CL Big Game Guide: Downtown St. Petersburg

click to enlarge Bella Brava raised the style standard for St. Pete restaurants. - Shanna Gillette
Shanna Gillette
Bella Brava raised the style standard for St. Pete restaurants.

The joke about St. Pete being God's waiting room is as old as the senior citizens who used to be this town's primary residents. Word is finally out that St. Pete has one of the prettiest, most walkable, most restaurant-blessed downtowns in Florida, and that it's also a great place to party. Make sure you make it a stop on your Super Bowl perambulations.

1. Ferg's Sports Bar and Grill. Cold beer and good grub make this St. Pete sports institution a local favorite for catching the game. The bar and the patrons alike are decked out in Tampa Bay sports gear, and any word against our beloved home teams could begin a brawl. 1320 Central Ave. N., 727-822-4562,

2. Savannah's Café. Gussied-up Southern food with some of the best fried chicken and gravy in town. So good, we named it best new restaurant of 2007. 1113 Central Ave., 727-388-4371,

3. State Theater. Outstanding example of Beaux Arts architecture that hosts some shows on the upper reaches of Central Avenue. 867 Central Ave., St. Petersburg, 727-895-3045.

4. The Garage. Big room, sparsely appointed, but with an excellent sound system — in other words, a very good place to see a show. 662 Central Ave., 727-823-2244,

5. Durty Nelly's. Cozy Irish pub features the requisite billiard tables, darts and foosball — but with handsome wooden furniture and whiskey selections that bring a touch of class to upper Central. 661 Central Ave., 727-824-8884.

6. The Emerald. Downtown St. Pete's most beloved dive bar, this is the place for cheap, strong cocktails, hipsters to rub shoulders with the homeless and to hear local bands blast away on the weekends. 550 Central Ave., 727-898-6054.

7. The Table and Mesa Lounge. This transplant of a Sarasota restaurant concept has had some ups and downs, but its South Beach vibe and Atlantic Rim cuisine are up and running again and looking good. 539 Central Ave., 727-23-6372,

8. Globe Coffee Lounge. An arts-oriented, neighborly coffee shop just a half-mile from the massive developments on the waterfront. 532 First Ave. N., 727-898-5282,

9. Bella Brava. One of upper Central's restaurant pioneers, this is a handsome contemporary space with a sophisticated Italian menu to match. 515 Central Ave., 727-895-5515,

10. King & I. Popular Thai mainstay. 445 Central Ave., 727-898-8056,

11. Primi Urban Café. Exceptional, affordable Italian cuisine in a casual setting cooked and served by a friendly South-African family. Primi was CL's Best New Restaurant in 2006. 27 Fourth St. N., 727-895-4909,

12. The Independent. "Bieres. Vin. Music. Thought." That's how The Independent describes what it has to offer, which gives you an indication of why some people find the place pretentious, while others love the idea of a beer hangout with a little class, plus an intelligent beer and wine list. 29 Third St. N., 727-820-9514,

13. Push Ultra Lounge. The 'Burg's trendiest bar is where local bands play on Thursdays and star DJs like Good Charlotte's Benji Madden spin. 128 Third St. S., 727-895-7874,

14. Buono Vita. Another new downtown restaurant, this relaxed spot offers Italian home cookin' at reasonable prices. 330 First Avenue South, 727-367-1300.

15. Grillside Central. Huge portions of homey Southern classics are served up morning, noon and night from Grillside's open kitchen. Best bets: Shrimp and grits, fried chicken or catfish with sweet potato chips and collard greens, or buttery biscuits with homemade sausage gravy. 337 Central Ave., 727-820-9200.

16. Red Mesa Cantina. A brand new addition to downtown, the Cantina brings with it a loyal following of folks who've grown to love the tacos, ceviches and other pan-Latin/Mexican fare at the still-popular original Fourth Street N. location. 128 Third St. S., 727-510-0034.

17. Lucky Dill Deli Central. If you're longing for an overstuffed corned beef on rye, this is the place for you. 277 Central Ave., 727-895-5859.

18. Zurrito's. The first home of Z Grille but now its funkier little sister, this Baja-Cali-Mex joint is known for its great fish tacos. 269 Central Ave., St. Petersburg, 727-896-3101.

19. Bishop Tavern. A lovingly restored bar in a building that dates back to 1912, the Bishop hosts a full slate of game-week festivities including the Bishop Bunny Bowl. 260 First Ave. N., 727-822-2027.

20. Café Alma. A sophisticated spot with a laid-back vibe and live music, with a variety of international cuisine and a Sunday brunch Bloody Mary bar that is not to be missed. 260 First Ave. S., 727-502-5002,

21. Fortunato's Italian Market. Pizza, pasta and sidewalk seating. 259 Central Ave., 727-898-4888.

22. Central Avenue Oyster Bar. Quiveringly fresh mollusks and other sea-inspired dished amidst a consistently welcoming atmosphere. 249 Central Ave., 727-897-9728,

23. Central Cafe & Organics. Tasty vegetarian and vegan fare; a great spot for a healthy lunch. 243 Central Ave., 727-824-0881.

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