1. Archive


... 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 Got a restaurant we should try? Send submissions to or to Weekend, St. Petersburg Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731.

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Most entrees less than $10

Airport Variety Store

Cuisine: Market, Sandwiches

True locals don't just drive by; they stop here for sandwiches and cold drinks. For more than 30 years the specialty has been pressed Cubans, but the offerings include pastrami, pork, crab cakes, daily lunch specials and homemade brownies, flan and pastries. 4600 Roosevelt Blvd., Largo. (727) 531-7000.

Big Tim's BarBQ

Cuisine: Barbecue

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.

Cafe de Paris Bakery

Cuisine: Breads and Dessert

Amid the newest condos on the gulf, this shop bakes the fullest range of traditional artisanal breads, from long, pointed campagnards and husky 10-grain to perfect brioche topknots, buttery croissants and delicate tuiles, plus cakes, pastries and chocolates. 2300 Gulf Blvd., Indian Rocks Beach. (727) 593-0277.

Daily Eats

Cuisine: American

Tampa's beloved old meeting house got a second life as a hip diner, where comfort meets nutrition trends for all-day cheap dates. Breakfasts can be sunny-side up, burgers as wild as turkey crusted with potato chips. Have a healthful "shredder" bowl of brown rice, lettuce and protein. Or skip to the shake shop for a parfait. 901 S Howard Ave., Tampa. (813) 868-3335.

El Cap

Cuisine: American, Local Flavor

El Cap is the same as it always has been, which is why we go there and fill up the place daily. Burgers and sports come first here and have since 1964, and also those simple sandwiches you can't get anymore: Swiss cheese on white bread (get rye to be exotic) or liverwurst or ham or 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.

Mid Peninsula Seafood Market and Restaurant

Cuisine: 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. 400 49th St. S, St. Petersburg. (727) 327-8309.

Wildflower Cafe

Cuisine: Breakfast and Lunch, Brunches, Deli and Cafe

Cute and cramped, like home years ago and maybe better tasting. You'll love omelets with field greens, turkey wraps, waffles and any of the goodies in the bakery case, from pecan tassies to pumpkin scones and hummingbird cake. Get up early for a seat outside at brunch; come back for soup and a ciabatta sandwich at lunch. 1465 S Fort Harrison Ave., Clearwater. (727) 447-4497.

Woody's Famous Salads and Sandwich

Cuisine: Casual Dining, Sandwiches

Tampa shrine to the Greek salad (potato salad division), rescued from the old Riverboat Restaurant decades ago. It's a staple on the midday menu of South Tampa society and can be ordered in sizes for two to 100. Shrimp and other salads, well-made sandwiches, quick service and pleasant setting keep crowds coming. 1722 S Dale Mabry Highway, Tampa. (813) 254-2806.

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Most entrees $10-$20


Cuisine: Italian

This small chain's menu is overwhelmingly Italian, all the usual ravioli, manicotti, parmigiana, marsalas, marinaras and such, with creativity in sautes and baked combos. Portions are enormous, so be prepared to take home a doggy bag. 33180 U.S. 19 N, Palm Harbor. (727) 772-7874.

Backfin Blue Cafe

Cuisine: Seafood, Steaks

Come to the little house under the oaks. Sit on the screened porch or inside. The best of the old favorites (meat loaf, crab cake, prime rib and fish) are served warmly and simply. Harold Russell's efforts will make you want to eat your vegetables. 2913 Beach Blvd. S, Gulfport. (727) 343-2583.

Bella's Italian Cafe

Cuisine: Italian, Pizza

One of the first to brag on pizzas from wood-fired ovens, Bella's became a staple on the South Tampa social scene. Pizza is still beautifully misshapen and charred, lobster bisque is a wicked treat, and the mix-and-match pasta and sauces are plenty of fun. The best bet: creamy tomato with confetti of bacon, peas and tomato. 1413 S Howard Ave., Tampa. (813) 254-3355.

Ceviche Tapas Bar and Restaurant

Cuisine: Tapas

That cocktail of marinated fish is only one item on the biggest spread of hot and cold tapas laid out on both sides of the bay. The Tampa location is dark and cozy, St. Pete's open to the embarcadero. Crowds and food are fast and fun: olives, quail, sherried chicken livers and albondigas. 10 Beach Drive, St. Petersburg. (727) 209-2302. 1502 S Howard Ave., Tampa. (813) 250-0203.

Fly Bar and Restaurant

Cuisine: Brunches, New American

The brainchild of Tampa native Leslie Shirah, this bastion of hip has since gained a devoted following. Shirah honed the concept during a 15-year stint in San Francisco, where she still owns three restaurants. And the concept is this: an all-day menu until late, late; a share-it-with-friends approach to world-beat small plates; suave cocktails; a little live music; and a minimalist-hip decor. It's a nightspot to rival any of those in Ybor City, a restaurant that goes toe-to-toe with the best in Hyde Park. Its chef Rene Caceres is what has enabled it to stay a beacon downtown nearly as sparkly and inviting as the Tampa Theatre. 1202 N Franklin St., Tampa. (813) 275-5000.

The Colonnade

Cuisine: Seafood

There, on Bayshore Boulevard with the ahh-some views of Hillsborough Bay, they've been serving seafood to Tampa's well off for as long as most people can remember. The Colonnade Restaurant property has been in the Whiteside family for more than 100 years, through five generations, each one adding to the long menu. Some dishes are homey (cornflake-coated grouper), others just odd (Cokes served with an olive), but everyone agrees that the window seats are prime downtown real estate. 3401 Bayshore Blvd., Tampa. (813) 839-7558.

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Most entrees $20 or more

Cafe Alma

Cuisine: Brunches, Mediterranean

This touches the tastiest parts of every coast: sausages and bean casseroles from Spain, eggplants and beets from Italy, bouillabaisse and mussels from France, and the lamb tagine across the sea. Smart drinking, friendly bar plus a Saturday brunch. 260 First Ave. S, St. Petersburg. (727) 502-5002.

J. Alexander's

Cuisine: New American, Steaks

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 smart cooking. 913 N Dale Mabry Highway, Tampa. (813) 354-9006.

Mitchell's Fish Market

Cuisine: Seafood

Seafood gets posh treatment worthy of a big-shot steakhouse but with the class of an old ocean liner. Finny stuff is fresh, great straight or with Asian sauces, with first-rate sides and dessert. Start with a pan roast of mussels. 204 Westshore Plaza, Tampa. (813) 289-3663.

Rusty's Bistro

Cuisine: Buffet, Seafood, Steaks

In the Sheraton Sand Key. Too many locals pass by the finest cooking on the beaches. Chefs on John Harris' crew give Sand Key an exquisite taste of cooking that's seasonal, handcrafted, local and up-to-date. Even the vodka is infused. 1160 Gulf Blvd., Clearwater. (727) 595-1611.