Best Of :: Food & Drink
No other Vietnamese joint around has mastered the art of banh mi like Saigon Cuisine. That's because, in its previous life, Saigon Cuisine was a humble deli, serving those Vietnamese-style submarine sandwiches by the rickshaw load. But even after upgrading to an expansive, modern dining room replete with a well-equipped stage, Saigon Cuisine still serves the finest banh mi around. Flaky and crisp baguettes are stuffed with carrot, daikon, cucumber, cilantro, jalapeños, and plenty of house-made Asian charcuterie, plus whatever combo of sambal and lemongrass-garlic sauces you deem necessary. In addition to the subs, the place whips out more than 150 authentic Viet dishes. There are shimmering bowls of pho, fragrant with ginger and anise, and bubbling, cauldron-sized hot pots that elicit oohs and aahs when served. Wash it all down with one of the fab smoothies made from soursop, papaya, mango, and more, each studded with chewy tapioca balls ripe for sucking through a fat straw. Yep, Saigon Cuisine lives up to its name and then some.
Here, at one of the last remaining "Grand Polynesian Palaces of Tiki," the drinks are legendary. They are phenomenal, magical concoctions comprised of rum and fruit juices and time-tested mixology. Whether it's the "barrel o' rum," the piña colada, or the mystery drink (served on fire, with four straws and a personal Polynesian dance), these spirits will take you to another period in Florida's history — a simpler time, when a man with a pompadour hairdo and a woman with a flower behind her ear could stare into each other's eyes and forget about life with some tropical sounds, some twirling fire, and a sweet injection of delicious booze. Unfortunately, there's the Mai-Kai food. Starters come not from some island paradise but seemingly from freezer to fryer. The dried, fried appetizers head right into the expensive-but-bland entrées that also seem cooked during that same time in Florida's history, several decades ago. You can't wash this down with a barrel of liquor or a personal Polynesian dance.
Sometimes a waitress can be so genuinely friendly and attentive that her mere presence feels like a warm hug. If you have sat in Lori McMahon's section at Tequila Sunrise, then you can probably attest to that level of waiterly affection. If you're a regular, you've probably been on the receiving end of numerous actual hugs and countless "rock-on" hand gestures and shouted "love yas" as well as consistently topnotch service. It's impossible not to notice McMahon when dining at the locally loved Mexican restaurant, whether you've drawn the McMahon card or are being attended to by one of the other fine servers. McMahon enlivens the whole atmosphere with her high energy, New York accent, and rocker-in-disguise quirkiness. Among her many adoring fans is owner Schiller Martin. "She's the perfect employee," he said, "heart of gold... she gets along with everyone." Fittingly, it was an act of caring that brought her to South Florida. After working in the fashion industry in Manhattan for ten years, she came down to take care of a honeymooning friend's dog, cat, iguana, and bird. Now she takes care of other, perhaps stranger, creatures most nights of the week.
These days, everyone could use some comforting. And what's more calming than food handcrafted with passion and care at a decent price? That's precisely what you'll get at Bash, a homey little strip-mall café in Sunrise where nothing on the menu tops $19. Chef and owner Nikki Pettineo — a private chef for the likes of football players Renaldo Hill and Ronnie Brown — envisioned this low-cost café and wine bar as a place where even those hard-strapped by the recession can come and enjoy a home-cooked meal and a bottle of wine. Her menu has the same warming effect as a hand-knit woolen stole. There are short ribs braised in cola and pork chops with apple chutney. Mac and cheese is creamy and baked with crispy bread-crumb topping, and even the chicken wings, napped in garlic and vinegar, have a pleasant, placating effect. If any fear were left unabated after all that, the cheery staff would smooth it out with the soothing promise of a deep-fried brownie or three.
A case could be mounted that Eduardo runs the most consistently mind-blowing kitchen in Broward County. Exotic-sounding dishes — like the "Cactus Paddle Bocadillo" appetizer, herb-rubbed and stuffed with pork tenderloin — are transformed into comfort food by the house's unparalleled intimacy, the servers' incredible warmth, and the cooks' almost neurotic attention to detail. Even those dishes that gringos might fear — like an ancho chile-flavored crepe, filled with cuitlacoche, Serrano chilies, onions, asadero cheese, and squash blossom sauce — go down like something familiar, if not something entirely known. The experience is exquisitely relaxing, and in the midst of it, the last thing you ought to worry about is a bill. So don't.
You're in Florida, so if you're going to be spending Sunday morning eating French toast and sipping mimosas, shouldn't you do it on the beach? Damned right, you should. At Dune Deck Cafe, situated atop the dunes of Lantana Beach, breakfast (or brunch or lunch, for that matter) comes with a pristine view of the Atlantic Ocean, located, oh, about 30 feet to the east of your seat. In the salty air up there, the eggs just taste eggier, the stone crabs crabbier, and the bloody marys bloodier. Service is swift, and the coffee is strong. And the stuffed French toast is the sort of custardy goodness Parisians dream about. Add daily specials like Florida lobster Benedict and fresh fish plucked from the docks up the road and you've got a breakfast fit for even the most sun-baked of Floridians. Just don't forget change for the meters.