BEN'S FAMILY RESTAURANT, 704 E. Brandon Blvd. (813-685-5501). Family-style home-cooked meals are the restaurant's specialty; it does all three meals well, five days a week, with light, fluffy pancakes and plenty of hot coffee for breakfast, excellent fresh sandwiches and salads for lunch, and a dynamite dinner of hot white meat turkey with stuffing and gravy. $
LIQUOR LLOYD'S BEACH HOUSE, 779 W. Lumsden Road, Brandon (813-655-0511). A neighborhood pub with an island twist, this inexpensive restaurant has Caribbean-style bar food by day and rump shakin' nightclub action into the wee hours. Try Tahitian teriyaki wings with cool wasabi dip and jerk barbequed baby back ribs. But for the best of the Beach House, go for the fabulous specialty cocktails like the frozen bushwacker, the painkiller and the outstanding piña colada (served, naturally, in a coconut shell). A bit cheesy, we admit, but It's too much fun for us to care.
3 PALMS GRILLE & GALLERY, 8203 N. Armenia Ave. (813-933-2401). A neighborhood favorite featuring an unusually creative mix of ethnic and culinary styles, from crab cakes with banana chutney all the way to mushroom-smothered steak and Southern style meatloaf. The chef's specialty, different varieties of creamy cheesecake, is the best dessert. $$$.
KAISEN SUSHI, Mission Bell Square, 12785 N. Dale Mabry (813-969-3848). This friendly, casual and tiny cafe offers exceptionally fresh, artfully prepared, delicious and value-priced sushi. A must-try is the calamari. Bargain "no-sushi" dinners offer enormous portions of tempura and teriyaki. $$
SPLASH! AN OCEAN GRILL, 3973 Van Dyke Road (813-269-8611). Country-style gone chic, the Lutz restaurant's oak-grilled seafood is seawater fresh and its service exemplary. Go early and hang at the convivial bar, nursing a fancy cocktail, like sparkling white sangria. For dinner, order chunky, sherry-flavored lobster chowder followed by pan-seared, sesame-crusted tuna. $$$
DONATELLO, 232 N. Dale Mabry (813-875-6660). Some of the area's best Northern Italian cuisine also exhibits some of the finest service in town. Favorites include capellini d'Angelo, agnolotti with cream and Parmesan, and an excellent prosciutto di Parma. Be sure to have at least one of the desserts: Napolean cake, chocolate-drenched profiteroles, tiramisu or, depending on the day, the fresh fruit tarts. $$$
VALENCIA GARDEN SPANISH RESTAURANT & LOUNGE, 811 W. Kennedy Blvd. (813-253-3773 or www.valenciagarden.com). Founded in 1927, it has been operated continuously by members of the same family at the same location just west of downtown. Its menu still offers traditional Cuban Spanish fare, but more contemporary dishes have been added as well to appeal to modern diners. A sure winner: ropa vieja, shredded beef in tomato-y sauce, and flan, washed down with Cuban cafe con leche. $ Lunch; $$ Dinner
TAMPA - DAVIS ISLANDS
220 EAST, 220 E. Davis Blvd. (813-259-1220). A well-run neighborhood restaurant with experienced owners and outstanding fare. 220 East has consistently delightful dishes including excellent pastas, crisp salads and homemade desserts. Order grilled portabella mushrooms or satay chicken appetizers, followed by blackened chicken Alfredo or simple fettuccine Alfredo and finish with upside down apple pie. $$
PIPO'S LATIN CAFÉ, 238 E. Davis Blvd. (813-258-8100). Pipo's traditional Cuban boasts large servings, modest prices and the best mojo roast pork in the bay area, made with a family recipe. Or, try favorites like black bean soup or Cuban sandwiches. Finish with creamy flan. The restaurant also features dancing in its outdoor plaza on weekends. $
TATE BROTHERS PIZZA, 233 E. Davis Blvd. (813-251-2767). This casual eat-in/takeout pizza place is family-owned and operated. No Ragu and frozen bread dough here. Sauces, meatballs and crusts are homemade. Toppings are fresh and good quality, like first-rate cheeses, pepperoni and, God bless them, fresh garlic on the pizza! Yummy breadsticks, soft and dripping with butter. Calzones as big as the plate are a meal in themselves. $
ALGUSTO TORTILLA & SALSA, 912 W. Kennedy Blvd. (813-250-3500). Zingy, fresh and tasty Mexican fare based on tried-and-true recipes collected from the owners' families in central Mexico. Start at the salsa condiment counter, with its collection of mild to super-hot and spicy salsas, matched with crispy, handmade chips. Next, graduate to the Botanas Platter appetizer, which entails three different dishes - a flauta, a burrito, an enchilada and quesadillas. As an entrée, order the excellent chicken drenched in red mole sauce. Flan dessert provides a fulsome finish. $
CAFÉ EUROPEAN, 113 Hyde Park Ave. (813-254-9458). Small, humble café with a big following that likes its British-inspired dishes, such as bangers and mash (sausage and mashed potatoes), and other culinary favorites, like a primo quiche and excellent salmon salad. At dinner, try pork chops, and finish with hot fruit crumble. $ Lunch; $$ Dinner
LUCKY DILL DELI, Lykes Building, 400 N. Tampa St., Ste. 100 (813-222-3455). Big, noisy, frenetic New York delicatessen with big following and huge selection of skyscraper-sized sandwiches, bagels, hearty soups, mountainous salads and baked goods of every description. $