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Best Of 2011

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Best Of :: Food & Drink

Best Thai Restaurant
Mama Asian Noodle Bar

Coconut Creek's Mama Asian Noodle Bar rises high above the humdrum Thai restaurants populating strip malls all across South Florida. That's because its owners, Mike and Lisa Ponluang, have been serving the chili- and lime-inflected cuisine of their homeland to hungry South Floridians for more than 16 years. Sure, the place sports your usual assortment of curries, pad Thais, and kaffir-infused salads, each brimming with enough slow-developed flavor to make anyone's ma proud. But much like the couple's Coco Asian Bistro in Fort Lauderdale, Mama takes traditional Thai dishes and gives them a modern twist. Here you'll find pan-seared Chilean sea bass with bok choy over delicate miso broth or juicy pork chops marinated in lemongrass and garlic. Crisp fried spring rolls filled with shiitakes and chicken are a star — just as they were when Ponluang began serving them at his legendary restaurant Thai Pepper back in the mid-'90s. And when Mama steps out of the Thai mold, look out. Its wide range of noodle dishes give a sly nod to the warm street fare of Southeast Asia, from excellent Vietnamese pho scented with basil and anise to panko-coated kutsu chicken over waves of pipping-hot ramen. Add in chic décor and wallet-friendly prices and Mama really is the mother of all local Thai restaurants.

4437 Lyons Rd., Coconut Creek, 33073
MAP
954-973-1670
Best Restaurant in Broward County
Grateful Palate

Once solely an upscale provisioning company for yachties, the Grateful Palate in Fort Lauderdale successfully evolved into a contemporary restaurant just last year. In the newly overhauled wine lounge, you'll find both aficionados and novices sipping on global wines from family-owned vineyards. It is so serious about wine, the Grateful Palate regularly offers wine and food pairing events, classes, and tastings. Besides the 300-plus wine choices, it's the inventive, contemporary menu that lures in first-timers and keeps those from the provisioning days returning for more. The pan-seared seafood is succulent and fresh, and the duck breast with beurre noisette is mind-numbingly delicious, as is the bone-in fillet with truffled potatoes. In keeping with many other gourmet restaurants in town, Grateful Palate has made its bed in an unassuming strip mall. No matter; the liquor store and laundromat next door won't take away from this upscale dining experience.

817 SE 17th St., Fort Lauderdale, 33316
MAP
954-467-1998
Best New Restaurant in Palm Beach
Buccan
Candace West

Almost from the minute it opened in January, Clay Conley's Buccan was the hottest dining ticket in Palm Beach. Named after the wooden grill used to cook over an open fire in the Caribbean, it might not be quite the restaurant you'd expect in the playground of the obscenely rich and inexplicably famous, neatly splitting the difference between upscale sophistication and casual comfort. The space itself offers an ambiance for almost every mood, from a small bar and sofa-bedecked lounge to bustling main dining room and intimate dining area by the glassed-in wine room. The food is equally accommodating (not to mention ravishing), treating more adventurous palates to choices like sweetbread and mushroom spring roll and Korean short-rib tacos while cosseting conservative taste buds with herb-roasted chicken and ricotta gnocchi Bolognese. Prices, however, are comforting to wallets of all dimensions, with a roster of small plates ranging from $5 to $12 and many dishes available in half and full portions.

350 S. County Rd., Palm Beach, 33480
MAP
561-833-3450
Best New Restaurant in Broward
Rok:Brgr

Chef and co-owner Marc Falsetto knew just what was missing in Fort Lauderdale's Himmarshee Village when he brought us Rok:Brgr. Brick walls and dark wood create a chic vibe at this small, trendy eatery. What makes Rok:Brgr such an outstanding addition to the boozy village is the fusion of comfort and gourmet foods — perfect for satisfying an alcohol-induced food craving while wearing your best shirt. Watch the nightlife unfold at an outdoor patio table while gulping a frosty-cold microbrew. Or sip on a bacon-infused Maker's Mark to wash down dishes such as Mom's meat loaf or short rib grilled cheese. And no late-night craving is void of a yearning for thick, juicy burgers. Satisfy the urge with the innovative Peggy burger — Black Angus beef and pulled short rib matched with horseradish cheddar and bourbon barbecue sauce. Or the delicious Las Olas burger with Wagyu beef and Gruyère cheese atop a buttery brioche bun. Don't forget the variety of fries, including the poutine, hand-cut and smothered with gravy and cheese curds; the Parmesan reggiano with truffle oil; and the sweet potato fries with garlic aioli. Food this good is satisfying during both p.m. and a.m. Rock on, burger dudes.

208 SW Second St., Fort Lauderdale, 33301
MAP
954-525-7656
Best Burger
Old Fashioned Cheeseburger at Big City Dogs
Photo by Eric Barton

A generous half-pound beef patty charred to a crisp on the outside with a tender pink inside, smothered in melted cheese and sandwiched amid cold lettuce, fresh tomatoes, onions, mayo, and pickle spears on a hearty fresh Kaiser roll — that's the Old Fashioned Cheeseburger, and there's no reason to detour from a perfect classic. This creation — an impeccable assemblage of everything that makes a burger fucking amazing — is not for the faint of heart. Take a fork and a handful of napkins, because you'll need to hoover everything that falls out the back when you bite into whichever side you deem the front. The pickle spears and mayo make the meat slip and slide on the roll like a game of hard to get with someone you lust after madly. But, of course, that burger is yours in the end, and you'll undoubtedly be jonesing for a second date by the end of the week.

1199 E. Commercial Blvd., Oakland Park, 33334
MAP
954-776-4744
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2451 S. University Dr., Davie, 33324
MAP
954-888-1338
Best Steak House
Cut 432

Most steak houses are mausoleums of meat, boneyards of beef, retirement homes for carnivores. There's the obligatory dark wood and brass rail décor, which was really, really hip... in 1920. There's the pretentious, stultifying ambiance — half snobby suburban country club, half pompous dillweed. There's the usual roster of side dishes — shrimp cocktail, creamed spinach, hash browns, and the like — that have been around since the invention of food. Even if the steaks are good, everything else is so dull and dated that you feel like you've been dropped into an old black-and-white episode of Leave It to Beaver. Then there's Cut 432. The beef is pedigreed and killer — wet- and dry-aged, USDA Prime, Wagyu, Niman Ranch. The sides are actually interesting — beet and pistachio salad, blue cheese tater tots, pancetta-roasted Brussels sprouts. And the sleek, modern dining room and rollicking good-timey atmosphere are anything but old and tired. You don't go to Cut to retire; you go to live.

432 E. Atlantic Ave., Delray Beach, 33483
MAP
561-272-9898
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Best Thai Restaurant: Mama Asian Noodle Bar

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