No matter how amazing Charlize Theron might be in her next role, it's money in the bank that she won't win another Oscar in 2005. Why not? Same reason that Mark's Las Olas hasn't copped a New Times Best Of restaurant award since 1999: Panels don't like to repeat themselves. Still, Mark Militello remains one of Broward's very elite chefs, and though his South Beach, Mizner Park, and City Place restaurants have their strengths, after ten years, this Las Olas branch remains the true Mark of excellence. Cozy booths, luxuriously rich mahogany tables, and a bustling open kitchen set the stage for Militello's cutting-edge cuisine, a magical mix of classical cooking techniques, the freshest of ingredients, and a menu that changes daily to accommodate what's in season. Whether it be the simple pairing of chilled Washington state Kumomoto oysters with green apple mignonette, the inspired glazing of duck with mango honey, or the hearty, homestyle plating of pork tenderloin with braised cabbage, chestnuts, and apple jus spiked with Southern Comfort, Militello hits the mark every time. Desserts such as Dutch Forreli pear and blueberry caramel tart with made-on-the-premises white chocolate almond-crush ice cream, seriously attentive service, and a faultless wine list seal the deal for Militello's flagship establishment. Enjoy this accolade, Mark -- like Charlize, next year you'll likely relinquish the crown. Readers' Choice: Chez Laurent
Over the past decade, chef Johnny Vinczencz, formerly known as "The Caribbean Cowboy," has traveled from town to town or, more specifically, from Astor Place in South Beach to De La Tierra at Sundy House in Delray Beach, titillating diners with robust American cuisine dashed with Spanish and Caribbean additions and a healthy dose of gastronomic ingenuity. Now, he's settling home on the range or, more specifically, on Las Olas Boulevard, with an eponymous place all his own. A great restaurant, however, relies on more than just a respected name. It begins with distinctively delectable food, like Vinczencz's signature "short stack" starter of buttermilk pancakes, grilled portobello mushrooms, sun-dried tomato butter, and sweet balsamic syrup and on daring, unexpected gestures like a special of Tibetan yak. A great restaurant has a certified sommelier to help navigate a first-class wine list -- or, more specifically, someone like Steffan Rau, who previously served this function at Jean George's Vong restaurant. It features waiters who, like those at Johnny V's, are amiable, accommodating, and above all professionally trained. It isn't necessary for a top eatery to offer 30 exotic cheeses and a lounge where tasty tapas tantalize between cocktails in order to qualify for greatness, but it doesn't hurt. Nor do desserts like a tall wedge of dark, dense chocolate cake layered with bananas, caramel, and peanut butter mousse, with a scoop of malted milk ball ice cream on the side. Johnny V is the new kid in town -- or, more specifically, the premier new kid. Readers' Choice: Sublime
To win this category, you must be located in an interesting neighborhood, serve top-drawer chow, and be reasonably priced. That is indubitably the case with Sushi 1. The ambiance is nothing. Zero. But the sushi is some of the freshest that we have ever eaten, and daily specials, which generally cost less than $5, are knockouts (and come with three courses). Then there're those rolls. Try the dancing eel and spicy tuna. There are also bento boxes, salads, and soups. It's all family-made and can be enjoyed at one of the few tables inside or in the parking lot. The best thing about this place, though, is its convenience to the new downtown Fort Lauderdale. If you are moving into one of the panoply of condos under construction down there, this should be your regular joint. Open Monday through Saturday 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.

This place has two lives. In the winter, snowbirds inundate Cuoco Pazzo Café, making the wait on weekends often longer than two hours. The café is actually a sister establishment to the Cuoco Pazzo restaurant next door, and the old codgers know you can eat cheaper, and just as well, in the café. But the real time to go is summer, when Cuoco Pazzo becomes just a quiet Italian joint with the best pizza and pasta in downtown Lake Worth. What's special about Cuoco Pazzo is its simplicity. You won't find those fat guys from Carrabba's messing up lasagna here. The veal saltimbocca ($17) is as traditional as you'd get in Roma. The chicken paillard ($14) seems straight from a grandmother's kitchen, with roasted peppers and a delicate lemon chardonnay sauce. The place gets more creative with its cioppino ($18), a saffron stew of clams, mussels, lobster, scallops, and shrimp over black linguine. They say cioppino comes from California, but after eating it here, you'll swear it's Italian.

Statistics show that nine and seven-eighths of every ten new dining establishments go belly up within 15 minutes of opening -- or something like that. Which means that either the management team, kitchen crew, and service staff perform admirably right from the start or the signage on the restaurant marquee will be gone faster than you can say "Boy George in Taboo." The Southwestern-inspired Sol Kitchen has thus far beaten the odds -- it started out steamy and is getting hotter by the hour. Owned by the same restaurant group that opened Delray's already sizzling 32 East (located just up the block), Sol has the advantage of experience: its chef, Ryan Brown, was chef de cuisine under Nick Morfogen at 32. Perhaps it's because these two worked together on this brash and sassy menu that the food exudes a confidence not often seen in such a short time. After you taste sunny dishes like the mahi-mahi taco with shredded cabbage, grape tomatoes, and lime; golden brown burritos packed with slow-braised pork; and grilled dolphin with mojo-soaked Cherokee heirloom tomatoes, you'll know why patrons have taken a quick shine to this boisterous, dimly lit room from the get-go. Desserts have a veteran hand in the making as well: 32 East's one-time pastry chef, Robert Malone, putting out a Cuban coffee flan so coffee-intensive that it's likely to keep you as awake as the proprietor of a new restaurant the night before opening. Readers' Choice: Sol Kitchen
It is said that the same yardstick used to critique the arts can be applied to reviewing restaurants: mood, tone, theme, setting, and harmony. The Restaurant's elegant setting is defined by its sweeping arched entrance, which is flanked by palm trees, a fountain, and tropical flowers. Once indoors, you'll find a refined tone set by colored marble in shades of creamy beige, columns of textured stone, breathtaking floral arrangements, and hand-painted silk Chinese murals. A classical mood is provided by the pianist's mellifluous notes floating from the Champagne Lounge at the far end of the room. And the epicurean theme orchestrated by Hubert Des Marais is a brilliant take on Southeastern regional fare, which includes influences from the Deep South, Caribbean, and South and Central America. Marais' tendency is to start with such stirring preludes as a salad of Florida lobster with mango, avocado, plantain, and essence of truffle or seared foie gras with starfruit johnnycakes and scotch-bonnet mango caramel, then segue into larger, richer, more luxurious movements, like char-grilled veal chop with crispy foie gras potatoes and deep morel reduction or his signature guava-braised short ribs of beef with truffle-scented cress salad. A light seafood interlude of yellowtail snapper with watermelon relish, lemon thyme, and tangelo sauce shows off the maestro Marais' versatility as well as his surprising knack for being utterly original. An underlying theme is the reliance on local products like passion fruit, mangoes, goat cheese, Okeechobee frog legs, and Indian River she crabs. A big, brassy wine list hits all the right notes. The meal rises to a crescendo with the soufflé overture, soon after which the crowd offers its accolades and files out contentedly. Readers' Choice: 32 East
Don't be scared away by the Paradise Beach Resort setting. Forget the hotel-lobby furnishings. Never mind the hokey music. Focus instead on the sparkling, Hellenic-like beachside, the festive table-dancing until 5 a.m., the warm, home-baked loaf of bread that is delivered to each table, and the fish bar filled with pristine seafood on glistening ice. Choose a whole yellowtail snapper ($17.95) and the waiter will whisk it to the kitchen, then bring it back impeccably grilled and delectably dressed in lemon juice and olive oil and served with vegetable and rice or potato. Chicken souvlaki ($14) is equally impressive, juicy, and perfumed with enough aromatic spices to make Socrates swoon. Service is amiable, prices are moderate, and on Saturday and Sunday evenings, Taverna Milos turns into a music-filled bouzouili, which, loosely translated, means a big, boisterous Greek party.

Great service in a restaurant is about making you feel as though you belong. Some dining establishments have an easier time of this than others. Diners, for instance, would seem the perfect choice to make you feel at home. They are informal, unpretentious, low intensity. But at the palatially elegant L'Escalier, the wait staff manages to treat every customer like a regular -- a regular member of royalty, that is. Dining here is like having your own personal butlers for a few hours. Food is placed on the table, and removed, with the quiet precision of a Swiss -- or Japanese -- watch. A master sommelier advises on wine with the assuredness that you'd like to experience with your stockbroker. Should you retire to the restroom, your chair will be dutifully pulled, your napkin crisply refolded. Service is smooth, sweet, formal, and thoughtful. Most refreshingly, no member of the wait team will ever interrupt your dinner conversation with a chirpy "How is everything?" It is assumed that if anything is needed, you'll let them know. Amazingly, this professional and elegant service is provided without a hint of pretension. Even the best of butlers have a hard time pulling that off.

Local heirloom tomato salad with herbes de Provence: $13.

Sirloin burger with foie gras and black truffles on parmesan bun: $29.

Truffle-braised snapper with Vichy carrots, pea shoots, and pommes croustillantes: $36.

Bottle of DeLille Cellars' Chaleur Estate Meritage, 2000: $140.

Warm upside-down chocolate soufflé with pistachio ice cream: $13.

Dinner at Cafe Boulud when somebody else is picking up the tab: Priceless.

One of Delray Beach's most distinctive dining venues has hooted, tooted, and whistled for the final time. Built to take advantage of a location adjacent to railroad tracks, Hoot offered the Orient Express, an old-fashioned wood-and-tile "dining car" with large, comfy booths, life-sized picture "train windows," and a few choo-choos outside for added ambiance. The menu was a throwback of sorts as well, the juicy Delmonico steak and thick grilled pork chops a welcome antidote to the fussy Florribean fusions of today. Sadly, just as all things must pass, nostalgic replicas of all things must pass too.

Best Of Broward-Palm Beach®