Best Of :: Food & Drink
"Upscale" doesn't have to mean expensive or snooty. At El Chamol, chef Lamberto Valdez's contemporary Mexican restaurant in suburban Lake Worth, it means impeccable service and beautiful table settings — waiters who pull out your heavy wooden chair and unfold your napkin; painted Mexican dinner plates and pale-blue-and-green goblets. It means ravishing dishes arranged with an eye for color and composition and a chef who periodically emerges from the kitchen to greet customers or see to a table's special order. And the place is still as laidback as an afternoon in a shaded hammock. The Mexican-born, French-trained Valdez goes far beyond guacamole and chips to experiment with goat cheese and puff pastry, with cactus paddles topped with corn and shrimp, with lobster stuffed into a quesadilla, and with huitlacoche (fungus-filled corn) as a condiment. Even the guacamole is served with flair, handmade to order and scooped from a stone molcajete with corn chips the colors of the Mexican flag. Look for the coarsely chopped and lime-infused tomato salsa, their specialty margaritas, beans simmered all day and served in a cast iron pot, and tortillas that taste like the Mexico of your dreams..
We thought we'd never find another shrimp dish to so thoroughly amuse our bouches after Florence Fabricant's classic entry in our dog-eared copy of The Silver Palate Cookbook — until we stumbled into Bonefish Grill and ordered their "Saucy Gulf Shrimp." Here's an appeteaser to jostle any cynic from apathy, a balance of sharp and savory to spur the flagging appetite and rouse failed expectations; priced at $7.90 and generous enough to share, it's satisfying but not satiating. Bonefish, a homegrown Florida chain we can confidently brag about, now serves this concoction as far north as Jersey, but the magic in the brew's consistent: juicy Gulf shrimp sautéed in butter with slivers of sun-dried tomato and kalamata olives, tossed around in a lime, tomato, garlic, cream, and white wine sauce — with more butter. That's topped with a little feta and a handful of parsley. Bonefish ought to offer a guarantee: Mop up every drop or your money back.
Argentina has given the world soccer star Diego Maradona and power broker Eva Peron, but neither were as satisfying as Beefeater. First, it's good for your taste buds: the savory flavors of South America fill your mouth. Then it's good for your hunger: entrees like the egantic (that is, bigger than ginormous) churrasco will fill you up with plenty left for a meal the next day. Perhaps even better is the price. You can start with empanadas or grilled provolone; move on to a steak covered with rich, bright-green chimichurri sauce; and finish with panqueque con dulce de leche, a crepe made with caramel and powdered sugar and flambéed with rum, and you still won't break the 20-dollar mark. Lunch specials get you a steak, salad, and drink for under $10. Around dinnertime the restaurant gets crowded, but complimentary drinks and the people-watching on Hollywood Boulevard help pass the time.
You can't find EveryBurger everywhere. If you could just stop at any corner store and pick up a pack of the delicious little Japanese cookies that masquerade as itty-bitty burgers, you'd at least spend less on gas. But our convenience stores will never be that cool. To find the best imported Asian treats, you have to go to Sasaya Japanese Market. In addition to inexpensive to-go sushi (the priciest roll is $7.50), Sasaya offers one-stop shopping for wasabi peas, lucky cat wallets, and kitchen supplies; plus extra-fancy, extra-spicy ramen noodles, and assorted sakes and curry pastes.
It's not just about the bagels. You want a place that evokes the old-time Lower East Side, with wise, gabby people exchanging gossip or leafing through the New York papers as they eat their bagels, typically with a schmear of cream cheese and a slice of nova. This brings us to East Side Bagel & Deli, a modest little restaurant in a commercial strip near the Galt Ocean Mile. The display case is always full of bagels, and they're just the right consistency (chewy, not bready or — heaven forbid — rock-like). There's lots of talk and a friendly staff to serve a full breakfast or lunch, or just your favorite round ones (sesame seed, poppy seed, egg, plain, you get the idea). New owner Kevin Spence says that, when it comes to bagels, he's got a tough, seasoned crowd, many of them from New York. "They know what they're eating," Spence says. And they come back for more. In fairness, most of East Side Deli's bagels are prepared at Bagelmania, where they know a thing or two about baking bagels. No, says Denise Jimenez, the Bagelmania boss' wife, it's not the water (the usual excuse for why you can't get a good bagel outside of New York). "You mix the dough, then you let it sit in the refrigerator for 24 hours," she says. "That's the secret. If you don't let it sit, it doesn't come out right."
Want to know how to spot good barbeque? It's not just the smell — though if the air outside is perfumed by the sugary scent of wood smoke, you're in good shape. Nor is it the queue out front — people still line up to get McDonalds. The secret is in the grill man. Take a look at the guy: Does he have an innate connection to the meat? Can he just stare at a pork shoulder, smokin' away above the coals, and commune with its innermost fleshiness? Does he look as much a part of the place as the ancient oven that he mans, his face wrinkled and hardened from years of staring into the pit? That's the guy I want cooking my 'que. At the 55-year-old landmark Georgia Pig, that man is owner Wayne Anderson, and he turns out the most deeply smoked, immaculately rich BBQ you'll find in South Florida. The chopped pork — oh my God, the chopped pork — is infused with hickory and tumbled into layers of crunchy skin bristling with bacon-ized pork fat and succulent bits of tender, reddened flesh. The Pig's sauce, a water-thin spritz of vinegar and spices, serves only to enhance the flavor of the meat, not mask it with sickly syrups or bombastic tomatoes. You'll also find killer brisket, unctuous ribs (check out the smoke ring), authentic Brunswick stew, and decadent banana pudding. Be sure to thank the grill man on your way out.