Associated with but still independent of the Jo-To Japanese Steakhouses that are scattered around town, this South Tampa mainstay has stockpiled its own fair share of Weekly Planet Best Of the Bays, attracting the notice of pundits and readers alike by serving consistently superior sushi for more than two decades. Presented on rice, in seaweed-wrapped rolls or as sashimi without any accompaniment each piece of Jo-To sushi possesses all the qualities that fresh and well-prepared sushi should: The salmon is firm but melts on your tongue; the tuna is a deep, healthy pink; the octopus is chewy and free of sliminess; and the grilled eel is crispy but tender, its basting sauce delicately sweet. The prices are reasonable (for $16.50, you can enjoy a deluxe sushi dinner complete with soup and salad), the atmosphere is tranquil, the traditional Japanese décor is tasteful and elegant, and the kimono-wearing waitresses are pleasant and courteous at all times. Jo-To unquestionably lives up to its name, which, in Japanese, means superior or the best.
The best thing to happen to fast-food breakfasts since the Heart Attack Eggwich or whatever that gigundo thing is called at Burger King, Paneras soufflés are savory little pies in three flavors (four cheeses, spinach and artichoke, and the champ: spinach and bacon) that taste like theyre good for you or at least they taste much better than the stuff thats bad for you at the other chains. Sure, the names a little redundant soufflés are always baked, and were pretty sure they always contain eggs but hell, theyre great with coffee. Various area locations.
219 Westshore Plaza, Tampa, www.pfchangs.com
Runners Up: TC Choys, Jasmine Thai
Various Bay Area locations, www.sonnysbbq.com
Runners Up: Kojaks House of Ribs, Fred Flemings
Runners Up: The Independent, Mellow Mushroom
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 thats 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 Molinos. 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.
Its 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. Its 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