"It's got to be the most boring, mundane street in South Florida," says Dr. Paul George, an oft-quoted Miami Dade College professor and historian, when I ask about Hallandale Beach Boulevard. "It's more a racetrack to the beach than anything else."

It's true — the first several hundred feet of Exit 18 off Interstate 95 offers concrete blight and strip mall after strip mall. Most buildings are set far back off the massive, three-lane road, which few pedestrians dare to cross, so it's almost impossible to see what's in most of the squat, beige or pale-yellow buildings besides big box stores.

This urban wasteland, however, offers a silver lining for a hopeful restaurateur.

Sink your teeth into the Sage Bagel & Appetizer Shop's pastrami sandwich.
Sink your teeth into the Sage Bagel & Appetizer Shop's pastrami sandwich.
Harvey Fuerst, who nows runs the old-school Sage Bagel & Appetizer Shop; Sage's Matzoh ball soup and the smoked sablefish platter.
Harvey Fuerst, who nows runs the old-school Sage Bagel & Appetizer Shop; Sage's Matzoh ball soup and the smoked sablefish platter.

"Rent was $2,000 more per month in Aventura," Falafel Benny owner Ben Regev bellows over the telephone. He opened his small shop earlier this year serving only the fried, ground-up spheres of chickpeas along with chicken schnitzel — pounded thin and fried — and shawarma inside an orange-beige building that's easy to miss while speeding by.

"I used to do catering, and people loved it," Regev says. "I always said I'd open my own restaurant, even in a bad location."

Not only is rent affordable in Hallandale but Broward County's southernmost town also sits at a nexus between South Florida's myriad immigrant communities. To the south is Miami: Cubans, Colombians, and Venezuelans, all of whom are slowly pushing farther into suburbia. Toward the ocean lies Sunny Isles — home to a growing Russian and Eastern European population. Just south of that is Aventura, with large Jewish and Israeli communities.

Along Hallandale Beach Boulevard, you can find pan con bistec just as easily as bagels with cream cheese and lox. That's a good thing. There's an outpost of Cuban restaurant Padrino's and an Eastern European bakery. Yudy Bakery, a Colombian joint, is the place to go for hot rolls with cheese-infused dough called pandebono, while Nick's Restaurant, a greasy spoon in business since the 1960s, offers a sinfully satisfying patty melt whose grease covers your fingers when you pick it up to take the first bite.

If it's Jewish food you're seeking, look no further than Sage Bagel & Appetizer Shop, where smoked, gold-colored fish are on display inside a refrigerated case along with glistening pink sides of smoked salmon waiting to be sliced.

Milton Fuerst opened Sage in 1973 after moving his young family from Queens to South Florida.

"There was no such thing as Aventura when we came," says Harvey Fuerst, the son who today runs the deli and restaurant. Fuerst says his father rented a plane and a pilot to fly over Florida looking for population centers. They settled on Miami and started trawling up and down A1A looking for a place to open a business.

"The Hemispheres was here; the old Diplomat hotel was here," Fuerst continues, "so they decided this would be a good place to open a business."

Over the years, New Yorkers relocated in droves, and the Fuerst family expanded. "The location is still very good," Fuerst says. "Everything involved the location, and we're doing more and more business all the time."

Il Mercato chef and owner Emily Finne jokes about her restaurant, "You can't see it, you can't find it, and it's in a crappy strip mall, but people get excited about finding this hidden place."

She opened the restaurant in a former car-parts store in 2010 with a plan to serve a smart, approachable wine list and a few small plates. The concept quickly grew into a full-service, 60-seat restaurant that offers short-rib tacos, chive spaetzle, pasta carbonara, and seared sesame-crusted salmon.

"Everyone and their mothers thought we were insane to open in Hallandale," Finne says. But with a young son and parents who lived nearby, she said it was a logical choice. Similar to Regev, she says that rent was cheap and that people flock from nearby towns, filling the place each night for dinner.

"I think this one will always stay here."

Here are our picks for the ten best restaurants in Hallandale Beach:

Vostok

826 W. Hallandale Beach Blvd., 786-202-7560

Farhod Karimov opened Vostok on Hallandale Beach Boulevard in February serving shaslik — a central Asian variety of kebab in which chunks of meat and fat rotate with slices of bell peppers separating each. There were "not enough restaurants serving cuisine like this in Hallandale," he says. Karimov hails from Uzbekistan, a country famous for what he calls "noodle-rich cuisine." At Vostok, try plov, a signature Uzbeki dish that mixes seasoned ground beef with onion and rice. There's also borscht, a classic cold soup made with beets. Try manti, a dumpling variation filled with either beef or lamb before being steamed or fried.

The Knife Steak House

602 E. Hallandale Beach Blvd.

954-456-6822, thekniferestaurant.com

Meat freaks, rejoice! The Knife of Hallandale Beach Boulevard is a small glimpse into the meat-loving world that is Argentina, complete with chorizo, blood sausage, sweetbreads, and veal tripe. If you're not into an authentic parrilla, don't worry — there is plenty of veal, skirt steak, short ribs, and rump roast to go around. For about $25, you get all of this, plus an endless garden of salads and vegetables. You don't have to put something green and leafy on your plate, but if you don't, it's only a matter of time until a friend warns you about the dangers of your lifestyle choices.

Nick's Restaurant

105 E. Hallandale Beach Blvd.

954-458-0363, nicks-restaurant.com

Every strip needs its greasy spoon, and on Hallandale Beach Boulevard, Nick's is it. Greasy patty melts with gooey cheese and sweet sautéed onions? Check. Open-faced turkey sandwiches? Got 'em. Best of all, perhaps, is that the place looks like it hasn't been redecorated since it opened in 1962. To take a seat in one of the laminate wood banquettes surrounded by beige wallpaper stamped with palm trees is to take a step back in time to when South Florida's high-rises first began jutting up out of the sand.

Padrino's Cuban Cuisine

2500 Hallandale Beach Blvd.

954-456-4550, padrinos.com

Padrino's in Hallandale is one of four locations where the Padrino family serves its classic Cuban cuisine. It all began in 1972, when Diosdado Padrino joined his wife and two children, whom he sent to South Florida in 1968 as Fidel Castro began to consolidate his power across the island. That first restaurant opened in Hialeah, which today remains an important albeit weird center of the Cuban community. The Padrinos, meanwhile, now run restaurants in Plantation, Boca Raton, and Orlando, so there's a crispy, creamy croqueta de jamón always within reach.

Yudy Bakery

300 W. Hallandale Beach Blvd.

954-455-2186, facebook.com/yudy-bakery

There are few Latin American cuisines that so unabashedly embrace deep-fat frying as Colombian. At Yudy Bakery, there are churros (fried dough), cornmeal empanadas filled with seasoned beef (fried, of course), and strips of pork belly with crisp skin thanks to hot oil baths. You could just go all in with the $35 Yudy Picada. The mountainous plate comes with all of the aforementioned fried goodies, plus chorizo, blood sausage, boiled potatoes, yuca, fried sweet plantains, steak, and chicken. Just be sure to bring some friends to help save your arteries.

El Tamarindo Coal Fired Pizza

712 Atlantic Shores Blvd., 954-456-4447

Many pizza joints brag about their wood-fired ovens. At El Tamarindo, in a deceivingly sketchy neighborhood north of Hallandale Beach Boulevard, massive pies come from a 750-degree coal-fired oven topped with mozzarella, Romano, and tangy alta cocina plum tomatoes. Try the broccoli rabe pie, topped with the bitter green and chunks of spicy sausage. Yet pizza isn't the end of the story, and there's a bit of Latin flare. Those fried zucchini sticks you order as an appetizer totally go with a griddled quesadilla filled with chicken, refried beans, and sour cream.

Chapultepec Mexican Bar and Restaurant

23 NW Second Ave., 954-456-0771

One of Chapultepec's best-kept secrets is the ad hoc taco stand that pops up outside the restaurant on Friday nights. Cooks grill juicy carnitas and carne asada in the South Florida breeze, hitting each fragrant stack of meat with chopped onion, cilantro, and lime before wrapping it in a corn tortilla. It's a South Florida scene like none other, and it's not uncommon to find whole families stuffing spicy tacos in their faces alongside construction workers, covered in sweat and grit after a day at a job site.

Falafel Benny

658 W. Hallandale Beach Blvd.

954-455-2118, falafelbenny.com

"Howz dee faylafell?," Ben Regev yells from behind a glass and granite countertop. Most people can only nod as they chew on soft pitas filled with well-seasoned green falafel topped with tahini and a rainbow of fresh and pickled vegetables. As a kid growing up in Israel, Regev used to skip school to work odd jobs to buy falafel. As an adult, they've become his life. He says even Muslims come into his small shop for falafel saying "kif imeh," which in English, he says, means "like home."

Sage Bagel & Appetizer Shop

800 E. Hallandale Beach Blvd.

954-456-7499, sagebagelanddeli.com

Sage has everything a wayward, homesick Jewish New Yorker wants: chewy bagels; the extra-salty version of smoked, thin-sliced salmon called belly lox; and a cozy place to sit in a family-owned place. Sage is old-school Hallandale, rising from the sand in 1973, when nearby Aventura was only a dream. But through it all, the Fuerst family has overseen multiple expansions and opened a restaurant where you can sit down and enjoy a bowl of hot matzo ball soup alongside a platter of shiny, smoked sable with red onion and capers.

Il Mercato Cafe & Wine Shop

1454 E. Hallandale Beach Blvd.

954-457-3700, ilmercatocafe.com

When Il Mercato's chef and owner, Emily Finne, moved to South Florida so her kids could be closer to their grandparents, "it was right in the middle of the recession, and [she] was trying to get a job doing something, anything." Il Mercato opened in 2010, hidden from view in a Hallandale Beach Boulevard strip mall, with the idea of it being a place for a good glass of wine and light bites. "The rent wasn't too bad," she says, "so we took a chance." Soon, people flocked from Sunny Isles, Hollywood, and Aventura, and now Il Mercato is a full-service restaurant offering everything from pasta carbonara to short-rib tacos.

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