South Florida is among the most culturally diverse pieces of land on the North American continent. It's food that brings cultures together here, and it happens regularly at El Rey de Pescado — a place that looks, smells, and sounds like a Third World food market in the very best way. In the middle of the produce tent at Fort Lauderdale's Swap Shop is El Rey and a pictorial menu that demonstrates the amazing things the kitchen can do with Caribbean seafood. A whole, fried snapper or tilapia comes out full of meat, juice, and crackle, served atop rice and garnished with a heap of lime wedges. A pile of limes also accompanies a ludicrously proportioned heap of calamari lightly fried and almost tender enough to fall apart in your mouth. Grab a beer — a Mexican brew, most likely — out of a big ice-filled tub in front and drink it at a plastic table waiting for your food and surrounded by everything that makes Florida, Florida: sunshine, the babble of languages, the smells of the ocean, and a Latin pulse sounding from an unseen boombox.

Cafe Martorano

Movie pitch: Based on a true story. In a tropical American city long known as party central for spring breakers, the population begins to suffer disturbing nightmares. As neighbors compare notes, they're stunned to learn that their midnight visions are identical — they dream they're chasing a gigantic meatball along Oakland Park Boulevard. As days pass, the citizens are overcome with inexplicable cravings: for South Philly-style cheese steaks; for spaghettini with clams, pancetta and chilies; for chicken cutlets with hot and sweet peppers; for spicy chicken wings with upscale macaroni and cheese. As the film progresses, it is revealed that the city has succumbed to a mass trance called "The Martorano Effect," the symptoms of which include wild dancing, excessive consumption of Prosecco, and the inability to speak anything but quotations from Goodfellas. Think Invasion of the Body Snatchers meets Moonstruck. Lorraine Bracco, Joe Gannascoli, and Ludacris have already expressed interest.

One of the great misconceptions about Café Boulud is that you can't afford it. And that's a shame, because eating here makes you proud to be a Floridian. It's not enough to book your birthday every year — the pleasure in Executive Chef Zach Bell's collaboration with Daniel Boulud derives from the menu's month-to-month fluctuations, from the flavors of produce grown on our soil and seafood plucked from our own waters, cooked by a homegrown chef who grew up in Clermont. So go for breakfast or the $25 prix-fixe lunch, for the deals on Saturday and Sunday brunch ($32 for three courses), for the pre-theater menu ($45 for three courses), or for Saturday's late-night bites of house-cured charcuterie and gourmet burgers. And go often. As the seasons pass, you'll feast on short-rib ravioli with a crushed tomato and basil compote sourced from Swank Farms in Loxahatchee; a Peekytoe crab basking in the sunny flavors of hearts of palm and pickled pineapple; sautéed sea scallops with spring ramps, fiddlehead ferns, nettles, and forest mushrooms. Those ramps and nettles might not come from around here, but they're priceless natural resources in the hands of our homeboy.

Best Restaurant to Close in the Past 12 Months

Capri Blu

Amadeo and Gracie Tasca kept their balance aboard the pitching vessel of downtown West Palm Beach while their contemporaries piled into lifeboats and fled. They kept it up for ten years, sending out plate after plate of handmade pasta, of sauces made from tomatoes they handpicked themselves on local farms, of ethereal tiramisu and imported bronzino. They invited tenors and sopranos to sing arias for their customers on Monday nights, and a coterie of artistic souls gravitated to Capri Blu on the force of their generosity. Roads were torn up, the boom-and-bust cycles downtown became depressingly predictable, but the Tascas kept accumulating devoted customers. And finally, when construction on the new City Hall directly across the street showered them in dust and chunks of rebar, they quietly closed and moved across the bridge to Palm Beach. Early this year, a bad economy swallowed the last mouthful of their gumption. We'll miss them.

Courtesy of Casa D'Angelo

The third date is the tiebreaker; if you flub this one, you're gonna find yourself back at the laptop flipping through JDate listings. The long-running and beloved Casa D'Angelo can help get you over the hump, if you'll pardon the pun — they've been cementing together fragile relationships with a mixture of ricotta cheese and marinara sauce for more than a decade now, and they know what they're doing. Casa D'Angelo's 40-plus-page wine list of regional Italian varietals will help you subtly showcase your sophistication (it's on their website, so you can prepare in advance); the breezy outdoor patio is quiet enough for intimate conversation; the courtly waiters, who serve with a friendly flourish, contribute to an atmosphere of relaxed luxury. And then there's the food: beautiful handmade pastas floating in rosy cream sauces; chops perfectly grilled and emanating the scent of rosemary; bronzino so fresh that it needs little beyond a sprinkling of capers and a bit of lemon reduction. Take a hint from that bronzino and don't overdo it — in love, as in cooking, a modest hand with the sauce lets your ingredients shine.

Best Restaurant When Someone Else Is Paying


The only bad news about Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto's opening a sushi bar inside the beautiful Boca Raton Resort & Club is that you can't actually get in. Correction: You can get in, provided you are (A) a resort member, (B) a paying guest at the hotel, or (C) someone with wealthy and influential friends. Since options A and B are going to set you back a couple of Benjamins, your best bet is to latch onto the coattails of some philanthropic Boca bourgeois and weasel your sushi-craving, proletariat arse in. While there, why not let your friend pick up the tab too? The prices are as hefty as the entry fee, mostly because the fish at Morimoto's tiny bar is of a quality unparalleled in these parts, flown in multiple times a week from sources scattered across the globe. Uni from the California coast glistens with the life-giving power of the ocean; Japanese fish that rarely find their way to an American table like kinmedai and kohada are here en masse; ruby chunks of beautiful maguro tuna and melting cuts of marbled o-toro are cut from the prime stock of Boston and the Mediterranean. All of it is absurdly delicious and definitely worth every penny your wealthy benefactor is willing to throw at it.

If you're looking for the best place to take someone when you really need to get laid, there are plenty of bars by the beach with three-for-one drink specials. And if you're looking for dinner with an amazing view of the skyline or the water, this isn't your place either. What you get here is a sophisticated romance — a lover with a brain that matches the immaculate body. Yes, the service is impeccable, the ambiance open and light (there's often live jazz), and the drink menu exhaustingly complete. But all that is just foreplay before the sensuous, fulfilling act of mastication. Even the surliest dates will feel the love in the air when the food arrives. Pancetta-wrapped scallops, yellowtail snapper stuffed with jumbo lump crabmeat, a goat-cheese salad that will literally melt in your mouth, boneless marinated pork tenderloin roasted with pepper and onion, the best filet mignon you've ever had. You will not find a single unlovable dish on the menu. Really, if this doesn't do it for your date, break up.

UPDATE: This location is now closed.

Remember the nerdy librarian lady in the old TV commercials for Cinnaburst gum? How she cowered in terror when she saw "flavor crystals" on a stick of gum? "There's... just... so... many of them!" She gasped, unable to handle even the idea of that kind of explosion of taste. That's how you'll feel when you open the menu at the Salad Bowl. It lists a whole panel of gourmet salads — and then another panel of "Salads & More Salads" — with a stunning 23 salads at last count. Options range from old standbys — Greek, cobb, caesar — to the sexy Roman beef salad featuring sliced marinated steak, orange slices, crumbled Gorgonzola cheese, and walnuts. There's a classic niçoise with potatoes, green beans, and boiled eggs and a Hawaiian with moist breaded chicken, shredded carrots, cucumbers, grapes, and juicy pineapple chunks. The list of ingredients goes on and on: mozzarella balls, pesto sauce, pepperoncini, goat cheese, roasted pork, nacho chips. Whoever does the grocery shopping for this place, we salute you.

Throughout human history, countless innovations have changed the way we conduct our lives: Indoor plumbing. Sticky notes. MTV. But innovations in the realm of food, especially in something as common as sandwiches, are a rarer breed. This is why LaSpada's Original Hoagies, a Broward institution that has been flinging lunch meat since 1973, should be praised for a practice that has brought subology in South Florida to a whole new level: the Meat Blanket. Order a sub at LaSpada's and the hoagie wizards therein will first fill a chewy roll with a layer of sliced-fresh meat. Then, in go the toppings — lettuce, tomato, onion, pickles, and their own blend of marinated sweet peppers — in such generous quantity as to be spilling out all over the counter. The question then becomes, how does one eat this beastly sandwich, so overflowing with goodness, and not lose half of it to attrition? That's where LaSpada's brilliance comes in. Sandwich makers here top the sub with another layer of sliced meat and fold it into the sides of the hoagie roll, sealing in all that goodness. It's like they're lovingly tucking an adorable baby sub in for bed. Only then you get to eat the baby. Mmmm, meat blanket, baby. Now, that's true genius.

Chelsea Scholler

Now a quarter-century old, Café Seville is no stranger to our Best Of awards. Forgive what must feel like insistence, but you'd search in vain for another eatery that puts eels, rabbit, and merluza together on one menu. Seville's famous, five-foot-high specials board has achieved the status of local celebrity. And nobody offers those dishes in a warm little room with such gracious courtesy. All the while, a classical guitarist is playing. Seville combines the ease of a village café with an old-fashioned South Floridian hospitality, the kind of laid-back niceness that went extinct in Fort Lauderdale around 1980. It's not just a Spanish restaurant — don't let that list of charming regional wines confuse you. Seville opens its door every evening and embraces a neighborhood: People gather to measure their years in deepening relationships, in annual celebrations, and in speeches recited over raised glasses — passing down this favorite café from generation to generation like an heirloom jewel.

Best Of Broward-Palm Beach®

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