These are restaurants that we can recommend for date nights, special occasions and a good meal. You can find more Tampa Bay restaurants and bars by searching our database at tampabay.com/things-to-do. Inclusion in this list or database is not related to advertising. If you have a restaurant or bar youÕd like us to check out, e-mail us at email@example.com.
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Most entrees less than $10
Cuisine: Indian, Vegetarian.
Tucked on the block that is increasingly a "restaurant row," it's a great space with a full bar and attractive, 120-seat dining room. Begin with an Indian-inspired cocktail (they've got a mango lassi with Grey Goose that is a savvy invention), then it's time to carbo load with garlic naan, spicy lentil popadam and an order of clove basmati rice. Around these dishes crowd a chickpea chana masala sweet-tangy with tamarind and tomato, seriously spicy lamb vindaloo with tender meat and hunks of potato and an order of turmeric-tinged potato cauliflower curry. Portions aren't vast, but prices are exceedingly reasonable (no buffet). 513 N Franklin St, Tampa. (813) 224-0011. tunduree.com
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Most entrees $10 to $20
Casa Tina Gourmet Mexican & Vegetarian
Cuisine: Breakfast or brunch, Mexican, Vegetarian.
After a move from a smaller space, Casa Tina 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 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. casatinas.com
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, Suite #105, New Port Richey. (727) 376-0254. grille54.com
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. 1917 S Osprey, Sarasota. (941) 487-7300. libbyscafebar.com
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. pegscantina.com
Cuisine: American casual, Pub.
The small bar-restaurant is 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). You'll find affordable, gutsy reinterpretations of pub classics and some freestyling. 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.
Spoto's Grill 131
Cuisine: American upscale, Steak house.
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 hordes. 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. grill131.com
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. yokosrestaurant.com
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Most entrees $20 or more
Cuisine: American upscale, Fine dining, Seafood upscale.
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.'s own vineyard is located. 447 Mandalay Ave., Clearwater. (727) 442-4144. bobheilmans.com
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 Highway, Tampa. (813) 964-8334. michaelsgrill.com
Mystic Fish Seafood Grill
Cuisine: American upscale, Bistro, Seafood upscale.
Veteran chefs added this flash to old North Pinellas several years ago, and it hasn't dimmed. Familiar Bermuda fish chowder and lobster bisque remain, yet there's always something extra: Asian BBQ short ribs, togorashi seared ahi tuna, maple leaf duck breast. Wine list is smartly selected and priced. 3253 Tampa Road, Palm Harbor. (727) 771-1800. 3bestchefs.com/mystic
Cuisine: American upscale, Fine dining, Seafood upscale.
One of the most glamorous restaurants to open here in ages, and the food is every bit as good. It looks like the dining room of a stately old cruise ship, and the food is spectacular. A prime ribeye with drinkably-good bearnaise, a side of vinegared plank fries, a bowl of sauteed wild mushrooms. Classic steakhouse food, every detail attended to. And the seafood was fresh and expertly prepared. 2205 N West Shore Blvd., Tampa. (813) 490-5288. ocean-prime.com.