Dining Guide

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Carrollwood/Northwest Tampa

Jasmine Thai Restaurant, 13248 N. Dale Mabry (813-968-1501). No doubt this is one of Tampa's best Thai eateries. The dominant Thai influence, Indian-Chinese, with an added emphasis on fresh herbs and spices such as cilantro, garlic, lemongrass, mint and chilies, make this a cuisine to savor; almost like no other. $$

Vallarta Mexican Restaurant, 13731 N. Dale Mabry (813-264-7691). The Jimenez family puts plenty of tasty dishes on the table, all served with zesty homemade salsa and guacamole. Large portions of well-known favorites like chimichangas, quesadillas, burritos and taco salads make up most of the long menu, all made with better ingredients and fresher flavors than you'll find if you run for the border. Dinner platters will fill you up for under a tenner. Smaller lunch portions start at $3.50. $Central/West Tampa

Donatello, 232 N. Dale Mabry (813-875-6660). Some of the area's best Northern Italian cuisine also exhibits some of the finest service in town. Favorites include capellini d'angelo, agnolotti with cream and Parmesan and an excellent prosciutto di Parma. Be sure to have at least one of the desserts: Neapolitan cake, chocolate-drenched profiteroles, tiramisu, or fresh fruit tarts. $$$

Jimbo's Pit Bar B-Q, 4103 W. Kennedy Blvd. (813-289-9724). Real down-home pit barbecue is gussied up with Jimbo's own secret seasonings and sauces and served in heapin' portions. Fill up on smoked pig ribs, chicken, sliced pork or beef and ham, along with homemade beans and cole slaw and always a hot slice of homemade apple pie. Dinner plates range from $6.95 to $9.95. $

Mambo's, 4423 N. Armenia Ave. (813-873-1995). This classic "fonda," or neighborhood cafe, is one of the best places to taste the home cooking of Puerto Rico. Step into the cafeteria-style serving line and choose from savory entrees like plantain fritters stuffed with seasoned, ground chicken or adobe-seasoned pork roasted with green bananas, as well as traditional treats like octopus salad. Flavors are fresh, portions are generous and prices are low. Dinners cost $4.99 to $8.95. $

New City Diner, 1002 N. Himes Ave. (813-877-2088). Like a blast from the past, hot cups of joe and heaping platters of food are served up in the bustling atmosphere of an old-fashioned stainless steel diner. But there's nothing old-fashioned about the menu. Look for Roger Lenzi's first-class, creative New American cuisine on a menu that changes daily, all at low-dough prices, with entrees priced between $5.95 to $14.95. Look for dishes like nouvelle meatloaf with wild mushrooms, Cajun-spiced pork roast Mediterranean grilled lamb. Diner food just doesn't get any better than this. $

Tampa — Davis Islands

Estela's Mexican Restaurant, 209 E. Davis Blvd. (813-251-0558). Enjoy traditional Mexican specialties while dining al fresco or inside this charming cantina. Excellent fresh salsa, smoky enchiladas and tasty margaritas are menu highlights. Great lunch specials and no less than 25 dinner combinations. Fresh fruit and carrot juices are squeezed to order. $

Pipo's Latin Cafe, 238 E. Davis Blvd. (813-253-8100). At lunch, expect Pipo's traditional Cuban cafeteria-style food and service, with large servings, modest prices and the best mojo roast pork in the Bay area. The food goes upscale with an infusion of Latin, Caribbean and Old World influences. $$

Downtown Tampa

Mise en Place, 442 W. Kennedy Blvd., Suite 250 (813-254-5373). Owners Marty and Marianne Blitz create a culinary happening in this smart brasserie-style eatery. Billed as a "Neo-American Bistro," Mise En Place is located just across from the University of Tampa. $$$

Tampa — Hyde Park

Antipasto's, 2202 W. Platt St. (813-259-1168). The name says Italian, but your taste buds will tell you Dwight and Lauren Otis from Next City Grill are back to their old tricks, exciting us with fresh, unexpected twists. Eighteen starters include fantastic hot and cold soups, cold vegetable nibbles and small pizzas on flatbread. "Meals In A Bowl" pair homemade pastas with fresh sauces, veal, homemade meatballs and fresh vegetables. Good beer and wine list. Starters range from $3 to $7. Entrees range from $7 to $12. $$

Bacchus Sushi and Noodles, 720 S. Howard Ave. (813- 254-0004). Expect flash and fusion in both food and decor at this high-energy addition to the late-night dining scene. The menu has an Asian accent but offers American-friendly sushi, sashimi, tempura and noodle bowls, along with big steaks and pork cutlets. Most dishes come in small portions for one-from-column-A and two-from-column-B fun, but Bacchanalian appetites will appreciate the huge, whole snapper wok-sauteed, with crispy noodles, vegetables and a savory sauce. Prices range from $6 to $19. $$

Blue Gardenia, 1809 W. Platt St. (813-250-1595). In both mood and food, the Blue Gardenia offers a perfect mix of subtle sophistication and casual fun as a husband-and-wife team of chefs serve up their own take on tasty. Pass an order of four slipper lobster Popsicles around the table while you study the menu, then feast on succulent duck breast bathed in a rosemary, orange and balsamic reduction and served with gingered sweet potatoes, or try the towering filet of yellow fin tuna served atop a Maine lobster Tater Tot. Save room for desserts like ginger chocolate ganache tart with whipped ginger chocolate cream, or simply linger with a fine aged port.

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