Best Diner 2002 | Joe's Bel-Air Diner | Food & Drink | South Florida
The top diner around has to fit a few criteria. First, it's got to be open 24 hours a day. Second, down here in the South, it's got to have at least a minimum of Southern-fried fare. And finally, a convenient location along a major thoroughfare is preferable. And while it nearly gets the nix for the lack of biscuits 'n' gravy on the menu, Joe's nevertheless fits the bill. Situated just off SE 17th Street, where A1A and Federal Highway merge, Joe's never stops dishing out the grub, whether it be noon or 4 a.m. The breakfast items are suitably greasy, and the lunch stuff is usually served hot and in large portions. And while rumors persist of a secret passageway linking the diner with the School of Culinary Arts with which it shares a wall, the food served here is the sort no chef would claim, lest they be the short-order kind.
A buffet by any other name usually smells the same. Not so at Kyojin, where the sushi buffet offers some of the freshest fish around. The only odors you'll get from this 50-item assortment are of seaweed and wasabi. Of course, if you move on down the line, you can inhale some steam from the soba noodle soup and the hotel pans replete with spring rolls, sesame chicken, and tempura vegetables. At the far end of the feast, a grill chef waits to cook you a steak or shrimp to order, much like the omelet chef at a brunch. The beauty part is, you don't have to stand and wait for it: Kyojin's servers are happy to bring it you, putting the lie to the rumor that all a waiter in a buffet restaurant has to do for 15 percent is fill your water.
Fish and chips shouldn't be a stumbling block for a British pub, but all too often, the results are greasy and unpalatable. Not here, where the fish is flaky, the coating a light golden-brown, and the chips as perfectly fried as a swimsuit model. Of course, basic fare isn't the only thing this upscale pub does well. Windsor onion soup with clotted cream and port is an appropriately English take on the French classic. Baked tilapia stuffed with scallops and shrimp and napped with a brandy-sweet pepper sauce entices the palate away from standard bangers 'n' mash. And West Country pork tenderloin slowly cooked in a Devon cider reduction makes a proper diner forget all about ordering a burger -- even if said burger is a half-pound of mouth-filling beef that goes down oh so easy with any of the 25 drafts, some of which are so rich and hearty that they can be counted as meals in themselves.
The nonsmoking section, 4:30 p.m.: "I want a nice hamburger, that's all."

"Ma, look at the menu."

"You eat. I don't have to eat. It's this medicine."

"Ma, you're gonna be hungry later."

"How much is the hamburger?"

"It's better to get the whole meal. You get more for your money. You get coffee, soup or salad, and dessert. With the chicken parmigiana, that's $8.95."

"I don't want that much."

"Well, you're the one who asked about price."

"Hmph. I guess you know better than me. I'm eating too much. I don't want to get fat."

"One pound. You gained one pound."

"One and one makes two, and then what do you got, hmm? How much is the hamburger?"

This cheerily painted, tin-roofed eatery is doing for Jamaican food what Pollo Tropical has done for Cuban food -- offering traditional favorites in a fast-food setting, complete with drive-through -- but the menu at this favorite Lauderdale Lakes lunch spot is far more varied and traditional than its Greater Antillean-inspired counterpart. Case in point: Chicken is offered in jerk, mango barbecue, and simply grilled. All are well-prepared, tasty, and go for a paltry $2.99 including rice. But what really wins us over is the pumpkin rice, in all its orange, slightly sweet glory.
Candace West
Any way you look at it -- from a blue, golden, stone, or king crab perspective -- if you order the signature dishes in this overgrown waterside shack, you'll be hanging around for a while. That's because portions of the crabs, especially the blues steamed in garlic and oil, a house specialty, are large enough to satisfy the biggest eater in your life. Because wooden mallets are mandatory utensils here, flecks of shell and drips of oil tend to mark patrons after they've consumed even just one crab. But rest assured, you can separate the gluttons from the pack by the state of their clothing. They're the ones proudly strutting straight to the dry cleaner's, who can (most of the time) get out all the stains. So stop making excuses, prospective piggies, and get cracking.
Haitian food is no different from regular Caribbean fare, right? There's no good reason to seek out authentic Haitian grub, right? Wrong. While Haitian cuisine has a similar body to Jamaican -- a lot of chicken, goat, ox tail, plantains, and red beans and rice -- it's dressed up in a totally different set of clothes. Haitians don't do jerk or curry; the sauce is thick, soupy, and red, with onions and hot peppers and garlic to spice it up. Reflection Restaurant, hidden in the snug corner of a little strip mall along Sunrise Boulevard, does a beautiful version. The sauce is just spicy enough to make your mouth sing but not so hot as to make it scream. Once you start eating, it's hard to stop, so it's a good thing the fine and friendly folks at Reflection hand out generous portions. They offer poisson (fish), legumes (vegetables), queue boeuf (ox tail), griot (fried pork), cabrit (goat), ragout (cow's feet), lambi (conch), and kalalou (okra and beef), most of which can be had with a mountain of beans and rice for a mere six bucks. Relax and eat inside the diner-like atmosphere of tables and booths with red-and-white-checkered tablecloths. Or order out. Either way, you're in for a Haitian treat.
As you sit before a heaping platter of rice and beans, white cabbage, and curried goat at Tasties, the fullness of its spice builds slowly, from tropical depression to storm to hurricane. Halfway through the meal, your face is hovering over the plate, vacuuming like a water funnel. The piquant sauce brings on a kind of equatorial madness, a subtropical food lust. Your mind maniacally calculates when next you'll hunger, what next you'll order -- perhaps the curried oxtail, cowfoot, or chicken. Some day, you revel, there will be a chance to feast on the jerk dishes. A five-spot covers most of Tasties' meals, which are served 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Monday through Saturday.
If you think Miami's the capital of Cuban cuisine, then you haven't been to Delray lately. What Miami has in numbers, Delray has in quality: Cohiba, a mami-and-papi shop that offers above-and-beyond black beans. A pounded palomilla proves its pedigree, while lechon asado and ropa vieja vie for slow-cooked honors. But it's the seafood and fish flesh -- garlic shrimp, lobster Creole, fried grouper -- that's the real hook here. Paella Valenciana is a good way to guarantee yourself some plentiful shellfish, but it's made-to-order. How to cope with the requisite one-hour wait? Two words: stuffed yuca. Sit in front of the palm tree mural and pretend you're back in the home country. At Cohiba, it's that easy.
Anthony Cave
This "Little Colombian Corner" will warm the heart -- and the belly -- of not only the homesick paisa but of anyone seeking simple, hearty, skillfully prepared fare in ridiculously large portions. Pull up a chair at one of the tables or just belly up to the bar under the eaves of the barrel-tiled faux balconcito and tuck into a breakfast of arepas, white cheese, and the soft, sweet, cheese-infused rolls known as pan de bono -- baked on-premises and also sold at the pastry shop next door. Come on back for lunch: Perhaps an appetizer of papas rellenas (mashed potato dumplings wrapped around ground beef, then dropped in the fryer) and one of the stick-to-your-ribs soups -- the Saturday special of sancocho de gallina (hen soup with onions, potatoes, yuca, and plantains) is a can't-miss. For dinner, go all-out for one of the bandejas, a huge platter offering a skirt steak, rice, red beans, two kinds of sausage (options include not only the standard chorizo but the very authentic morcilla blood sausage), a strip of chicharron (fried pork skin), and a fried egg. Or perhaps you'll opt for the sobrebarriga, a falling-apart pot roast stewed in a tomato-onion sauce and served with yuca. Whatever you choose, you'll have plenty left over for lunch (and possibly dinner as well) the next day.

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