Dining Guide

The following is Weekly Planet's reliable guide to restaurants throughout the Bay area. We hope this bite-size reference will serve as a quality source to aid in your dining pleasure. Because of the extensiveness of the listings, we run alternate lists each week. Our critic dines anonymously and all meals are paid for by Weekly Planet. The dollar sign rating in The Dining Guide is arrived at by calculating the average cost of one appetizer, one entree, one dessert and one drink for one person, not including tax or tip: $ = $15 and under; $$ = $16 to $25; $$$ = $26 to $49; $$$$ = $50 and over.

HILLSBOROUGH

Tampa

Carrollwood/Northwest Tampa

Kaisen Sushi, 12785 N. Dale Mabry, in Mission Bell Square (813-969-3848). This friendly, casual and tiny cafe offers exceptionally fresh, artfully prepared, delicious and value priced sushi. What more can you ask for? A must-try is the calamari, thick slices of succulent grilled squid served in a dark, smoky sauce. Sweet grilled eel and seared tuna are excellent, and ask if they have toro, the choice, fatty tuna. Bargain "no-sushi" dinners offer enormous portions of tempura and teriyaki. $$

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. $$

La Maison Basque, 3621 W. Waters Ave., Tampa (813-932-1922). Chef Felix Piedra turned this strip shopping center storefront into a cozy dining room with an open kitchen, where he prepares the Spanish/French influenced cuisine of the Basque region. The menu has a European feel, with dishes like fresh chicken breast sauteed in brandy cream sauce, and imported wild rabbit cooked in Galician albarino wine, but surprising ways with seafood put this place on the map. Seafood paella, overflowing with lobster, grouper, clams, shrimp and squid is the house specialty, along with black grouper stuffed with squid and dressed with a cream sauce made of squid ink. $$

Southern Mill Bread Company, 15213 N. Dale Mabry (813-968-8366). Quality bread made with premium natural ingredients. From their flavorful, primo, white, round, 2.2-pound loaves, to the aahhh-inspiring onion, rye and herb combination, these folks bake this stuff just right. $

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. $

La Caridad Bakery, 4425 W. Hillsborough Ave. (813-884-2822). Whether it's flan or a great selection of holiday pastries you're looking for, this tiny Cuban bakery has as good a selection as you'll find. Guava, mamey and other Caribbean touches make for a bakery full of flavor. Good Cuban bread, too. $$

La Teresita, 3248 W. Columbus Drive (813-879-4909). Eat at the counter at this authentic Cuban restaurant with complete meals for under $5. Some of the best black beans and rice in town. Check out the revamped Pinellas location at 7101 66th St. N., Pinellas Park (727-546-5785). $

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. $

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