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Heading to Orlando, St Petersburg/Clearwater and Tampa – looking for healthy everyday eats and chow-worthy hole-in-the-wall finds

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In search of:
• Chow finds for <$15 per plate
• Healthy eats for a month
• Seafood focus (fresh and preferably raw)
• Orlando/Clearwater/St Pete’s/Tampa near Hotel and Beaches
• Good grocery stores/bakeries near hotel/beaches

Greetings from up North. My family and I will be having a reunion of sorts and vacationing in Florida for a month in February. As a result, I wanted some recommendations on cheap/great value everyday eats that will keep me in a healthy condition. Being from Toronto, we are very accustomed to value eats with meals generally being under $10. I understand that will be hard to come by South of the Border, but I am sure you foodies will know where to find the gems. Most of my family prefers “safe” recommendations (seafood is a must during the trip though not exclusive, but I believe they want to keep mains < $20), whereas I would prefer to go off the beaten track and taste just about anything. Seeing as the family has one car, I would appreciate some recs that are close by to one another so that I can grab some more adventurous food, while they hit the clam shack.

They have done quite a bit of research on where to dine, and I will list them below. Please let me know if they have a good list culminated, or if there are places they should avoid/add to the list.

Here are the places we are staying at:

Orlando: 5858 International Drive
Clearwater: 22950 Hwy 19N just North of Hwy 60

Criteria:

Family: safe recs with heavy focus on seafood
Me: Anything goes though I have a rather low tolerance of heat (Indian food is great, but something like suicide wings are out of the question). As well, I would appreciate some recs on places serving healthier fare (sushi, etc.), but no salads or cold sandwiches that I could easily assemble myself. Most of the time, I would like to keep the meals within $15 for a main (a month eating out can add up), but would also be willing to try good places periodically for more ($35 a main, but of course oyster bars would be more). I love raw food (oysters, fish, beef) and dislike pork or meat heavy dishes (ribs, BBQ) with tonnes of sauces, fat or salt (but I do like gourmet burgers like Shake Shack in NYC, clam bellies from Cape Cod and poutine from Montreal). I would also welcome bakery and grocery/food specialty store recommendations so that I can make my own sandwiches and/or sushi.

I will be eating with them most of the time, so would appreciate any great value seafood recs.

Places they’ve listed to try out:
St Pete’s
• Ted Peter’s Famous Smoked Fish
• PJ’s Oyster Bar and Seafood Restaurant
• Fetishes
• Firehouse Bar and Grille
• JoJo’s in Citta
• Garden Mediterranean Bistro
• Maritana Grille
• Shell’s Seafood
• Bonefish Grill
• Chateau France
• Café Largo
• Joe’s Stone crab
• Fourth Street Shrimp Store
• Integrity Organic restaurant
• Crabby Bill’s
• St Pete’s Beach Wharf
• Hurricane’s Seafood Restaurant
• Guppy’s Seafood Grill
• Lobster Pot
• Frenchy’s Café/Rockaway Grill
• Bobb’y Bistro and Wine Bar
Orlando
• Sushi Hatsu
• Little Saigon
• Hong Kong Vietnamese & Chinese restaurant
• Le Coq Au Vin
• Season 52
Tampa
• Carmine’s Restaurant and Bar
• Big City Tavern
• Columbia (7th Ave)
• Bob Heilman’s Beach comber
• Water Unique sushi
• TC Choy Asian Bistro
• Cappy’s Pizzeria
• Ciccio & Tony’s
• Pane Rustica
• St Bart’s Island House
• Bern’s Steak House
• The Palm
• Samurai
• Lucy Ho’s
• Golden Treasure (Poinsettia Ave) Clearwater
• Rockaway Grill

Places I am currently eyeing:
• Izziban sushi of Orlando
• Some of the recs on this thread (though quite a few are out of the way since my food quest is not a priority for them): http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/442914
• And I am looking at some value eats here: http://www.scottjosephorlando.com/

We will be hitting a variety of beaches while we are there, so recommendations near good beaches and the hotel are most welcome. As well, anywhere between those points would be great. I know this was a long post, but I wanted to make sure you had all the information I could provide in order to produce some great results. Thanks for making it through this post.

Thanks in advance for your recommendations.

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  1. First, making sure that you know that Florida is the land of urban sprawl. It takes about an hour and a half to drive from North Tampa to South Orlando. It can also take about an hour to get from North Tampa to Clearwater or downtown St Pete. You also seem to have picked a lot of chains. If that is what you are interested in, you will not be disappointed. Orlando is the home of Darden - Olive Garden, Red Lobster, Bahama Breeze. Tampa is the home of Outback, Carraba's and Bonefish.

    Second, Lucy Ho's Bamboo Garden closed several years ago and was taken over by a Vietnamese restaurant called Pho Quyen. From what I have experienced, you can get better Viet cuisine in Orlando but it's one of the best Vietnamese restaurants we have in Tampa. I believe St. Bart's closed as well. Big City was recently replaced by Teatro. The Shell's chain closed as well, and you're not missing much there.

    I enjoyed Frenchy's and Crabby Bills - you can get grouper or "grouper's cousin" sandwiches anywhere along the beach, but these are local chains that seem to please crowds. Ciccio's and their restaurant Water are partnered with Lime to be staple chains in Tampa as well. I can recommend Hurricane's for their proximity to the beach - a metered beach but one of the most beautiful and least urbanized in Pinellas County - and for their rooftop bar.

    4 Replies
    1. re: TampaAurora

      Thanks so much TampaAurora for your response. I despise chains myself, but my family adores them (I keep wondering if we're related sometimes when it comes to our food tastes!). So all of these are chains, huh? This was their research list that they created over the past several months. I have just decided to tag along at the last minute and thus are trying to weed through their list to find out what's edible and what they're missing by using you chowhounders. I remember enjoying Crabby Bill's when I was much younger, so I wasn't sure if they were still up to par - good to know you enjoy it. Are there more places in that vein? I believe that is what they are looking for.

      Thanks for the update on the restaurants that are no longer in business - my family members enjoy using out of date library books to do their research.

      Please do let me know if you have better recs!

      Also, we're spending a month in Florida and hence will be staying for about 5 days in Orlando, then heading down to St Pete's/Clearwater for the majority of the time, and then a few days in Tampa.

      1. re: BokChoi

        Your family sounds a lot like how I start my lists for traveling. Books can be helpful, but like Wikipedia should not be used alone or always believed. You sound like how my research ends - asking locals.

        In St. John's Pass, there's a small shop that makes great grouper sandwiches - anyone know the name? I wouldn't seek out Crabby Bill's - it's not really chow but its an atmosphere that is fun. Keep in mind that all I've had there is their fish, so someone else who has had their shellfish may be more helpful.

        If you are looking for Chinese, please try China Yuan or Yummy House in Tampa. You won't be disappointed in either, and our community is quite split over which is better. After giving them a second try, I would have to jump on the Yummy House bandwagon. Lucy Ho's was chinese buffet and well loved by my friends who lived for Red Lobster, Pizza Hut and chinese takeout. China Yuan and Yummy House are both real Chinese Food.

        If you do a search for any city, you can find some great places. Linked here is a posting I've found very helpful since I moved from Tampa and my restaurants near my college to a city near Clearwater. Favorites of Tampa, St. Pete and Clearwater - http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/305810

        1. re: TampaAurora

          Thanks TampaAurora - I knew I could count on the 'hounds to help me plan my food adventure in Florida.

          Love grouper so the sandwich place sounds great. Crabby Bill's menu seems to be a great price point for fresh seafood - is there something more chow worthy that is similar? I don't really like how nothing is steamed, but I guess I could survive on some grilled items. Was their fish fresh though? The prices seem much more reasonable that what we're accustomed to for fresh seafood in Toronto.

          Thanks for the recs on the Chinese food - we need our greens. Yummy House seems to have a great following and the price point seems perfect. Thanks for the suggestion. The prices seem great - no posted info on the menu though. And China Yuan seems like a great standby as well - and an online menu which helps. Found this recent thread too: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/587526

          Thanks for the chowlink. I must have missed that one! Thank you so much for your suggestions. I will look up your favourites for sure and add them to our completely revamped list. If you think of any other local favourites, do let me know.

          Thanks in advance and once again for your response TampaAurora!

          1. re: TampaAurora

            I've been to that St John's Pass place - the one sort of off to the side, with a thatched roof? that place is good - good slaw, good lemonade and tea, and good sandwiches.

            but my favorite place in that area is Keegan's. It fits all your criteria:

            http://www.scoreboardgourmet.com/2007...

      2. Most of your Clearwater/Tampa pics are above 15.00 a plate. Maybe 15.00 an appetizer.

        9 Replies
        1. re: rhnault

          Thanks rhnault.

          The list was compiled by a family member and they are looking for something different than I am. I am looking for something foodie-like, however, I just wanted to make sure they are not disappointed with their food adventure while they are in Florida. I think their budget is higher than mine. I want to stick to my $15 a meal. They want to spend more and hence the list. I warned them on previous occasions that they tend to find tourist traps, but they tend to listen more to Fodor's than to me. Hoping I can steer them in the right direction with the assistance of chowhound.

          Thanks

          1. re: rhnault

            SideBern's in Tampa is a spin-off of Bern's steakhouse and in my opinion, much better.

            La Teresita is also in Tampa and is an everyday kind of place that serves cuban food. It is better than the Columbia which is over-rated and too expensive. Try to pork sandwich, moro rice and plaintains.

            1. re: b.hough

              Is SideBern's (or even Bern's) a good choice? In other words, would you go there if you were on vacation? Thanks for the suggestion. This list is their research list - and hopefully just a preliminary list. After some responses from you Chowhounders, I'm going to attempt to convince them to rethink their choices (hopefully!).

              La Teresita sounds right up my alley. Thanks for the rec on the dish to order.

              This thread has some interesting recs as well - would they be in line with common opinion?
              http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/545740

              1. re: BokChoi

                On vacation, no I wouldn't go. Excellent restaurant, wonderful food. But it is a steakhouse. In FL I want to eat what is common to FL, not NY or somewhere else. It is great and you would not be dissappointed. But I want seafood, small intimate hole in the wall restaurants not chains that really represent FL and some of the cuisine. FL is very diverse but has many speciality restaurants all over. I stay away from the popular and go more for the small quiet places that usually have the best food and are not as well known.

                1. re: kchurchill5

                  Any particular favourite haunts, kchurchill5? Thanks in advance!

              2. re: b.hough

                I love both places (La Teresita and Columbia), and enjoy them on entirely different occasions. Lunch at the Columbia is a real treat. Try the new Cuban sandwich in Ybor.

                1. re: andy huse

                  Thanks for the rec andy_huse. What makes a Cuban sandwich special? I have never had one and I cannot tell from the pics on wikipedia - does this version have their pork roasted with a marinade? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cuban_sa...

                  1. re: BokChoi

                    the ingredients in an original Tampa Cuban (ham, roast pork, salami, swiss cheese, pickles, and mustard--- are only part of the story. Back in the day, each ingredient was painstakingly prepared in-house in many of Tampa's restaurants. Very few bake/glaze their own hams, marinate and roast their own mojo pork any more. The Columbioa has begun to do this once again, and it makes a great difference in the taste.

                    1. re: andy huse

                      Thanks andy_huse. Sounds like it's definitely worth the visit then.

                      Cheers!

            2. You can do much better than Sushi Hatsu. The best sushi in the area is between Tampa and Orlando, at Zen at the Omni Resort, exit 58 off I-4.

              My personal favorite restaurant in Orlando is Memories of India, on Turkey Lake Road off Sand Lake Road, in a shopping center. I don't do spicy either, and I can tolerate most things there. Many items are mild and they can probably adjust the heat for you.

              If you're willing to do a pricier fish dinner that's worth the money, try Jiko or BlueZoo.

              On your list, Le Coq au Vin, is a must-do. Excellent, reasonably priced French food. Personally, I would skip Seasons52. Over-rated. Go down the street to Samba Room instead, for trendy upscale Cuban.

              For groceries, there is a brand new Whole Foods that just opened on Sand Lake Road, right off I-4.

              Have a great trip!

              19 Replies
              1. re: starbucksbrew

                Thanks for the suggestion starbucksbrew. I looked up Zen - there doesn't seem to be any pricing or menu information. It seems like fine dining though - how much is something like a chirashi don or sashimi platter for one?

                Memories of India is definitely on my list to try. How is the dinner though? It may be difficult for me to get there for lunch (for the buffet).

                Love fresh fish and seafood - so I'll be adding Jiko and BlueZoo to the list. Thanks for the tip. Anything more 'value' though that you would recommend?

                I believe Coq au Vin is on our Must-Do list as well. I think one of the couples have decided to book that for V-Day. Thanks for the suggestion on Samba Room and nixing Seasons52.

                I love Whole Foods - great to pick up the essentials. Thanks for the info. The rest of the family would probably be looking for something more low-end, but I'm sure we could find something to satisfy them. I was crossing my fingers for a Whole Foods.

                Thanks for the response!

                1. re: BokChoi

                  For middlebrow groceries, a Publix in what looks like an upper middle class area is generally a safe bet. Above average bakery for a chain, generally decent organics/natural selection, and no problem finding the Chef Boyardee.

                  Produce seasons can be somewhat different than Up North. It's actually just about Plant City strawberry season, so enjoy getting fresh local berries for a pretty reasonable price.

                  1. re: beachmouse

                    Thank you very much for the suggestions, beachmouse. The Publix sounds perfect for all essentials for the trip. Much appreciated! Haven't had myself some good berries since August or so, so that will be a welcome treat.

                    1. re: BokChoi

                      We are already getting early harvest berries from Plant City and they are soooooo good.
                      Make sure you spend an afternoon in Tarpon Springs at the Sponge Docks. I just got back a little while ago from lunch at Costa's. Wonderful Greek food.

                      1. re: rhnault

                        Wow, thanks for the recommendation. I was not even aware of this foodie hub. Lots to see it seems. This was the one you were mentioning right? http://www.spongedocks.net/

                        Looking forward to checking it out. Much appreciated!

                        Thanks rhnault.

                        1. re: rhnault

                          Really rhnault? Wow- we went only once to the Sponge Docks. And it was AWFUL. Total tourist trap that I don't think I'd ever recommend. But then, I don't like things like that anyway, plus we didn't eat at any of the Greek places that lined the strip. The only saving grace- we walked down to Rusty Belly's for AMAZING grouper, which we were told was freshly caught- you can see the boats from where you sit.

                          1. re: Boccone Dolce

                            What was awful about it? Was the food just not good - or nothing to see? The grouper sounds nice - it's in the same area? How did they prepare it? Was it fried like in this menu? http://www.menusearch.net/menus/1018g... I love fresh seafood and this sounds right up my alley - any other suggestions? Thanks in advance.

                            1. re: BokChoi

                              Trust me, Tarpon Springs is not awful and if you like Greek food it is a fun spot for lunch. You can search the Florida board and will see lots of positive reviews. I have eaten at Rusty Bellies and it is good if you want fresh fried seafood. I treat myself to fried seafood about once a year and usually do it at the Crab Shack on Gandy on the St Pete side of the Gandy Bridge.

                              1. re: rhnault

                                Crab Shack came up a few times - thanks for the directions. Not a huge fan of fried myself (probably for the same health reasons as you) - any suggestions for fresh raw or steamed seafood?

                                http://www.crabshack.com/menu.htm

                                Thanks rhnault.

                                1. re: BokChoi

                                  The same, Crab Shack. Most of the seafood places offer platters and entrees cooked the way you want them. Grilled, broiled, fried, steamed.

                                  1. re: rhnault

                                    Perfect. Thanks rhnault.

                              2. re: BokChoi

                                No disrespect to sponge dock fans!
                                It was just not something I found noteworthy-then again, we only went once. I wasn't impressed- it's basically the docks, a street with some restaurants & overpriced shops. Just my opinion. We walked all over, looked at sponges (yawn) then ducked into a bar but there was no A/C- so we kept walking!
                                I think the grouper I ordered was grilled, it was very good and as I said-you are right on the water, and we did enjoy the view. I hope you and your family have a safe and wonderful trip with plenty of laughs, great food and better memories!

                                1. re: Boccone Dolce

                                  Grilled grouper sounds great. Too funny how you described "looked at sponges (yawn)". We're there for a month so we'll probably have time to check it all out. Thanks for the rec. Anything else that's a fave spot for fresh seafood (value)?

                              3. re: Boccone Dolce

                                I like the sponge docks, and always bring visiting friends there. Bypass the yucky tourist-trap souvenir shops, spend time on a nice boat ride (I recommend Sun Line Cruise, great sunset cruises and dolphin watches), and great Greek food. I didn't like Costa's, though; I prefer either Hellas or Mykonos. And for casual seafood, Rusty Bellies, mmmm their fried oysters and hush puppies and a cold bottle of Chimay Ale. Oh, yeah, put me down for some o' that.

                                1. re: Manderley

                                  Awesome, thanks Manderley. Hope the weather will be great while we're down there so that we can take in the sights. Hush puppies seem really popular here - I have never had them. Must make a note to try them out.

                                  1. re: Manderley

                                    Hi Manderley, this isn't relevant to this thread, but if you go back to 2008, I wrote a reply about Flakowitz. I told my mom about it and she googled it and said my comment was 'rather long' and asked if I know Manderley. I don't - but if you'd like to read the comment, it's here: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/533793

                        2. re: starbucksbrew

                          I have never been to Zen, but Sushi Hatsu is one of my favorites - very fresh and reasonably priced. If you go to Sushi Hatsu on Friday or Saturday night 10p - 12midnite they offer buy one get one free on ngiri, beer, wine and sake (a great deal no doubt). You will be able to stay within your budget here.

                          I agree with starbucksbrew - Memories of India is great! No lunch buffet to speak of, but they have combos at lunch. The food is always amazing and you can get it to go if you need to. And Le Coq au Vin is fantastic!!

                          I will tell you that Jiko and Bluezoo are both very pricey (Bluezoo was $300 including tip for dinner for 2 with a cocktail each and a bottle of wine - bday celebration). If you're at all into oysters, you'll have to check out Lee & Ricks; it's a hole in the wall with the best oysters in Orlando (and a concrete bar and they shuck 'em in front of you as you eat 'em) and very cheap.

                          Another newbie in the area is Mama Nems Soul Food - great fried chicken, home made mac-n-chz, corn bread, fried green tomatoes; not necessarily healthy but totally delicious!

                          I don't think I would choose Samba Room over Season's 52 - Season's 52 is a concept restaurant by Darden and everything is homemade (nothing frozen or canned ever) and under 500 calories per plate. They also have these amazing little desserts, a few bites each but so guilt free!

                          If you're looking for great cuban food on the cheap, I would head to Havana's on Palm Parkway - it's a small family owned joint in a strip mall with a Hooters but the food is superb and the price is right.

                          If you're looking for value seafood, you might want to try Salt Island Grill on International Drive - it doesn't appear to be inexpensive to look at the menu but when I tell you that portions are so huge that you can share them it seems much more of a value. Literally the desserts are big enough for 4 people to share one.

                          If you're looking for something local - try the Ale House. There are multiple locations and the prices are very reasonable. It's not gourmet food, totally basic but very consistent. They serve a great dolphin steamed in foil, the steaks are always good, their house dressing is a yummy crab ranch, they have a great fish sandwich and their entire menu is available all day and night.

                          Hope this helps! Have a great trip!!

                          1. re: VWRobin

                            Thanks so much for the recs VWRobin. The 1/2 price sushi sounds like a steal. And thanks for the warning on prices and where to pick up some oysters - how's the oyster selection?

                            I have heard that something like Mama Nem's Soul Food is something to check out for sure while I'm there. Sounds great.

                            I didn't realize that was the concept of Seasons 52 - sounds like something healthy I could nosh on. Could get pricey though I guess. The prices listed on the website are $12 to $26 for mains: http://www.seasons52.com/menu/entrees...

                            Thanks for all the value recs as well. Yeah, I would have probably thought Salt Island was a bit pricey - is this the one you were mentioning? http://www.saltislandrestaurant.com/m... But if the portions are huge, sharing might just be an option - hope they don't get upset!

                            And just to clarify - on their menu, they do mention a 'dolphin' dish - but it's Mahi Mahi (aka dolphin fish). Was that the dish you were talking about? Thanks! http://www.millersalehouse.com/

                            Much appreciated and I am sure we'll have a great trip with all these great recs. Thanks!!!

                            1. re: VWRobin

                              anybody know where mama nems is located?

                              nevermind... found it... http://www.mamanemssoulfood.com/maman...

                          2. Just a quick note that The Lobster Pot in North Redington Beach is closed.

                            Joihn

                            9 Replies
                            1. re: RibDog

                              Thanks RibDog. I'll scratch that one off their list. I read your other post on Tampa. Thanks for the rec on Crab Shack

                              http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/586331

                              Any more along those lines? Thanks in advance

                              1. re: BokChoi

                                I also like to go to Mid-Peninsula Seafood in St. Pete on 49th St. S. Walk in, pick out the seafood in the case you want and tell them how you want it cooked and they will get to it.

                                1. re: RibDog

                                  Thanks so much for the rec. I doubt I would have found this one on my own. I found an article about it: http://www.sptimes.com/2003/06/26/Wee... It mentions mostly deep fried options, but does mention that they do any preparation (as you pointed out as well) - do they do it well? I know that fried is the 'safest' bet, but I prefer other preparations (I read in the article that they do smoking - I was impressed). This sounds like quite a gem. Thanks for the rec. Please do let me know if you have any other similar recs.

                                  1. re: BokChoi

                                    MP will prepare the seafood fried, blackened, sauteed, grilled or baked I believe.

                                    Another place I like a good deal is Arco Iris in Tampa on Columbus. It is a Cuban restaurant which has a few Chinese fried entrees also. The Chinese entrees go back to when there were quite a few Oriental workers on the docks and the restaurant already had the makings available for fried rice.

                                    And while it may not be the most stellar BBQ, I still enjoy Jimbo's on Kennedy in Tampa.

                                    And one other place I like is Red Mesa on 4th St. N in St. Pete. Excellent Southwestern and Mexican. More Southwestern though. They also have a new place downtown I think is called Red Mesa Cafe with a little more varied Latin offerings but I have not had chance to try it yet. But based on the original location, it should be very good. BTW, Red Mesa does an excellent Southwestern breakfast on the weekends.

                                    John

                                    1. re: RibDog

                                      Thanks so much for all the recommendations, RibDog. Cuban Chinese, eh? Sounds interesting. Any suggestions on dishes to try?

                                      BBQ will probably be tried on the trip. Thanks for the recommendation. Red Mesa came up on another search of mine as well. Any dish suggestions there?

                                      These suggestions are great and I feel so much more confident in the food for the trip now that I've spoken to you all.

                                      Thanks again John.

                                      1. re: BokChoi

                                        At Red Mesa, I have never gone wrong with any of their meals there. Was just there a week ago and got the tamales. Very good! And got a mushroom cheese dip appetizer that I liked also.

                                        My favorites at Arco Iris are Steak Milinesa, Picadillo, Roast Pork, and Ropa Vieja plus any fresh fish they may have that day.

                                        And you are most welcome. Enjoy!

                                        1. re: RibDog

                                          Thanks for the suggested dishes, RibDog! Sounds unlike anything I can get in Toronto. Looking forward to it!

                                  2. re: RibDog

                                    Tried Mid-Penninsula Seafood last week. Nice seafood counter/market plus some of the freshest, cooked-to-order seafood we found in the Tampa/St. Pete area. Nothing fancy, just good eats.

                                    1. re: Iowaboy3

                                      That was definitely on my hit list. Thanks for the review.

                              2. A couple of threads you can mine for info though I haven't double checked to see how up to date they are:
                                http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/305810
                                http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/488790

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: rikkikm

                                  Thanks so much for the direction to these threads rikkikm. Any personal favourites you would like to draw my attention to?

                                  These are wonderful directions - thanks everyone. I will definitely report back once I return and post the photos up on my flickr site.

                                  http://www.flickr.com/photos/bokchoi-...

                                2. BokChoi,

                                  You might want to try Cafe Kita at 1155 Dale Mabry Blvd. in Tampa. The phone number is (813) 286-8187. It is a southeast asian noodle shop. As someone who lived in Singapore for a year, I can attest to its authenticity. They will adjust the heat level to your preference. It is good for lunch under fifteen dollars and is definitely a hole in the wall, although a very clean one.

                                  (The Dale Mabry address is a little misleading because the restaurant is in a triangular -shaped strip shopping center, which faces Dale Mabry, so that address will get you to the shopping center, but the restaurant is actually "around back", facing Henderson Avenue, I think. Anyway, if you get to the shopping center with the address above, you'll find it.)

                                  I think Shells is still open at its original location on South Dale Mabry and, I believe, three other locations. Technically, I suppose it is a chain, but it is local. The shrimp pasta is not to be missed.

                                  Ted Peters' Smoked Fish in Pinellas Country, relatively near the beach, is very good. The location is right and it is well within your budget. I recommend strongly the hamburgers, as well as the smoked fish. This is, pretty much, outdoor dining.

                                  El Cap at 3500 N. 4th Street in St. Pete has a great hamburger and would certainly fit your budget. (4th Street is one of the "main drags" in St. Pete and is easy to find.) The telephone number is 1-(727)-521-1314.

                                  Let me also second China Yuan and Yummy House in North Tampa, both near the corner of Armenia and Waters, although they may be too far north for you. Both serve delicious authentic Chinese food and are pretty inexpensive. I also like T.C. Choy's, which is more expensive, but also serves good Chinese/Thai/Malay/Singaporean food, as well as great dim sum. It is at the corner of Howard and Platt Street in the Hyde Park area of Tampa (i.e., south Tampa near the bay).

                                  The Columbia in Ybor City, an old Cuban area of Tampa, about five miles east of the central business district, and its sister restaurant, located at the end of the St. Pete pier, both serve excellent Cuban food. (I disagree with one of the posters above.) Try the 1905 Cuban chopped salad for a large and cheap meal. I hope that this helps.

                                  5 Replies
                                  1. re: gfr1111

                                    Wow. Very comprehensive - thank you so much gfr1111. I really appreciate the recs. Thanks also for the suggestion for dishes to order. That always helps as there are just so many things and I want to try what they are good at. The authentic noodle shop sounds perfect as well. I cannot wait to give it a try. Good to hear that the Ted place is still worth the visit - it was one of the only places on my family's list that sounded intriguing. Thanks for the rec also on El Cap and TC Choy's (I saw TC's on another thread I think). The Cuban area sounds like a nice place to visit as well. I have never really had authentic Cuban fare - I doubt my visit to the country at a resort really counts.

                                    Thanks for all the recommendations. I am so pleased to find out that there are so many quick and thorough responses from the locals. Thanks again! If any of you ever make a visit to the Great White North, do give me a message on the Toronto board.

                                    Cheers!

                                    1. re: gfr1111

                                      Yes, ditto gfr1111, the 1905 salad is the best salad I've ever had!

                                      1. re: starbucksbrew

                                        Thanks starbucksbrew - good to hear there's consensus.

                                        1. re: BokChoi

                                          Columbia 1905 salad is really delish, but if you're trying to eat healthy, be warned: the dressing alone has 26 grams of fat per serving! Also, I have found the St. Pete location to be the weak sister of this small chain - I would recommend Ybor, Sand Key or even Sarasota locations.

                                          1. re: pie girl

                                            Wow. 26g of fat, eh? Thanks - I figured that a good salad probably comes at a price. Thanks for the headsup and the location suggestions.

                                    2. I am in the St. Pete area & eat out a lot so can comment on some of those places (also am a former NYer and am very picky!)
                                      Ted Peter’s Famous Smoked Fish -very Florida
                                      • Fetishes -expensive
                                      • Garden Mediterranean Bistro-nothing special
                                      • Shell’s Seafood - closed
                                      • Bonefish Grill -excellent for a chain & reasonably priced - we eat here a lot
                                      • Crabby Bill’s - tourist trap
                                      • The Wharf -love the Wharf for football & sitting near water, but be warned food is nothing special
                                      • Hurricane’s Seafood Restaurant- OK for drinks on the rooftop, but DO NOT waste your $$$ eating here - food is awful & very over-priced.
                                      • Frenchy’s Café/Rockaway Grill -Go to Frenchy's Rockaway - it's right on the beach. Food pretty good.

                                      Here's some other ideas for you:
                                      -Woody's Waterfront, St. Pete Beach. Burgers & such sitting outside at picnic tables on the seawall looking out to the Gulf. Food is basic, but it's lovely sitting there, and they have live music every afternoon/evening (Tom Davis is great!)
                                      -If Burgers in a very West-coast FL setting is your thing, try Biff Burger or Chattaway's.
                                      -Ceviche is a terrific Tapas restaurant in downtown St. Pete. Service can be sketchy, but food is heavenly! They also have a little bistro in the same building called Pincho Y Pincho - one of our favs for b'fast, lunch or late night
                                      -Park Shore Grill - another downtown place - I prefer for lunch, too pricey for dinner. They have a $15 "picnic" lunch that includes salad, delicious main couse & a mini dessert.
                                      -Nori Thai. I'm not sure why anyone is recommending Chinese food - this is west coast FL and I have yet to have any Chinese here that is truly good. However if you want an Asian fix, I highly recommend Nori Thai in St. Pete Beach. They have awesome Thai & Sushi - we eat here a few times/month.
                                      Maggie Mae's Sunrise Cafe in Sand Key/Clearwater Beach. Love this little place for b'fast or lunch. They even have a few tables that are out on the boardwalk overlooking Boca Ciega Bay.

                                      If you are looking for upscale/healthy grocery there is a Fresh Market on US 19 in Clearwater

                                      Don't know Tampa too well, but have friends that just ate at TC Choy's this weekend & were very disappointed. If you want a major splurge, try Restaurant BT in Hyde Park area...one of the best meals I've eaten since moving here 5 yrs ago.

                                      I'm sure I'm leaving something out, but you'll only be here a month!

                                      14 Replies
                                      1. re: pie girl

                                        We ended up at Park Shore Grill a couple weeks back on the way to the art museum, and had a very pleasant lunch there- good food, good server, very nice view of the bay.

                                        1. re: beachmouse

                                          Thanks beachmouse for the confirmation of pie girl's park shore grill. The tuna salad looks like a steal - something like this would easily cost $28 in Toronto. If not more! http://www.parkshoregrill.com/menus.h...

                                        2. re: pie girl

                                          Thanks for the review of the preliminary listing my family set up - much appreciated! The live music at Woody's sounds like a great way to wind down. Thanks for the suggetsion. I love Tapas as well, and it sounds like something I should definitely check out while I'm there. Prices seem a bit steep at Ceviche - how are the portion sizes? How many do you recommend per person? http://www.ceviche.com/
                                          Pincho y Pincho sounds great and I have been hankering for that type of food since my trip to Barcelona last year: http://www.sptimes.com/2008/02/28/Foo... Thanks for the rec for both Pincho and Ceviche.
                                          Breakfast by the water sounds great. I would have never found out about these gems: http://maggie-maes.com/menu.php

                                          Thanks for parkshoregrill - the picnic looks huge and great value at $15.
                                          Nori Thai sounds like another winner as well: http://local.yahoo.com/info-14487795-... The price seems very reasonable. Any fave dishes there?

                                          I have never tried Fresh Market - looks good. Thanks: http://www.thefreshmarket.com/

                                          How would you rank BT compared to Coq au Vin like everyone suggests? Have you been to both? http://www.10best.com/Tampa,FL/Restau... BT sounds great though.

                                          Much appreciated for all the recs - it was so comprehensive! Thanks pie girl. This is an amazing list of places to eat in Florida.

                                          The BBQ place sounds great too on another list: http://www.stickyfingersonline.com/me...

                                          1. re: BokChoi

                                            Pei Wei off of Sandlake in Orlando (right next door to the Whole Foods) is great chinese and very resonable. $7 - 10 per entre.

                                            Also Press 101 off of Dr. Philips (2 lights down from Whole Foods) serves fantastic pressed sandwiches (fresh ingredients), salads and a ton of homemade soups.

                                            Amura Sushi is great and neat atmosphere as well (same area as restaurants listed above).

                                            1. re: melpadilla

                                              Pei Wei - of P.F. Changs? It's similar to a Mama Fu - pan asian. My 14 year old SIL loves this place, but I wouldn't call it great Chinese. The one here in Tampa does a big teen business but it really just reminds me of mall food without the steam trays and with a fancier decor.

                                              1. re: TampaAurora

                                                Is it related to PF Changs? I have seen PF's in Boston and it is very Americanized. Nice decor though.

                                                1. re: TampaAurora

                                                  I find the food and quality of meat and veggies good and fresh. The mall chinese food here is disgusting and you don't even know what kind of meat your eating. The Pei Wei in Orlando isn't filled with a bunch of teenagers so I guess different locals attract different people.

                                                  1. re: melpadilla

                                                    Sounds great. Thanks melpadilla!

                                                2. re: melpadilla

                                                  Press 101 sounds great. http://www.orlandoweekly.com/dining/r... A healthy meal for a reasonable price.
                                                  Amura has no menu - how are the prices? http://www.amura.com/ Thanks!
                                                  What would you recommend at Pei Wei?

                                                  1. re: BokChoi

                                                    The bento boxes at lunch are very resonable, I believe around $10 and they give you alot of food. Depending on what kind of sushi you get they prices range from $7 - $20 (lobster being a high dollar item). I recommend the bubba roll.

                                                    At Pei Wei, I like the orange peel beef. A lot of people were ordering the fried rice and it looked good. The crab wontons are also very good and actually filled with crab.

                                                    1. re: melpadilla

                                                      That sounds like a great deal. Wow, I'm looking forward to trying these places out. The crab wontons in Boston that I have had were 'crab rangoons' and I have no idea what was inside them. In Toronto, we don't have anything like that. Sounds enticing - real crab will be a treat! I just had a fabulous orange beef the other day, so it'll be nice to try another version. Thanks melpadilla

                                                3. re: BokChoi

                                                  Happy to help BokChoi- I travel about 35-40 wks/yr for work & sadly wind up eating at a lot of chain restaurants, so I can appreciate the desire to get reliable dining info from locals when away from home.

                                                  Some answers to your questions:
                                                  Ceviche: Doesn't have to be pricey - my husband and I usually share 4 things, 2 if one of them is the Pork shank (yummy). So many good choices here that I'd hate to spoil it for you with specific item reco's - just try what sounds good to you! Recently took my parents here & they loved it.
                                                  At Pincho, my husband adores the mediterranean sald, I like the burger spanwich (almost like a spanish meatball sub!).

                                                  At Nori Thai, our fav is probably the SP2 - I think it's called crispy golden chicken. I also like the RN6 - pad see ew. But everything here is good.

                                                  Have never been to Coq au Vin, but I can tell you that BT has one of the top 2 or 3 zagat food ratings in Tampa Bay area.

                                                  I noticed a few folks mentioning Pei Wei. For cheap quick Asian it is actually very good. I'm not saying it's like going to Chinatown in NYC; but it's very tasty & very fresh, and my husband & I can get out of there for about $20. I wouldn't make a special trip just to go there, but if you're in that area & in need of some tasty cheap eats, I highly recommend it.

                                                  Have never eaten at Sticky Fingers so can't help on that one.

                                                  One thing I forgot to mention is the St. Pete Saturday Morning Market. 9am-2pm at Al Lang Field parking lot, across the street from the bay in downtown St. Pete. In addition to lots of crafts & such, there are tons of food vendors & lots of tables to sit at, and live music. We love riding our bikes here to stroll & have b'fast or lunch. Our favorite food booths are Uhuru Breakfast Oasis (2 can easily share a $7 b'fast), Empanada World (they have about a dozen varieties), Desserts by Milly (great brownies & cakes), and Crepesville. This lists some of the "regulars", but there are always new & different choices as well. http://www.saturdaymorningmarket.com/...
                                                  They also have some great produce booths with very good prices, and if you like cheese the Cheese Lodge has some super deals - way cheaper than the grocery store.

                                                  1. re: pie girl

                                                    Wow pie girl. Thanks so much for all these additional recommendations. It's great to find out what the locals like because I don't want to end up in some tourist trap like so many tour books try to lead you into. The Saturday market sounds like my place to be. I will definitely stop by and check out the food - I love markets and try to check them out in each city I visit. Sharing 4 dishes at Ceviche sounds really reasonable - most tapas places I know of, you have to share about 8-10 to be satisfied and that is why I was a bit worried about the price of each dish. Thanks again pie girl! Let me know if you think of anything else great to recommend.

                                                4. re: pie girl

                                                  pie girl - have you tried ABC Seafood in St. Pete for Chinese?

                                                5. I scanned all of these and didn't see a place called Walt's in St. Johns Pass. It's very small but has only the freshest fish. The gazpacho there is to die for. This place is so dedicated to freshness that he won't even open if he doesn't have the quality he demands.

                                                  4 Replies
                                                  1. re: PDeveaux

                                                    Thanks PDeveaux - is this the place you were thinking of? I couldn't find "Walt's" : http://tampa.diningguide.com/data/d10...

                                                    1. re: BokChoi

                                                      totally forgot about Waltz! My best friend (a total foodie) eats there literally about 4x or more per week & swears by it!!!

                                                      1. re: pie girl

                                                        Wow, okay sounds fantastic then - I love fresh fish. Thanks pie girl - let me know if you have anything else. It's great both you and PDeveaux recommended it.

                                                        1. re: pie girl

                                                          Def great seafood and very very fresh.

                                                    2. Last year we found a wonderful, inexpensive Vietnamese spot In St. Petersburg--Mekong, 5944 34th St., N. Not fancy, but great food at low prices. When we return to St. Pete this is the first place we will go to for lunch or dinner.
                                                      Pnemiller, Jupiter, FL

                                                      1 Reply
                                                      1. re: Pnemiller

                                                        Sounds great - love Vietnamese food. Nice, warm and hearty. Thanks for the rec Pnemiller.

                                                      2. Here are a few of my faves:

                                                        Tarpon Springs: Rusty Bellies (seafood)

                                                        Ozona: Molly Goodheads (seafood/Old Key West style American)

                                                        Dunedin: Casa Tina's (Mexican)

                                                        Palm Harbor: Napoli's (pizza); Amarit (Thai); Casa Ludovico (Italian)

                                                        Clearwater Beach: Island Way Grill (new American)

                                                        Indian Rocks Beach: Salt Rock Grill (Best Steaks ever! Crispy on outside, juicy on the inside)

                                                        4 Replies
                                                        1. re: sstinso01

                                                          That's two for Rusty Bellies now. Thanks for the recs sstinso01. Sounds like a varied selection and will be great once I start getting bored of the usual seafood. In the states, you guys do steaks much better than in Toronto. Portions are much more generous as well!

                                                          1. re: BokChoi

                                                            You can make it three as I like Rusty Bellies also. It is just a long drive for me so I don't get there often enough.

                                                            John

                                                            1. re: RibDog

                                                              Thanks RibDog. Input is much appreciated!

                                                              1. re: RibDog

                                                                Four for Rusty Bellies

                                                          2. Thank you everyone for all your helpful posts and suggestions. We'll be making our way down to Florida soon and will be trying many of these great suggestions. I'll report back once our trip is complete and all photos of food eaten will be posted to my flickr photostream. Thanks once again! I knew I could count on you Chowhounders to make the food part of the trip a success!
                                                            http://www.flickr.com/photos/bokchoi-...

                                                            2 Replies
                                                            1. re: BokChoi

                                                              Oh, my gosh - those are the most awesome pictures of food I've ever seen! And the ones of all of the Florida plants and animals were great, too! My husband and I are headed over to Gulfport for our anniversary next weekend and it inspires me to go eat!

                                                              1. re: PDeveaux

                                                                Thanks so much PDeveaux! I'm glad you enjoyed browsing the site. I finally got a chance to upload a few more (didn't have internet all the time in Florida), but a bunch more still to come now that I'm back from vacation.

                                                                Thanks to everyone for the suggestions! I'll be writing a long review once I get a chance.

                                                            2. Wish I were heading there now, myself. Just outside of Clearwater is the lovely little town of Dunedin, which has the nicest beach- Honeymoon Beach. There is also a treasure in a strip mall called Ivory Mandorin. Excellent Chinese food. http://www.ivorybistro.com/

                                                              5 Replies
                                                              1. re: joaninmaine

                                                                Thanks for the tip joaninmaine - beach sounds lovely. The restaurant looks great - thanks so much for the rec. Should be heading to Clearwater within a week. Currently in Orlando.

                                                                1. re: BokChoi

                                                                  Just want to say Thanks! To everyone who posted, I've been lurking and taking notes. Just found out my folks are renting in Oldsmar for the month of March. My DH and I are going to come down with the kids. I've got lots of great chow ideas and even some little tidbits of things to do with the family. Thanks again, this is what makes chowhound so great!
                                                                  Trish

                                                                  1. re: trishaluna

                                                                    I have been having a great time in Florida with all the tips! Once I have a chance, I will post some reviews and comments about the suggestions. Thanks Chowhounders for all your suggestions!!!

                                                                    1. re: BokChoi

                                                                      Sorry to jump in so late to the thread. But I had to pass this on to you. If you are still in the area and get a chance to head back to the Orlando area, you should try the seafood at Boston's Fish House in Winter Park: http://bostonsfishhouse.com/portal.htm. Once you have had their fried shrimp you are pretty much done with fried shrimp. It is very casual and very inexpensive for what you get, but there can be very long lines at times to get in, so plan accordingly.

                                                                      Also, if you want some really good cuban food in a casual setting in the Tampa area you should try Arco-Iris on Columbia, right off Dale Mabry. Folks who suggested Tarpon Springs for some greek food are right on the money. It is a tourist trap but that is part of the charm. The food is great in several of the little cafes on the main drag. I highly recommend the saganaki (flaming cheese), usually served with fresh, warm greek bread. OPA!!

                                                                      1. re: bigbillyt

                                                                        Thanks for the tip, bigbillyt. I will be staying near Disney World on my return visit to Orlando so it seems a bit far. I'll see if we'll be in the area. Thanks so much! I'm heading to Tarpon Springs today! Thanks for the recs on Arco-Iris - I just went to La Terasita last night. Yummy, cheap and HUGE portions.

                                                              2. It sounds like you will be staying close to Lenny's at your Clearwater hotel. They have great breakfasts. Allow some extra time - there is usually a wait on weekends and during spring training.

                                                                Do try Guppy's. Really fresh, done very well. There is outdoor seating with a view of sunsets. IIRC, they were offering some earlybird specials when I was there in Nov.

                                                                For a healthy option, head west on Cleveland St. and find Natures Food Patch at the intersection of Missouri Ave. Natural foods grocery with a cafe and prepared foods to go options too.

                                                                You have Heilmans Beach Comber listed under Tampa - actually on Clearwater Beach. This is an old school institution. They do a killer family style fried chicken dinner, but it isn't particularly inexpensive.

                                                                For a kitschy, tasty experience do a field trip to Plant City, just east of Tampa for strawberry shortcake at Parksdale Farms. This is a fruit stand on steroids - just gets bigger each year. The line will look ridiculously long, but they have the process streamlined and it moves fast.

                                                                http://www.parkesdale.com/

                                                                Make a visit to downtown Dunedin too. Cute area, easy walk to a nice marina and fishing pier and Kelley's has good food. Often very crowded for breakfast.

                                                                Enjoy!

                                                                7 Replies
                                                                1. re: meatn3

                                                                  are there strawberries already or is it too early in the year?

                                                                  1. re: sarapeater

                                                                    there have been strawberries for a while now

                                                                    1. re: sarapeater

                                                                      Plant City Strawberry Festival runs this weekend through the first weekend in March I believe.

                                                                      1. re: sarapeater

                                                                        I loved the ones at Sweet Bay. On sale at $2 a pack. So sweet.

                                                                      2. re: meatn3

                                                                        Thanks meatn3. I saw it yesterday while driving past. I'm not much of a full breakfast person - I usually have the free cereal provided by the hotel, but if I need a fix, I'll keep this one in mind. THanks.

                                                                        I have had Plant City strawberries at Sweetbay (fresh each day) for only $2 a pack. They were excellent and very sweet. The farm is a bit far from us, but if we are in the area, I'd love to go check it out. I love fresh farm produce. Thanks so much!

                                                                        1. re: BokChoi

                                                                          The strawberry shortcake experience is the reason to go - the produce is good, but there are plenty of places that provide that closer to where you are.

                                                                          Great flavor and people watching in a crazy retro strawberry themed prom atmosphere!

                                                                          1. re: meatn3

                                                                            That sounds amazing. Why does it have to b so far away? (Aren't all great things, tho?) I saw the pic of the shortcake. Wow. That is one HUGE dessert!

                                                                      3. This post is crazy! Every restaurant in Pinellas and Hillsborough are mentioned, almost. BUT if you are still here and want a different kind of place close by to where you are, go up to Safety Harbor and enjoy the Whistle Stop one evening. Outdoor dining, interesting dishes southern inspired seafood and other; live entertainment some nights (Wed adn Fri, i think).

                                                                        1 Reply
                                                                        1. re: wishbugger

                                                                          Darn, I am leaving tomorrow and still have a bunch of places to hit. I did manage to get to a lot of places on the list. Thanks everyone for the suggestions and tips! I'll post a long review once I get back home. Heading to Orlando again, but will be in Disney for the days there - no eating outside the resort. Wonder if there's anything edible in the park - I remember eating the galactic gobblers years ago. Filled up two for a reasonable price (unlike everything else in the park!).

                                                                          Thanks again everyone!!

                                                                        2. So I realized that I would not have time to sit down and write one long full report. I have decided to break it up and write in whenever I got a chance!

                                                                          I would like to report that my trip to Florida was a huge success, due in no small part to the kind chowhounds of FL! Thanks for all the wonderful suggestions. I had many memorable meals and discovered a new love for Grouper (I absolutely count this as one of my top 5 fish now).

                                                                          I'll try to start from the beginning...

                                                                          Florida unfortunately got off to a rocky start for me. We went to the much raved about Coq Au Vin. You can see the photos of the meal here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bokchoi-...
                                                                          Personally, I found the sauces way too rich for me. I found it strange that almost every dish came with a large serving of Beurre Blanc. This sauce, when doused on top of everything, nearly ruined everything for me. The frogs legs were crisp at first, but then the waiter dumped half a cup of BB sauce over top of it when he got to the table. I think if it is served in a saucer that the diner should apply whatever amount they think is necessary to compliment the dish. I do not appreciate the waiter just grabbing and pouring without so much as asking for permission to do so. Every other dish was overly salted and bland from the usage of BB over everything. The duck was a complete disaster and had a strange, rubbery texture. I would not recommend it. It was possibly the worst duck I have ever had in my life. The bronzed grouper was generously portioned, but was covered in a thick layer of salt (aka seasoning). I almost went into shock after taking my first bite from sodium overload. The desserts were not much better. The souffle was raw in the centre and was not properly prepared. Maybe they rushed it and took it out too early. You can see it here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bokchoi-...

                                                                          Sushi Hatsu was our next stop and unfortunately, it too was a disaster. I know I probably ordered poorly, but we were hungry and hesitant about ordering more expensive items because we weren't sure of the quality. When we went in, we were promptly seated by a super friendly waitress. She was super nice and the best part of the evening. The owner/sushi chef was playing the electric organ at a deafening volume throughout our meal. It was funny, but I don't think I'll go again on a Sunday. The maki rolls were some of the worst and most expensive I have had, unfortunately. Everything had mayo/sauce poured ontop and the tempura was not made with panko, but was similar to a corn dog batter. It was soggy and tasted like it was made several hours before. The rice was not vinegared and the plating was very unappealing. You can see the rolls here:
                                                                          http://www.flickr.com/photos/bokchoi-...
                                                                          The chicken teriyaki was even worse. The chicken tasted like it had been frozen for months because it had lost all taste and texture. It was completely overcooked to the point of being dry like cardboard.

                                                                          Luckily, the food drastically improved from this point onward!!!

                                                                          Salt Island Seafood was our next stop. Though one of the appetizers was disappointing (the seared tuna - which was strangely served cold, which is apparently popular in the US), the calamari was nice, light and crisp. The grouper was absolutely amazing. The fish portion was generous and the quality of the fish really showed. It was amazing and well prepared/cooked. We asked for it on the rare side, because that is the way we enjoy our fish, and it came out perfectly. The atmosphere reminded me of Rainforest Cafe a bit, but the food quality far exceeded my expectations. I loved the Grouper and ordered it every chance I had from that point onward.

                                                                          Salt Island: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bokchoi-...

                                                                          Izziban sushi was another sushi rec I picked up off a website by a local. The happy hour was a great deal, though I would have to say that the sushi was nothing to write home about. It was good for the price (which is basically half price before 6PM). Good to fill yourself up at minimal cost: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bokchoi-...

                                                                          Trey Yuen Chinese restaurant just off International Drive was a huge find for us. We were quite impressed with the Haw Funs, which were fresh and homemade. The texture was great and chewy. They were thicker than what we were used to in Toronto. We asked for less oil and less salt and they happily obliged (on one occasion. On a different occasion, they added too much oil). Their dim sum (though they advertised having a dim sum sifu from HK) was pretty awful from our one sampling (a sharks fin dumpling filled with pork). The decor was pleasing as well.
                                                                          Trey Yuen: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bokchoi-...

                                                                          I would have to admit that we spent most of our days camped out at Crabby Bill's for their Early Bird Specials. For $7, you get a fair sized portion of fish and two sides. This was amazing value for us. I got sushi grade tuna dinners almost nightly for $8. Amazing! I asked for my fish to be grilled and served SUPER rare and it came out perfectly. Just plain, fresh seafood. What could be better? Their fries are also light, potato-y and yummy. I must have gained several pounds during the trip because I had fries almost every night.... Early Bird Special is a steal before 6PM every night and they have happy hour beer with that too ($1.50 a glass). Stone crab claws were also an amazing treat (tho pricey!). They were exceptionally sweet and juicy. They were one of the best and sweetest crabs I have ever had. $17 for three claws or so. We also had Blue Crabs on another occasion. Great value. Tasted much better than the ones we had at Crab Shack later on that were liquidy instead of meaty. The pink gulf shrimp were also amazing (I had them cold because they were already pre-cooked, and I like my seafood rare. This was the best way to get them as rare as possible). So sweet! They also have a seafood store next door to the Indian Rock location that sells raw fish/seafood that you can cook/eat yourself. I got a few pounds of Tuna (sushi grade) to cut up and eat at the hotel (Sashimi) for about $10.50/lb. Amazing value. Not only that, but the tuna was of very good quality (not sinewy, nor tough - VERY red, the way I like it!). This was less than 1/2 the market price of tuna in Toronto.

                                                                          Crabby Bill's: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bokchoi-...

                                                                          Well, that's all the time I have for now. I will write a few more reviews in a bit. Thanks once again for everyone's help! There were so many great finds along the way, including Waltz's fish Shack, and more!

                                                                          1. And now for the second portion of my review:

                                                                            Found myself in Ybor city and had a blast. The recommendation for Columbia was BANG on! We were seated in the beautiful sun room with the lovely fountain (if you go, I would highly recommend waiting for a seat in that room. It really adds to the experience). We started with Cuban bread (crusty and made with lard, yum), and followed with drinks and soup. The mojito was well liked by my DC and the Black Bean soup was a winner. The onions were nice and peppery and the soup was nicely spiced. VERY filling. We ordered the combo 1/2 sandwich and cup of soup. The sandwich was Cuban and very tasty. Reminded me of a ham, bacon and cheese panini, but MUCH better. This was great value and I'd order it again. We also had the 1905 salad. Next time, though the dressing was tasty, I'd ask them to halve the portion because it was just too much and overpowered the greens. We also had a few of their fish specialities (Mahi mahi, corvina Russian style, snapper Adelita). I would HIGHLY recommend the moist and sweet mahi mahi. It was a fantastic fish. The marinade was similar to the lime and onion 1905 dressing and you get a side cup to dip as well. The corvina was not my cup of tea (hard boiled eggs on top), but the snapper was another winner. Very moist. Top choice would be the mahi though. Finished off with bread pudding. Dining companion (DC) loved it!

                                                                            Columbia: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bokchoi-...

                                                                            Next up, Ted Peter's smoked fish: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bokchoi-...
                                                                            The portions were gigantic (just an FYI). I could easily see us ordering 1 serving in the future and splitting it 3 ways. You have to pay a few bucks to split an entree though. The salmon was so much better than the other fish options, as the mahi was a bit dry from the smoking process. It was still very tasty though. The dining-in really added to the experience because we dined by the fireplace that was burning the same red oak used to smoke the fish (this really heightened the smoky aroma of the fish). I really enjoyed the leftovers and we made a few lunches out of what was left. This was VERY smoky and hit the spot. Quite well done! Bravo.

                                                                            Restaurant BT was something I stumbled upon while wandering and thought it was possibly THE BEST Vietnamese cuisine I've ever dined on. It was amazing. The ingredients were exceptional and everything was VERY fresh. The calamari was done just right and was al dente. It was not battered and fried as it typically is handled (seemed poached). The broths for their phos were fragrant and absolutely delicious. Their charred meats with also beautiful and aromatic (on the buns). Their prawns were generous in size and quantity and lunch is a steal at $14 a main (approx). Dinner was a bit of a disappointment and not worth the premium (IMO). It was quite protein heavy (I was prepared for this because I browsed the menu), but none of the dishes shone like the lunches (which were lighter and sweeter). The tartare had nuts in it and cilantro, which was very fragrant and had a nice texture as a result. Their crab soup was amazing and very sweet. It was too salty on one occasion, but the first time it was great. We went back at least 4 times. It was just that good.

                                                                            Restaurant BT: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bokchoi-...

                                                                            For Chinese food, we found ourselves at Ha Long Bay. It was not bad and we were quite happy with the quality (it wasn’t great compared to what we have in Toronto, but it was more than edible). I quite enjoy the chow funs in Florida because they are much denser and chewier than the ones we have in Toronto. It adds a lot to the dining experience. The clams in black bean were also winners, though there was a bit of sand in them (which was not so pleasant). The oysters on one occasion were bang on and fresh. The second time they were stale and old and smothered in soy sauce. Bleh.

                                                                            Ha Long Bay: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bokchoi-...

                                                                            Looking up some awards given out by Golden Spoon, we found Mise En Place. It started out well with the breads, slipped quite a bit with the apps (only one piece of my ‘tapas’ appetizer was edible – the grouper stick, the rest was greasy), and went downhill significantly with the mains (I enjoyed my turkey sandwich though). The price was fine at about $10-15 for mains, but I would only recommend getting the turkey sandwich. They completely overcooked the fish (grouper special of the day) and massacred the ravioli with triple salt.

                                                                            Mise En Place: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bokchoi-...

                                                                            Z-Grill was hit up for a James Beard award when we were there (nominated at least), so we decided to check it out. Fantastic is all I can say. The ribs… were absolutely amazing and stunning and everything ribs should be (sweet, sticky, crusty). The po boys were also amazing and well grilled. Scallops were handled perfectly (not overdone like they usually are) and the crab cakes were generously filled with crab. I was VERY happy with this meal. We went there for lunch. I highly recommend the Dr. Pepper ribs. As soon as I read it, I knew I had to have it. The duck salad was the only misstep. We asked for the duck to be medium rare. It came out well done and was paltry in size. Well seasoned though.

                                                                            Z-Grill: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bokchoi-...

                                                                            John’s Pass was a lot of fun for us. We enjoyed the touristy wandering around, and the many pelicans eating the gutted fish scraps. Waltz’s was a bit off the main path in a little, fun shack at the end of the dock. I loved how they only had a chalk board to describe the daily specials. Fresh Black Grouper was the special catch of the day. It was done up with their homemade Cajun spicing (little salt!!!! YAY) and was nicely crisped. The side salad was a disaster and in retrospect, I should have stuck with what they did well, sandwiches. Next time…. Anyway, it was a fantastic little place and everyone was really friendly there. I would highly recommend giving them a try if you’re in the area. Their grouper was absolutely stunning. Very fresh and juicy. It was a bit overdone for my tastes (because I like things rare), but considering that they ensured me that they knew how to handle fish and suggested that I take their word for it and not order rare, they didn’t do a bad job!

                                                                            Waltz’s: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bokchoi-...

                                                                            Well, that’s it for now. I’ll write more soon enough! Thanks for all your suggestions once again. I had a fabulous time.

                                                                            3 Replies
                                                                            1. re: BokChoi

                                                                              Thanks for the additional reviews. I may actually finally go to BT after your review and pictures. I love Vietnamese food but usually go to one of the traditional restaurants. I really have to go try that tartare.

                                                                              1. re: rhnault

                                                                                No problem rhnault. I have a bunch more to still get up. Thanks for all your suggestions and help in this process. I really loved BT. The first time we went, it was utterly spectacular. (I recommend the lunch, not the dinner). All times were very, VERY good still, but that first time was magnificent. Less salt, more sweetness to the broths. We went on a Sunday no less!

                                                                              2. re: BokChoi

                                                                                WOW! You're an amazing food photographer! I'm just about ready to jump on a flight to Toronto to visit the Night Market for some of that wonderful looking street food! KUDOS TO YOU BC!!!

                                                                              3. the best cuban sandwiches are at the floridian on treasure island and now in tampa on kennedy