Best Of 2006

When I asked the server how many things I could pick from the glass cases on display at Armani’s, he told me to go hog wild. Actually, he said “as many as you’d like,” but hog wild is a more accurate description of what followed. It’s surprising how many cured meats, marinated vegetables and exotic cheeses you can manage to fit on one plate. At $13.95 per person, it’s an incredible deal, both by Armani’s exorbitant standards and in the real world. They’ll likely frown at you if all you order is the antipasto and some tap water, but you might not get kicked out. 6200 W. Courtney Campbell Causeway, Tampa, 813-207-6800.


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Food & Drink

Food & Drink 2011

The best thing to happen to fast-food breakfasts since the Heart Attack Eggwich or whatever that gigundo thing is called at Burger King, Panera’s soufflés are savory little pies in three flavors (four cheeses, spinach and artichoke, and the champ: spinach and bacon) that taste like they’re good for you — or at least they taste much better than the stuff that’s bad for you at the other chains. Sure, the name’s a little redundant — soufflés are always baked, and we’re pretty sure they always contain eggs — but hell, they’re great with coffee. Various area locations.

219 Westshore Plaza, Tampa, www.pfchangs.com

Runners Up: TC Choy’s, Jasmine Thai

Various Bay Area locations, www.sonnysbbq.com

Runners Up: Kojak’s House of Ribs, Fred Fleming’s

Runners Up: The Independent, Mellow Mushroom

Cafe Alma (Photo by Valerie Troyano)
Cafe Alma (Photo by Valerie Troyano)

This hip St. Pete day- and nightspot is hands-down the best place to get a little hair of the dog on a late, lazy Saturday morning that’s more like an early Saturday afternoon. They bring you the vodka of your choice iced down in a pint glass, and you make your own medicine from a spread that typically features two very original Bloody Mary mixes (the one made with a splash of Guinness is a widespread favorite), along with everything from Tabasco sauce and horseradish to pickled okra and baby corn. Plus, the brunch menu is uniformly excellent.

For the newcomers: Café con leche is the Spanish version of Café Au Lait, requiring nearly a quarter cup of sugar placed underneath the grounds of a strong, finely ground espresso coffee, then drip-brewed and topped with heated milk. The result is a strong, sweet brew that titillates the senses as much as the brain. And although Tampa has its share of great Cuban cafés offering the drink, the key to any café con leche is the espresso, and no espresso beats El Molino’s. Unlike most of the chain coffee shops in the area, El Molino roasts its beans on premises at the 85-year-old Naviera Coffee Mills, creating a fresh, unique espresso shot with much more kick than anything Starbucks could ever create. 2012 E. Seventh Ave., Ybor City, 800-531-9587, www.elmolinocoffee.com.

It’s the best chain pizza in the land, with that ideal crust combination of chewy, crunchy and creamy that makes all the difference, with the usual choices of meat and veggie toppings along with wacky combinations like pesto and jalapenos. Mellow Mushroom also has one of the best beer selections — more than 20 taps loaded with real microbrews — in the Bay area, chain or no. It’s almost enough to forget how places like this are crushing local restaurateurs — and your soul. 10959 Causeway Blvd., Brandon, 813-685-1122; 11955 Sheldon Road, Tampa, 813-926-3600.


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Various Bay Area locations, www.tacobell.com

Runners Up: La Teresita, Taco Bus