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... 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.

Most entrees less than $10

Saigon Deli

Cuisine: Vietnamese

Saigon Deli has had an avid following among the banh mi cognoscenti since 2005. Lam Le offers four varieties, all for $2.99, the best of which is the combo. Order at the counter and they assemble it pronto: Baguette, very crispy, slathered with pate (tasted chicken livery, but could have been other kinds of liver), head cheese and ham, piled up with crisp and sweet and just slightly spicy daikon and carrot matchsticks and soft pickley cucumbers, lots of cilantro (and somehow the cilantro stems add to the beauty) and a tang of fish sauce and jalapeno. Warm. And wrapped in waxed paper. Add to that a to-go cup of Vietnamese coffee, very bitter, very sweet with condensed milk, lots of ice. 3962 W Waters Ave., Tampa. (813) 932-0300.

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Most entrees $10 to $20

Casa Tina Gourmet Mexican & Vegetarian

Cuisine: Mexican, vegetarian

After a move from a smaller space, Casa Tina already looks like it has been there forever, with a long fuchsia wall packed to capacity with old photos and funky mirrors, the opposite weathered brick wall tattooed with a Day of the Dead skeleton mariachi band painting. Doors are flung wide to the front patio and maximum Main Street viewing. The food is still casual, affordable, fun and Mexican, with a special emphasis on vegetarian and vegan versions of most dishes. Veracruz-style fish tacos and sizzling fajitas are also crowd-pleasers. 365 Main St., Dunedin. (727) 734-9226.

Grill 131

Cuisine: American upscale

Bob Spoto opened his latest venture on the site of a restaurant he opened back in 1991. Right out of the gate Grill 131 has done everything right. Attractive without being busy or precious, it's a big restaurant (4,000 square feet and more than 150 seats) that manages to feel intimate. Its adjacent bar is sleek and clubby, easy to imagine filled with stylish hoards. The food is familiar, heavy on the steaks, chops and fillets of fish, but every single dish has a fillip of something unexpected or something au courant. Think thinly pounded beef carpaccio lush with truffle oil and topped with a pouf of microgreens and a sprinkling of smoked sea salt. An Asian accent here, a deep nod to the Mediterranean there, but underneath it all is recognizable food, competently prepared. 13079 Park Blvd., Seminole. (727) 393-1703.

Grille 54

Cuisine: American upscale, Italian, steak house, sushi

It's not Tampa's MacDinton's/South Howard level of mayhem, but it's no small feat to get so many folks in southwest Pasco out on a Saturday night. And what's the draw? Sushi. Oh, and steaks. And Italian food. There's also seafood, raw bar items and a lot of dishes from the wood grill. It's a menu with a more-is-more aesthetic. This is risky behavior. Few kitchens can handle such a vast menu, especially across several cuisines. By and large, though, Grille 54 pulls things off. One person can be in the mood for spaghetti and meatballs, another for a tempura shrimp Mexican roll and still another for a Long Island "Mini Skirt," with its tasty gin-tequila roundhouse. 10900 State Road 54, New Port Richey. (727) 376-0254.

Libby's Cafe and Bar

Cuisine: American upscale

In the space vacated by Fred's in the charming Southside Village, this sprawling place has been swamped since its opening. Owned by the Seidensticker family, who cut their chops at the fabled Gasparilla Inn on Boca Grande, this is a paean to the good old U.S. of A. At lunch, think dazzling BLTs and burgers served with fries and housemade ketchup that can cause compulsive behavior. At dinner, simple grilled fishes and steaks satisfy and leave space for desserts that make you feel like a kid: tall and fluffy key lime pie decorated whimsically with gummy bears or a gargantuan, just-from-the-oven chocolate chip cookie topped with softly melting vanilla ice cream. Its generous French doors thrown open to the street, Libby's has the bustle of an urban hot spot, crowded with families, business folk and Hillview neighborhood scenesters. The lively bar and spacious dining rooms get a little moodier at night, sidewalk tables still the hottest commodity after the dusk cools. 1917 S Osprey Ave., Sarasota. (941) 487-7300.

Peg's Cantina & Brew Pub

Cuisine: Casual dining, Mexican, pizza, pub

Notice first the crazy-fabulous beer list: an array of Belgian ales and lambics, as well as all those American microbrews with the adolescent names (Butthead bock, anyone?). During the week, the menu is healthy, homey Mexican; on the weekend, they crank up the pizza oven and turn out unfussy, saucy, thin-crust pies. Inside the lovingly renovated bungalow, just a few tables and a simple bar accommodate diners; the bulk of the seating is outdoors in the landscaped yard. This means the next-door neighbor might be mowing his lawn or chucking a ball for his dog, part of the entertainment as you waggle tortilla chips into smolderingly creamy chipotle dip or guacamole while you wait for a shrimp burrito or duo of soft pork tacos. 3038 Beach Blvd. S, Gulfport. (727) 328-2720.

Primi Urban Cafe

Cuisine: Bistro, Italian

At the end of 2009, Irene and Arno Waltsleben sold the charming Italian downtown St. Petersburg restaurant to Saverio Macaluso, an Italian from Rome. Macaluso has updated the interior and added a piano. But more recently he has announced new executive chef Richard Coots. Born and raised in Tokyo and trained at the Cordon Bleu in Paris, Coots has worked as general manager for the Howard Johnson in St. Petersburg and for 13 years at the Don CeSar before that. He is slowly introducing menu changes and has recently launched a buffet lunch option. The wine list has been expanded to include boutique Italian bottlings. 27 Fourth St. N, St. Petersburg. (727) 895-4909.

Queens Head

Cuisine: American casual, pub

The work of Darren Conner and Paul Smith, Queens Head is an adorable, cheeky and emphatically stylish addition to St. Petersburg's Grand Central district. The small bar-restaurant is a delightful addition, a British pub with a little South Beach glamor and New York club smarts (it's hard not to feel hip while sipping a mimosa and listening to a little of DJ Craig Dirty's chill-out music at Sunday brunch). Chris Greer, formerly at MJ's Martini Jazz Lounge in St. Petersburg, is doing great work with affordable, gutsy reinterpretations of pub classics and some freestyling entirely his own. Crispy fried chickpeas just blushed with smoked paprika are a curiously satisfying bar food, and you don't usually associate pub grub and a trio of seared sea scallops served with cherrywood bacon and caramelized Brussels sprouts, but so be it. 2501 Central Ave., St. Petersburg. (727) 498-8584.

Yoko's Japanese Restaurant

Cuisine: Asian, Japanese, sushi

One of the reliable suppliers is this quiet but busy spot in the MacDill gourmet cluster. Students, professors, military brass and locals fill the small bar, snare tables or sit shoeless at tatami for tempura, bento boxes and clever sushi. 3217 S Macdill Ave., Tampa. (813) 835-4311.

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Most entrees $20 or more

Heilman's Beachcomber

Cuisine: American upscale, fine dining, seafood

Old-timers know Bob Heilman's for its fried chicken and clubby Manhattans. Insiders know it for wine - especially pinot noir - from elegant Burgundy to upstart Oregon, where Bob Jr. has his own vineyard. 447 Mandalay Ave., Clearwater. (727) 442-4144.

Michael's Grill

Cuisine: American upscale, French, Italian

With the warmth and connectedness of a neighborhood stalwart, most of Michael's short menu is familiar territory, a mix of American, French and Italian comfort foods, from a fragrant bowl of French onion soup to a generous heap of penne Bolognese or a luxurious steak Oscar. 11720 N Dale Mabry Hwy., Tampa. (813) 964-8334.

Restaurant BT

Cuisine: Asian

B.T. Nguyen presents the flavors of France and Vietnam with a style of her own, half feng shui, half fashion model, and all hard work from stove to tables in the coolest space in Old Hyde Park. Squid salad, tofu hotpot, lamb spare ribs and pumpkin soup are as subtle and smooth as the service. The recently added bar menu affords a lower price point, and the house mixologists have mad skills with Asian flavors such as lemongrass and Kaffir lime leaf. 1633 W Snow Ave., Tampa. (813) 258-1916.