Does a milkshake have to contain ice cream? Not always. Cuban batidos are beyond sweet (that's what you get from a country running on sugar cane) and invariably swing on a fulcrum of tropical fruit. At the Tropical Cafe, they serve tamarind, mamey, mango, papaya, cherimoya, guanabana (or sugar-apple) — all yummy and all slightly exotic. But the regular old native banana makes a thick, creamy milkshake that's addictive and sugar-rushy. And the banana batido allows you to order spicy dishes without fear, since it takes the edge off any taste-bud burn you may encounter. Grab a stool at this working-class lunch counter in Searstown and they'll make you a bad-ass batido in a blender, just the way mami would do it back home: ice-cold milk, sugar, fruit. Order two and they'll pour a pair of tall glasses, hand you a spoon and some straws, and leave you the ample icy remainder to finish up later. And believe us, you will.
Considering that the bulk of Florida's Cuban population resides in Dade County, sometimes it's a challenge to find mouth-watering Cuban food in Broward that's worthy of making us proud. And unfortunately, there tend to be more haunts that specialize in Cuban sandwiches without putting much flare into the other delicacies of the country as well. The folks at Las Vegas Cuban Cuisine, however, are good at preparing both — large, meat-filled Cuban sandwiches that live up to their name and oversized dishes of delectable entrées that are as enjoyable as they are filling. Their wide selection covers various regions of the island, and they've also got a generously priced lunch menu that goes from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., so take advantage. The filete de pollo is a must-try for chicken lovers and is best-served with lime, yellow rice, and saucy black beans. It's generally on the lunch menu as well and under $6. The ropa vieja (pulled beef) and filete de cherna (grouper fillet) are irresistible and come big enough that taking home leftovers is recommended. For fans of platanos, Las Vegas serves them as maduros or in tostones form, and both are a treat. If you've got room, try the café cubano with flan — your taste buds will love you for it.
It's not common to find stellar ice cream in places that specialize in gravy and cheese curd, but after spending a few minutes at Dairy Belle Ice Cream, you'll quickly realize there's nothing common about this establishment at all. Friendly owners Gilles and Ritane Grenier are famous for serving the dishes of their native Quebec, and most of the buzz revolves around their French fries smothered with white cheese curds, then topped with hot brown gravy. It's an immensely popular dish in Canada, and people drive for miles to get their hands on authentic Québecois cuisine. And while that's fine, it shouldn't overshadow the fact that Dairy Belle has the softest and most delectable ice cream in South Florida. It offers homemade caramel topping for its sundaes, and the topping is just sweet enough to whet the palette without being overwhelming. The milkshakes are good, and the serving size of the strawberry shortcake is more than enough for one person. The somewhat-oval French Canadian crowd that flocks to this place during season is cordial and great for people-watching while enjoying a banana split made with all fresh ingredients and served with a smile.
We'll be honest. We went for the gelato but stayed for the accordion player, and when that beautiful septuagenarian belted "That's Amore," we had to wipe a tear from the corner of our eye. On Wednesday nights at Sonny's Gelato Café in Boca Raton, you too can be serenaded while relaxing outdoors, the wind caressing your hair as you lick a nutella and banana gelato. The Italian family who runs it knows their stuff — they've got creamy, sweet cassata Siciliana, stracciatella, and zuppa Inglese gelato — and it's all made healthy, with skim milk and not much fat. The only problem with Sonny's is that it tends to run out of things, as retirement home aids often schlep their entire crew over for an afternoon treat. It's therefore beneficial to show up early and often. You can't miss the mango-colored building on Federal Highway, just north of 20th Street. We also recommend the appetizers, soups, salads, panini, and classic Italian hot subs, served daily from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
Candace West
When it comes to Southern cooking, in certain neighborhoods, there are soul-food restaurants on almost every corner. With such an abundance, it's hard to come up with an appropriate barometer for quality, since most of the menus at these restaurants are identical. It sounds like fun research, but after awhile, all the collard greens start to taste the same, the candied yams have the same texture, and the joy of Southern cooking gets lost in mediocre food shacks. The one venue locally that set itself apart is Betty's Soul Food. It's got the best macaroni and cheese in town, bar none, and its short ribs of beef are good enough to make a customer want to jump up and slap his own mama. The stewed chicken over rice is as succulent a meal as one could ask for, and fish sandwiches are cheap and filling. Instead of fooling around with a bunch of dessert dishes, Betty's keeps it simple — bread pudding, cake, and sweet potato pie. That may seem like a small selection, but there's a lot of love poured into those desserts, and if you have to choose, go for the bread pudding. The staff there is friendly to newcomers but knows how to chide and joke with the regulars enough to create plenty of countertop camaraderie. Located in the historically black Sistrunk neighborhood for the past 30 years, Betty's is a staple that's worth visiting time and time again.
If you haven't visited the little ice hut on the southwest corner of Dixie and Commercial, you must be a moron. We are serious about this. How fucking stupid do you have to be to miss out on the birthday cake gelati — a combination of ice cream and yellow cake-flavored Italian ice, complete with multicolored sprinkles? Richie's has been around for 15 years, ever since owner Richie Childs came down from Philly, went to the beach, and desired a cool treat. He couldn't find one worth a damn, so he opened his own little hut, where you can find him selling ices, gelati, coffee, and snacks Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. (and from 9 a.m. Saturday). On the seventh day, the God of Italian ices rests, and some kid mans the stand. But it doesn't really matter — the ices, which are made through a secret process with fruit juices, fruit extracts, sugar, and water, taste exactly the same. In case you are so stupid that you've never tasted a homemade vanilla chip ice or a cotton candy ice, keep your eyes peeled for the square, mint-green building with the apricot-orange canopy. Drive your idiot self around the oval and up to the drive-up window, apologize for taking so long, and go nuts.
Don't let the small signs and bland décor fool you inside Fort Lauderdale's Daily Squeeze. What the quaint, one-room deli lacks in ambiance is quickly made up for in quality of food and service. Free samples of freshly blended smoothies await every customer walking through the door, and it's not uncommon to get a free cup of organic butternut squash soup while you're waiting. Friendly owner Bob Mourry isn't trying to schmooze his way into the red; he simply realizes the wealth of competition he has as a downtown eatery. When the deli is minutes from closing and a patron needs avocado, a fresh green aguacate is pulled from the cooler without a second thought and sliced generously onto sandwiches at no extra charge. Most items in stock are organic or fat-free, and items that fall outside of this criterion (like the lobster bisque and king crab chowder) are slowly heated, never burned, and well worth the extra calories. The menu here isn't cluttered with countless meat options like most New York-style delis and instead offers a core selection of eight sandwiches, allowing customers to add whatever toppings they like. That might sound far-fetched, but with such oddball items as presidential feta and capers listed as toppings, finicky eaters can delight in the customer's-never-wrong attitude that the Daily Squeeze emanates every time a person walks through the door.
There aren't many crepes on the menu at Rendez-Vous, because it's not a creperie. If you were to chat up a chef, he'd probably wax poetic about the place's desserts and breads, because Rendez-Vous is, in fact, a bakery. No matter: The place's four crepe offerings will inspire flowery declarations of fealty from the foulest Francophobes. The veggie crepe is delicious and light, with the thin and teasingly chewy buckwheatesque pancake wrapped around tomato, squash, eggplant, red pepper, and zucchini and drizzled with olive oil. While most French food makes you sleepy, this thing makes you want to run a marathon. The ham-and-swiss crepe is similarly remarkable: The cheese blends rapturously with the béchamel until you can't tell the two apart. But it's the chicken Florentine and seafood crepes that ultimately carry the day. These two meals border on the sacramental. They're miracles of creaminess, subtle textures, salt, and sweetness. The lobster mixed with the béchamel in the seafood crepe makes you want to drink a bucket of the stuff, bisque-style. Incredibly, these things are light on the pocketbook: Lunchtime crepes range from $8.50 to $12.50, and at dinner, they run a mere $10.75 to $13.50. They're big, but you may find yourself eating two, just because you can.
Lots of South Florida delis tout themselves as "New York-style," but then they lack the basics: overstuffed sandwiches, a three-hour early-bird special (in this case, 3 to 6 p.m.), and the stocking of the delicacy meat called, quite simply, "cow tongue," which the uninitiated cringe at and the connoisseurs relish. 3G's has the basics covered, and besides a tongue sandwich on rye, the extensive menu offers everything from cheese blintzes to sweet-and-sour-stuffed cabbage. And nothing goes with a brisket like a cup of chilled borscht (beet soup). Next to the refrigerated cabinet with the corned beefs and pastramis is a second holding no shortage of powdered-sugar sprinkled treats. The linzer is in there — moist raspberry jelly between two sweet but not-too-sweet cookies, with a powdery white dusting on top. 3G's has been dishing up egg, tuna, and whitefish salads since 1986. There's also a fresh fish of the day every day of the week. And for those computer-savvy early birds, check out 3G's website for a $1 off coupon — to redeem it, you must be seated by 6 p.m.
In South Florida, few things are taken seriously. Even most hurricane rations are turned into sensible dinners after enough uneventful months slip by. But true Sunshine Staters will go toe-to-toe with any Yankee scoundrel who's trying to pass off store-bought key lime pie as homemade. In fact, they freak the hell out. And after being scorned enough times in the past, key lime gourmands know the warning signs: perfectly triangular solid wedges of (shudder)... gelatinous green stuff. That's just another reason why locals brave the Darwinian seating order at Le Tub: Its key lime pie is the delectably whipped yardstick that all others must measure up to. The globby hunk of goo expands as it sits in its Styrofoam dish, while its condensed milk glue keeps the surface tension cohesive, making every spoonful a creamy victory. The heavy slab of pie is about the size of a wedge of brie and twice as rich, and the staff is never timid about slathering it with Reddi-Wip. Have it served alongside a margarita on the rocks and you'll understand why you waited so long for a table — after all, everyone around you is experiencing the same thing: a short-term love affair with a piece of pie. Savor it.

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