The main draw at Flanigan's is the food, and how do we like it? Fried. Flanigan's best-kept secret may be their French fries. Big Daddy Joe serves up those spectacular spuds curly style, and they're never greasy or soggy but always crispy and seasoned just right. No need for salt- and peppershakers either; these fries get their great taste from seasoning salt alone. But if you're the type that simply cannot eat French fries without globs of ketchup, fine. We found that the honey mustard and barbecue sauce are great additions as well. With or without condiments, those golden corkscrews are always satisfying. (If you want, you can even order a Flanigan burger or grilled fish entrée to accompany them.) Not only are the fries delicious, they're fun to eat too. We're not telling you to play with your food, but at Flanigan's it's OK.
East Emerald
Ask not what you can do for your neighborhood Chinese restaurant but what it can do for you: deliver. If you live out of range, however, it behooves the salmon lover to hoof it on over to East Emerald and pick up an order of Emerald salmon with black bean sauce to go. By the time you get home, the bean sauce has soaked into the fish, rendering it a bit moister than you might actually get in the restaurant. Chef Kevin Ong also excels in undercooking vegetables just slightly, so food packed in cartons is perfectly done, steamed to ideal consistency. The restaurant will even pack up a Peking duck, which in our opinion goes above and beyond standard takeout fare. But then, East Emerald isn't named after a precious stone for nothing.

Eduardo De San Angel
It's tough to figure out how burritos and fajitas came to represent Mexican food in the United States when restaurants like this one are around. Run by the Pria family, this elegant hacienda serves regional Mexican cuisine that raises the level of dining in Fort Lauderdale. Can't bother with burritos? Try the appetizer crepes stuffed with cuitlacoche -- a corn fungus that tastes like mushrooms -- and napped with squash-blossom sauce. Don't care for chicken fajitas? Order the main course of rock Cornish hen glazed with mole. Follow up your food with mango crème brûlée, and any preconceived notion you had about Mexican food will melt faster than fried ice cream.

There's something terribly addictive about the cheap Midwestern slop they spoon over spaghetti at Skyline Chili, a Cincinnati-based chain that serves a sweet and spicy ground beef chili and not much else. Texas fire this stuff ain't, but for our money it beats the best chili con carne we've had in these here parts. Chili Ohio-style is ordered by numbers -- three, four, or five-way (adding various combinations of beans and cheese and chopped onions to your heaping plate of pasta with meat sauce). We like to amble up to the counter and order it with the works, piled high with shredded cheese and doused in Skyline's own hot sauce.

One of the criticisms of New World cuisine -- the combination of local flora and fauna with Caribbean, Latin, and Mediterranean influences -- is that it tries to accomplish too much: too many components in a dish, too many side dishes on one plate, too many competing flavors. Pineapple Grille does New World cuisine the way it's meant to be prepared: simply. The dishes, while Floribbean-influenced, certainly aren't overdone or overwhelmed by dozens of ingredients. The roots of the Bahamian seafood chowder are updated with, well, roots -- specifically, sweet potatoes. Pan-fried yuca cakes are garnished with a simple chicken satay and tangy tamarind sauce. Ravioli is removed from Italy by way of a black bean, feta, and andouille sausage stuffing. Duck is glazed with a mixture of key lime and ruby red grapefruit juices. The breezy, colorful décor helps the digestion of this simple, flavorful stuff, though the raucous parrot in the corner can be a distraction. Perhaps Pineapple Grille will consider competing for an award to be debuted next year: the "best dish made with parrot" prize.
You could probably judge a Brazilian restaurant by the fervor of the soccer fans who frequent it. That means that Feijao Com Arroz already beats out the competition hands -- or should we say feet -- down. But the Brazilian tag counts for more than a World Cup championship here. The rice and black beans for which the restaurant is named are always perfectly cooked -- not lumpy, not mushy. Tender steaks and fresh fish fillets, often featured on the specials board, are sure shots. Light, fruity desserts make your meal a hat trick. And the staff does some fancy footwork to keep you in water, napkins, and utensils all night long. But the real attraction just might be the live Brazilian bands that perform here, and the block parties the restaurant sponsors in the parking lot during important soccer matches. Just one caveat: Should Brazil be the unlikely loser of a game, the party's over early.

Best Fine-Dining Restaurant to Have a Highchair

Revolution 2029

No question, most people flock to Revolution for chef David Sloane's New Zealand mussels in a coconut-curry sauce with dried apples and cilantro, or his cherry-roasted half-duckling with calabaza-cornbread stuffing, or his slow-baked osso buco with saffron spaetzle. But the fact that we can take baby here and strap the squirmy little one down in the resident highchair unquestionably sweetens the bid. Not many restaurants recognize the parental need to spend $30 on a bottle of wine rather than a baby sitter. Revolution may be a forerunner in fine fusion cuisine, but it should also receive kudos for its recognition of the area's changing demographics.

Best Place to Break Plates and Dance on the Tables

Taverna Opa

Taverna Opa is probably the only restaurant in South Florida where patrons are encouraged to jump on the tables and make complete fools of themselves -- or at least the only restaurant combining table-dancing and damn good grub. This is where we bring our most rambunctious, loudmouthed out-of-town visitors. Whether the ouzo or the wine or the boisterous Greek music piped in from above is the cause, this place is always kicking. The conversations, dancing, and flying plates may also have something to do with it. When we're not working up a sweat, we like to linger with friends over a parade of meze, little plates of mouthwatering morsels -- seafood, sausages, vegetables, and dips -- that arrive at the table in a fragrant cloud of lemon, garlic, and olive oil.
Dear Mum: During our visit to Fort Lauderdale, we came across the most delightful little tearoom, situated in a quirky strip mall, just two doors down from a bookseller straight out of Dickens -- a man named Hittel. The tearoom was tastefully appointed with matching floral tablecloths and drapes, the lighting was subdued, and our glass-topped table -- bookended by a pair of comfy wicker chairs -- sat just inside a veranda overlooking -- what else? -- palm trees. A whisper of classical music filled the room, and the service was just delightful, vigilant and not too chatty. We opted for the Earl Grey -- as we always do -- and were somewhat disappointed to see a couple tea bags in our pot (we explained to an American friend that loose tea is the proper way to go); nevertheless, the three-tiered serving tray was filled with a scrumptious array of finger sandwiches (salmon, tomato, egg, Gouda, and mustard), pastries, and cakes. We finished off our 90-minute repast with scones slathered with jam and cream. Then we were off, two pots' worth of Earl Grey singing in our bloodstream! All the best, NT.
China Dumpling
The owners are from Brooklyn, the Hong Kong-born chefs are from New York's Chinatown, and the customers are from, well, here. But originally many of us were also from the New York metropolitan area, which means we miss the quality of the Chinese restaurants found up there. Now, however, we have a Brooklynese eatery to call our very own, and -- oh, my Gawd -- is the beef chow fun in black bean sauce good or what? The Peking duck is like buttah, and p.s., sweeties, the steamed dumplings are to die for. Long story short, every item here is made on the premises and tasty enough to keep the snowbirds south for the summer.

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