Photo by Candace West
Chef Michael Blum shows off his famous lobster mac at I Heart Mac & Cheese in Fort Lauderdale.

A Year in Review: Our Best Restaurant Features of 2016

Sure, 2016 might have been terrible in some ways, but it was a great year for food in South Florida.

Over the last 50 weeks, there have been plenty of new restaurant openings. Some were bad, some were surprising, and some have been responsible for making Broward County a new destination for the area's top culinary talent.

Last week, New Times chose 4 Rivers Smokehouse in Coral Springs as our final feature story of the year. But that's just the latest local spot we've scoped out for your dining convenience in the past 12 months.

Here is a quick look at our ten most talked-about restaurant reviews of the year.

Photo by Nicole Danna
Jerk chicken at Kersmon Caribbean Cuisine in Greenacres.

10. This Greenacres Restaurant Is the Highest-Rated Yelp Restaurant in Palm Beach County

If someone asked you to name Palm Beach County's highest-rated Yelp restaurant, what would you guess? Would it be a fancy Island establishment or a Clematis Street hot spot? Or a longstanding waterside eatery serving quintessential South Florida seafood? Nope, guess again. It's Kersmon Caribbean Restaurant, a small, bistro-like Jamaican eatery tucked into an average-looking strip mall located at the intersection where Melaleuca Lane meets Jog Road in Greenacres.

Photo by Candace West
Arun's Indian Kichen offers take out but is best when you eat in.

9. Arun's Indian Kichen Just Might Be the Best Indian Food, Like, Ever

Since opening in 2014, Arun’s Indian Kichen in Coral Springs has retained a top spot on Yelp’s Hot 100 in South Florida. With more than 550 reviews, of which more than 90 percent are rated five stars, that makes Arun’s the number-one rated restaurant in Broward and Palm Beach in 2016, according to Yelpers. Over the years, Sareen’s classic Indian staples like butter chicken have gained a cult-like status. “People literally love us, and that’s the most important thing,” says Sareen. “They show their loyalty, and I never take any of that for granted.”

Photo by Candace West

8. Bigger Is Better for Blue Willy's BBQ in Oakland Park

This year, popular Broward County barbecue restaurant Blue Willy's BBQ relocated from its original Pompano Beach location to a bigger space. Today, the business has found its forever home in a standalone building on Commercial Boulevard in Oakland Park. A quick drive from I-95 and just a stone's throw from Dixie Highway, it can accommodate the hundreds of patrons that visit each day. A towering Blue Willy's sign marks the spot, impossible to miss. There's more parking too, although owner Will Banks says there are some days when even 35 spaces doesn't feel like enough.

Photo by Candace West
Mike Hampton and Christy Samoy, co-owners of Hot & Soul.

7. A Perfect Partnership Continues at Hot & Soul in Fort Lauderdale

In 2013, Hot & Soul opened quietly in a strip mall off North Federal Highway at Oakland Park Boulevard. The quaint eatery hasn’t changed much since then — from the way they sing "Happy Birthday" for customers to the signature dishes and the list of daily rotating specials — and that’s just the way husband-and-wife chef team and co-owners Mike Hampton and Christy Samoy like it. Go there for a new menu every night and a truly unforgettable experience.

Photo by Nicole Danna
Queen of Sheeba chef-owner Lojo Washington.

6. South Florida's Only Spot for Ethiopian Eats, Hidden Away at This West Palm Beach Gem

Siga tibs, buticha, wot, and gomen may not be part of your everyday vocabulary right now, but 2-month-old Queen of Sheeba is looking to change that since expanding and revamping its menu in early 2016. Here, chef-owner Lojo Washington will transport you to the streets of Jimma, the large city in Southwest Ethiopia from which she hails, even though you're in the heart of West Palm Beach.

Photo by Candace West
Escargo Bistro co-owners Andrea and Didier Martin.

5. Get Homestyle French Fare at Escargot Bistro 

Tucked into the corner of a commercial shopping plaza that also houses a barbershop, a Thai restaurant, and a tanning salon, Escargot Bistro is a cozy spot with plenty of homespun charm: only six tables, a three-seat bar, and a kitchen separated from the dining room by thick silk curtains and manned by a single chef. During lunch, you can spend an hour chatting with owners Didier and Andrea Martin about the menu, but come dinnertime, you may spend more time watching as orders file in back to back. Don't leave without a taste of the escargot in puff pastry or one of the best crepes you'll ever have stateside.

Photo by Candace West
Dine in the dark at Market 17.

4. Dine in the Dark at Fort Lauderdale Mainstay Market 17

You'll need a reservation to feast beyond the thick velvet curtains that keep Market 17's small, 12-seat room shrouded in darkness. Those drapes also muffle the sound of the restaurant's main dining room beyond while pop music plays softly in the background, its cheery rhythm a stark contrast to the oppressive push of blackness. From there, it's all a guessing game as to what you've been served for each course. The best part is getting to eat with your hands.

Photo by Candace West

3. A Young Gun Is Taking Over Hollywood With Ends Meat (and Mahi Sausage)

For Ends Meat chef-owner Kevin Dreifuss, the phrase "making ends meet" has an even more poignant meaning. A good portion of his professional culinary career has been spent working day and night, first to support himself and most recently his growing family. When he purchased the Ends Meat domain name in 2009, the name seemed fitting, he says. This year, the self-made chef opened his own restaurant in Hollywood with the same name, and the dishes he creates are earning rave reviews. Try his own unique creation, the mahi sausage, a signature menu item.

Photo by Candace West
Lobster toast at One Door East in Fort Lauderdale.

2. Giovanni Rocchio Redefines Tapas at One Door East 

At One Door East, Giovanni Rocchio aims to recreate the authentic Spanish tapas experience without the restrictions of sticking to one particular style of cuisine (something he's grown accustomed to with his upscale Italian eatery, Valentino's, next door). At One Door East, it's difficult to choose a favorite among the more than a half-dozen small platesoffered because nearly every one approaches perfection.

Photo by Candace West
Regina Rodrigues at her outdoor kitchen.

1. Take a Trip to Brazil at Regina's Farm in Fort Lauderdale

Several years ago, Regina Rodrigues, her husband, and their two sons began hosting dinners, opening the gates to their fazendinha — or little farm — as a way to transport guests to a miniature, more rustic version of Rodrigues' hometown in Minas Gerais, Brazil. Now, about three Saturdays a month, Rodrigues will host her pop-up-style dinner — what has become a charity-fueled mission she's dubbed Fazendinha da Regina (Portuguese for Regina's Farm). A $25 donation will get you entry to her all-you-can-eat event. The spread is incredible, making it well worth the several months' wait for a seat.

Nicole Danna is a food writer covering Broward and Palm Beach counties. To get the latest in food and drink news in South Florida, follow her @SoFloNicole or find her latest food pics on the BPB New Times Food & Drink Instagram