Mr. Fish Seafood
You can eat fish in a train,

You will like fish in the rain,

You will like it from a box,

You will eat it with a fox

(if you're lucky enough to be dining with one).

Owner Mike Montella, who started out as a charter-boat captain and is now nearly three decades into running this gourmet seafood market, knows a thing or two about our scaly and shell-covered friends. His fish is delivered fresh from Florida's West Coast, and he even has a local lobster diver who has been going down for about seven years to catch those local, clawless langostas. This squeaky-clean, stacked-to-the-gills place has just about every type of local fish you can imagine (pompano, snapper, grouper, mahi, stone crab claws, shrimp, lobster); it also carries cooked meals, spreads, sauces, soups, and even desserts. Rich butters are also available for dipping, flavored with everything from champagne to wasabi, and the prices are competitive. But here's the best part: You can have everything shipped overnight via the "Fish-in-a-Flash" program. Hah! Flying fish! That's something Dr. Seuss would appreciate.

Zona Fresca

Somehow, the folks who own Zona Fresca, a clean, bright little taqueria serving Cal-Mex style burritos, chiles relleños, and quesadillas, have managed to achieve a feat that has stumped many a local superchef: How to turn out a delicious piece of fish, consistently, honestly, and cheaply. For their fish taco, a fresh white filet is dipped in beer batter, deep fried in canola oil, then wrapped in a double corn tortilla stuffed with marinated cabbage and sour cream dressing. You pay $2.50 for this perfect minimeal, carry it over to Zona Fresca's salsa bar, which offers an array of mild to fiery sauces (we're partial to the tart, green tomatillo), squeeze on a bit of lime, eat your taco in a half-dozen bites, then head back to the counter for round two. You can spend the good part of a day engaged in this ritual, several times a week, for months or even years before you'll think of looking elsewhere for your fish sandwich. Crunchy on the outside, moist, light, and steaming inside, the fish is perfectly foiled by the bright salsa and crunchy cabbage. Zona Fresca looks like a fast-food joint with its walk-up counter and plastic utensils. It also acts like a fast-food joint -- you can get in and out in a quarter of an hour if you have to. But the strong flavors and freshness of their vegetables, lean meats, and beans cooked without lard are healthy enough to make lunch a guilt-free zone.

Sage Bagel & Appetizer Shop

When a restaurant makes it to 32 years old, it has to be something more than a stroke of luck and a good location. It's the food, damn it -- or, in this case, the bagels. Indeed, after three decades, Sage Bagel & Appetizer Shop is still reeling in the same loyal bagel lovers week after week. The menu covers all the standard bagel types (plain, poppy, pumpernickel), specials (jalapeño, bran), and the extra-special (bialy). The cost for a single bagel is 75 cents; make that $1.95 with regular cream cheese, $2.35 for chive or vegetable, and $5.99 for lox. If you dine in, be sure you're ready to eat, 'cause the food comes fast. The menu includes far more than bagels. There's all manner of breakfast bites, full dinners, and desserts. If you plan to do some shopping for the week, a dozen bagels costs eight bucks, and a quarter-pound of cream cheese goes for $1.59. Make sure that alarm clock's set for bright and early; Sage opens at 6:30 a.m. every day.

Totoritas Restaurant
Gustavo Rojas
Lord, what foods these morsels be! Now that sushi is a staple of public school lunches and sashimi has been accepted by the apple pie/Chevrolet contingent, let's not forget the other raw fish. Spelled differently depending on where in South America you happen to visit, Las Totoritas' version is among the most traditional. Cebiche mixto ($8) is the familiar staple; fish, scallops, and shrimp are soaked in lime juice and topped with onion. A black scallops-only version, cebiche de conchas negras ($7) is a variation you won't encounter often, and the family-sized cebiche platters ($14 to $18) are large enough for the soccer team of your choice -- provided you can all fit in the tiny dining room. The combination of fish and lime juice that collects at the bottom of the bowl -- leche de tigre -- can be served with a shot of vodka as a hangover cure. Or so the folks at Las Totoritas tell us. We'll take their word for it.
Hong Kong Market

Owner Benjamin Wong is big into numbers. If you ask him how long his market has been around, he'll tell you 15 years. Ask how many Chinese videos he has available for rental and he'll quickly inform you, "More than 100,000." (That's including the ever-popular Kung Fu Hustle.) If you inquire about a special type of teapot, he'll invite you to choose from more than 100,000 of them. OK, so perhaps they are not all to be found in his market, but he really seems eager to help customers find whatever Asian product they have a yen for. Never tried a sweet yet salty dehydrated plum (they start at $1.25 for a small bag) or dry shredded pork ($1.65 for a four-ounce container)? Just request Wong's opinion on the product and he'll likely split a bag with you. Wondering what kind of pudding is actually stored inside the oversized plastic kitty heads? He may bust one open to show you. Of course, he can't really share some of the teas he carries -- especially since they are used to treat maladies like gall bladder and liver dysfunction -- but you would probably feel comfortable talking about PMS or erectile dysfunction with Wong, and he'd provide just the tea for the job. And since teas start at only $2.95 a box, you'll find them much cheaper than a box of Midol or a blister pack of Viagra. If you have never set foot in an Asian market, stroll into Hong Kong some evening (the market is open until 8 most nights). You'll get an instant education and possibly even some samples.

China A

It's been an awful day. Now, it's getting dark. The rain is coming down. The exhaustion settles in. Those two rental movies on your passenger seat look awfully enticing. At times like this, the difference between good Chinese takeout and bad Chinese takeout is based on three factors: taste, price, and speed. China "A" aces the trio. Nestled in a no-frills spot in Northridge Shopping Center, China "A" serves up about 100 dishes under $10 -- from the classic General Tao's chicken ($8.50) to moo shu shrimp ($6.50). Have a bunch of mouths to feed? Try the Super Family Pack for $20.99; it includes three egg rolls, wonton soup, fried rice, and three entrée selections. Walk-in orders are filled in about ten minutes, while deliveries take about 20 minutes if you live nearby. Plus, you won't get MSG-laden dishes at China "A." Remarkably, the food is as good as any restaurant in New York's Chinatown. Hours are Monday to Saturday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Sunday from noon to 9:30 p.m. Free delivery is available to select areas.

Sushi Jo

If the idea of sushi sounds as thrilling as another Blockbuster night or walking that nasty little mutt around the block, you need a little gastronomic counseling -- you know, something to perk up those taste buds and help you remember why you fell in love with raw fish and vinegared rice in the first place. Cast your mind back to your very first time: How silky the tuna, how scrumptious the spicy mayo; that salty, slithery bite of seaweed salad; wasabi's head-clearing heat. To help you renew your commitment to sublime Japanese specialties, get away to Sushi Jo in West Palm, where rolls are given lubricious names and tarted up in the equivalent of culinary lingerie: the Sex on the Beach roll ($12), the Release roll ($10), the South of the Border ($15). Your fish and rice comes decorated with illicit exotica like macadamia nuts, strawberries, and truffles. And there's toro -- the bodacious, pricey call girl of the fish world -- all over the menu. Still yawning? Jo's monkfish liver is aphrodesia on a plate, creamy slices of "foie gras of the sea" dusted with multicolored fish eggs and dressed in two sauces. Think of your relationship with Sushi Jo as a permanent pleasure, a kind of covenant marriage for which you don't have to travel to Arkansas. Beware, though, menus and prices differ at the two locations.

Tarks of Dania Beach
Photo courtesy of Tarks of Dania Beach.

"Eat clams... Live longer!!! Eat oysters... Last longer!!!" The motto emblazoned across the menu at Tarks is as catchy as it is true. Those raw clams and littlenecks (both $8.95 a dozen) are a low-cholesterol source of minerals and protein, and the fresh-shucked gulf oysters on the half shell ($6.50 for a half dozen, $8.95 a dozen) are a wet, plump, and succulent way to get your motor running on overdrive. Served ice cold, the conch salad ($7.95) is touted on the menu as "a local favorite." Tarks has been a Dania institution since 1966, and the folks know local seafood as well as anyone. Take a seat at the counter -- that and a few tables out front are your only options -- and you're sure to go elbow-to-elbow with tattooed bikers and leather-skinned laborers, all enjoying Tarks' cheap beer and tasty bivalves. Check out their daily specials, which include ten free wings with a pitcher of beer on Wednesday after 7:30 p.m. Make sure you try their tangy key lime pie ($2.25) too. Shellfish isn't the only thing Tarks does right.

Ferdos Grill

Miracle of miracles department: This gorgeous space hosted a seemingly never-ending series of restaurants that all bit the dust after a few months. Then, about four years ago, a Syrian family moved in and lifted the curse. Ferdos Grill has thrived and prospered (as it should -- it's one of very few Middle Eastern restaurants in these parts) and shows no signs of abating. The falafel here is astounding and comes in three styles. It's made from chickpeas and fava beans that must've grown up listening to classical music; first, they're ground and shaped in small, wafer-shaped patties; then they're fried in a loving, gentle, oily environment. The appetizer version comes with hummus that is perhaps the finest ever produced by man (try the version with the grilled sirloin tips), and the pita-bread sandwich and the falafel salad ($5.95 each) are both noteworthy. The place is called "home of the kebab," and the belly dancers are a big draw. But when falafel is the question, the only answer in town in Ferdos.

Gourmet Deli House will make you feel like Henny Youngman smack in the middle of Del Boca Vista. Come in the late fall, especially, when you'll hear an old folk's reunion in the line. As you wait to order the signature corned beef ($10.95 a pound) or the lox ($24.50 a pound) or chicken salad ($8.95 a pound), you'll always overhear a couple of codgers talking about Ohio and Pennsylvania and New Yawwwk. Diners in this joint -- and we love this -- sometimes need to be reminded that they'll be charged for the buckets of free pickles and rye bread if they don't order an entrée. Make no mistake, these folks know a bargain. And so do the deli owners, who upon request will even split a loaf of bread in half for frugal deli customers. Just remember to drive slowly in the parking lot.

Fernanda's International Market
Tabatha Mudra

Home cooks, foodies, wine aficionados, sandwich lovers, party-throwers, vegetarians, marooned Manhattanites, and second-generation Italians far from Mama's kitchen all know where to find the magic missing from their lives: Fernanda's. To purchase a slice of mascarpone torta ($29.99 a pound -- bliss doesn't come cheap) and eat it right from the box in your car, without ever leaving the parking lot, is as close to pig heaven as most gluttons are ever likely to get. If the torta's too rich for your belly and your pocketbook, an array of sautéed vegetables like caponata Pietro ($9.99 a pound), Italian roasted peppers ($9.99), broccoli rabe with lemon ($8.99 a pound), roasted eggplant ($12.99 a pound), marinated mushrooms ($6.99 a pound), garlic mashed potatoes ($4.99 a pound), and macaroni and cheese casserole ($4.99 a pound) make for more wholesome chow. Fish lovers can sink a line and reel in Pietro's seafood salad ($12.99 a pound), Maryland lump crab cakes ($4.99 each), grilled swordfish pistachio ($16.99 a pound), or a tin of beluga caviar (market price). And culinarily challenged bachelors or bachelorettes can put together a multiculti party of Fernanda's breaded veal cutlets, sausage and peppers, meatballs, fried tortellini, proscuitto pasta salad, stuffed grape leaves, mushroom pirogues, spicy chicken wings, and fresh foie gras (24 hours' notice on the goose liver). If you're planning a picnic, Fernanda's dozen varieties of black, green, and stuffed olives, plus their selection of 18 sandwiches (all $7.99, from the Muffeletto to the "Don Quixote" with thin-sliced Serrano ham) sure beat that standard loaf of bread and jug of wine.

Best Of Broward-Palm Beach®