Best Cheap Lunch 2008 | Acapulco Lindo | Food & Drink | South Florida

This category is more important than ever, what with the economy falling apart faster than Hillary Clinton's presidential bid. The cost of living is rising, pay is decreasing, and gas stations are starting to offer adjustable-rate financing. Yes, money's tight, but you still gotta eat. Lucky for you, the lunch prices at Acapulco Lindo are bucking the trend. From 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays, the quaint Mexican eatery in the heart of Wilton Manors serves big plates on the cheap. Inside, you'll find all manner of deal-seekers, from professional types tucking into gooey smothered burritos to blue collar boys scooping up savory picadillo. The dozen-plus-item lunch menu is expansive — beef tacos overflowing with spiced meat, palomino steaks smothered in sliced onions, tostadas piled to the ceiling — but on the rare occasion you're feeling fancier, Acapulco also runs daily specials like a lunch-sized (read: grande) portion of fajitas or crisp, cheesy flautas. Any of the huge meals start at $4.95, and include a soft drink and a cup of homemade sopa de pollo. Add to that a smiling wait staff dishing out bottomless baskets of chips and salsa (and some damn fine stuff, that), and this is one cheap lunch that feels extravagant. Now, coming up with the gas money to get there? That's another story.

Anthony's has a simple philosophy: Keep the menu to just a handful of items, each done extremely well. At any of their 10 South Florida locations they make only pizzas, one type of Italian salad, two types of focaccia sandwiches, a side of sausage and broccoli rabe, and amazing chicken wings. The wings come in 10- or 20-piece orders, each wing the size of a couple of fat knuckles. They're coated with garlic and rosemary, placed in a thick baking dish, and put in Anthony's 800-degree coal oven to blister, blacken, and crisp while retaining their natural succulence. Then they're topped with enough grilled sweet onions to scare away any first date, and served with a large piece of Anthony's housemade focaccia for sopping everything up. They aren't decked in sticky buffalo sauce or served with goopy blue cheese, yet they're exactly what great wings should be: Crispy, messy, indulgent bar food that'll have you licking your fingers with glee.

Chris Bellus

Elegant and attentive, a cell phone hooked to her silk sash, Christina Wan patrols her dining room, adjusting the positioning of a plate or glass, stopping to joke with a customer who's been ordering her eggplant with oyster sauce and pork for a decade, and writing down a stream of take-out orders from locals craving her Hawaiian shrimp with candied walnuts, rack of lamb with lemongrass and sautéed greens, or whole Cantonese duck. Wan's feels like a throwback to the old New York Chinatown of the '50s, when lo meins and foo yungs seemed impossibly exotic, when a plate of chow fun noodles tossed with chicken tasted like a ticket to a life of sandalwood and anise and silkworms housed in glass palaces. The world is so much smaller now that our sport shoes and toothbrushes come from China, but Wan's kung po and mu shu still carry in their carefully composed sauces the essence of a time when every border crossing and every mouthful of tangerine peel beef was an adventure.

The Oompa-Loompas from Willy Wonka had the ideal job. They installed lickable wallpaper and tended to chocolate waterfalls, and occasionally acted as bouncers to pushy, whiny children. We'll never know if they also had a great dental plan. You've always thought that if you found a chocolate factory as decadent as Willy's, you would never leave. This might be how Jimmie's Chocolates has managed to stay in business since 1947. Loyal customers trust that all of their future fudge infatuations are made on location in Jimmie's Dania factory, with the historic shop tucked neatly behind it. That's where you'll find baker's shelves pleasantly packed with nugget, caramel, and marzipan. This edible fantasy world has managed to keep hold of its rustic roots while also expanding into the cute, quirky cafe in front and a second chocolate shop in Pompano Beach. Jimmie's stays competitive by combining its vintage flair with modern trends. At events like their chocolate and wine tasting parties, cocoa lovers from all generations come together to salivate. The Oompa life was a sham; why spend your days laboring in a chocolate factory when you can visit Jimmie's and nibble through its bounty? Now all they need is lickable wallpaper.

Uggg. 3:30 p.m. Spreadsheets. E-mails. Fading. Internet? YouTube. Dick-in-a-Box. Giggle. Boss! Minimize. Work. Clients. Sales. Drowsy. Coffeemaker? Tar. Soda machine? Coinless. Crinkled. Finicky. Kick? Sprain. Doh! Eureka! El Rincón! Cafesita? No. Con leche. Yes! Sugar! Milk! Espresso! Ambrosia! Warmth! Power! Ambition! Boss? Raise! Promotion? Assuredly! You? Wiser! El Rincón? Adulation!

What smells like patchouli, French roast, the last pages of novels, clove cigarettes, and vintage Parcheesi boards? Les Beans: a place haunted by the smartypants set, girls who love lattes, spiritual thrillseekers, and the interestingly gendered. Proprietor Patti Lucia, a former high-school teacher of the sort to inspire dangerous crushes, hopped off her motorcycle long enough last year to open Les Beans and she's already turned it into the palpitating heart of the neighborhood. Regulars return for the exceedingly comfortable couches and outdoor café tables, carefully sourced fair trade and organic coffees (Patti's wicked brew is turning Lake Worth into the city that never sleeps), and highly imaginative entertainment. Stop by Tuesday through Sunday for theatrical productions (like community performances of The Vagina Monologues), open mic nights MC'd by Miss Cleo, shtick and banjo music courtesy of Valerie Wisecracker, screenings of Howard Zinn documentaries, board game tournaments, art exhibits, and dance parties. Or just chill over a fierce game of Scrabble (and no, asshat, "zooted" is not a word).

You have officially entered the belly of the beast: IKEA. It's terrifying, overwhelming, and incredibly efficient all at once. To come out of this battle victorious, you've got to think ahead. Once you actually begin your quest through the serpentine footpath of housewares, there is no turning back; there are no shortcuts. By hour three, the hallucinations begin: you're being chased by colorful futons and unrealistically well-organized work stations. You begin buying everything you see, whether you need it or not. IKEA has beaten you again. But this can all be avoided with a little all-American know-how: Fatten yourself before you start shopping. At the IKEA restaurant you can slurp up a hearty serving of the most comforting food ever created — the Swedish meatball. For $4.99, you get 15 of the little dudes smothered in gravy and served with mashed potatoes and lingonberries. This provides the vital nutrients needed to enter this megastore with confidence and to exit with only the curtains and cheese grater that you were looking for. Food that helps you beat the IKEA system: What could be more comforting than that?

You long for a trip to the Bahamas, not just for the freely flowing rum drinks or the relaxed vibe, but for the attention paid to the preparation of conch fritters. Here on the mainland, folks don't take pride in conch. Most restaurants are content with dropping frozen, bulk-bought orbs in oil and calling it a day, and you wind up with glorified hushpuppies. But you can drive to Lake Worth and gather a bushel of fried that surpasses anything crafted in the Keys. The catch? You have to be an early bird to get the sea snail. Theresa Cooper blends her batter and sends it to the Lake Worth Greenmarket in her granddaughters' custody every Saturday between October and May. That's where, from 7:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., you can get a paper boat loaded with the good stuff fried to order along with pumps of secret sauce (a sweet, tangy condiment mixture) for seven bucks. If you live farther south, you can catch a broader menu at the West Palm Beach Greenmarket (October through April) where Cooper and family, under the name of her catering company, Sisters in the Pot, Inc., whip up everything from conch omelets to shrimp fried rice and, of course, the famous fritters. Each crunchy, drippy bite will send you further from your daily grind until you've mentally transported yourself to the Bahamas. Now all you need is that cocktail.

If you plan to take action on the advice given in any of these Best Of selections, let it be this: Run this instant to Rosey Baby Crawfish & Cajun House. Sit at one of the half-dozen bar tables. Order a bucket of crawfish boil; they come in one-, two-, and five-pound sizes. Which size you get will depend largely on how many friends you have with you and how much beer you're willing to drink. More beer? More crawfish. More crawfish? You get the point. What you'll get is the most authentic, ass-kickingly spicy boil of bugs this side of Baton Rouge. The Babe has hundreds of pounds of the little critters shipped from Louisiana weekly. Each day, the chefs fill a big ol' pot with corn, potatoes, and a bombardment of secret spices before tossing in the live crawfish to simmer slowly in their own sauce. By the time they hit your bucket, the craws are bright red and teaming with a rich, heady broth that bursts forth when you rip open their shells. The trick is to suck up that liquid before pinching the sweet, prawn-like meat from their tails. To some, this sounds like a lot of work for just a little meat, but at the Babe the process becomes rhythmic: Twist, suck, pinch, eat, swig, repeat. There's nothing like being two pounds into a fiver, sweating from the spice and slightly loopy. Ah, good times. But remember when we said run? Yeah, do that. Rosey Baby only does the mudbugs when they're in season, from December to early July.

They come in stacks, with each crepe separated by a sheet of cellophane. Take eight, ten, or a dozen home, pop them onto a griddle, and supply your own mixings. The Croissan'Time crepes have just a hint of that divine French pastry flavor, and they're light, tender, and unobtrusive, like a good piano player cradling a song. We like 'em with chocolate syrup. We like 'em with butter and maple syrup. We like 'em with fresh fruit and whipped cream. A dozen go for $12, or buy one for $1.20.

Best Of Broward-Palm Beach®

Best Of