Top 100 South Florida Restaurants

Top 100 South Florida Restaurants

 

Top 100 South Florida Restaurants

BROWARD COUNTY

ARMADILLO CAFM-I
3400 S. University Drive, Davie, 954-423-9954
Cost: expensive
Credit cards: AC
Hours: lunch, dinner
Chefs Kevin McCarthy and Eve Montella are masters at creating and delivering modern Southwestern cuisine. An evolving menu mirrors their combined talents and keeps in touch with today’s culinary trends. Enjoy long-time favorite house specialties such as smoked duck quesadillas or tequila grilled shrimp. Or go modern with steamed whitewater clams with roasted peppers, tasso ham, garlic and Texmati rice. Lean to the Southwest with pasilla-crusted cowboy steak or to the East with a Mongolian hanger steak sparked by spunky chipotle chili butter. Fresh fish is always well handled, and you would have to travel far to match any of Montella’s first-rate desserts.

 

BLUE MOON FISH CO.
4405 W. Tradewinds Ave., Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, 954-267-9888
Cost: expensive
Credit cards: AC
Hours: lunch, dinner
Besides the spectacular Intracoastal view, this restaurant features the talents of chef Daniel Cournoyer for an expert touch with everything from portobello and goat cheese strudel with peppered raspberry syrup to oversize bowls of meal-making gumbo brimming with shrimp, crab, crawfish, andouille sausage, okra and filM-i. Try shiitake mushroom-crusted halibut with wilted swiss chard, soy grilled Chilean sea bass centered on mochi fried rice cakes and an Asian stir fry, or the house signature dish, a pan roast of lobster and shellfish in spicy brandy-tarragon cream. Executive pastry chef Maria Perera does an exceptional job with desserts such as icky sticky caramel tarte, warm chocolate Belgian waffles, bananas foster tartelette or heavenly soufflM-is served for two.

 

CAFM-I MAXX
2601 E. Atlantic Blvd., Pompano Beach, 954-782-0606
Cost: expensive
Credit cards: AC
Hours: dinner
This award-winning cutting-edge restaurant from the team of Oliver Saucy and Darrel Broek offers regional Florida cuisine punctuated by diversity, casual elegance and good taste. Saucy draws inspiration from Mediterranean, tropical, Southwestern and Oriental cuisines, coupling them with local harvests of spices, fruits, vegetables and seafood. The continually changing menu provides starters such as caviar pie, foie gras two ways, and wonderfully soothing herbal mushroom “tea” with roasted exotic mushrooms and shallot cracklings. The range runs from the signature sweet onion-crusted snapper to mustard-crusted rack of lamb, a redtail deer chop, or prosciutto-wrapped monkfish. An outstanding wine list is icing on this cake.

 

CAFM-I VICO
1125 N. Federal Highway, Fort Lauderdale, 954-565-9681
Cost: moderate
Credit cards: AC
Hours: lunch, dinner
Come here for any of the delicious food, but don’t leave without sampling the fabulous house-made pastas: agnolotti rosa features buoyant packages of ravioli overstuffed with ricotta and spinach; and long wavy green and white papardelle slips obligingly into the light embrace of garlic, olive oil and fresh basil with extra impact from fennel-spiked Italian sausage and broccoli rabe. Veal scaloppine in port wine sauce is fork-tender and superbly flavored, and even the simplicity of grilled chicken is nice and smoky, topped with marinated tomatoes, peppery arugula and radicchio. Desserts are made from scratch, and any one of them will make your meal into a well-rounded happy experience.

 

CANYON
1818 E. Sunrise Blvd., Fort Lauderdale, 954-765-1950
Cost: moderate to expensive

Credit cards: AC
Hours: dinner
The wonderful Southwestern-influenced food at this popular spot with its wall-to- wall bar crowd is guaranteed to wow you with stunning flavors courtesy of chef Chris Wilbur. Experience grilled chicken quesadilla packed with jalapeno jack cheese, roasted corn, cilantro pesto and black bean mango salsa. The cornmeal-crusted poblano oozes creamy goat cheese, the escargots arrive with grilled creminis in port sauce trimmed with a red chili tamale cake. And that’s just for starters. Entrees include rigatoni with roasted duck and cherry sausage, pan simmered red snapper with purple Peruvian potatoes, braised lamb shank with wild blueberry sauce, or the guaranteed-to-blow-you-away jalapeno breadcrumb-crusted Chilean sea bass with roasted carrots, orange sauce, sweet corn and blue corn tortillas. If your server happens to mention white chocolate bread pudding with Chambord berry stir-fry or blueberry banana cheesecake among the evening’s desserts, do yourself a favor and grab the nearest fork.

 

CASA BARISONE
8037 W. Sample Road, Coral Springs, 954-757-7571
Cost: expensive
Credit cards: AC
Hours: dinner
The elegance of the romantic and intimate surroundings is surpassed only by the talents of chef Guido Barisone, who succeeds beautifully in creating Italian food with a light touch at this strip mall spot guaranteed to surprise and delight you. Barisone wants diners to have a first-rate experience and goes to great lengths to provide it. Veal dishes are excellent, pastas are terrific, and the Dover sole (boned tableside) is the kind of thing culinary dreams are made of. Order surf and turf Italian style, or just go for a great steak. Much is finished tableside by a savvy wait staff with the gift of making you feel as if you’re eating in someone’s well-run, caring home. Good wine list.

 

CASA D’ANGELO
1201 N. Federal Highway, Fort Lauderdale, 954-564-1234
Cost: moderate to expensive
Credit cards: AE, DC, MC, V
Hours: dinner
Chef Angelo Elia and his food are among Italy’s great gifts to South Florida. Head here for wood-burning oven specialties or the opportunity to peruse the superlative wine list, nicely categorized by Italian regions and so comprehensive it even has an index. Pastas are well orchestrated affairs, pappardelle with porcini mushrooms, an immodestly rich puttanesca and homemade fettuccine with roasted veal ragu. Daily risottos are pearly gems; the marinated grilled veal chop with sautM-ied wild mushrooms in fresh rosemary sauce is heavenly and the dry aged New York strip with sweet onions just can’t be beat. Try zabaglione for dessert.

 

CASPIAN PERSIAN GRILL
7821 W. Sunrise Blvd., Plantation, 954-236-9955
Cost: inexpensive to moderate
Credit cards: AC
Hours: lunch, dinner
The unusual Middle Eastern wares at this lively restaurant will expand your spirit of adventure in the most delicious ways. Begin with warm squares of soft lavosh and a number of condiments called mokhalaft. One taste of the dolmeh — packed with basmati rice, fresh dill and yellow split peas with a fresh yogurt topping — and you’ll know you’re not in Kansas anymore. Try a traditional soup, a memorable meal-maker called aash-e-reshteh, brimming with parsley, spinach, chives, cilantro garbanzos, kidney beans, lentils and Persian flour noodles, adorned with whey, sautM-ied onions and fresh mint. The kabobs are wonderful, and there are plenty of tasty rice choices such as tart cherry rice or basmati topped with ruby red barberries. Dessert takes you further into the adventure. Try the noodle sorbet called falloudeh and saffron ice cream.

 

CATALINA RESTAURANT
3331 NE 33rd St., Fort Lauderdale, 954-564-6770
Cost: inexpensive to moderate
Credit cards: AC

Hours: lunch, dinner
Traditional Cuban food with full flavors anchors the menu at this upscale restaurant with a glamorous decorator look, but don’t overlook house specials either. It might be fresh red snapper fillet breaded in green plantains draped with light cream sauce topped with grilled shrimp, or Argentinean skirt steak delivered right off the grill with just a puddle of natural juices to offset its heartiness. Excellent lechon asado and some of the best pork and chicken chunks in town. The best bet and a cost-effective sampling of many menu items is the Catalina platter, enough for four to share comfortably. There are divine empanadas, pork-filled tamales and good ham croquettes, too. Desserts aren’t as sweet as in most Hispanic spots.

 

CHITRALADA
7908 Pines Blvd., Pembroke Pines, 954-964-7655
Cost: moderate
Credit cards: AE, DC, MC, V
Hours: lunch, dinner
Named after a park and palace in Bangkok, Chitralada is an oasis of a restaurant as well. Likely the best Thai restaurant in South Broward, it is notable for a light touch with oil and fat and a fresh approach to cooking. Don’t miss the Masaman curry with potatoes, avocado and peanut, crispy duck that really is crisp, steamed fish with tamarind and any of the noodle dishes. They’re all elegantly prepared, simply served and reasonably priced; in a word, terrific.

 

EAST CITY GRILL
1800 Bell Tower Lane, Weston, 954-659-3339
Cost: expensive
Credit cards: AC
Hours: lunch, dinner
The Darrel Broek/Oliver Saucy team that founded CafM-i Maxx continues a steady, winning expansion with a new foray into Weston. There is undeniable comfort in a menu that is both familiar and intriguing enough o leave diners wishing for larger appetites. Top starters include tequila-steamed clams with tasso, beef tartar with portobello carpaccio and a rock shrimp “martini” with wasabi mashed potatoes. Among the winning main courses are rice flour-dusted and sautM-ied snapper, perfectly grilled salmon, roast duck breast with mashed potatoes and a wonderfully moist peanut-crusted pork tenderloin. The wine list is first-rate, and service makes the experience of high-end suburban dining an absolute pleasure.

 

FOOD LOVERS CAFM-I
1576 E. Oakland Park Blvd., Fort Lauderdale, 954-566-9606
Cost: moderate
Credit cards: AE, DC, MC, V
Hours: dinner
There’s a pronounced French accent at this well-run cafM-i now under the ownership of chef Daniel Grinfeder and his gracious wife, Ellen. Their warm hospitality and delicious food have the added luxury of crisp white linens, fresh flowers and flickering candles at each table. Try basin-sized bowels of steaming mussels with a splash of cream and a hit of curry for starters or a Saint-Jacques seafood cake with fresh salmon and scallops awash in plate paintings of spunky wasabi cream sauce and raspberry coulis. Salmon Florentine in gorgeously browned buttery puff pastry is outstanding; so is roasted boneless duck breast with honey raspberry fusion. The veal rack is stuffed with fruit and nuts, artfully arranged on veal demi-glace rich with the perfume of a good reduction. Seared sweetbreads get the elegant touch of morels and truffle oil. Terrific desserts include a satiny raspberry Bavarian. Sinful!

 

EDUARDO DE SAN ANGEL, 2822 E. Commercial Blvd., Fort Lauderdale, 954-772-4731
Cost: expensive
Credit cards: AC
Hours: dinner
This is Mexican food like no other you’ve experienced before. Master chef Eduardo Pria teaches us the refined side of Mexican cooking through a beautifully thought out menu designed to dazzle taste buds and use indigenous ingredients. Try excellent pan sautM-ied fresh Florida blue crab and yellow corn cakes with chipotle chile sauce spiked with mole. The grilled butterflied boneless center cut pork chop brushed with mulatto chile citrus barbecue sauce is adorned with fresh jicama-mango slaw and a black bean/chorizo-filled crepe. Pria’s crispy Long Island duckling is slow roasted and glazed in spicy guava syrup served with cinnamon poached pear compote. His trio of Colorado lamb chops are brushed with cilantro-garlic oil, grilled, then teamed with an exotic mushroom-filled tamale and a duo of chipotle and tomatillo sauces. Bring your sophisticated palate to this charming local hacienda filled with fresh flowers, candles and unique artwork.

 

GABOSE
4991 N. University Drive, Lauderhill, 954-572-4800
Cost: inexpensive
Credit cards: AC
Hours: lunch, dinner
Come here for spunky Korean cuisine, and don’t let the unusual-sounding menu items inhibit you. Just look to the trustworthy host for guidance, order by number, and adventurously embrace whatever shows up, even if it’s not what you thought you ordered. It will definitely be delicious — and you can’t ask for more than that. Try the cooked-at-the-table Korean barbecue called bulgogi, a mesmerizing beef encounter marinated in soy sauce, sesame oil, garlic and seasonings. Spicy dishes are bold, especially jeyukkimchee bokum. Translated, that’s an incendiary stir fry of kimchee, soft rice cake and pork in spicy red sauce. Korean noodles are national treasures — don’t miss them, particularly the house noodles cooked with potato, pork, bean paste and caramelized onions. Or, try the everything-in-one-big-bowl bibimbab — a scrumptious layering of ingredients set in a stone pot so scorching hot the bottom of the rice takes on a fabulously crunchy golden crust.

 

GREEK ISLAND TAVERNA
3300 N. Ocean Blvd., Fort Lauderdale, 954-565-5505
Cost: inexpensive to moderate
Credit cards: AC
Hours: lunch, dinner
Traditional meze is good whether you dig into taramosalata, scordalia, saganaki, keftedes or the Greek country style sausage called loukanika. Or treat yourself to exceptionally good grilled octopus swathed in the perfect balance of lemon, oregano and olive oil, or perfectly fried fresh smelts seasoned with a splash of fresh lemon juice. The Greek salad is authentic, and the giant beans oven roasted with tomatoes, carrots and herbs are a must-have. Try lamb a couple of ways: char-broiled chops tangy with lemon, oregano and olive oil, roasted with rosemary and garlic, or as a lamb shank in red wine sauce. There’s also good moussaka and pastitsio. Daily specials might highlight ultra fresh fish selections, chicken shish kebab and even a grilled veal chop.

 

HIMALAYA INDIAN RESTAURANT
9069 Taft St., Pembroke Pines, 954-433-7705
Cost: moderate
Credit cards: AC
Hours: lunch, dinner
At one of Broward’s best Indian restaurants, the kitchen maintains a great deal of balance in a menu that is pan-Indian in character, ranging from hot Goan preparations to mildly spiced roasted meats from the Punjabi tandoor oven. All the dishes are prepared with careful and vibrant spicing and served by one of the most considerate service staffs in town. Top picks include any of the crisp salads to start (the Kuchumbar, made with tomatoes and onions is particularly good), tender fried vegetable pakora and a fried tuna cake. For main courses, take some friends and order several, including at least one tangy Vindaloo dish, something from the tandoor oven and one of the heavily sauced vegetable dishes, like the mildly spiced green peas and cheese in mild curry. For lamb lovers, try the lamb and spinach, and for fish, try the garlic shrimp or fish masala, washed down with Indian King Fisher beer.

 

HIMMARSHEE BAR & GRILLE
210 SW Second St., Fort Lauderdale, 954-524-1818
Cost: moderate to expensive
Credit cards: AE, D, MC,V
Hours: lunch, dinner
The team of Peter Boulukos and Tim Petrillo, along with executive chef Youssef Hammi, live up to their responsibilities of satisfying diners at this downtown emporium devoted to great spirits and an ever-changing menu. There’s no telling what you’ll encounter on any given evening, just plan on it being delicious. Starters might be English pea ravioli, a Tiffany of pasta pockets filled with a creamy pea blend surrounded by truffled cream, decadent port syrup and prosciutto, porcini dusted scallops or crispy risotto cakes with a gentle crunch. Fresh fish is always a good choice, and when available, the Mexican skirt steak is devilishly grounded by spicy dried chili sauce. Pan-roasted Cornish hen is great on its own — even better when dragged through the wonderful red wine rosemary sauce that surrounds it.

 

HOBO’S FISH JOINT
10317 Royal Palm Blvd., Coral Springs, 954-346-5484
Cost: expensive
Credit cards: AE, DC, MC, V
Hours: dinner
Chef Steven La Biner doesn’t offer a water view at this shopping center treasure, but his pristine seafood more than makes up for the difference. Fish (or meat) can be ordered 17 different ways, many with up-charges. Each is so good it’s hard to decide what’s best. Fresh tuna and black grouper are particularly delightful prepared Oriental style, and a meaty salmon fillet is terrific with an outstanding honey mustard glaze sparked by hints of balsamic. It’s served over a frizzy pile of flash-fried leeks that you eat like french fries. Don’t overlook ordering a steak, either. It’s a match for the best steakhouse in town — maybe better. Crisp skinned duck rates high on the scale and is especially nice with its partnering warm fresh fruit compote. Good wine list; excellent service.

 

HOLLYWOOD PRIME
3555 S. Ocean Drive, Hallandale, 954-602-6000
Cost: very expensive
Credit cards: AC
Hours: dinner
Tall, dark and elegant — that’s one way to describe the high ceilinged, high-end steakhouse in the towering Westin Diplomat. Aged steaks are the prime attraction here, though the salmon is one of the best for miles around and there are some good starters as well. Don’t overlook the first-rate wine list either; it’s a masterful compendium of great red wine for beef and a fine selection of whites as well.

 

HONG KONG CITY
5301 N. State Road 7, Tamarac, 954-777-3832
Cost: inexpensive
Credit cards: AE, MC, V
Hours: lunch, dinner, dim sum daily

This busy spot gets my vote for the best Chinese restaurant in South Florida. The menu runs from exotic fare (shark’s fin soup, jellyfish with boneless duck feet salad) to the simplicity of wonton soup and an egg roll. The house orange beef sets the standard by which to judge all others, and there’s a delightful bubbling hot seafood casserole with a load of velvety textured cooked-just-right fresh fish and an array of exotic veggies. Any of the barbecued items are good; so are the Singapore rice noodles, chow fun and the jalapeno studded shredded pork. The lightly wok-fried spicy/hot salt and pepper shrimp beats out most other versions. And, this is one of those rare spots with a dim sum chef on premises daily.

 

JALAPENO’S MEXICAN KITCHEN
8229 W. Sunrise Blvd., Plantation, 954-473-5351
Cost: inexpensive
Credit cards: AE, MC, V
Hours: lunch, dinner
You can order the usual burritos and sizzling fajitas, but do yourself a favor and think out of the box . Try great interpretations of shrimp ceviche and ancho chile infused chicken soup, and for a memorable taste treat, have shrimp Don Pedro, tossed in honey mustard chipotle sauce for a sweet/spicy coating. Any of the marinated grilled skirt steaks will satisfy the staunchest beef eater, especially the one topped with shrimp and jalapeno mushroom cream sauce. Then there’s the thrill of pork marinated in bitter oranges, baked in a banana leaf and the red Oaxacan mole sauce ladled over grilled fresh mahi-mahi. It’s a spirited challenge to find a better, or bigger, selection of specialty margaritas and tequilas.

 

LA CREPERIE
4589 University Drive, Lauderhill, 954-741-9035
Cost: moderate
Credit cards: AE, DC, MC, V
Hours: lunch, dinner
Bretonne style crepes, as entrees or desserts, are the specialty of this charming neighborhood family-run French bistro, but it would be a shame to pass up any of the excellent daily blackboard specials. Don’t miss gently sautM-ied fresh fillet of trout (it’s spectacular) or the slow-roasted duck accessorized by fresh raspberries or strawberries under skin as crisp as potato chips. Perfectly cooked steak au poivre arrives in a heady cognac-laced cream sauce, and a winning bouillabaisse shows up like clockwork, but you might have to call in to reserve your order — it’s highly popular and made in limited quantities. Be sure to save room for the house-made Napoleon, an exquisite creation layered with vanilla scented custard and freshly whipped cream under a pillow of feather-light puff pastry.

 

LA VIE EN ROSE CAFM-I
2950 N. State Road 7, Margate, 954-977-0110
Cost: inexpensive to moderate
Credit cards: DC, MC, V
Hours: lunch, dinner
Classic French bistro dining that makes you want to snuggle into an atmosphere of boudoir-like decorator twists romantically fused with roses, lace, a fireplace, candlelight and a few alluring alcoves for intimate dining. Try good onion soup, crepes, quiche, pate, salad nicoise, brie en croute, coq au vin, coquilles St. Jacques and cassoulet. There’s also calves’ liver in port raisin sauce, a grilled rib eye with melted brie and fresh raspberry sauce, steak au poivre and pork diane, tender medallions finished with mustard/brandy cream sauce. Have bananas foster in a crepe or bread pudding soufflM-i with bourbon sauce; it’ll make you grateful you saved room for a big finish.

 

LE BISTRO
4626 N. Federal Highway, Fort Lauderdale, 954-946-9240
Cost: moderate
Credit cards: AC
This unassuming storefront restaurant offers European style dining and a menu that successfully handles the formidable task of producing two excellent cuisines, classical and spa. Chef Andy Trousdale is a master with classics such as portobello mushroom mille feuille, a puff pastry sandwich with port-scented mushroom ragout; or escargot roasted in garlic and herbs de Provence sparked by pistou butter. He creates the same magic when it comes to easy-on-the-waistline cheeseless onion soup with olive tapenade crostini, so tasty you’ll hardly miss the cheese. Full flavors abound whether you opt for a foie gras burger or scaloppine of turkey with cilantro mojo and roasted garbanzos. Do indulge in dessert, especially Trousdale’s to-die-for chocolate mousse.

 

MAMBO JAMBO
1396 SW 160th Ave., Weston, 954-385-1102
Cost: moderate
Credit cards: AC
Hours: lunch, dinner
Chef George Quesada gets kudos from Hispanics and Anglos alike for his engaging cafM-i. Sure, it has a Latin foundation, but not like any other Hispanic restaurant you’ve tried: upscale design, an informal and friendly attitude and food that matches fresh ingredients with sharply etched flavors. Quesada’s ceviches (he makes five different types) are pristine, he creates some amazing entrM-ie salads and has a braised lamb shank and a roasted duck that would put any French or Italian restaurant to shame. The wine list is good and draws heavily on South America and Spain for reasonably priced bottles. The menu is moderately priced, making this terrific restaurant one of South Florida’s best dining bargains.

 

MARK’S LAS OLAS
1032 E. Las Olas Blvd., Fort Lauderdale, 954-463-1000
Cost: very expensive
Credit cards: AC
Hours: lunch, dinner

Mark Militello is the much-noted chef who produces an ever-changing menu of memorable starters such as seared fresh farm-raised abalone with sea urchin and wasabi, Caicos cracked conch with black bean mango salsa and vanilla rum butter and a tasting of rabbit: seared loin with polenta and olives and a terrine with fresh porcini and truffles. Go luxuriantly casual with a Maine lobster pizza paved with roasted garlic cream and green onions or try dried, hand-crafted pastas such as carnival squash ravioli with brown butter, chestnuts and sage. There’s duck and chicken from the oak rotisserie, as well as specialties such as Chianti-marinated grilled breast of Moullard duck with fava beans, crispy whole 2-pound yellowtail snapper with Oriental black bean ginger sauce and grilled lamb T-bone with roasted garlic flan served with poached garlic mint jelly.

 

PELLEGRINO’S
847 SE Eighth Ave., Deerfield Beach, 954-418-0611

Cost: moderate to expensive
Credit cards: AC
Hours: dinner
An offshoot of New York City’s much noted Rao’s in East Harlem; great Italian food hallmarks both experiences. This white-tablecloth restaurant is small, but the food will bristle your taste buds. Try the pristine seafood salad or meaty fried smelts for openers, saving room for an insalata caprese that gives new meaning to cloud-like mozzarella bathed in fresh basil marinade. Veal and seafood dishes are first-rate, and if you’re lucky enough to visit on Sunday, you can wax nostalgic over the traditional Italian Sunday dinner. Order the dessert platter for a little taste of all the wonderful house-made fare, including Italian lemon ice, ricotta cheesecake and charlotte russe.

 

RIVER HOUSE
301 SW Third Ave., Fort Lauderdale, 954-525-7661
Cost: expensive
Credit cards: AE, MC, V
Hours: Sunday brunch; dinner
It’s hard to say what’s more enticing, the incredible charm of this romantic restaurant located in two turn-of-the-century homes along Fort Lauderdale’s New River, or the wonderful food with its Asian/Caribbean flair. Anise ginger-orange glazed calamari with miso mustard dipping sauce is unbelievably light and tender, and escargot pot pie laden with wild mushrooms, luxurious St. Andre cheese and roasted garlic will satisfy the most sophisticated palates. Pan-roasted yellowtail topped with crabmeat-wonton slaw, pooled in hot and sour mango sauce or horseradish-crusted Scottish salmon are great seafood choices, and you won’t go wrong with any of the steaks such as the oak-grilled skirt steak, a tenderloin with porcini sauce or a chili-rubbed center cut Kansas City strip. In-depth wine list; excellent service.

 

SASUKE
1111 E. Hallandale Beach Blvd., Hallandale Beach, 954-457-0078
Cost: inexpensive to moderate

Credit cards: AE, MC, V
Hours: lunch, dinner
First-rate sushi is only one of the attractions at this pleasant restaurant just off the beach. Sasuke has a broader and more inventive range of dishes than many Japanese restaurants in town and reaches far beyond sushi and sashimi for main courses such as thinly sliced pork in a light ginger sauce, well-grilled fish steaks and some of the lightest tempura this side of the Ginza. Service is helpful and the sushi bar is inviting, but otherwise the dM-icor is plain and simple.

 

TOM JENKINS’ BAR-B-Q
1236 S. Federal Highway, Fort Lauderdale, 954-522-5046
Cost: inexpensive
Credit cards: none
Hours: lunch, dinner

Think barbecue at its juiciest, smokiest, heart-throbbing best, just be prepared to stand in long lines with other loyal fans. This is no-frills, but nevertheless delicious, dining. The house sauce is deep reddish brown and beautifully balanced between sweet and vinegary, designed to tickle the palate with wonderful combinations of spice and sorcery. The glazed baby backs have perfect blackened edges and a load of meat between each rib, and the pit master wields his cleaver with the finesse of a master chef, hacking up the best chopped pork and beef in the city. There’s also divine fried catfish crusted in cornmeal breading for a happy combination of exterior crunch against interior soft sweet white meat. Sides are homemade in a delightful family-reunion sort of way and perfect accompaniments to the barbecue, especially the fabulous, moist corn muffins. Have luscious sweet potato pie for a perfect ending.

 

THAI PEPPER
2049 University Drive, Coral Springs, 954-341-6912
Cost: inexpensive to moderate
Credit cards: AE, D, MC, V
Hours: lunch, dinner

Here’s a change of pace: a Thai restaurant offering Continental-fusion. Besides tasty standards such as pad thai, crispy mee krob, fragrant curries and lad na — thick strips of fresh rice noodles for a Thai answer to Chinese chow fun — the menu soars with options not normally found in most Asian restaurants. Have a succulent center-cut char-grilled filet mignon that reaches new heights with a topping of rich masaman curry, avocado, baby portobellos, asparagus and potatoes. Or try popular sea bass, a lightly battered, almost tempura-like rendition topped with exotic veggies and sweet red curry sauce. There’s also a small sushi bar for combining Japanese fare into the experience.

 

TRY MY THAI, TOO
1507 N. Federal Highway, Fort Lauderdale, 954-630-0030
Cost: inexpensive to moderate
Credit cards: AC
Hours: lunch, dinner
Visit this white-tablecloth spot with its pleasing upscale ambience for vibrant flavors and serious spicing levels. Have water nearby, then maneuver your chopsticks into flavorful jumping squid or go the mellow route with other starters such as good laap gai or naam sod. Unusual menu items include battered alligator that’s flash-fried, then stir-fried with broccoli, scallions and fiery chili paste. Pad Thai is moister than most, and any dish that claims jumbo shrimp really lives up to its name. Curries are remarkably light, and vegetarians are nicely accommodated at this well-run, friendly restaurant.

 

TSUKIJI
1105 E. Las Olas Blvd., Fort Lauderdale, 954-522-2216
Cost: moderate to expensive
Credit cards: AE, DC, MC, V
Hours: lunch, dinner
Formerly Louie’s Oyster, the only thing that’s changed is the name. You’ll still find an in-depth menu dedicated to uniquely prepared jewels from the sea. The imaginative defining culinary touches are thanks to the talents of chef Brad Kreitler. There’s a decided Asian accent to most everything, and that encompasses the sushi bar with great sushi. Fried calamari is tempura-battered, then tossed with bell peppers, garlic, fresh ginger and a splash of coconut milk. Chilean sea bass wears miso-glazed edges, rack of lamb has a shiitake crust and calvados-spiked sauce, and Brad’s outrageous Asian ribs are meaty baby backs brushed with barbecue sauce zipped by fresh ginger — and yes, they really are outrageous. Good wine list.

 

PALM BEACH COUNTY

 

AMICI RISTORATE & BAR ****
288 S. County Road, Palm Beach, 561-832-0201
Cost: moderate-expensive
Credit cards: AE, DC, MC, V
Hours: lunch, dinner
Amici Ristorante & Bar celebrates its 20th anniversary in 2004, enough time to know that we’ve got a South Florida classic in Palm Beach. It is among the best Italian restaurants in all of South Florida. From the vantage point of the car, it will remind you of a New York restaurant with its wall of windows. Inside, the menu is one from which you could eat every day. Service is exceptional. Start with beef carpaccio with arugula, lemon oil and Parmesan or sautM-ied calamari and escarole. Pizzas, especially a seafood variety, are big here. But don’t miss the exception pasta dishes or the 22-ounce grilled rib eye served with Tuscan fries. For dessert, there are profiteroles and apple pie with cinnamon ice cream and caramel sauce.

 

BICE
313 Worth Ave., Palm Beach, 561-835-1600
Cost: expensive
Credit cards: AC
Hours: lunch, dinner
The restaurant that began life in Milan in 1926 has since conquered the world with more than 20 locations. And with good reason: everything served here has both a hand-made and homemade quality. From antipasti that includes the air-dried beef called bresaola and goose foie gras terrine to more than dozen pasta dishes, not much disappoints. Open in Palm Beach since 1990, there’s lots to explore in the Northern Italian culinary tradition: veal shank with saffron risotto, stuffed rabbit thighs, roasted rack of venison with almond crust fresh chestnuts. Efficient white-coated servers match the clean lines of this elegantly simple dining room.

 

BISTRO DU VILLAGE
4251 N. Federal Highway, Sanctuary Plaza, Boca Raton, 561-393-8880
Cost: moderate-expensive
Credit cards: AC
Hours: lunch, dinner
This cozy 48-seat eatery specializes in the food of Provence. For the non-Francophile, that means a heavy reliance on fresh herbs and flavorings other than cream. Consider rack of lamb with honey-lavender sauce or broiled yellowtail snapper with tomato, shallots, garlic, herbs and pesto. For dessert, there are traditional tarts as well as profiteroles and chocolate mousse. The prix fixe menu is very good value. Dining at this independently owned restaurant is a delight.

 

BREWZII
2222 Glades Road., Boca Raton, 561-392-2739
Cost: moderate
Credit cards: AC
Hours: lunch, dinner
As casual, moderately priced dining out goes, Brewzii is among the best. That’s partly because it places as much emphasis on good food as it does good beer. The beer has won plenty of national awards, incredible in a state that hasn’t taken to handcrafted beer like many northern states. Portions are huge. Service is friendly. Whether you’re in the mood for a very good Angus beef burger, veal Parmesan or some inventive pasta dishes, there’s something on the menu for everyone. And while it is a microbrewery, there are plenty of families here. It might be the desserts: brownie cake and oh-so-sweet Key lime pie.

 

CHEZ JEAN-PIERRE ****
132 N. County Road, Palm Beach, 561-833-1171
Cost: expensive
Credit cards: AE, DC, MC, V
Hours: dinner

If one restaurant typifies the mythic island of Palm Beach, this may be it. The exterior is unassumingly charming, housed as it is in a couple of old-fashioned storefronts. The soul of this restaurant is French, but not the chapter-and-verse, stuffy version you find elsewhere. You can order a Caesar salad and a grilled New York strip steak along with caviar and Dover sole Meuniere. There is also a very good cassoulet and braised short ribs. Men wear jackets when dining here and the wait staff clearly views their jobs as careers. Finish you meal with a chocolate or almond soufflM-i. The superb wine list speaks strongest of the restaurant’s French pedigree and those of owners Jean-Pierre and Nicole Leverrier.

 

FIFTH AVENUE GRILL
821 S. Federal Highway, Delray Beach, 561-265-0122
Cost: moderate-expensive
Credit cards: AE, DC, MC, V
Hours: lunch, dinner
A blue-blood friend describes the food here as “club food,” nothing to push the culinary envelope too far. But I say we should be glad that some things never change. From tenderloin steak tartare and escargots to prime rib with Yorkshire pudding and filet mignon, every American restaurant standard is here. It’s a kind of comfort food. There’s a focus on beef, but there’s also seafood and a few good pasta dishes. Desserts include a very good ice cream mud pie with chocolate cookie crust, coffee ice cream and whipped cream. Service is as good as the menu.

 

FRAN’S CHICKEN HAVEN
1925 N. Federal Highway, Boca Raton, 561-395-0781
Cost: inexpensive
Credit cards: AE, MC, V
Hours: lunch, dinner
By many standards, Fran’s isn’t a restaurant at all. But with fried chicken this good, who cares that there are just three tables and four stools. Take-out was new when Fran and Joe Gerace opened the doors in 1964. A few years ago, the restaurant was sold to Stacey Hayhurst-Fuentes, who has filled some very big shoes by honoring Fran’s recipe and hospitality. Along with the fried chicken, there are fried shrimp and crab cakes, Buffalo-style chicken wings and chicken liver diners. Side dishes are sold by the quart and include potato salad, cole slaw and collards. In the age of corporate chicken, Franks is a no-frills breath of fresh air.

 

GARY WOO ASIAN BISTRO
3400 N. Federal Hoghway, Boca Raton, 561-368-8803
Cost: moderate-expensive
Credit Cards: AC
Hours: lunch, dinner
This is Chinese comfort food for those of us who grew up in Cantonese restaurants. There are also Chinese American as well as Szechwan dishes on the menu. So whether you want won ton soup and an egg roll or lo mein, steamed dumplings or chicken an cashews, it’s here. It does most dishes very well.

 

GOTHAM CITY RESTAURANT AND BAR ****
16950 Jog Road, Shoppes at Addison Place, Delray Beach, 561-381-0200
Cost: Expensive
Credit Cards: AC
Hours: lunch, dinner
Owner David Manero had a hit with Sopra on Delray Beach’s Atlantic Avenue and he’s got another one at Gotham City. Wife Lynn Manero designed the interior as a 21st century supper club. Chef Bobby Lane, who many know from Gigi’s in Boca’s Mizner Park, is in very capable charge of the kitchen. His menu starts with top quality steaks, which can be prepared with various sauces and rubs including wood oven garlic sauce, citrus charred rubs, crushed herb pesto and lemon bM-iarnaise. Steakhouse sides include buttermilk onion rings and truffled macaroni and cheese. There are also pasta dishes and well-prepared seafood and poultry such as a breast of chicken stuffed with roasted red peppers, spinach and fontina served with linguini Alfredo. Desserts include bread pudding and crunchy bananas foster fritters. The service, like the food, will not disappoint.

 

THE GRILLE ON CONGRESS
5101 Congress Ave., Boca Raton, 561-912-9800
Cost: moderate to expensive
Credit cards: AC
Hours: lunch, dinner
Think of The Grille as an everyday restaurant, the kind of place you head to when making dinner seems out of the question. The result is a kind of casual clubbiness, complete with framed photographs of their customers as decoration on the walls. The veal rib chop and citrus mahi are among the most popular dishes, but also recommend is sliced beef tenderloin, Asian glazed salmon and oven-roasted rosemary chicken, half the bird with a crispy skin encasing tender moist meat.

 

HENRY’S ****
16850 Jog Road, Addison Place, Delray Beach, 561-638-1949
Cost: moderate to expensive
Credit cards: AE, D, MC, V
Hours: lunch, dinner
This is classic American comfort food at its best. From the simple roast chicken to the meat loaf, not much on Chef Grant Johnson’s menu misses. Each day, the kitchen prepares a different country chicken casserole, coq au vin on Fridays; chicken and 40 cloves of garlic on Saturday. Meat loaf and mashed potatoes is served with a red wine gravy and sole is sautM-ied in a lemon and white sauce with capers. For dessert, go for cobbler or chocolate cake torte. Service is friendly and efficient.

 

HOUSTON’S
1900 NW Executive Center Circle, Boca Raton, 561-998-0550
Cost: moderate-expensive
Credit Cards: AE, MC, V
Hours: lunch, dinner
Don’t turn your nose up at this outstanding chain. You’re going to be very surprised by both the menu and the service. It’s contemporary American — burgers, fresh fish, steaks, chicken, prime rib — with just a few ethnic additions. One of them, Evil Jungle Thai Noodle Salad, is delicious. There’s a continuity of excellence to this chain that you don’t often see in any restaurant. There’s not much culinary adventure here, but solid American fare is sometime just what a tired diner needs.

 

JOHANNES ****
47 E. Palmetto Park Road, Boca Raton, 561-394-0007
Cost: expensive
Credit cards: AE, MC V
Hours: dinner
There are some who say that chef and owner Johannes Fruhwirt has created a South Beach-style restaurant in Boca Raton, but I call it one of the region’s most intimate. Yes, there’s a velvet rope out front, but it’s just to give diners the feeling that they’re about to enter the Johannes Zone. Inside, there are just 32 seats, making it feel like you’re a guest a very intimate dinner party. The chef pokes his head out of the studio apartment size kitchen to check on guests. The ever-changing menus includes a white and green asparagus salad with truffle vinaigrette, oven roasted Kobe beef with wasabi mashed potatoes and vanilla glazed duck breast with a Key lime chutney. Finish the meal with simple rum-soaked bananas or mango sorbet that tastes like the mangos were picked out back. They may very well be from the chef’s kitchen garden. Be sure to sign up for Johannes’ special theme dinners.

 

LA BELLE EPOQUE
253 SE Fifth Ave., Delray Beach, 561-272-5800
Cost: moderate-expensive
Credit Cards: AE, DC, MC, V
Hours: dinner
Chef Stephane and manager Florence Gfeller have created an intimate French country inn in the heart of Delray Beach, which attracts a sophisticated crowd serious about food and wine. Acoustical panels have been added to the dining room, making conversation a delight. The dining room is centered around a piazza style fountain, which gives diners the feeling of being outdoors. While Stephane’s menu changes, consider his house-made pate with red currant sauce and pistachios, whole Dover sole or any of the certified organic meat dishes, most served with sauces made from wine reductions. The menu has also been broadened to include pasta French style: wild mushroom fettuccine with white truffle-scented oil.

 

LA VIEILLE MAISON ****
770 E. Palmetto Park Road, Boca Raton, 561-391-6701
Cost: expensive
Credit cards: AC
Hours: dinner
Smoking: outdoors only
This year’s favorite restaurant in Palm Beach County has been doing everything right since it opened its doors in Boca Raton in 1976. The front of the house is graciously lead by owner Leonce Picot, who is constantly working to update everything at this spot, which manages to be elegant, comfortable and funky all at the same time. There are eight individual separate dining rooms all decorated with art and antiques. French born Chef Richard Ruiz is a co-owner and in charge of a kitchen that never fails. Sure, he knows his sauces, but he doesn’t get bogged down in French authenticity, just good food. Among the restaurant’s most popular dishes are rack of lamb, Dover sole and roast duck. Service is Old World and tuxedoed, but never imposing. The wine list is among the area’s best. That could be because Picot also owns a wine shop down the street.

 

LANA’S CAFM-I
78 S. Federal Highway, Boca Raton, 561-750-2494
Cost: moderate-expensive
Credit Cards: AE, MC, V
Hours: lunch, dinner
Until Jeff and Lana Feldman opened in August of 2002, Jeff was one of those inventive home cooks who held wildly popular dinner parties in his home. While he’d worked in restaurants in between owning a title company, he put his passion into motion with the opening of this eight-table, open kitchen restaurant downtown Boca Raton. There’s a quirky hominess to every dish at Lana’s. You can order duck l’orange, meatloaf with mushroom gravy and celery root slaw or pan-seared filet mignon with horseradish smoked Gouda sauce and an herb and Dijon crusted rack of lamb. For dessert, Feldman makes something called almond biscotti crumble. It’s a sundae of sort made with hazelnut gelato, chocolate and crumbled biscotti.

 

L’ESCALIER ****
1 S. County Road, The Breakers, Palm Beach, 561-659-8480
Cost: expensive

Credit cards: AC
Hours: dinner
Chef Matthew Sobon, master sommelier Virginia Phillip and its exceptional service staff earned L’Escalier the AAA Five Diamond Award. You arrive at this Italian Renaissance beauty and realize that this is truly an escape from the real world of dining. Sobon’s menu is updated French with starters such as terrine of rabbit, English pea soup and duck prosciutto served with goat cheese and fig fritter. Main courses include poached turbot with spot prawn ravioli, Asian pear, tempura basil with a coconut curry sauce. There’s also a roast tenderloin/braised short rib combination served with celeriac mousseline, wild mushroom galette and braised green celery in a Burgundy sauce. For some, the three-course tasting menu may be the way to go. Phillip’s wine list deserves Wine Spectator’s highest honor, its Grand Award.

 

LINDA B.
41 E. Palmetto Park Road, Boca Raton, 561-367-0200
Cost: expensive
Credit Cards: AE, MC, V
Hours: Dinner
Diners of a certain age remember restaurants like Linda B. They bore the owner’s name and imprint at every turn. Enter Linda Brandino, who keeps the tradition going at her 150-seat eatery in downtown Boca Raton. Her charm and attention to detail pervades the restaurant. While service is formal, the restaurant strives to make everyone feel comfortable. The menu is classic American steak and seafood. The house Caesar is made with homemade garlic croutons and a creamy dressing. Onion soup approaches perfection with just enough cheese and a broth as rich as pot roast. There are many excellent main courses including Dijon crusted rack of lamb and stuffed shrimp. Don’t miss dessert, especially the Linda B. Napoleon, crispy layers of phyllo with strawberries and whipped cream.

 

MAISON CARLOS
207 Clematis St., West Palm Beach, 561-659-6524
Cost: moderate-expensive
Credit Cards: AE, MC, V
Hours: lunch, dinner
Owners Carlos and Lanie Farias have brought a bit of Palm Beach civility to West Palm Beach’s Clematis Street. The menu is part French, part Italian. You might say it harkens back to a time when Americans first became familiar with classic cuisine. Diners are greeted with a plate of crispy fried zucchini slices to whet your appetite as you mull over Chef Robert Dedrick’s menu. You might start with a not-too-rich Vichyssoise or a Caesar salad, perfectly dressed with hints of lemon and anchovy. There’s plenty of pasta here if you want to keep the tab down. But the real show stoppers are steak au poivre, rack of lamb served with a pinot noir demi glace and Coquille Saint-Jacques at la Dijon. For dessert, don’t miss the Key lime meringue pie, which is made in-house daily. This could be the restaurant that turns Clematis from a party street into a serious eating destination.

 

MARIO’S TUSCAN GRILL ****
1450 N. Federal Highway, Boca Raton, 561-362-7407
Cost: moderate-expensive
Credit cards: AC
Hours: lunch, dinner
Chef Yousry Hosein pushes the edges of Italian towards American bistro-style and succeeds all of the time. Who else could pull off pan-seared salmon saltimbocca, a mix of rich seafood and salty prosciutto. There’s tender braised lamb shank with orzo, white beans and escarole as well as pistachio-crusted duck with chambord sauce. For dessert, try apple crostato with vanilla ice cream or the delicious chocolate layer cake. Service is ready and attentive.

 

MAX’S GRILLE
404 Plaza Real, Mizner Park, Boca Raton, 561-368-0080
Cost: moderate-expensive
Credit Cards: AC
Hours: lunch, dinner
There will be people here in shorts and T-shirts and business people in suits at lunchtime. It’s a hybrid of sorts, part neighborhood tavern, part American bistro, where you can find everything from a meatloaf to shrimp and ginger tossed with udon noodles. . Service is mostly sharp, although sometimes a bit casual. Don’t miss Max’s peanut-glazes chicken drumsticks or the exceptional Caesar salad.

 

MORTON’S OF CHICAGO ****
777 S. Flagler Drive, Phillips Point Office Building, West Palm Beach, 561-835-9664
Cost: expensive
Credit cards: AC
Hours: dinner
The chain didn’t invent the American steakhouse, but it certainly perfected it. That’s especially at this particular restaurant in an office building in West Palm. The incredible service starts with the hostess. And just when you thought there was nothing more to say about prime beef cooked to order, along comes several steak with sauce preparations Morton’s calls classics. They include steak au poivre and an Oskar preparation. Don’t leave without a chocolate soufflM-i. Pricey, but worth every hard-earned dollar.

 

NIRVANA
1701 N. Congress Ave., Catalina Shopping Centre, Boynton Beach, 561-752-1932
Cost: expensive
Credit Cards: AC
Hours: lunch, dinner
Chef/owner Ricky Gopeesingh calls his menu Indo-Caribbean fusion and it works every step of the way. Gopeesingh grew up in a Hindu household in Trinidad and his food is a love letter to his roots. Part Indian, part Caribbean and very American, consider a garam masala filet mignon with wild mushroom confit or a chicken breast stuffed with mango and goat cheese. Starters include a simple fisherman broth with local seafood and plantain crusted crab cakes. Biggest recommendation is grilled prawns served in a knockout Parmesan cheese basket. No single influence takes over. Gopeesingh `s unique cooking style began at Delray Beach’s Pineapple Grill and there are a few dishes from his former kitchen on the menu here. Service is leisurely to allow you to savor these amazing creations.

 

P.F. CHANG’S
1400 Glades Road, Boca Raton, 561-393-3722
Cost: moderate-expensive
Credit cards: AC
Hours: lunch, dinner
While never restaurant in the chain measures up, folks who live in Boca treat this upscale pan-Asian eatery like a neighborhood Chinese restaurant. Service is good. The kitchen delivers on all of the flavors of Chinese cuisine, from Cantonese-style spare ribs to start to Sichuan-style twice-cooked spicy beef. Every meal should start with spicy chicken wrapped in lettuce leaves. Also recommended: Singapore Street noodles and the Great Wall of Chocolate for dessert.

 

THE RESTAURANT ****
2800 S. Ocean Blvd., Four Seasons Resort, 561-582-2800
Cost: expensive
Credit cards: AC
Hours: dinner
Hubert Des Marais’ food is flawless at this restaurant, which has received the coveted five diamond award from AAA every year since 1995. The menu is an un-self-conscious fusion of the American South, Latin America, the Caribbean and Asia. While the menu changes frequently, consider guava braised beef short ribs served with okra, corn, passion fruit and truffled sprouts or pan-roasted rack of lamb with cordero frito. Desserts are also world class. Chef’s tasting menu is recommend. Put this on your very (very) special occasion list. One last thing: Men should wear jackets. But with this kind of service, a little formality seems just fine.

 

SAZERAC
600 N. Congress Ave., Lake Ida Plaza, Delray Beach, 561-330-3113
Cost: moderate-expensive
Credit Cards: AE, D, MC, V
Hours: dinner
Imagine a restaurant steeped in the culinary traditions of New Orleans mixed with fresh Florida seafood and a chef with the ability to make it all work. The result is a truly unique restaurant experience. Owner and chef Michael McArtor got his early training in New Orleans, where he worked at both Brennan’s and Commander’s Palace. Start your meal with a Sazerac cocktail, a whiskey and anise based mixture, believed to be the first cocktail ever invented. The crab cakes are very good as are the bisques, from lobster to five-potato and gingered carrot sweet potato. Seafood is the winner here, but so is the marinated skirt steak and lemon chicken palliard. Desserts include kid-friendly fried cheesecake.

 

SOPRA ****
110 E. Atlantic Ave., Delray Beach, 561-274-7077
Cost: moderate-expensive
Credit cards: AE, CB, MC, V
Hours: dinner
So successful has Delray Beach’s Sopra been that this South Beach style restaurant is soon to open on South Beach. Don’t let all of its high style get in the way of what has been called Italian soul food. Chef Glen Manfra calls what he prepares Italian food your grandmother would have prepared if she had gone to culinary school. Wood oven flat breads start every meal. Nothing on the menu disappoints, from inventive pasta dishes to seafood and hickory grilled prime aged meats such as bone-on rib eye. Desserts run from decadent chocolate cake to sophisticated fruit tart. Service is stylishly professional.

 

STATION HOUSE
233 Lantana Road, Lantana, 561-547-9487
Cost: moderate-expensive
Credit cards: AE, D, DC, MC, V
Hours: dinner
Station House packs in diners looking for good prices on well-prepared lobster. This only-in-South-Florida restaurant is a replica of the old Lantana train depot. It feels a bit like a rambling wooden cottage. The dM-icor consists mostly of tropical fish tanks and the view of Lantana Road. If a lobster bib isn’t your style, there are lots of other choices, from fresh seafood and Italian favorites like veal Parmesan, to ribs and hamburgers. You’ve also come to the right place for Key lime pie.

 

32 EAST ****
32 E. Atlantic Ave., Delray Beach, 561-276-7868
Cost: moderate-expensive

Credit Cards: AE, D, MC, V
Hours: dinner
Chef Nick Morfogen reinvents his menu every day based on what’s fresh and at hand. The results are sophisticated without being pretentious, much like comfortable dining room that is 32 East. Think of it as part neighborhood tavern, part big city bistro. This is capital “C” contemporary American cuisine, where Morfogen never forgets that diners want familiarity with their innovation. You might start with grilled skirt steak and potato pizza with spicy sautM-ied broccoli and white cheddar. For main courses, consider tagliatelle with grilled filet of beef, wild Oregon mushrooms and cream or mesquite-fired rack of lamb on pumpkin polenta with chanterelles, Marsala wine and sweet and sour onions. Desserts are deliciously simple from apple turnover to pear tart. Service is warm and professional, among the best on Delray Beach’s restaurant row.

 

TOM’S PLACE ****
7251 N. Federal Highway, Boca Raton, 561-997-0920
Cost: inexpensive
Credit Cards: AE, MC, V
Hours: lunch, dinner
Tom and Helen Wright started out 25 years with a sandwich shop that Helen calls “a little shack” at Glades and Dixie. They’ve since moved into a much larger space — by barbecue standards — but they’re constant presence guarantees that everyone who walks in the door will have a perfect down home dinner. The ribs are near perfect, but so is the sliced pork, chicken and beef. The menu also includes catfish, shrimp and beef stew, but stick with what comes off the coals. Baby backs are a perfect combination of tender and chewy. Sides include flawless baked beans and well-seasoned collards. You must have dessert: pecan pie or sweet potato.

 

TSUNAMI
651 Okeechobee Blvd., West Palm Beach, 561-835-9696
Cost: expensive
Credit cards: AC
Hours: dinner

It would be easy to criticize this big lounge-meets-nightclub restaurant, but that would take away from the excellent Asian-fusion menu and professional service. Besides, dining here becomes an experience, not just a meal. There’s sushi — of course — but there’s also braised barbecue pork stuffed pancake or pot stickers filled with tofu and vegetables. Entrees include crispy coriander scented yellowtail and a sake cured New York strip steak. While it’s as much a cocktail destination as a dining destination, you have to give the owners credit for bringing such a big dose of style to Okeechobee Boulevard.

 

UNCLE TAI’S
5250 Town Center Circle, Boca Center, Boca Raton, 561-368-8806
Cost: moderate
Credit cards: AC
Hours: lunch, dinner
Uncle Tai’s will remind of those fancy Chinese restaurants of another generation when waiters and bus boys wore uniforms. The elegant dining room combines large tables surrounded by armchairs. This is a family run operation with locations in Texas and Boca. Price-wise, this isn’t the least expensive Chinese around, but overall it may be some of the best. The focus is on food from the Hunan province: fresh ingredients with flavors similar to Szechwan. There’s a surprising amount of very good lamb on the menu as well as excellent crispy beef.

 

WOLFIE COHEN’S RASCAL HOUSE
2006 Executive Center Drive, Boca Raton, 561-982-8899
Cost: inexpensive-moderate
Credit Cards: AC
Hours: breakfast, lunch, dinner
Deli-style restaurants don’t get any better than the Rascal House. Open since 1954 in Sunny Isles Beach and since 1998 in Boca, it still does all of its own baking, from salt sticks and onion rolls to seven-layer cake and brownies. The corned beef and pastrami is excellent, but so are the home-style old-fashioned dinners like chicken in a pot, stuffed cabbage and meatloaf. Potato pancakes are particularly good for such a large operation. Service can be very good or not very good at all. But the kitchen is rarely uneven if it’s Jewish soul food that you’re after.

 

MIAMI-DADE COUNTY

ALTAMAR
1223 Lincoln Road, Miami Beach; 305-532-3061
Cost: Expensive
Credit Cards: AE, D, MC, V
Hours: Dinner
Longtime Coral Gables restaurateur Claudio Giordano is the concept man behind this restaurant that is poised to extend the reach of Lincoln Road in the public’s mind. Small enough to be cozy to some and cramped to others, AltaMar is one of the best seafood options on the beach, combining an Italian love of pure flavors with Giordano’s passion for fishing and offering up a dizzying selection of fish not often found on other menus – forget snapper and try the flavorful Rainbow Runner when it’s on the menu, the black grouper, or any other fish Giordano and his chef get at the docks each morning. Freshness is tops here. Pastas are also good (don’t miss Giordano’s signature pumpkin stuffed ravioli or his linguini with shrimp, clams and ginger. For starters, the house-smoked salmon, frito misto and a particularly meaty crab cake are all winners. Meat lovers have a few options, of which lamb chops and a grilled sirloin are the best. The wine list is good but not dazzling, and service is first-rate.

 

ANOKHA
3195 Commodore Plaza, Coconut Grove, 786-552-1030
Cost: Moderate
Credit Cards: all major
Hours: Lunch and Dinner Tu-Su
South Florida has not been generously blessed with Indian restaurants, and even less with good ones, but Anokha may make a convert of you. Elegant and intimate, the food is exotic without being aggressive and much better prepared than any other Indian restaurant in the county. The only drawback is the halting service, a product of the restaurant’s ownership by a family that is new to the restaurant business but old hands with spices and kitchen magic. Vegetarian dishes are beautifully varied, but the best options are marvelous lamb and seafood dishes, including some light curries and fragrant rice preparations. It’s entrancing enough to escape the ethnic dining category and be admired as just wonderful cuisine. Service is hit and miss, but the food is first-rate.

 

AZUL ****
In the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, 500 Brickell Key Drive, Miami , 305-913-8288
Cost: Very expensive
Credit Cards: All Major
Hours: Lunch M-F, Dinner M-Sa
Chef Michelle Bernstein basks in a restaurant that is drop-dead gorgeous with service and cuisine match. Designer Tony Chi’s sense of elegance pervades the waterfront dining area, but it is Bernstein’s cooking that steals the show. Don’t miss sublime standouts like braised foie gras with fava beans or crusty sweetbreads paired with tender scallops in an Asian-influenced anise and orange sauce. Entrees include sea bass with black rice and kim chee, meltingly tender duck with plum sauce and short ribs braised for five hours with star anise. Then, there’s foie gras studded tuna, whole roasted turbot with vegetables and falafel-crusted lamb chops. The wine list is exceptional, making for an elegant package with a terrific view.

 

BIZCAYA GRILL
In the Ritz Carlton, 3300 SW 27th Avenue, Coconut Grove, 305-648-5885
Cost: Very Expensive
Credit Cards: All Major
Hours: Lunch and Dinner
Chef Willis Loughhead finally has a ritzy spot to call his own and one that offers a much better showcase for his skill than the overreaching concept behind the overrated Tantra. At Bizcaya Grill he is at home at the Grove’s only high-end restaurant. despite it’s name, Bizcaya is only part grill. It’s also part Continental restaurant with New American overtones, and Loughhead brings an eclectic sense of balance to his work and comes up with some striking winners. Don’t miss his rabbit cannelloni with truffles, lobster strudel with caviar and seared foie gras with caramelized pear among the starters. Top main courses include asparagus-spiked tuna loin, smoked duck breast with duck confit, and roast baby pig with langoustine. The wine list is first rate and, like the food, served with style.

 

CAFE RAGAZZI
9500 Harding Avenue, Surfside, 305-866-4495
Cost: Moderate
Credit Cards: MC, V
Hours: Lunch M-F, dinner daily
Neighborhood restaurants don’t get much better than this enjoyable spot. The cuisine is nominally Italian, but there ought to be a new category like garden logical to describe food that relies on supremely fresh ingredients with minimal intervention from the kitchen. Salmon or beef carpaccio make wonderfully fresh starters, fresh mussels are cooked with just enough olive oil, white wine and herbs and zippy chunks of fresh garlic in nearly every dish. The simply sauteed snapper with lemon is simply fabulous, veal scallops are lightly breaded and cooked just so they’re crunchy outside and meltingly soft within. Salmon with radicchio and capers is an excellent choice as well.

 

THE CAPITAL GRILLE
444 Brickell Avenue, Miami, 305-374-4500
Cost: Expensive
Credit Cards: All Major
Hours: Lunch M-F; dinner daily
Capital Grille is part of a large chain of restaurants that runs like a well-oiled machine. It’s decor is part old English club and part luxurious resort, with lots of dark wood and soft green, the color of old money. Capital Grille is a serious spot with a huge and popular bar and a very serious wine list. There’s a wine cellar in the middle of the dining room alongside beef aging in a glass-walled meat locker. The top picks here are the outstanding, well-aged steaks, but there are some surprises as well, like excellent, tender fried calamari and knockout crab and lobster cakes. The side dishes, staples at steak houses, are particularly good for the genre. Service is cool and very polished.

 

CARMEN
In the David Williams Hotel, 700 Biltmore Way, Coral Gables; 305-913-1944
Cost: Expensive
Credit Cards: All Major
Hours: Dinner, Sunday Brunch
Chef Carmen Gonzalez is a diminutive powerhouse who was a restaurant star in the early 1990s. Cursed with bad locations, she went into catering for so long newcomers to the dining scene will think, now that she’s back, she’s an overnight success. Overnight? Hardly, but a success? Definitely, and this new restaurant shows why. Adept at combining influences from throughout Latin America with and elegance and flair associated with high-end establishments, she’s created an intimate, romantic and totally enjoyable space in the David Williams Hotel. Don’t miss her light as a feather stuffed potatoes – croquettes the size of quail eggs filled with picadillo, a flavorful ground meat mixture. The roasted duck tamale is vibrantly flavored and the lobster and avocado terrine with Key lime mayonnaise is refreshing…and those are just a few of the starters. Main courses lean heavily toward seafood, including a delectable whole pompano, grilled and served with a tangy mojito, and a pan-seared red snapper filet, but meat lovers will hardly go hungry with a marvelously moist, adobo-rubbed pork tenderloin, lamb chops and a rosemary-marinated beef tenderloin to choose from. It’s good to have Carmen Gonzalez back in a restaurant kitchen and, given the crowds she’s drawing, we can hope it’s for the long haul this time.

 

CASA TUA
1700 James Avenue, Miami Beach, 305-673-1010
Cost: Very Expensive
Credit Cards: All Major
Hours: Lunch, Dinner
Hidden behind a tall hedge at the corner of 17th Street and James Avenue, Casa Tua is hard to find, and even harder to get into – it’s one of the few restaurants in town where reservations are essential any day of the week. It’s worth the effort for the stunning Italian-influenced cuisine that combines creativity with exceptional ingredients in perfect balance. The menu changes frequently, but usually offers burrata, an extra creamy mozzarella, with six kinds of tomatoes in a dazzling caprese; pastas are terrific, especially a black spaghetti with artichokes, and any of the risotti featured that evening. The main course selection is usually small, but generally includes Branzino, a tender white fish that shouldn’t be missed, and knockout lamb chops with sauces that vary daily. The wine list is decent, though the efficient service is marred by a hasty attitude that tries to push guests out when the staff is ready to turn the table rather than when the diners are ready to leave. If you can take the attitude, the food is terrific.

 
CHEF ALLEN’S ****
19088 NE 29th Avenue, Aventura, 305-935-2900
Cost: Very Expensive
Credit cards: All major
Hours: dinner
Allen Susser has been speaking out, and cooking out, for New World Cuisine since 1986 at his eminently professional restaurant in Aventura. Crisp service, and an exemplary wine list are added draws, but it is the food that maintains Susser’s standing as one of Florida’s leading chefs. The very epitome of elegance and execution, Susser uses a lot of fruit in his cooking, leading to some dishes that teeter on the brink of being overly rich and sweet. On the other hand, his creations breath the spirit of the tropics. From conch ceviche with smoked pineapple and onion salsa to the earthy wild mushroom taster, dishes are imaginative and full of flavor. Don’t miss the lobster and crab cakes, mango glazed duck, and any fish entree Susser creates: he has a deft and near-flawless touch.

 

CHISPA
225 Altara Ave., Coral Gables, 305-648-2600
Cost: Expensive
Credit Cards: All Major
Hours: Dinner
Robbin Haas, late of Baleen and so many other properties even his fans have lost count, has settled in as not only chef but conceptual guru at Chispa, which the restaurant translates as spark. Haas with characteristic humor says, it’s like chutzpah. One could be forgiven for thinking he has it to do an Anglo take on Nuevo-Latino, pan-Latin, Hopped-up Hispanic or whatever other label people try to pin to efforts to take Latin (and especially Cuban) basics and dress them up. When it’s this good it isn’t chutzpah, though, it’s the spark of inspiration. An instant success with a hip young crowd, no doubt partly because of the enormous bar and the contemporary, Italian-influenced decor, Chispa, with its tapa-sized appetizers and satisfying main courses, has a good enough menu to be more than a spark in the pan fad. Don’t miss the quintet of ceviches, the Latin-spiced lamb osso buco appetizer, or spring rolls of pork and shrimp. Among the main courses, Mahi stuffed with yuca and green onions is unusual and the roasted pork belly and slow roasted short ribs are terrific. The menu is so wide ranging it will take several visits to master it, but it’s worth the effort. The wine list is good and getting better all the time.

 

CRYSTAL CAFE
726 Arthur Godfrey Road, Miami Beach, 305-673-8266
Cost: Expensive
Credit Cards: All Major
Hours: Dinner Tu-Su
Crystal Cafe is the elegant and understated creation of chef Klime Kovaceski. The 60-seat restaurant focuses on continental cuisine with a touch of Eastern Europe and extremely fresh vegetables to add a light touch. Grilled salmon carpaccio with arugula and radicchio, succulent grilled calamari over sauteed vegetables, and chunky shrimp cakes with mushrooms and basil are among the best starters. For main courses, don’t miss seafood options including bouillabaisse heady with saffron and garlic, a striking seafood osso buco made with salmon wrapped around seabass and grilled scallops with a light port wine sauce. Among meat dishes the tender duck breast is excellent, as is grilled veal chop with portobella mushrooms and his straight osso buco from my mother-in-law’s recipe. The wine list is good and service is excellent.

 

DORAKU
1104 Lincoln Road, Miami Beach, 305-695-8383
Cost: Moderate-Expensive
Credit Cards: all major
Hours: Lunch M-Fr, Dinner Daily
Doraku is a real find on South Beach, with trendy but not overbearing decor, interesting music, a world-class selection of sake (more than 17 at last count) and a menu that offers something for everyone, even those who don’t like fish. Of course, the fish is a big draw – it’s pristinely fresh and prepared in appealing ways. Doraku also has a first-rate grill, from which you shouldn’t miss the marinated Cornish hen and the grilled ribeye. Try the fish as well, however, especially the rolls that are always clever without being overly cute. Service gets high marks as well.

 

ESCOPAZZO ****
1311 Washington Avenue, Miami Beach, 305-674-9450
Cost: Expensive
Credit Cards: All Major
Hours: Dinner Daily
Pino Bodoni opened this comfortable and dazzling evocation of his native Rome in 1992 and has slowly grown in size and sheer talent to be the best Italian restaurant in Miami-Dade county: terrific food, a fine wine list, polished service and an atmosphere infused with Bodoni’s unflappable graciousness. A recent change in menu has pushed the restaurant away from its once lofty position as Miami’s best Italian restaurant and given it a more continental flair.

 

GRAZIANO’S PARRILLA ARGENTINA
9227 Bird Road, Miami, 305-225-0008
Cost: Moderate-Expensive
Credit Cards: All Major
Hours: dinner
Any native will tell you that Argentina has the best beef in the world, and Graziano’s backs up that claim extremely well. From its Asador, a wood-fired grill and rotisserie, Graziano’s turns out some stunning grilled meats, including tender lamb, moist pork and every cut of beef imaginable. The best steak in the house is a bone-in rib eye, but if you are dining with at least one other person (or have a huge appetite) spring for the ruedo, a combination of many of the restaurant’s top meat dishes. For starters, try the grilled Patagonian shrimp, a plate of tender ravioli with sweet tomato sauce or fantastic wood-grilled sweetbreads. The wine list is one of the best in town, and surely the most reasonably priced. Add in very good service and reasonable prices and you’ll quickly forget the tacky exterior decor of Graziano’s and just give in to the terrific family feel of one of the city’s most engaging restaurants.

 

HIRO’S YAKKO-SAN
17040 West Dixie Highway, North Miami Beach, 305-947-0064
Cost: Moderate
Credit Cards: AE, MC, V
Hours: dinner
This restaurant specializing in regional Japanese dishes you won’t find on menus anywhere else is deservedly popular, and sadly quite small. With fewer than a dozen tables, many diners end up at what looks like a sushi bar but don’t be perplexed when they don’t offer sushi – for that, go next door to Hiro’s sushi express. At Hiro’s Yakko-san, the focus is on tapas-like small plates of astonishingly well prepared Japanese food: crisp-fried bok choy, feather-light pumpkin tempura, thin slices of beef with garlic stem, miso-sweetened curries, small bowls of fish or meat with fermented soybean and some of the freshest and best-grilled fish in town. Totally different from any other Japanese restaurant, Yakko-san focuses on regional dishes that are much more akin to typical Japanese dining than what you’ll find at a sushi bar. Fortunately, the service staff is top flight and along with the engaging chefs (who prepare everything behind the wide bar), you’ll get plenty of recommendations. Beer and wine only.

 

JOE’S STONE CRAB
11 Washington Avenue, Miami Beach, 305-673-0365
Cost: Expensive
Credit Cards: All Major
Hours: Lunch & Dinner Tu-Su
Let’s face it: Joe’s is an icon, and a few indifferent preparations from the kitchen aren’t going to change that. In 1913, Joe Weiss was the pioneer in Florida’s stone crab industry and the family restaurant still managed by his descendants continues to be the most famous purveyor of the hard-shelled delicacy in the world. The stone crabs are very good (and incredibly expensive) but, though they account for 80% of the dinners at this restaurant, the menu includes a good deal more. The seared then baked herb-coated snapper is excellent and lobster (either cocktail or main course) is very good as well. Joe’s coasts on its reputation sometimes, as with overcooked seared tuna, classic side dishes like greasy by tasty hash browns and creamed spinach with garlic. But the stone crabs? They’re the best in town, and the key lime pie is as wildly popular a dessert as the stone crabs are for dinner.

 

LA DORADA
177 Giralda Ave, Coral Gables, 305-446-2002
Cost: Moderate-Expensive
Credit Cards: All Major
Hours: Lunch Su-F, Dinner daily
In Spain, Dorada is [emph] the [end emph] fish, and one taste of what in the U.S. is called royal sea bream explains why. At La Dorada, the fish is baked in under a mound of salt and it is moist and oh, so flavorful. La Dorada is a Spanish restaurant that is the real thing. Miami has many half Cuban/half Spanish outlets, but this is 100% Spanish, and it is where the expat Spaniards go. It features mostly seafood, much of it flown in daily from the Spain’s Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts. Baby eels, scallops sautM-ied in Malaga wine and grapes and all many of delicately fried marine tidbits are good starters (and don’t forget to order a glass of fino). The dorada in salt is a must, but other good main course bets include monkfish stuffed with shrimp and sweet onions, hake and fresh anchovies are all options you won’t find at most other area restaurants. There’s a good wine list, too.

 

LAN PAN-ASIAN CAFE
8332 South Dixie Highway, Miami, 305-661-8141
Cost: Inexpensive-Moderate
Credit Cards: AE, D, MC, V
Hours: Lunch and Dinner
Chikara Abe, who also owns the excellent Su-Shin Japanese restaurants, set up this small cafe in 1999 in the most improbable of locations – adjacent to a shopping mall parking garage. Thanks to chef Johnson Teh and a team of friendly and efficient servers, it’s been a hit from the beginning. The has the most extraordinary way with balancing flavors and inspirations from Thai influenced soups and curries to Korean barbecue. The sushi is adequate but everything else on the menu is fun and flavorful. Forget the informal decor that would be more at home in a computer lab – this is first rate food with great appeal and bargain prices. Add in the variety of cooking styles, and why would anyone go to a Thai-only restaurant again when you could have Teh’s green shrimp curry, Korean barbecued ribs and crispy peanut snapper all in one place?

 

MARK’S SOUTH BEACH
1120 Collins Avenue, in the Nash Hotel, Miami Beach, 305-604-9050
Cost: Very Expensive
Credit cards: All major
Hours: Lunch and Dinner Daily
Mark Militello’s SoBe outpost remains a solid dining bet even though Militello himself spends most of his time at his Las Olas restaurant. Chef Larry Lavalley handle the kitchen duties with aplomb, and retains all the Militello hallmarks – a great (albeit pricey) wine list, very good service and food that makes you wish you had an endless appetite. The menu changes daily but will always include Militello specialties like pan roasted clams with chorizo, wonderfully dressed fresh pastas, tuna tartare with lemon grass oil and avocado and cracked conch, usually with vanilla rum sauce. Those are just the starters. Main plates I’ve loved include grouper with artichoke hash, rack of lamb with endive and red wine, grilled pork with gorgonzola polenta and, humble though it may be, one of the best roast chickens you’ll find anywhere.

 

MISS SAIGON BISTRO
148 Giralda Ave., Coral Gables, 305-446-8006
Cost: Moderate
Credit Cards: All Major
Hours: Lunch M-F, Dinner Daily
A bistro in name only, this casually elegant establishment helps bring Vietnamese cooking out of the category of different ethnic and into mainstream romantic. It is pristine and fresh and much more varied than many Asian restaurants. Don’t miss the soft shrimp and pork filled summer rolls, steamed shrimp dumplings, green papaya salad, dazzling soups, and some enlightening noodle dishes (especially the one that includes egg rolls!). Fish and beef dishes are good, too.

 

NORMAN’S ****
21 Almeria Avenue, Coral Gables, 305-446-6767
Cost: Very Expensive
Credit Cards: All Major
Hours: Dinner M-Sa
Norman Van Aken, a regular guy who just happens to be a natural genius in the kitchen, is as brilliant as ever at his eponymous eatery. He’s opened a spot at the new Merrick Park, but this is where you’ll still find the nationally acclaimed chef most at home. An original member of the Mango Gang, the founders of South Florida’s unique cooking style, van Aken continues to dazzle and impress with his inventiveness and occasionally brash flights of fancy. The wine list is exemplary and stratospherically priced and the menu is a nightly adventure into van Aken’s imagination of taste. There’s always a tasting menu available for an overview of his approach and a number of signature dishes dot the ala carte menu as well. Don’t miss yucca-stuffed crispy shrimp, seared foie gras with maduro plantains or one of the world’s great Caesar salads to start, and an updated Cuban classic roast pork, pan-seared yellowtail with mashed potatoes or teriyaki grouper among the main courses.

 

NEMO
100 Collins Ave., Miami Beach, 305-532-4550
Cost: Expensive
Credit Cards: All Major
Hours: Dinner
A change in chefs has done little to dim the brilliance at this South Beach classic. Michael Scwhartz left in 2002, but chef Mike Sabin, who trained at Nemo when it opened in 1995, doesn’t miss a beat. The menu is almost identical to Schwartz’ innovative offerings, and the restaurant is more crowded than ever. In addition to its open-front design that gives visitors the feeling of dining al fresco even indoors, the food remains engaging despite service that borders on having an attitude and sometimes runs on Caribbean time. Don’t miss crispy duck confit, sauteed foie gras with pineapple, a calamari hot pot and vibrant steamed mussels with a zippy tomato and pepper broth for starters. You won’t go wrong with any of the main courses other than an overcooked steak, but particular standouts include amazingly tender grilled leg of lamb, pan-seared snapper with lobster hash browns and nori-dusted tuna with spinach. Don’t forget the crispy rice ball or quinoa cake either – neat accompaniments that balance out the plate. The extensive wine list is very good as well. Expensive. Lunch and dinner. Very expensive.

 

ORTANIQUE ****
278 Miracle Mile, Coral Gables, 305-446-7710
Cost: Moderate-Expensive
Credit Cards: All major
Hours: Lunch M-F; dinner daily
Chef Cindy Hutson first won kudos at her Norma’s On The Beach, serving Jamaican food from an engaging hole-in-the-wall on Lincoln Road. Now, there are Ortaniques in Las Vegas and Washington, DC and more on the way. Still, you’ll most often find Hutson in the kitchen in Coral Gables, where there isn’t a single false note on the menu. The seafood is among the best in town, and every dish is enlivened but never drowned with intriguing spice combinations. Don’t miss starters like the meaty West Indian curried crab cakes, pungent steamed mussels with peppers and thyme, or a salad built on jerk-rubbed foie gras with duck confit. Top main courses include a heavenly, coconut and curry laced bouillabaisse, exceptionally moist salmon in a variety of guises and thyme-rubbed Cornish game hen with rice and peas. Superior wine list and top-flight service round out the experience.

 

PACIFIC TIME ****
915 Lincoln Road, Miami Beach, 305-534-5979
Cost: Expensive
Credit Cards: AE, DC, MC, V
Hours: Dinner Daily
Jonathan Eismann continues to dazzle, sometimes startle, and always please diners at his long-running success story on Lincoln Road. He was out front when Pacific Rim was new and still defines the category with an engaging combination of influences. A healthy helping of Chinese, a taste of Thai, some tropical island and secret ingredients all go into the mix. What comes out is a series of intriguing dishes like clams steamed in sake with lime and tarragon, a ginger and scallion pancake wrapped around duck and vegetables, grilled black grouper with rice wine and shallots and lamb chops with mushroom crisp. Add polished service and a terrific wine list that really compliments the menu and you have one of the very best dining experiences not just on SoBe but anywhere.

 

PASCAL’S ON PONCE
2611 Ponce de Leon Blvd., Coral Gables, 305-444-2024
Cost: Moderate – Expensive
Credit Cards: All Major
Hours: Lunch M-F; Dinner M-Sa
Pascal Oudin’s cooking is the personality of his eponymous restaurant: subtle and engaging. The dining area is small but tables are well spaced; service is polished and the cooking is the best of what, 20 years after its creation, is still called new French since too many people still think a starched toque means thick sauces. Oudin’s cooking is new in the sense it is unlike any other in town – discrete spices, the freshest of ingredients, the most sublime of pairings. Go for the airy crab cake, flavorful lobster salad with salmon, the duck terrine and the lobster risotto among starters. For main courses, don’t miss the excellent veal loin with mushroom ravioli, a meltingly tender rack of lamb with mustard and the sublime poached sole. The attractive wine list has a large number of reasonably priced bottles to attract both the novice and lifelong wine lover. In short, Pascal’s is, despite its rather plain decor, an immensely appealing spot for the sophisticated diner.

 

PAO
825 Washington Avenue, Miami Beach; 305-695-1957
Cost: Moderate-Expensive
Credit Cards: All Major

Hours: Lunch, Dinner
Managed with great aplomb by the cb5 Group that also develops restaurants for the W Hotel chain, Pao brings several welcome elements together: some inspired cooking by Chef Kiki, an entrancing wine list that is reasonably priced and a high-tech design that still manages to be easy on the eye. It’s the food and wine that remain memorable, not so much because of innovation but because Chef Kiki manages to add surprising flavor and delicacy to dishes diners already think they know – delicate spring rolls, knockout steamed dumplings redolent with shrimp flavor, superior duck breast with star anise and greens, stir-fried pork tenderloin that is tender and moist and the list goes on. Everything is so carefully prepared, even dishes that are old standbys seem somehow new. With a bottle from Pao’s well-priced wine list, it makes for an enhanced dining experience.

 

RENAISA
620 NE 78 St., Miami, 305-754-3985
Cost: Inexpensive-Moderate
Hours: Dinner
Credit Cards: All Major
Tipu and Bithi Rahman are the genial proprietors of a real star along a rapidly gentrifying stretch of Biscayne Boulevard. Out of the way, and worth seeking out, Renaisa still resembles the seafood shack that used to occupy this space on a Miami canal, but inside, it’s South Asian comfort, including some of the best Indian and Bangladeshi cooking in South Florida. Totally without pretense (bring your own beer or wine, they don’t have a license), the menu is stellar. Don’t miss the clay oven dishes like tandoori shrimp and the heavenly flat bread called naan, and be sure to try at least one dish from the iron wok-like karahi, which produces a stir-fry type combination of meat, vegetables and spices. The curries are richly flavored, and the kitchen offers a well-calibrated range of heat quotients. If you like your food well spiced, try the vindaloo as well. There isn’t a loser on the menu, and the friendly staff will convert you to a regular in one visit.

 

ROMEO’S CAFE
2257 SW Coral Way, Miami, 305-859-2228
Cost: Expensive
Credit Cards: All Major
Hours: Lunch Tu-Fri; dinner Tu-Su
Ask Romeo Majano for a copy of his menu and you’ll get a smile and a shrug. I have dozens of dishes in my mind; I choose them for you after we talk, which means he finds out a table’s likes and dislikes, compares it with what’s fresh that day and whips up a seven course dinner for a flat $50. It’s a steal, especially if this talented chef is making fettuccine with goose and truffle oil, grilled lamb chops with Barolo wine and rosemary, and mahi mahi with coulis of watercress and cilantro. Desserts are stellar, the wine list compact and service is just as if you were in his home (and he had a housekeeping staff). Unusual? Sure, but you leave wishing more folks would do it this way.

 

SMITH & WOLLENSKY ****
1 Washington Ave., Miami Beach, 305-673-2800
Cost: Expensive
Credit Cards: All Major
Hours: Lunch and Dinner daily
South Florida’s best steakhouse, Smith & Wollensky goes beyond doing the standard steak fare extremely well. In addition to aging its beef on site, there’s a deft hand at work in the kitchen turning out dazzlingly pea soup, meaty lobster cocktail, an amazingly crunchy pork shank that can feed a small family and lamb that is top flight. Desserts are fabulous and the wine list is among the best in the region. The view, right on the water, is peerless. Think all steak houses are pretty much the same? One trip here will alter that perspective quickly.

 

SHOJI SUSHI
100 Collins Ave., Miami Beach, 305-532-4245
Cost: Expensive
Credit Cards: All Major
Hours: Lunch M-Fri, Dinner Daily
Shingo Shin Inoue is the master chef behind Shoji Sushi, the first new thing in South Florida Japanese dining a long time. The restaurant’s traditional zen garden is a good metaphore for a menu that evokes stunning complexity with the most simple of ingredients. Factor in a scrupulous attention to authentic detail, a fantastic variety of fish (some flown in daily from Japan) and just enough of a sense of adventure to create some great new dishes and you have a very special place indeed. A quartet of Japanese style ceviches makes a great starter. Box Sushi is a recreation of one of sushi’s original forms, there is a nifty cross between seared tuna and tataki and always a wide variety of the freshest imaginable sashimi. Be sure to sample the extensive roster of sake, several of which are available on draught.

 

TALULA
210 23rd St., Miami Beach, 305-672-0778
Cost: Very Expensive
Credit Cards: All Major
Hours: Dinner
Talula was the most talked about restaurant in town for months before it opened because of its concept – not just the cuisine, but because the menu represented, literally, a marriage of two great chefs, Andrea Curto and Frank Randazzo. Their menu, dubbed creative American is fun and well-executed. Beef has some timing issues, but the multitude of fish dishes is worth exploring, especially the lime and chile-glazed black grouper and crisp-skin yellowtail. For starters, don’t miss the conch ceviche, the steamed mussels with saffron and chile-crusted quail, all top-flight. The wine list is work in progress, but service is among the best on the beach.

 

TIMO ****
17624 Collins Avenue, Sunny Isles, 305-936-1008
Cost: Moderate – Expensive
Credit Cards: AE, D, MC, V
Hours: Lunch M-F; Dinner daily
This striking new restaurant is home to Tim Andriola, the chef who high praise for his stints at Chef Allen and Mark’s South Beach before opening up a restaurant that realizes his dream of a fun spot with moderately priced food. He and partner Rodrigo Martinez have succeeded beyond their wildest dreams – TimM-s (the name is Italian for thyme) is the best new restaurant to hit South Florida in ages. Comfortable, moderately priced and blessed with a superior wine list to match Andriola’s matchless cooking, TimM-s has been a steady hit since the day it opened. The reasons are easy to taste – crisp oyster salad with white beans and pancetta, seared tuna with calamari and sweetbreads with bacon and honey are all top-flight starters. Pizzas are good, but the homemade pastas are even better, especially the black fettuccine with fra diavolo sauce and pumpkin ravioli with smoked ham and pecorino. Fish lovers will adore the branzino with asparagus and lemon and black grouper with artichokes, and meat lovers need look no further than an impeccably moist pork tenderloin with chick peas and roasted peppers, slow cooked lamb shank with risotto, or slow-cooked short ribs with red wine. Add in a superior wine list and great service and this should clearly be on everyone’s list of top restaurants not just in town but in the state.

 

TROPICAL CHINESE RESTAURANT
7991 SW 40th Street (Bird Road, off 67th Avenue), Miami, 305-262-1552
Cost: Moderate
Credit Cards: All major
Hours: Lunch, dinner Daily
Widely considered Miami-Dade County’s best Chinese restaurant, Tropical Chinese offers an elegant Hong Kong inspired menu in a surprisingly upscale setting. Good service and a decent wine lists are added benefits and dim sum is offered for lunch every day and is a major draw on Sunday. For dinner, don’t miss Twin Dragon (pork and lobster in wine sauce), scallops or prawns in sizzling black pepper sauce, any of the abalone dishes and one of the few Peking Ducks that doesn’t need an advance reservation.

 

TWO CHEFS ****
8287 South Dixie Highway, South Miami, 305-663-2100
Cost: moderate-expensive
Credit Cards: All Major
Hours: Lunch, Dinner

One of Miami’s best restaurants maintains its place despite being enough off the well-beaten South Beach path that many area foodies still don’t know about it. One of the original two chefs has returned to his native Denmark, but Jan Jorgensen is still at the helm of what remains a charmingly informal source of great food in South Miami-Dade. The food is healthy, flavorful and inventive without being fussy and it’s wine friendly. The decor and service are pleasant and comfortable and, given the quality, the prices are a relative bargain. Dishes change frequently, but if you find it, don’t miss the unusual turkey steak, a slab of breast meat coated in Cajun spices and grilled like beef, only it’s even better. The lobster with truffles and tomato hash, the assortment of crispy flat-bread pizzas, pancetta, any oak-grilled fish and pan-roasted wahoo are among some of the other standout dishes. This is a spot for food lovers who love to experiment, and with Jorgensen, you’re in great hands.