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Published Oct. 17, 2013

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 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

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Most entrees less than $10

Casita Taqueria

Cuisine: Casual Dining, Mexican.

Owners Don and Gwen Arvin have traveled widely, enjoying the taquerias of Southern California.These serve simple, fresh, uncomplicated dishes without a lot of sauce or molten cheese or sour cream. No crunchy shells, no avalanche of lettuce and tomato, no ground beef with "taco seasoning." The tacos they craved were straightforward handmade corn masa soft tortillas, hot from the griddle, furnished sparsely with meat (braised beef, shredded chicken) and topped with maybe a little crunchy cabbage or pico de gallo, a spritz of lime juice and a ruffle of cilantro. And now St. Petersburg can enjoy just that, with a glass of sangria or an icy Negro Modelo. 2706 Fourth St. N, St. Petersburg. (727) 820-4365.


Cuisine: Breakfast or brunch, Casual Dining, French.

French pastries and French-inspired salads and sandwiches dominate the chalkboard menu behind the counter. At breakfast, this may mean egg, ham and Gruyere on a croissant or eggs, cheddar and bacon on a baguette, and lunch may be energized by a "power salad" that corrals brown rice and avocado with spinach, feta, chickpeas, shredded chicken, tomatoes and roasted red peppers in a kicky, mustardy vinaigrette. Only breakfast and lunch. Hours: 7 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Mon.-Fri., 8 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Sat., 8 a.m.-3:30 p.m. Sun. 1633 W Snow Ave., Tampa. (813) 251-1777.

Serendipity Cafe

Cuisine: Casual Dining.

The menu is completely free of gluten, which is causing digestive problems for an increasing number of people. But the menu here is friendly to everyone. Brown rice is the base of a pasta stands in nicely for the traditional kind, and it is the base of tortillas used for wraps. For breakfast, there are pancakes made of cornmeal and French toast made with bread made in-house. Open for breakfast and lunch. 664 Main St, Dunedin. (727) 483-9233.

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Most entrees $10 to $20

Irish 31

Cuisine: American casual, Irish, Pub.

Longtime-coming Irish 31 opened in 2011 in the building occupied by the original Wine Exchange. It has always been a wonderful space, on a corner with big windows and an inviting patio, adjacent to what is now CineBistro. The menu is a savvy mix of traditional Irish pub fare and its classic American counterparts: shepherd's pie and lamb stew alongside burgers and fat Reuben sandwiches. At night the draw is live music in the courtyard. 1611 W Swann Ave., Tampa. (813) 250-0031.

Shrimp Boat Grill

Cuisine: American casual, Seafood casual.

Try either the grilled shrimp served simply with drawn butter and a choice of side (broccoli, cole slaw, etc., with a salad option for an additional fee), or a garlicky, buttery shrimp scampi served over spaghettini are welcome choices. This is honest, fairly straightforward American food, served at fair prices. But if that's all you eat, you miss half the story. 716 W Lumsden Road, Brandon. (813) 571-7860.

The Hangar

Cuisine: American casual, Bistro, Breakfast or brunch, Pub.

Even if you aren't flying out of Albert Whitted Airport, you can stop in for mussels and wings and the chocolate mousse cake. It's open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and the waffle iron is employed all day long, including with ice cream, chocolate and fruit for dessert. And the view is unparalleled for plane watchers. 540 First St. SE, St. Petersburg. (727) 823-7767.

Willie's, the Place for Seafood

Cuisine: Seafood upscale.

Brandon longtimers won't need an introduction to Willie's, the Place for Seafood (formerly called Fat Willie's - no word on whether this coincided with a change at the scales). Sitting all by itself, the little 1915 building was once a general store, then a post office and finally a classic "fish camp" restaurant. It has gone through some ownership changes in recent years, but its essential character is the same: honest, down-home, faintly New Orleans-tinged, seafood-centric, rib-sticking fare that is unlikely to move anyone's cholesterol in the right direction. The kitchen knows its way around fried fish: clean oil, hot enough to leave batter crisp and greaseless, and a little tangy tartar sauce and scoop of simple cole slaw to contrast all the crunchy lushness. No wonder this quirky bird has managed to weather rough restaurant times. 1912 Main St, Valrico. (813) 571-7630.

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Most entrees $20 or more


Cuisine: Italian.

The dinner-only menu is resolutely Italian, but very personal: Start off with a small bowl of salted, warm housemade sunchoke chips while you consider whether to go with the mushroom arrancini or a hearty bacon and eggs, Italian style: a potato frittata paired with a thin, juicy plank of pork belly, both of them admirably showcased with a tomato vinaigrette. For entrees, the asparagus risotto is textbook and there's a gorgeous seared filet mignon napped with a little truffled cheese sauce and accompanied by roasted sunchokes and still-snappy skinny green beans and bits of pancetta. Still, you don't want to miss pastry chef Evan Schmidt's desserts, all little architectural wonders. 1120 E Kennedy Blvd., Tampa. (813) 374-8840.