Best Expensive Italian Restaurant 2011 | La Sirena | Food & Drink | South Florida

Ever find yourself spending big bucks on some so-called five-star dish with a fancy name that is served on bland white linens... only to be presented with some not-so-al-dente spaghetti that's drowning in sodium-infused red sauce along with a breadbasket? You would have been better off saving your money and ordering pizza. Well, it's time to allow La Sirena to restore your faith in fine Italian dining. The charming dining area is dimmed by glowing candles, dressed with delicate flower arrangements, and presented beneath 150-year-old oak beams from Shenandoah Valley — a classic and sophisticated appearance that will surely take you aback. Most important, your palate will be pleased with delightful entrée items including costoletta di vitello zingara — a cutlet of veal, lightly breaded, with a sauce of artichoke hearts, tomatoes, prosciutto di parma, and shiitakes. Or you can keep it light with il pesce del giorno alla livornese — fresh fish of the day, poached in a sauce of tomatoes, capers, onions, and white wine. Price upon request, of course.

It's a long way, both figuratively and literally, from Trujillo, Peru, to a nondescript strip mall across the street from the Lantana post office, but that's the journey of Victoria's chef-owner Julio Leon. The cheery, family-run eatery is a welcome breath of different and refreshing air in an otherwise mostly unexciting-restaurant town, one that's been embraced by a surprisingly diverse clientele that ranges from seniors looking for a good, inexpensive meal to people hungry for something other than pizza, caesar salad, and fried calamari. All the staples of the Peruvian kitchen are on the menu, from beef heart antichuchos and Peruvian-style tamales to a lusty rendition of lomo saltado and traditional tiraditos. There's also sopa a la minuta, a savory beef broth enriched with chopped beef, angel hair pasta, and diced potatoes that rivals "Jewish penicillin" for its miraculous restorative powers.

The worst way to find fresh fish and shellfish is to follow your nose. If you can smell it, it's already bait. The best way to find fresh fish and shellfish is to follow I-95 to Boynton Beach Boulevard to a funky-looking little concrete block building just a Key West pink's toss from everybody's favorite amateur speedway. In the more than 15 years since purchasing the market from the grandson of namesake Capt. Frank, ex-New Yorker Joey Sclafani and family have made it into something of a mecca for discriminating piscavores. The selection of seafood, from both local and other East Coast waters, is as diverse as it is pristinely fresh: Key West pink shrimp or the sweet reddish specimens from around Cape Canaveral, live soft-shell crab in season, locally caught grouper and mahi and yellowtail snapper, dry-packed scallops, and sushi-grade tuna. And though the shop is tiny, with more room for seafood than people, the only smell is the clean, briny tang of the sea. The nose knows.

The eatery's name speaks the truth. It is literally a small, eight-table bistro serving lunch and dinner, and it's nestled in the corner of an unassuming strip mall. Black and white tiles checker the floor; romantic lighting illuminates the sheen of white-pressed tablecloths and pastel-painted walls. Francophiles won't be disappointed by the Dover sole meunière here — a delicate fish pan-fried in butter, crusted with herbs, and dashed with lemon. Those not in the mood for poisson can savor the ridiculously tender beef tenderloin smothered with Roquefort sauce. The freshly made-in-house baguette slices are perfect for swiping the melted garlic herb-butter after the last succulent escargot is gone. Save room for chocolate mousse cake or crème brûlée, and let your inner child savor the cherries jubilee — a whimsical sundae of warm cherries bursting from brandy flambé and melting into ice cream topped with freshly whipped cream.

Eric Barton

Lauderhill's Woodlands has long been a favorite among Broward's western set for its authentic flavors, wide-reaching menu, and low prices. But a change in ownership last year has transformed this vegetarian haven from neighborhood joint to Indian food destination. Admittedly, this quaint strip-mall eatery has a pretty plain vibe inside. But what the décor lacks in finery, the kitchen more than makes up for in intense flavor. Take the baingan bartha: Woodland's version is made from fire-roasted eggplant, which translates into a smooth and delicate texture that's neither too light nor too thick. Or the dal tadka, a new addition to the menu that sounds deceptively simple (just curried lentils and kidney beans) but tastes creamy and refined. And no trip to Woodlands is complete without an order of chana bhatura, a sweet stew of rustic chickpeas paired with a globe of fried dough the size (and sheen) of a disco ball. Yep, there's so much to discover at this West Broward gem, from meter-long dosai (crisp crepes stuffed with curries) to fried Indian pancakes and fragrant pilafs.

The dingy-looking yet delicious Mexican restaurants that pepper South Florida put off some people. There's something about a grimy exterior and peeling paint that don't scream "Eat here!" That's why Baja Café was onto something when it seemingly decided that bright colors would be the theme. It slapped some bright green on the exterior of the restaurant and made the interior no less inviting with vibrant walls and painted ceramic-tile tables. The food is equally colorful and much more delicious. The cheese accosts your mouth — in a good way — the moment you bite into the hunk of burrito. The margaritas don't skimp on the tequila, and there's a whole tequila bar for you to choose from.

For over a year, New Times has praised the slow-smoked barbecue found at Sheila's, a yellow, roadside food shack in Lake Worth. But the real draw at this casual eatery is the conch: a meaty shellfish as integral to the Caribbean as steel drums and sunshine. Sheila's gets down on the mollusc in a variety of ways: as an impeccably fresh salad mixed with tomato, bell pepper, and lime; in baseball-sized conch fritters studded with luxurious chunks of meat. But our favorite? That would be the cracked conch, done up in true Bahamian fashion — which is to say, pounded into tender morsels and lightly dredged in flour, then deep-fried until beautifully brown and crisp. Squirt it with some fresh lime juice and give it a dunk in Sheila's zesty dipping sauce and that conch is practically flawless. A little pigeon peas and rice, some slow-stewed collard greens, and a seat on the stone benches underneath Sheila's outdoor awning and your trip to the Caribbean is complete.

Experienced Chinese food consumers can get soy sauce stains out of their undershirts, and they never let the faded photos of Hunan beef above the counter of a takeout eatery deter them. If the grub is going to be consumed elsewhere anyhow, atmosphere doesn't matter; the truth is in the General Tso's sauce. Leave it to the fine, fast, and affordable New Hong Kong Chinese Food to minimize the MSG hangover and coat every surface of the inside of your mouth with more than 100 variations of savory happiness. Even a risky item like cornstarch-battered crispy orange flavor beef leaves a wealth of East Asian spots in their greasy tracks. Do it for lunch, do it in large quantities, and do it late-night (till at least 10:30 daily) and these chefs with New York City experience have you covered.

Candace West

It's only fitting that the chef whose restaurant earned Best of Palm Beach honors for 2011 should also take the crown as Best Chef. There are certainly better-known and more celebrated chefs in South Florida, but few are cooking with the disciplined abandon and uncompromising vision of Roy Villacrusis, who seemingly came out of nowhere to give the often-unadventurous Palm Beach County restaurant scene a giant kick in the ass. Actually, it wasn't out of nowhere but out of Mark Militello's now-shuttered CityPlace eatery, where Villacrusis ran the sushi bar. Before that, though, the self-taught chef cooked his way through restaurants from the Philippines to Las Vegas, especially drawn to the glistening freshness and aesthetic artistry of sushi. That artist's touch is evident in every plate that comes out of Kubo's exhibition kitchen. But although it's said that you first eat with your eyes, you taste with your palate, and Villacrusis never lets his arrangements or creativity get in the way of his food tasting really, really good. That alone is worthy of an award.

Courtesy of the Breakers Palm Beach

When fantasizing about the magnificent things you'll obtain once you win the Florida Lotto, images of flashy cars, massive castle-esque homes, and fabulous hats may come to mind. But if your lucky numbers haven't come up yet, you might be forced to simply bask alongside those privy to such financial glory. Inside a massive cream-colored resort that resembles a Roman palace, a brunch most opulent exists — a utopia where bubbly flows freely and dapper dressed debutantes nosh on caviar. A bevy of doormen waits to valet your sleek sports car (or Ford Taurus), and corridors are painted with images of the Renaissance. Stroll past tubs of lobster tail, carving stations, and various regal fare spanning two food-filled rooms. Drink, feast, and converse with the elite. A brunch at the Breakers in any case is cause for celebration, but if someone else is handing over his MasterCard, it might feel as if you hit the jackpot after all.

Best Of Broward-Palm Beach®

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