine: ItalianMalio Iavarone was the consummate restaurateur and showman, his restaurant, Malio's, an iconic dining destination. It closed in 2005. And now it's back, kind of. Malio's son, Derek, and his buddy Jason Fernandez, owner of Ybor City's Bernini, launched Malio's Prime in downtown Tampa's 31-story Rivergate Tower. The new Malio's fills a void in a restaurant-impoverished area, especially at lunchtime when it's thick with downtown business folk wheeling and dealing as they indulge in fat steaks and chops. 400 N Ashley Drive, Tampa. (813) 223-7746. www.maliosprime.com.
Cuisine: American, Pacific Rim, Seafood, SteaksSandpearl Resort does not suffer from the hotel-dining blahs. It contains a nice poolside cafe and a coffee shop, but the major accomplishment is Caretta on the Gulf. Named for a species of loggerhead turtle, the restaurant has all the elements that make for success: sleek and knowledgeable service, a gorgeous beach view, stunning decor, plus tasty and fair-priced food and drink. A lovely raw bar near the restaurant entrance sets the tone: ceviche; oysters on the halfshell; spiny lobster and spicy tuna sushi rolls. Then the rosy glow and crackle of a wood burning oven sends out roasted fishes, chicken and meats that for the most part are paired with thoughtful, unusual side dishes and sauces. 500 Mandalay Ave., Clearwater Beach. (727) 441-2425.