The true test of a quality restaurant is its soup. If it tastes like add water and stir, run away. But if it tastes like Mom made it, hang like wallpaper. At Noho Bistro, a mom does make the soup. Noho, owned by Mike Long and Jessica Raia-Long, is a tiny little lunch bistro specializing in sandwiches and a daily hot entree. Everything is excellent, but the soups excel. Take the clam chowder, for instance. Big chunks of clams, smoked ham and soft potatoes bathe in a succulent, expertly seasoned cream base that woos your tongue. The portion is enough to fill you for hours, and comes with a hunk of fresh bread from Great Harvest Bread Company. The clam chowder isnt served everyday, but call Jessica and beg her to feed your jones. 1912 N. Howard Ave., Tampa, 813-514-0691.
Runners-up: PF Changs
Its hard to make a really bad bagel even those frozen Lenders jobs can come through in a pinch. And its equally difficult to make a really good bagel, let alone a perfect one. But St. Pete Bagel Company comes deliciously close, turning out pumpernickel, poppy and cinnamon raisin delights that rival anything youd find in New York. Theyve got great coffee too, and their egg and cheese sandwich is the real deal (no microwaved circles here folks). But its the bagels that make this spot worth the trip. Baked daily on premises, they pass the ultimate test: You can eat em without butter or cream cheese and theyre still damn good. 5835 Memorial Highway, Tampa, 813-889-7710; 7043 Fourth St. N., St. Petersburg, 727-522-3377.
The rustic Italian loaf here is a revelation, the rosemary focaccia decadent. The pizza is thin-crusted and eclectically topped with anything from carmelized onions to olive tapenade. Since moving into a new and bigger space on MacDill Avenue in South Tampa earlier this year, Pane Rustica and its owners, Kevin and Karyn Kruszewski, have transcended its status as a tiny boho bakery to become a spacious Tuscan wonder that also serves lunches, dinners and gelato. Bread is the star here, but the ever-changing selection of pastries including almond Danish, cherry streudel and chocolate chip croissants is nothing to turn your nose up at either. 3225 S. MacDill Ave., Tampa, 813-902-8828.
At various locations throughout the Tampa Bay area; www.sonnysbbq.com
Runners-up: Kojaks House of Ribs
Smokey Bones Barbeque & Grill
Runners-up: Bar Louie
Youd think making cheap, good bacon and eggs wouldnt be that hard, but damned if it isnt in this town. Even though an aching head and fat-craving body would pretty much eat anything on a hungover Sunday morning, its still a pre-requisite that the food be edible and quick. Thats where Moms Place shines even if it looks packed when you arrive, youre still at a table within 15 minutes, service is quick and efficient, and the fantastic gyro meat omelet comes made to order. All for under $8. That can make your head feel better. 4816 N. Dale Mabry, Tampa, 813-875-2670.
In a town full of places that serve good Cuban coffee with milk, the West Tampa Sandwich Shop stands out. Sure, the café con leche here is good the milk steamed just right, the espresso roast strong enough to stand up to it. But the regulars here take their dose of Latinized caffeine with a side of politics. Dunking your Cuban toast here over the years would have been accompanied by visits from John Kerry, Bob Graham, Tipper Gore, Jim Davis or any of myriad Democrats running for public office over the years who have made stopping at the West Tampa café a must-schedule event. Theres not much bipartisanship here: The shop lost its resident Republican, Fred Barksdale, who passed away this year. 3904 N. Armenia Ave., Tampa, 813-873-7104.
If your taste buds are honed to anything curry or red beans and rice cooked Yardie style, Publixs ethnic section just doesnt cut it. Caribbean Trade has a wide range of pepper sauces and seasonings, as well as fresh yams, breadfruit, okra, plantains and all the other essentials. Its also a perfect place to pick up a sixer of Red Stripe. 11502 N. Nebraska Ave., Tampa, 813-971-2443, www.tradecaribbean.com.