Best Of :: Food & Drink
The strip mall location is simple and unassuming, and memorabilia from Chicago sports teams fills the wall space. No frills. Nothing fancy. Just good, old-fashioned dogs—with spicy mustard, onions, pickled tomatoes, sport peppers, celery salt, and neon-green dill relish, the signature toppings for any Chicago street dog. The dogs are usually cooked up by Howie himself, a man who grew up on the north side of Chicago and knew since seventh grade that he wanted to serve hot dogs as a career. He offers a few variations: the $3.49 New York(-ish) dog, which the menu admits is "not a real NY Dog; we are a Chicago place." The Chicago Italian beef ($6.49) can be topped with either sweet or hot giardiniera (Italian pickled veggies). The Just Make Me Something ($9.99) comes with a side and a drink, but no special requests. Howie will also officiate your nuptials for a mere $36. Yes, that's actually on the menu.
Readers' choice: Hot Dog Heaven
Husband-and-wife team Mike Hampton and Christy Samoy dreamt of building a cozy, from-scratch kitchen serving internationally inspired soul food. Let's just say their dream came true. Every day Hampton heads to the market to garner inspiration for the day's eight or so special menu items. From there, a pair of talented chefs work alongside him to create epic collaborations, often with an Asian or Indian flair. Since opening three years ago, the 54-seat restaurant has also offered a rotation of "hit singles"—dishes that were once specials, but became so popular the couple had no choice but to keep them on the standard menu for fear of disgruntled regulars. Case in point: the mushroom manchego toast ($6/$12), a popular appetizer of toasted French bread points layered with a decadent combination of melted manchego cheese atop a pile of onion- and brown cream sherry sauce-smothered mushrooms. There's also the gnocchi with oxtail ($12/$22), a signature entree Hampton has been preparing since day one. The first thing the kitchen is tasked with preparing each day, an entire oxtail is braised for six hours in a rich vegetable stock until the meat falls from the bone, served with a basic San Marzano tomato sauce flavored with garlic, onion, and basil over a bed of pillowy soft homemade gnocchi. A rotating selection of boutique wines and craft beers completes the multicultural vibe.
Readers' choice: The Rusty Hook Tavern
They say the best things come in small packages. That's certainly true of Jimmy's Bistro in Delray Beach, a pint-sized eatery serving up an innovative New American-Italian menu. Despite its location in the heart of downtown Delray Beach, the six-table boutique establishment and wine bar has so far managed to fly under the tourist-trap radar thanks to its clandestine location off Swinton Avenue—but locals sure have found it. Even in the height of summer, regulars flock to chef-owner Jimmy Mills' eponymous eatery. A well-traveled, classically trained chef, Mills has done well over the years with a handwritten chalkboard in place of a handheld menu. Homemade pastas ($24) and a roasted half duck ($36) have become locals' favorites, and fish entrees change depending on what's supplied by Captain Clay and Sons Fish Market a few blocks north. Favorites include the housemade mozzarella ($12) served with locally grown tomatoes or glutinous ribbons of handmade fettuccine smothered beneath a rich tomato and meat ragu. All you need to complete the evening: a bottle of wine and some good company. And, of course, a reservation.
Readers' choice: Kapow! Noodle Bar
Ritz-Carlton is reinventing the typical hotel restaurant. The oceanfront Burlock Coast is a café, market, restaurant, and bar all rolled into one, and it entices locals as well as tourists. It offers a marketplace for artisanal goods, grab-and-go lunches, retail bottles of small-batch rums, and a formal restaurant. The emphasis here is on locally sourced ingredients, from raw bar offerings like king crab cocktails to mains like New York Strip steaks ($46), plus a tomato bruschetta made with Little Pond Farm heirloom tomatoes. In the restaurant's carefully curated marketplace, patrons can find breads made by revered Miami baker Zak Stern (aka Zak the Baker), a hot cup of Panther Coffee, or charcuterie from Miami Smokers. And on top of all the local goodness, cocktail lovers can build their own drinks using a selection of Caribbean, French, and Spanish rums.
Readers' choice: Boatyard
At Grato, which opened in January, chef-owner Clay Conley (owner of Buccan) is going rustic Italian for the first time just a few miles away from his familiar Palm Beach stomping grounds. Conley calls the area around the Norton Museum of Art "an underserved market" into which he hopes to breathe some life. The restaurant is already attracting huge crowds; any night of the week, a troop of valets must manage the flood of patrons who swarm for happy hour. Dinner service seems as though all of Palm Beach has shown up, packing Grato's industrial-sized room wall to wall with a handsome crowd of guests. The focal point is the exposed wood-fueled oven painted Ferrari red. Patrons can sit at the kitchen bar to watch chefs shuffle pies and meats in and out from open to close. The best part of Grato, however, is devouring any of Conley's handmade extruded pastas. True bliss is twirling a forkful of fat paccheri smothered in a pork-riddled Sunday gravy, stabbing a single bucatini smothered in pasty-thick carbonara sauce seasoned with a heavy dose of fresh-cracked black pepper; or piling a spoonful of tender, dumpling-like ricotta gnocchi that seem to be held together by nothing more than the force of the Palm Beach pasta prince's will. It makes for a restaurant that is equal parts social hotspot and culinary tour de force.
Readers' choice: Boca's Best BBQ and Smokehouse
Fort Lauderdale is not a city lacking in restaurant options, so proclaiming a certain establishment the best is a tall task. Thankfully, Cafe Martorano—brought to us by a South Philly export, the big-mouthed and bigger-muscled Steve Martorano—makes it a little easier to call. Linguine and clams ($28), chicken cutlet broccoli rabe ($34), and veal parmesan ($42) are just a few of the Italian classics that keep loyal Martorano customers (and celebs like Dwyane Wade) coming back to this mainstay for more. Martorano's "gravy" (don't call it sauce!) is to die for, and his meatballs are so renowned that Jimmy Kimmel once booked Martorano on his show to demonstrate how to make them. The open kitchen provides a front row seat to the action, while mafia movies showing on TV provide a welcome tongue-in-cheek respite from the oh-so-serious farm-to-table joints around these days.
Readers' choice: Scolapasta Bistro