Dining Guide

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HILLSBOROUGH TampaCarrollwood/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. $$$

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

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-sautŽed, with crispy noodles, vegetables and a savory sauce. Prices range from $6 to $19. $$

Bern's Steak House, 1208 S. Howard Ave. (813-251-2421). Famous for its wines and prime steaks, this restaurant is one of the most remarkable in the world. A perennial Wine Spectator award-winner, the new 212-page wine list weighs in at about 8 pounds with approximately 7,000 selections. There's a superb list of caviar from around the world, a selection of 1,800 dessert wines and spirits, an antiquarian bookstore and a huge selection of outrageous desserts in the upstairs dessert room. $$$

Ciccio & Tony's, 1015 S. Howard Ave. 813-251-8406. Expect a casual, crowded atmosphere and fresh flavors at this New Yawk Eye-talian styled eatery that's been a long time mainstay of the SoHo neighborhood. The menu is Italian-based, but can range from pasta platters to Pacific Rim-flavored tuna and imaginative wraps. $$

Hugo's Spanish Restaurant, 931 S. Howard Ave. (813-251-2842). A friendly Spanish/Cuban eatery on bustling Howard Avenue. It's not gourmet city and it's not fancy, but it's darn good. Black beans and yellow rice are among the best in town; a whopping plateful easily feeds at least two hungry caballeros. $

Le Bordeaux, 1502 S. Howard Ave. (813-254-4387). For Provencale cuisine, you can't get better. Meats and fish are fresh, and a blackboard menu that changes daily always has a great selection. $$$

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