Tropical Cafe

Tropical Café has been dishing out flavorful Cuban grub at its present location -- an out-of-the-way store in the Sears shopping center -- for four years (and seven years before that on Andrews Avenue). It's all about the pork -- which is roasted, indelibly touched with garlic and secret herbs -- and the coffee (thick, sweet, hot as a punctured radiator in July). That's why we like owner Humberto Fajardo's peerless breakfast deal. For a mere $4.99, you get an omelet, a layer of that roast pork -- or ham or bacon -- and a slice of Swiss cheese, all pressed into a hunk of Cuban bread, which has been grilled flat in the kitchen's heavy, metal parrilla. Top it off with a steaming hot café con leche. It's what gets us to work every morning.

Muddy Waters

If you like yours with lettuce and tomato, onions, Heinz 57, pickles, and French fries, Muddy Waters could be your gastronomical paradise, especially on Tuesday nights, when the restaurant sells the Jimmy Buffett burger for a discounted price (reduced from $7.99 to $5.95). More adventurous aficionados with a little more to spend should order one of the $8.99 selections topped with any of Chef Adam's homemade sauces: The Portobello burger is topped with grilled, sliced you-know-whats, fresh mozzarella, and a red wine sauce; the Cayman is swimming in homemade chili and cheddar cheese sauce; and the Sunset is smothered in zippy, tropical barbeque sauce, cheddar, and bacon. The Yak, another unique find at just under nine bucks, is topped with melted cheddar, onions, jalapeños, and Conch Turbo Sauce, which isn't homemade but is a zesty, peppery product of the Keys. While all these toppings are fine and good, the bottom line here is the meat: Owner Jay Arney says each burger is made with a half pound of Black Angus, fresh ground that day. Yeah, these babies are worth every damned bit of sacrifice.

Roger Dean Stadium

Tim Martin is a New Yorker who travels to Florida to ingest a week's worth of spring training games every year. "Eating a hot dog is the thing to do when you go to a baseball game," he says. "Even though they charge you as much as it would normally be for a whole package of hot dogs, for some reason, it just tastes better at a game." At Roger Dean Stadium, where both the Florida Marlins and the St. Louis Cardinals send their major-league teams for spring training and where their minor-league teams play all summer, hot dog-eating is a complex experience; buyers need to be choosy. At any concession window, you can get a regular hot dog, which is steamed, for $3 (prices increase during spring training). Certain windows also offer the "jumbo hot dog" ($4), also steamed, which is like a regular hot dog, only fatter. Both are made by National Deli, a Miami-based company and "the official hot dog of Roger Dean stadium." Now you could satisfy your weenie jones by doing up either of those dogs with sauerkraut, relish, mustard, and ketchup from the freestanding condiment bar. But the discerning diner goes for the Dean Dog, a $5, 1/3-pound frank that is grilled until it sweats, has the black grill marks to prove it, is served with sautéed onions and peppers, and is available at only two windows: the St. Louis Grill and the Florida Grill. Volunteers run the concession stands -- and then take home 12 percent of the day's proceeds for the charity they support. (The Shriners made about $40,000 last season this way.) Nick Barbera, who mans the grill every Saturday to raise money for Kelly's Powerhouse dance school, says you should definitely spring for the Dean Dog: "It's like a hot dog on steroids. It fits right in with baseball."

Pho Saigon Cuisine
John Linn

When the Vietnamese boat people abandoned their war-torn country in the late '70s, hopping aboard rickety vessels for the trek to Dallas, San Diego, New York, and Fort Lauderdale, they brought along some indispensable knowledge: how to make a damned near perfect sandwich. Why it's taken Americans so long to pick up the trail of the Vietnamese bánh mí sub is an unanswerable mystery. Although you can probably find bánh mí at dozens of mom-and-pop groceries in South Florida (hint: Start anywhere on 441 and work your way south), the cheerful and friendly Saigon Deli is a terrific introduction to the genre, a delicacy incorporating French influence (a baguette, mayonnaise, pâté) and Vietnamese staples (roast pork, daikon radish, cilantro, fish sauce). At Saigon Deli, the subs come in eight variations, all for $3, starting with house-cured meats like ham, shredded pork, barbecue pork, and roti chicken. A combo sub of ham, Vietnamese bologna, and silky pâté topped with crunchy pickled vegetables and served on a warm sweet roll, when paired with a glass of salty lemonade or sweet bubble tea, is bliss on Earth. This charming restaurant also serves a full complement of Vietnamese soups, salads, and noodle dishes.

Give a French cook an egg, a couple of slices of bread, a stick of butter, and five minutes and most likely he'll return the favor by creating something so exquisite it'll haunt you for life. When a croque monsieur is done properly, it is, indeed, the most fantastic concoction in the universe. And, mes amis, the sandwich is made just right at La Vie en Rose (true for almost everything on the menu, but that's another story). This long-running French restaurant in Margate produces a crisp, elegant croque with slivers of country ham and Gruyère cheese melted between two slices of feather-light toasted French country bread. It's gooey and savory with a scrumptious custardy interior. For a real jolt, order the croque madame, with two poached eggs on top. They're available at $7.25 and $8.25 respectively for Sunday brunch, with a complimentary glass of champagne. You might want to refrain from mentioning your skyrocketing croque consumption to your cardiologist, though. She probably won't understand that anything that tastes this good has to be good for you -- existentially speaking.

Funky as an old Parliament album, Le Tub's commode-themed outdoor eatery looks more rustic and weather-beaten each year. But the place stays packed with happy locals vying for a waterside table (best way to catch those superb sunsets glittering off the Intracoastal) and waiting for the molasses-slow servers to bring another round of drinks. Still, even Tub fans can get put off by the less-than-antiseptic surroundings and opt for liquid refreshment only -- an elitist error, to be sure. Yeah, there might be a fresh ketchup wet spot on your driftwood bench, or a palmetto bug may scurry across the floor... so what? Everything on Le Tub's handwritten, Xeroxed menu tastes fantastic -- its chili, burgers, and key lime pie win regular accolades. But the fries -- ye gods! These lovingly hand-cut shards of spudly goodness are fried to crispy perfection in peanut oil, rendering McDonald's flash-frozen abominations utterly pathetic. Blistered brown with shreds of skin attached, a basket ($3.50 to $5) of these hot 'n' tasty little items split between a pair of happy diners is a sure-fire entry point to the rest of Le Tub's delicious, overlooked selection of victuals.

Benny's on the Beach

Philosophical question: How can you tell the dancer from the dance? How to separate the French fry from its environment? If you could surgically remove, say, that single Benny's fry -- crisp, salty, and golden -- from its plate and whisk it away from these surroundings -- the wooden pier, the gossiping pop and suck of the wavelets, the aromas of Hawaiian Tropic, salt air, and trolley exhaust; if you could spirit it to a place free from the absurd Technicolor tangerine hues of the setting sun and the ocean's sad, late-afternoon turquoises, from the babble of flirting couples and cranky tourists, and the high whine of a drive-time traffic report from a forgotten radio -- would it still be the same French fry? Or would it have become something else entirely?

Keese's Simply Delicious

Big breasts. Hot legs. Juicy thighs. Isn't fried chicken the best? For more than 40 years, Keese's Simply Delicious has dished out perfectly spicy, sublimely crispy, just-greasy-enough pieces of fresh-fried heaven, even keeping its old family recipe through several management and ownership changes. But besides the fine fowl, Keese's has the advantage of its almost-oceanfront location. So order your two-piece/two-side dinner -- for less than six bucks. (Try the slaw and the intriguingly spiced baked beans). While you wait the requisite 17 minutes cooking time, brown-bag a beer from the gas station across the street and stroll past the tacky-yet-charming shops and cafés of Lauderdale-by-the-Sea's pier district. By the time you make a leisurely lap, your food will be ready to grab and carry back to the beach for a seaside picnic. Just be wary of jealous bystanders. Keese's chicken looks and smells as good as it tastes.

When you order chicken wings, you want the whole shebang: a lopsided w of drummie, drummette, and that extra pinky on the end that functions best as a handle. That's what they serve at this tiny, carryout-only soul-food joint. A ten-piece box sells for $5.50 and comes in four varieties: mild, hot, lemon pepper, and "the famous Pompano Wings." The latter are bathed in a sauce that's neither hot nor exactly sweet. Neither spicy nor bland. Call it a flavor not found in nature. Gray's makes it easy to fulfill your fowl cravings, as it's open 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. on weekdays and until midnight on Fridays and Saturdays. They deliver with a $20 minimum order.

Sure, you say, "You think I'm going to drive across hundreds of acres of sugar-cane fields just for a piece of meat?" Well, take heart in this: You'll float back home after you try this melt-in-your-mouth slab o' heaven. Jellyroll's offers a solid assortment of "upscale" soul food, but the chicken-fried steak and brown gravy, for $6.95, is the best. It includes a choice of two side dishes, among which are green beans and ham, black beans and rice, and collard greens (cooked with liberal portions of pork). The steak is lightly breaded and fried to a delicate crispiness. The restaurant is visually appealing too, with antique collectibles and old-time photos of Pahokee displayed throughout its brightly lit interior.

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