Best Of 2018

Best Asian dessert

Eastern minimalist Asian desserts are usually too simple and underwhelming for a Western culinary sensibility. Happily, Pin Wok & Bowl’s choice to combine Banana Coins with coconut ice cream is an inspired mashup. Slices of banana are wrapped in little phyllo packets, fried till crisp and golden, then drizzled with honey and topped with a light sprinkle of white-and-black sesame seeds. House-made coconut ice cream is creamily scrumptious, drizzled with lightly caramelized condensed milk and paired with some fresh whipped cream. I urge you to try them together as we did by serendipity. It’s a match made in heaven, or at least downtown St. Pete’s version of Bangkok. 445 Central Ave., St. Petersburg. 727-575-7167. —Jon Palmer Claridge

Best Asian starter

Thuy Le’s kitchen produces nuanced plates are often revelatory, and same goes for the edamame appetizer. I don’t know about you, but I’ve had plenty of these soybean pods over the years — and they’re mostly the same: steamed, sprinkled with salt and pleasant, yet notmemorable. Asie’s version knocks me on my ass. They’re simply superlative. The spicy pods are slightly charred and in a viscous soy-garlic sauce that’s as surprising as it is delicious. As if that weren’t enough, they’re garnished with tiny bits of crispy pork belly. Don’t miss ’em. 437 Central Ave., St. Petersburg. 727-898-4300, asiepanasian.com. —JPC

Best barista

Maybe I’m under the spell of the drum work he does for Tampa emo band Blacksmith. Maybe it’s the coffee, or his co-workers at his current spot inside Heights Public Market, but I love it when Curt Hensley’s face is handing me a cup of coffee in the morning. He’s always good for a killer band recommendation and one of the nicest guys ever. I’ll follow Curt (formerly of Foundation Coffee Co. and headed for King State when it opens at Floribraska Avenue and I-275) wherever he goes. Armature Works, 1910 N. Ola Ave., Tampa. 813-250-3725, communeandco.com. —Ray Roa

Best bartender slinging the best happy hour Old Fashioned

Regulars at the Grand Central District’s Sly Bar/TapHouse 61 knew him as knowledgeable about wine and beer, but since going to work at the EDGE District’s beautiful Room 901, Jones has really upped his game. Funny, attentive and always ready to make a well-considered cocktail suggestion, Jones is the best kind of bartender with whom to pass an early evening hour or two. Best of all, he makes a seriously kick-ass Old Fashioned, and they’re five bucks between 5 and 6:30 p.m. during the week. 901 First. Ave. S., St. Petersburg. 727-290-9492. —Scott Harrell

Best better than nachos

What’s the ideal accompaniment to that ridiculously ooey, gooey layer of cheese pressed between two slices of fresh bread? More cheese, duh, which is why you shouldn’t pass up on throwing in nacho cheese fries with your Central Melt sandwich order. Part of the gourmet grilled cheesery’s selection of sides on the 600 Block, the dish is a generous pile of hand-cut taters fried twice to crispy perfection, then topped with warm nacho cheese and a shredded sharp white variety. You’re gonna need a fork. 685 Central Ave., St. Petersburg. 727-346-5338, centralmelt.com. —Meaghan Habuda

Best big wiener

Dunedin bars and restaurants are the perfect excuse to turn a day trip to Honeymoon Island into a date night, and this seaside spot just down the street from amazing Aperol spritzes at Bon Appétit has a menu item to quench the ultimate thirst… for meat. Olde Bay Café’s “Jumbo Hot Dog” arrives as advertised: all kinds of thick, with its slight curve smiling at you like some kind of bulging gift from the processed meat gods. At just $5 and change, you can splurge by adding bacon, cheese or slaw for a buck each. 51 Main St., Dunedin. 727-733-2542, oldebaycafe.com. —Ray Roa

Best blink-and-you-missed-it restaurant

This little Grand Central District bar and restaurant opened right before the end of 2017, on the ground floor of the Vintin Hotel. In addition to kick-ass happy hour specials ($3 martinis and half-price bottles of wine!), indoor murals and live local music, The Hive boasted an eclectic menu that sort of split the difference between Asian, seafood and down-home American (poke and prime rib!). Despite the somewhat cheesy paint job on the building’s exterior, everything I ate and drank there was good. But the hotel itself garnered some pretty bad reviews, and by the time April was gone, so was The Hive, and the Vintin was closed “for renovation.” Walking by the place earlier this month, it didn’t look like anything had been done, and while the location is primo enough that it won’t sit unused forever, I’m not holding my breath for the restaurant and bar’s return. 2349 Central Ave., St. Petersburg. 727-440-9846, vintinhotel.com. —Scott Harrell

Just about everything on the menu is worth a trip to the quaint ‘n’ funky spot in a converted Safety Harbor house, and the friendliness of the staff helps, too. But there’s something special about the breakfast Cuban; the way its perfect bread and high-quality ingredients come together transcends the usual, and even the better-than-usual. I’ve eaten my fair share of breakfast Cubans, and this is the one I’ll gladly get back in the car and take a half-hour drive to wrap my hands around again. 143 Seventh Ave. N., Safety Harbor. 727-723-0909, daydreamerscafeandgrill.com. —Scott Harrell

Best brunch for discerning non-omnivores

A beet salad has got to be pretty freaking amazing for a guy like me to yearn for it, but I do yearn for Lolita’s beet salad. And the pimento cheese. And the anything with eggs in it. While this tiny Grand Central District haunt is known primarily for wine and charcuterie, there’s always something tasty and elegant on the menu when you stop in on a Sunday for food and a glass or three of bubbles. Make sure you get there early, though — I’ve walked over a few times only to find no open tables. 16 18th St. S., St. Petersburg. 727-505-0503. —Scott Harrell

Best brunch for omnivores

Yeah, there’s no shortage of killer brunch spots in the ’Burg. But Callaloo’s unique mix of down-home and upscale is not to be missed. Neither is the mouthwatering variety featured, from unbeatable omelet and meaty carving stations to tray after tray of biscuits, bacon, fried chicken, sausage, gravy and eggs — even mac ‘n’ cheese and collard greens. “All you can eat” here is a real challenge: Will you try it all, or sacrifice something new for a second plate of your new favorite? 642 22nd St. S., St. Petersburg. 727-256-1806, callaloostpete.com. —Scott Harrell