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St. Petersburg Clearwater, FL

Best Restaurants in St. Petersburg-Clearwater and BeachesOur favorites include some of this destination's best restaurants—from fine dining to simple fare.

By Maria White

Food is an integral part of the Tarpon Springs experience, especially when you're roaming the historic Sponge Docks area. Although kitschy gift shops pushing natural sponges and loofas outnumber local restaurants, you'll still have a tough time deciding where to enjoy your gastronomic fix of Mediterranean specialties. If you're seeking massive Greek salads, traditional pastitsio (baked casserole with ziti, ground beef, eggplant and potatoes) and scrumptious pastries, look no further than Hellas Bakery & Restaurant, a Dodecanese Boulevard mainstay since 1970. Cozy Costa's Restaurant also hits the mark, serving up such classics as lamb-stuffed gyro sandwiches and spanakopita (spinach pie).

The intimate dining room of the E & E Stakeout Grill showcases an upscale southwestern look, and the menu is just as fashionably rugged. Opened in 1985 as Eugen's Restaurant, the longtime Belleair Bluffs food place offers slow-cooked, char-grilled rack of lamb and delectable prime rib, fajitas and quesadillas, and daily seafood specials to boot.

Casa Tina, an unconventional Mexican eatery in downtown Dunedin , draws fiesta-loving locals to Main Street with deliciosa comida y bebidas (delicious food and drinks) and regular events, including movie screenings and dance performances. Though the local restaurant's sizable portions make sharing an option, you'll likely do battle over cheesy quesadilla slivers or that last lonely morsel of chayote relleno (steamed squash stuffed with onions, garlic, breadcrumbs and toasted almonds). If you've still got space in your belly after such zesty eats, congratulations! Treat yourself to a chocolate-dipped coconut macaroon or a slice of orange chiffon cake at adjacent Pan y Vino, Casa Tina's sister venue. Phone (727) 734-7700 for Pan y Vino.

Inspired by early fishermen who cooked their catch along shores littered with salt rock boulders, the Salt Rock Grill offers locally caught seafood and more. The kitchen fires up everything from Alaskan king crab legs to oak-grilled Porterhouse steaks and Thai barbecue duck, while a raw bar offers shellfish towers stacked high with intoxicating oysters and clams ready for slurping. In addition to offering impressive bites, the Indian Shores restaurant is big on ambiance, with stylish décor and vacation-ready views of the Gulf of Mexico enhancing the dining experience.

The packed parking lot at the 4th Street Shrimp Store Restaurant & Market in St. Petersburg is telling. Locals clearly love the casual eatery, which evolved from a small seafood market that shared its home—a former Model T Ford service station built in 1928—with a Laundromat. The seafood is still fresh and tasty these days; plus, there's plenty more space to stretch out in, with no-frills platters of fried, boiled and scampi-style shrimp getting gulped down amid an odd assemblage of license plates, murals and nautical doodads. Arrive at the Shrimp Store between 3 and 6 p.m. for the early bird menu (you won't shell out more than $10 for a filling dinner), or pull up a colorful painted barstool Monday through Wednesday, when all-you-can-eat specials are offered.

Another enduring Fourth Street eatery puts a spin on the traditional foods of Mexico and the southwestern United States. The imaginative chefs at Red Mesa Regional Mexican & Southwest Cuisine aren't afraid to stuff an enchilada with roast duck or propose new flavor combinations for classically prepared mariscos (seafood), pollo (chicken) and carne (meat). You'll still enjoy chips and a bowl of satisfyingly spicy salsa before your meal, but you'll also notice more creative fare—including chorizo-crusted salmon and gorgonzola stuffed filet of beef with salsa roja—coming out of the open kitchen at the food place.

Bella Brava is evocative of a warm, earthy trattoria—one with modern touches, like polished concrete floors, that is. This Italian kitchen dishes up authentic Tuscan flavors (aproned, wooden spoon-wielding grandmas are, surprisingly, nowhere to be found) with a dash of New World flair. But, while the downtown St. Pete restaurant features contemporary decorative touches, it nevertheless manages to keep lunch and dinner patrons well-fed and cozy. Weeks after your visit you'll be dreaming about Bella Brava's homemade goat-cheese stuffed ravioli smothered in pesto cream sauce. And, if you're a pizza connoisseur in search of a more sophisticated pie, you'll rejoice over freshly baked doughs layered with such ingredients as asparagus and prosciutto, roasted pepper and house-made sausage.

Stroll down to Fresco's Waterfront Bistro for some seafood gumbo or mozzarella caprese salad. Their Sunday brunch menu is an additional option for those who want a tasty meal complemented by views of pristine yachts, plucky seabirds and swaying palm trees.

Opened in 1925, the palatial The Vinoy Resort & Golf Club, Autograph Collection sits at the north end of Beach Drive, overlooking Tampa Bay. While certainly the perfect venue for a little R and R on vacation, the restored luxury hotel also has long been a vessel for culinary experimentation. In the 1940s the salmon-hued structure was converted into a training facility for military cooks. Today the Vinoy houses Mediterranean-inspired Marchand's Bar & Grill, where an ever-changing array of breakfast, lunch and dinner items—from lemon soufflé pancakes to tropical tuna tartar—wow just about everyone, including vacationing drill sergeants.

Parrotheads feel right at home west of St. Petersburg in St. Pete Beach , especially when sipping margaritas dockside at the Sea Critters Cafe. But you don't have to be one of singer Jimmy Buffett's loyal, kooky fans to kick back at this low-key establishment. The path to a carefree afternoon is simple. Moor your boat outside, grab a seat (indoors or outdoors) with views of the waterfront, then chow down on a few crab cakes, conch fritters and grouper nuggets. There is, of course, a shortcut to tropical bliss that involves an 80-ounce fish bowl brimming with Sea Critter's “Knock Out” Rum Punch (silver, gold and dark rums mixed with a secret blend of tropical juices and spices); however, those who've previously chosen that route don't recommend it.

For an added bonus, jump ship to Madeira Beach , where more splendid maritime panoramas await. Located at souvenir shopping mecca John's Pass Village & Boardwalk, Friendly Fisherman Waterfront Seafood Restaurant surveys a rippling inlet plied by Jet Skis and jetboats. From your perch you might spot a few playful dolphins or a team of fishermen hauling the same species that's on your plate. If you're a bait-and-tackle pro, bring in your own catch and the cooks at the nearby restaurant will take care of the rest.

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St. Petersburg Clearwater, FL

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