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Best Of 2002

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Best Of :: Food & Drink

Best Live Music in a Restaurant

Not only does Fisherman's Wharf have the finest coconut shrimp in the known universe (though we are convinced at least 40 percent of that yummy goodness is in the sauce) but it is also one of the few restaurants to bring in national acts. Competing head-to-head with clubs of equal and even greater size, the Wharf has brought down a few well-known names such as David Gans, the Grateful Dead Hour host who also happens to be a surprisingly accomplished singer/songwriter. And speaking of the Dead, South Florida's Deadheads know the Wharf as the place to be on Thursday nights at 10, when Grateful Dead cover band Crazy Fingers plays its weekly show. The place isn't completely tie-dyed, but much of the music has that boogie-woogie groove, so bring your dancing shoes (or sandals) -- as well as your appetite.

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
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Best Live Music in a Restaurant: Fisherman's Wharf

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