Sukhothai, 2569 Countryside Blvd. #3 (727-724-2995). Thai dishes and an elegant Eastern ambiance combine to create a romantic adventure. A class operation. $$
Travis Bistro, 28530 U.S. 19 N. , 1.2 miles south of Curlew Road (727-712-9101). Travis is an elegant little oasis amid the nightmare traffic of U.S. 19, where Robert Masson, one of the Bay area's best chefs, presents a menu filled with dishes that will lure you back again and again. Beef lovers will be smitten with the succulent filet mignon stuffed with crab meat and Saga blue cheese, for $22.95, while seafood lovers will swoon over the award winning seafood lasagna, blending spinach pasta, shrimp, scallops and crab meat stuffing with four cheeses and tomato butter sauce for $18.95. Not enough? Try lamb, chicken, quail and venison. $$
Tri-City/St. Pete-Clearwater Airport/Feather Sound
The Grill at Feather Sound, 2325 Ulmerton Road (727-571-3400). One of Clearwater's dining hot spots, this restaurant was named Best New Restaurant in our 1996 Reader's Poll. Menu includes something for everyone: fabulous steaks, succulent lumpfin crab cakes, colossal shrimp cocktail, an outstanding house salad and desserts that are truly to die for. Don't miss their special creme brulee and mousse-like chocolate torte. Great place for a special evening or impressive business lunch. $$$.
Carmelita's Mexican Restaurant, 5042 East Bay Drive (727-524-8226). Fresh, homemade Mexican flavors at bargain prices. The best appetizer is the crunchy, tasty taquito. Combo platters are heaped. Sopa de tortillas, chicken-rice-corn soup, makes a meal in itself. Be sure and try sangria soda, a great alcohol-free choice for lunch or the designated driver. $$
Thai Basil, 4445 East Bay Drive (727-532-6108). This unassuming cafe offers a heaping helping of tasty Thai food with a young attitude. Try their fresh, zingy cheese rolls, a tasty combination of cream cheese, shrimp, carrots and green onions wrapped in a spring roll and fried golden, dipped in sweet raspberry sauce, or toasted tortillas stuffed with a spicy filling, fried and dipped in sweet chili sauce. Best menu bets are grilled lamb chops with basil sauce, anything with chili jam, vegetarian fried rice with tofu, as well as traditional Thai dishes like pad Thai and curries. Most entrees are $6-$8.
Bayou Bistro and Mudbug Lounge, 456 Causeway Blvd. (727-736-6467). Chef/owner Karen Thomas serves up some fine Cajun food in this funky restaurant and bar. Everything is fresh and made from scratch, right down to the blackening spices on the thin-sliced, gator tail filet. Don't pass on dessert, a huge slice of bread pudding with spiced rum sauce, or is that yum sauce? Oversize appetizers are priced from $3.95 to $6.95, po boys $5.25 to $7.25 and entrees $9.25 to $13.95 $
Benedict's, 2676 Bayshore Blvd., inside Causeway Plaza (727-736-1600) Recommended for breakfast/brunch. What else would you expect but a tasty and nearly unlimited variety of fluffy poached eggs set atop a toasted English muffin, slathered with a creamy lemon sauce and your choice of ham, crab meat, bacon? But there's more: sweet selections like Belgian chocolate pancakes or zesty flavors like huevos ranchero, all served in enormous portions. $
The Black Pearl, 315 Main St. (727-734-3463). With only 13 tables, this classy cafe turns out some of the freshest, most creative cuisine in the Bay area. Owner Kathleen LaRoche goes the extra mile to secure fresh, prime ingredients. Chef Karen Schluntz turns it into cuisine that dazzles the eye as well as the taste buds. Every selection, from crab cakes to duckling, will delight you. $$$
Cafe Alfresco, 344 Main St. (727-736-4299). You'll enjoy leisurely meals on the patio overlooking the Pinellas Trail. Menu specialties include crisp fresh salads, creative pastas and mouth-watering grilled items such as grilled chipolata sausages, Tandoori pork medallions and roasted duck with balsamic raspberry glaze. Don't miss the delicious ice cream creations. $$
Casa Tina, 369 Main St. (727-734-9226). Got some extra hot sauce on hand? Bring a bottle to this cozy gourmet Mexican and vegetarian restaurant and they'll buy you a drink. (Forget about Tabasco, though; that doesn't count.) The menu has heart-healthy items, including a good ceviche (fresh marinated seafood). Also featured are "heavenly" wild mushroom quesadillas, fresh roasted poblanos stuffed with cheese, a dish of mole verde and mole poblano and corn tamales juicier than ever before. $$
Kelly's For Just About ... Anything, 319 Main St. (727-736-5284). Whether it's for breakfast, lunch or dinner, this casual, ambient, award-winning eatery is the shining star on the Dunedin culinary scene. It's funky, fun and you can dine under the stars. Breakfasts are unique; lunch and dinner specials, seafood, beef and poultry, are always consistently good. Better than that, they're done with a flair. $$