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Best Of 2002

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Best Of :: Food & Drink

Best Hamburger Joint to Die in the Past Year

If a phrase like "Gimme the Big One" sets your heart a-pounding, then you, as we did, probably had a thing for the 'boys. Direct from the classiest armpit on earth -- the Jersey shore -- Fatboys gave us double cheeseburgers that horrified our doctors and mystified our private trainers: hip-stretching, medium-rare beef slathered with melted cheddar cheese, chili, onions, and (wouldn't ya know it?) French fries. No doubt, we'll miss the quick caloric fix, though can't say we mind not trotting all those extra miles on the treadmill. And for the record: We never really did believe that "gourmet" bit.

Best Chain Restaurant

Park your horse outside, mosey on in, place your cowboy/girl hat on the wall hook, check your piece with the hostess, and take a comfortable seat at one of the booths. At this particular Roadhouse Grill, like all of its sibling eateries, you are always welcome, unless of course you are "wanted dead or alive." Right from the start, the friendly staff treats you cordially and with due respect. The décor is definitely saloon, and they have both kinds of background music: country and western. Drinks are served in huge, old-fashioned glass mugs, and napkins are abundant (and necessary). The not-quite-rusty metal pails sitting on the tables are kept full with peanuts, a complimentary appetizer for the weary rider while waiting for the real food. The waiters seem to stay employed by this establishment for more than three months -- uncharacteristic for South Florida -- which means that you can expect to actually recognize who will be serving you. You can also expect the smiling manager to drop in during the meal and check how everything is going -- and fix it if it's not right. The food portions are generous and stand out for being cooked just right. The heavenly sourdough bread is deliciously fresh. While other Roadhouse Grill locations in South Florida fare quite well as far as food is concerned, the Delray location excels by far when it comes to making its guests feel welcome. This eatery is often packed with jovial patrons, so please mind your spurs.

Best Outdoor Dining

Founding owner Chuck Muer sleeps with the fishes -- the legendary seafood purveyor was lost at sea trying to outrun Hurricane Emily in 1993 -- but the Palm Beach institution he started more than 20 years ago with real estate maven Harold Kaplan soldiers on. Top-notch fish is the highlight of the menu, but the kitchen, while never adventurous, is versatile enough to offer a constantly evolving, stylish array of dishes. The building's original, Mizner-style architecture and interior are a knockout, the front room originally serving as a railway waiting station in the 1920s. The sidewalk seating out front overlooks the broad, palm tree-lined expanse of Royal Poinciana Way, Palm Beach's north-end main street, a more sedate alternative to the south side's Worth Avenue (which is overrun with tourists and off-islanders anyway). Tired of watching the swells roll by in their luxury vehicles? You can go inside and still dine under the stars -- the interior Garden Room's roof is retractable.

Best Restaurant to Take the Kids

Taking the kids to an eatery is, pardon us, a pain in the ass. They don't like this. They don't like that. They fidget. They get up and walk around. They waste your hard-earned cash on food they refuse to eat. Well, we have the answer. And it's not one of those chains where you gag when walking in and then are bored for hours thereafter. It's a French restaurant. C'est vrai! The Safari Café is located on a delightful -- and generally toddler-secure -- terrace overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. The breakfasts are outstanding. Try the Safari Special: two eggs, home fries, toast, meat, and coffee for $3.95. Lunches include quiche, goat cheese salad, or fried brie. Dinners are good too. Trout Meuniére with rice, veggies, and salad for $13.60. Kids dishes? For lunch, try hot dogs, $3.50. Or at dinner, there are hamburgers for $4.95. Both, of course, come with French fries. If the young 'uns start to complain after a half hour at the table, you can take them in back to see the giant stuffed gorilla. Or walk 'em out to the beach for a little romp. If they are age 12 or older, just send them onto the sand to frolic on the nearby lifeguard stand if it's after hours or -- during the day -- to swim under the watchful eye of authority. Relax for a little while, and enjoy a bottle of St. Emilion Chateau Haut Cormey for $30 (the most expensive wine they have). Let the ocean breeze wash over you. They open at 8 a.m. and close around 9:30 p.m. during the week and Sunday and 10 p.m. on Saturday. The doors are shuttered all day Tuesday.

Best Restaurant to Die in the Past Year

We always found this beach-bum-friendly, New Orleans-like establishment to have some of the most serious fare on the Strip. Indeed, it was one of those places, given its fresh fish and spicy blackening seasoning, that helped transform Fort Lauderdale from spring-break joke to culinary capital. Sadly, the days of sipping bloody Mary's and turtle soup after a long evening of pub crawls have come, like the crawls themselves, to an undistinguished end. But rest assured, Evangeline: You'll always be in our oyster-loving, crawfish-craving, porch-sitting hearts.

Best Late-Night Dining
Havana Restaurant
Christina Mendenhall

True, the food's not much. But in the middle of the night in West Palm Beach, there just isn't any competition, outside of Denny's and the 5 a.m. bars out west. And for atmosphere, Havana's all-night takeout window, located as it is in a light-industrial/low-rent-housing area of Dixie Highway, can't be beat -- especially if you're a Raymond Chandler or Elmore Leonard fan. Down these mean streets, a man must chew, and sitting out front under the street lamps on Havana's bus-stop-style bench, the 4 a.m. diner has a front-row seat on the graveyard shift's lunch break -- a democratic mix of cops and other city workers, deliverymen, clubgoers, and restless suburbanites who don't wanna go home. Mixed rice and beans with plantains at hand, styro cup of Cuban coffee venting steam, sip deep and drink in the humanity. That clean, well-lighted place you seek is here.

6801 S. Dixie Highway, West Palm Beach, 33405
MAP
561-547-9799
Best New Restaurant
Sopra

Expect the best, pay for it, and you just might get it. At least, that seems to be Sopra proprietor David Manero's motto. He and a partner laid out a cool three mil for this renovated spot, then bought the building in which it's housed for $6.3 million more. We give him credit just for his balls -- that is, the roasted garlic meatballs that nestle, along with braised parsley sausage and Parmesan braciola, with trenette. Chef Glen Manfra also whips up superb entrées like oak-grilled Atlantic swordfish with cannelloni mash; salt-and-pepper jumbo shrimp sautéed on stone with Sicilian bread pudding; and a Bell & Evans chicken breast cacciatore. Open only half a year or so, Sopra currently attracts diners as much for the decorative eye-candy -- terrazzo steps, mosaic floors, a pool on the sidewalk -- as it does for the new-age fare. But guaranteed that if you go for the architecture, you'll stay, and return, for the expertly constructed dishes.

110 E. Atlantic Ave., Delray Beach, 33444
MAP
561-274-7077
Best Contemporary Restaurant
Bizaare Avenue Cafe

A contemporary restaurant is one that speaks to today's tastes without succumbing to yesterday's trends. Bizaare takes that credo seriously. Set on a street filled with antique shops, this retro living-and-dining room speaks to the comfort of a coffeehouse. But rather than being passé, the place is up-to-the-vintage-minute -- every item is for sale. And we're not talking about your mother's dinette set. We're talking about your great-grandmother's dinette set, ugly when you were a child, cool now that you (and the rest of your social set) are into collecting. While you're at it, you might as well snag some menus too. Surely you'll want to return not just for the latest in estate-sale acquisitions but for those spring rolls, crab cakes, and chicken-artichoke crêpes. Just as it sounds, the fare is light and tasty, ideal for those following the five-small-meals-a-day plan. Dr. Atkins' fans may find this short-on-steak place a bit challenging, but what do they know? They're behind the contemporary times.

921 Lake Ave., Lake Worth, 33460
MAP
561-588-4488
Best Restaurant in Broward

The American Heart and Lung Association would probably give this outstanding restaurant its vote, since the entire place is smoke-free. But while we are as politically correct as the next alternative weekly, that's not why we love it. We're delighted because after it took this veritable Southwestern institution just about a year to complete a much-publicized and much-anticipated move into larger, more sophisticated quarters, the eatery didn't lose any of its luster. In fact, it gained some via a reworked wine list that offers cult vintages and a menu that loyally supplies regulars such favorites as grilled ostrich tenderloin with a port wine-sun-dried cherry sauce or cedar-planked salmon with a chipotle-mango barbecue sauce. And just like it used to, the new version of Armadillo tries to incorporate Davie as much as possible, going so far as to source hydroponic greens from the town's producers. As evidenced here, loyalty is not always its own reward.

Best Restaurant in Palm Beach

To be honest, we weren't sure Johannes would make it when it opened up in this eatery-heavy stretch of Boca Raton. Though we were confident in former Plum Room coordinator and Johannes chef-owner Johannes Fruhwirt, we just didn't think the neighborhood would respond to this exclusive -- and exclusively priced -- South Beach-style eatery. Fortunately, we were wrong. Not only has Fruhwirt managed to maintain with only a handful of tables and a velvet rope to his name; he's thrived. A few years later, patrons are returning to lay out the big bucks for his vichyssoise with caviar and his entrecôte with veal-bone marrow sauce. Though we're risking our own easy access to a table here, we'll also tell you the secret to finding the no-name place: A big J-shaped handle on the door. Pull it open and you'll quickly see that you've arrived.

47 E. Palmetto Park Rd., Boca Raton, 33432
MAP
561-394-0007
Best Hotel Restaurant
L'Escalier  (in the Breakers Hotel)

The Breakers has always been known for the quality of its services, and that operating credo extends to its restaurants. At L'Escalier, the waiters are more like butlers, just waiting to pull out your chair or refold your napkin should you retire to the restroom. Water glasses are filled like pools -- should the liquid drop below a certain line, an infusion is immediately added. And like the service, the fare is as exquisite as the tapestries that grace the walls: venison carpaccio, vegetable-hazelnut cannelloni, roasted duck with eggplant caviar, and mascarpone strudel. Only a year old, L'Escalier provides such a beautiful yet unpretentious experience that we wish other hoteliers and restaurateurs could take classes here. Is that too much to ask?

1 S. County Rd., Palm Beach, 33480
MAP
561-655-6611
Best Restaurant When Someone Else Is Paying
3030 Ocean

Pan-roasted, soft-shell crab with lemon cream and smoked bacon: $12.50. Bakers dozen sampler plate of raw oysters: $20.

Grilled beef tenderloin with braised short ribs and Brussels-sprouts mash: $31.

Venezuelan chocolate mousse with praline foam and peppermint ice cream: $7.

A glass of Louis XIII cognac: $120.

The moment your father-in-law picks up the check: priceless.

3030 Holiday Dr., Fort Lauderdale, 33316
MAP
954-765-3030
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Best Hamburger Joint to Die in the Past Year: Fatboys Gourmet Grill

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